TRACK | Chad Vangaalen – City of Electric Light

5/5 golden merles

In 2008 I was working for Democratic Party as a field organizer on a couple of campaigns for congress and governor, but also in support of one particular presidential candidate that purported to offer hope and/or change.

I had free housing and ~$300 a week in exchange for my labor of 16 hours a day. This comes out to somewhere in the region of $3/hour before taxes. Once I tried to buy one of the regional organizers a beer and he said, “Don’t be insane, I know how much you make.” I was 22 and looked 16, but for an awful, awful beard. I was a terrible public speaker.

Soft Airplane was my reliable soundtrack for driving down from the volunteer-housing mountain-hill every morning, winding off to our shared office in downtown Madison, Indiana. The songs are deeply tied to this moment of relative youth and although I love them they are a little painful to revisit.

We were clearly on the side of good and decency, it seemed to me. The moment appeared full of potential. The technically anti-war, pro-healthcare candidate was about to win a landslide national election.

This was before the military surges, the corporate bailouts, the drone assassinations, the heritage foundation healthcare plan, the squandered supermajority, the absolved Iraq war criminals, and all the other weak-willed incrementalism that damned us and continues to provide momentum for the ongoing backlash.

I didn’t know then what Adolph Reed had accurately assessed in 1996, over a decade prior:

“…a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future… We have to do better.”

I am both somewhat nostalgic for this sense of purpose and opportunity in youth to fulfill it and ashamed of it, the actual legacy and faith in a couple of morally compromised figureheads. I am also ashamed that I made a lot of good friends that I immediately lost contact with after the election. I will hope to do better going forward and continue to relish the capacity for change.