What do you think Politics is?

Brandon started a great discussion on what Black thought is recently. It is a conversation worth having for a number of reasons, not limited to questions of self-identification (e.g. am I/am I not Black?), whether everyone’s input is welcome in every conversation (e.g. Black people speaking on issues that are not “Black-specific”), etc. What this really is, in my opinion, is a question of definition: how do we define Black? How do we define Thought?

In the spirit of searching for definition, I would like to address another word/concept that individuals have raised with me: politics. Many people consider themselves “political,” while others shun that label. My question is, what do you mean when you say/use the term “politics?” Why is it that many are quick to say that they “hate politics?” Is this that they truly hate the notion, that they hate their interpretation, that they hate how it is practiced, or maybe something else?

Politics is defined in many ways. When many people think of politics, they think of government. Indeed, a definition of politics is a “set of policies relating to governmental and legal matters.” However, I suggest taking a more broad view of the concept of politics. A more flexible, descriptive definition of politics would be “the practice of responding to conflict with dialogue.” Adopting this definition frees us up to interpret life as much more political than we could before. We all experience perpetual conflict, whether minor or major. Therefore, when there is a disagreement that is addressed and resolved through words, a political action is taking place. In my view, the only difference between politics and conversation is that the goal of politics should always be observable change and/or action as a result of the dialogue. Conversation, in general, may or may not have this aim. Government is one way that can be conducted. However, we are presented with political situations all the time, every day.

With this approach, “hating politics” is effectively saying “I hate having conversations that end in changes to a situation.” When phrased in this manner, most would probably not hate politics.

A problem is that many political systems, which I’ll refer to more specifically as governmental entities, are laced with corrupt individuals. The US government’s current leadership have many examples of this. In fact, in this country, I don’t think the problem was that we had a poorly designed system, but rather that the system was designed to purposely exclude certain groups of people from many rights (e.g. the right to vote) explicitly given to white, property-owning, men. The individuals were corrupt not because they were ignorant, but because they were selfish and prejudice. If they were ignorant or stupid, then the system would not have worked so well. Instead, they were smart enough to create something that still hurts the same sets of people they seeked to disenfranchise in the first place (women, Black people, Native Americans, poor people, etc.) Since this is true, we need to differentiate between not liking “politics” and not liking corrupt politicians. Again, if we consider politics to be conversations that lead to action & change, then a corrupt politician is nothing more than a person that is motivated to speak lies during conversation. When faced with a liar, we generally will move our conversation to someone that will not lie to us. We do not reject the notion of action-oriented conversing, and I am suggesting that we similarly not flatly reject the notion of politics.

Why pose this question? Why do I not want people to “hate” politics? Well, for one, I am one of the strange one that actually enjoys the study of politics as practiced by governments and as practiced by individuals. More importantly, I want everyone, especially Black people, to not tune out any possible method of changing situations for the better. Perhaps if the connotation of politics was not one of lying rich people planning ways to increase their wealth and oppress the “have-nots,” then politics would not be something to be hated. Very few people hate conversation, especially not conversation focused on changing the status quo for the better. To me, that is what it means to be political.

In the spirit of politics as action-focused conversation, The SuperSpade is a political entity. It is about understanding issues and current events in context, while at the same time understanding how these things impact us all and how we are all connected. It is about talking about things that need to be changed. It is about talking about how we can take action change situations ourselves, through things like mentoring and voting and organizing. I encourage everyone to continue to dialogue and to grow action from these conversations.

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

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  1. The SuperSpade » Article » Politics vs. Politicians - May 18, 2007

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