I‘m going to share a bit of my journey with you and let you know more about my story. I will limit today’s testimony to the realm of politics; there are other aspects of my awakening that will be reserved for other occasions. Those who know me well are understandably perplexed; how is it that a man who was once an Obama loyalist and an organizer who was intent on uncovering a new block of constituents for the Democratic party reversed course so radically? How can I go from espousing the virtues of turning Virginia blue to disavowing politics all together?
Let me start where my life in the political establishment began. It was only nine years ago—though it sure feels like a whole lifetime has passed by—that I signed on to the Obama campaign and made it my purpose to get “the first black president” elected. I spared no effort; though I drove myself into exhaustion and suffered personal losses, November 4th, 2008 was a day I thought I would be proud of forever. I traveled to more than 15 states and spent every waking moment for more than 8 months trying to figure out how to register more voters, raise funds and increase enthusiasm for the Obama campaign. Though I was a mere volunteer, my efforts were so noted by political staffers that I got invited to Chicago by the Obama campaign in December of 2008 for a brainstorming session to launch Organizing for America.
After Obama’s election, I spent the next six years—in one capacity or another—trying my level best to increase the Democratic Party’s voter share in Virginia. Not even my first brush with the abject corruption of politics could dampen my spirits. This corruption I’m speaking of is well known to local Democrats in the 8th Congressional District of Virginia. In the spring of 2008, I ran to be a state voting delegate for the Democratic state party to represent Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention. My endeavor was 100% organic; a one man campaign, I narrowly lost in my attempt to climb the ranks of insider politics. I recorded a campaign video, sent 100 DVD copies to voting delegates by mail and then used that video as my platform to make a case as to why a political neophyte should represent Virginia at the DNC in Denver, Colorado [watch my campaign video below]. I had quite the year in 2008, politics is addictive and my quest to make a difference led me to a pretty audacious feat that I’m going to tell my grandchildren one day.
My moment arrived to make my case before party insiders. After giving a speech at Patrick Henry Middle School during the 8th Congressional District convention, there was a stir in the audience. A few people came up to me and thanked me profusely for the speech and promised that they would vote for me. In all honesty, I had no expectation of winning, but I felt a sudden burst of excitement with the thought of actually pulling of a mini-historical moment of my own. The thought of an Ethiopian-American becoming the first to get elected as a voting delegate for a national convention would not only be a personal achievement but, more importantly, would be a shared moment of achievement for my fellow Ethiopians.
This dream came crashing down like the Hindenburg. The “Kaine Slate”, the preferred candidates of then Governor Tim Kaine, started dropping off one by one in order to consolidate their votes and game the election in their favor. Out of eight “Kaine Slate” candidates on the ballot box, six dropped off so that only two were left. The two candidates preferred by Kaine won the rigged election—I lost by three votes. I felt the political Bern and got the DNC treatment nine years before Bernie Sanders got screwed by Hillary Clinton. This is the true farce of these two factions in DC; political insiders run the parties and give a pretense of fairness while excluding regular Americans from the conversation. What I witnessed and was treated to is just the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to malfeasance, Enron and Bernie Madoff are child’s play compared to the sheer corruption that is emblematic of the Democratic and Republican parties.
Yet, not even my first encounter with nepotism could dissuade me from being an Obama apologist. Neither could facts on the ground make me see that Obama was not who he said he was. Outside of tinkering on the margins, the Obama administration kept in tact the Bush doctrines of immoral wars overseas and wealth transfer from the poor, blue collar workers and the middle-class to the 1% domestically. Cognitive dissonance is no joke! I was too vested in Obama to admit that I was wrong about Barack. So I did the next best thing in order to rationalize my frustrations; I excused his behaviors while blaming everything on Republicans. It’s not Obama fault, nothing was ever Obama’s fault. It was those damn Republicans and their obstructionism!
Except obstructionism sure had a funny way of turning Kumbaya between Democrats and Republicans when it came to doing the bidding of Wall Street and advancing the interests of the military-financial complex. DC only grinds to a halt when it comes to issues the “base” of either party desires. This is the brilliance of this political shell game; each side blames the other for nothing getting done while both work assiduously for their corporate masters. But I had my blinders on, fact could not persuade me to see differently. For nearly eight years, I looked the other way as Obama transferred over $14,000,000,000,000 to the same Wall Street degenerate gamblers that broke our economy in 2008. Likewise, I shunned my eyes from the truth as Obama ordered over 20,000 bombs to be dropped on Syria, Yemen, Syria and beyond.
Obama enhanced the Bush surveillance program, I blamed Boehner. Obama set the precedent of extra-legally assassinating American citizens and combatants alike without nary a hearing, I justified this practice of despots by assuming the people killed were terrorists anyway. Obama bails out Wall Street and lets Main Street whither, I rationalized his pernicious policies by noting that the banks had to be saved. If Obama was taped live kicking an elderly lady, I probably would have found a way to excuse his actions. I should be a bit more empathetic with Trump supporters; once you idolize a person, facts matter little.
It was a mean mugging by reality that awakened me from my irrational loyalty to Barack Obama and the Democrats. Hardship and indigence showed me what true injustice is all about. Nearly three years of homelessness and shuffling between missions and shelters revealed to me the true depth of social inequities that gash at our nation and the world by extension. No more could I look at justice through the prism of color, identity or politics. I saw “black”, “white” and all shades in between broken by hopelessness and suffering in silence. Talking points gave way to trails of tears as I traveled from South Carolina, Iowa, New York, Georgia, Tennessee to Colorado as a penniless sojourner only to witness a sea of humanity tormented by hunger, tribulation and dejection.
My fidelity to politics and my fealty to ideologies bled away and were replaced with solidarity with humanity. I stopped looking at injustice through the prism of race and ceased seeing human suffering through the lens of identity and ideology. During my stay at the Greenville Mission in South Carolina, I witnessed a “white” seven year old girl who was residing with the impoverished masses and eating donated food with the rest of us. For most of my life, the suffering of Ethiopian children used to bring tears to my eyes; it was that sorrow that drove me to get Obama elected and organize my fellow Ethiopians to vote for Democrats in 2008. I was naive enough to believe that Obama would end the paradigm of neo-colonization in “Africa”. Confronted by a destitute “white” child, my narrow outlook on equality was replaced by the exigent need for universal justice.
My change in politics and my reversal of thinking were thus birthed by a crucible that I would not wish on my worst enemy. Yet I harbor no resentments; I actually found purpose through misfortune and for that I’m eternally grateful. However, my search for truth and wisdom is ongoing—I have not arrived at enlightenment. My aim in what I write is not to be pious or preach as if I have everything figured out. I am just doing my part, in any way that I can, to convey our common struggles and our common hopes. We all truly are in this together, either we thrive as one or we will suffer hardship separately. If we have any chance to overcome the social blights that swallow the hopes and lives of too many people around the world, it’s through a united effort. The only way we can bend the arc of history towards justice is through togetherness.
Spending time arguing about who suffers more takes away from the energy we could spend getting at the root of suffering that harms all.
— Teodrose Fikre ✒ (@TeodroseFikre) August 3, 2018
I know there will be some who want to read into this and think that I am somehow a Trump supporter or that I am pushing one ideology or another. I can’t control how others see things or what they choose to believe. But let me state for the record that Trump is a malignant “human being” who spreads hatred into the public square in order to enhance his pugnacious ego. Yet, I look beyond Donald Trump because politics is the smoke screen that serves to divide us. We need to get past this reality show and the carnival act at 1600 Pennsylvanian Avenue in order to focus like a laser on the policies that rupture the lives of too many American and humanity as a whole. Trump is different than Obama in style only, their substance of feeding all of us to corporatism and bleeding the world in order to steal the wealth of nations is identical. Click To Tweet
Let me end it with this. I apologize to people on all sides who I occasionally belittle and deride for putting primary loyalty to identity or ideology. This should not be taken as a mea culpa for condemning the “elites” who, by intention, enact laws and further policies that hurt the masses. My apology is reserved for people, who just like me not too long ago, find identity and purpose through politics. My frustration leads me to bash people who don’t deserve harsh treatment. Though I hope more and more people walk away from these political parties and put aside ideologies of the powerful that splinter humanity, I have to let people walk their walk without trying to force my views on others or else I will become the very thing which I write and speak against. In time, we all walk a road to Damascus, I pray that our walk ends in redemption for all of us. #MyPoliticalAwakening
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
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I once saw everything through politics, check out this campaign commercial that I used to launch my attempt to be Obama’s delegate in 2008. (see the video below this one to see where I have arrived nine years after this journey began).
A long journey, I now seek universal justice instead of seeing this world through politics.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.