Taxi Driver Politics
A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Democratic National Convention. In a light morning rain, I tried to hail a cab to get me to the airport for my flight to Charlotte. I was meeting my husband there, somewhat resistantly, as he had snagged some high quality tickets to the main events.
When he first told me about the chance to go to the convention, I jumped at the chance. Sounded like fun. But after thinking it over, I realized that I didn't really want to travel so soon after several summer trips, and I didn't expect to hear or learn anything new or inspiring from "that media show" or "those politicians."
At that point it was too late to back out, so I opted to simply attend for the last night, and hear Obama's acceptance speech. That would be historical and perhaps even exciting, though after being one of the hopeful for change in 2008, I was skeptical.
I consider myself somewhat of an activist entrepreneur and I grew up in a politically-minded household. We often hosted fund raising events for Michigan Democrats, including state and national level candidates. My parents both volunteered on campaigns, and my Dad was a Macomb County Commissioner. Moving to the ultimate political town in my 20s, I made a conscious decision not to be involved in politics, but rather to be involved in the local community, volunteering, teaching meditation and mindfulness, and running a small business. When I speak of politics and politicians, I tend to do so with a slight rolling of the eyes and snarly tone of voice.
Back on the street in DC, no cabs were to be found anywhere. After finding the taxi stand empty, and several traffic light cycles passing without a single cab, I began to consider how long it would take to get to the airport by metro. As the rain thickened, I happened to look to my left and saw a yellow cab sitting on the small side street behind me. I was surprised to see an empty cab just sitting there, but he waved, and I hopped in.
The cabbie was friendly and he had the radio tuned to a news station carrying coverage of the convention. Right away he shushed me, and said, "Listen!" He wanted me to hear someone addressing the delegates. I was surprised that he was so engaged in the coverage, but not surprised by his political, international, and historical knowledge. Having lived here DC for 25 years, I know that DC cabbies are some of the most politically aware people you will meet anywhere.
He spoke about current events, but with a wisdom that bore a striking resemblance to my Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. In discussing the divisive nature of politics, he asked me to look at my hand. He said, "the five fingers are all different sizes, but they work together without any problems to lift a glass." Thich Nhat Hanh often tells the story of when he was hammering a nail with his right hand, and accidentally hit his left hand with the hammer. His right hand immediately went to comfort and hold his left hand, and his left hand never retaliated or held a grudge toward the right hand. The two hands and the five fingers are different with different strengths, talents, and challenges, but they work together in a way that epitomizes mutual care and interbeing.
My driver continued to share his wisdom about life and politics. He said that every action we make is political. When he talks to someone in his cab about water resources, he is creating connections that are political in nature because they influence the way that we live in community. Governing is not a matter only for those people speaking at the convention. Nor is it only for those selected to be delegates, or those with enough clout to get tickets to attend.
Politics, or community governance, happens everywhere all the time. It happens when we talk to our neighbors about the new building on our street, or the increase in car break-ins. It happens when we create a Facebook page to bring awareness to an environmental concern, or invite others to an event. My driver/guru put it most clearly when he said, "There are no bystanders -- only active and inactive politicians."
Seeing that we are all politicians, I can no longer pride myself on being less-political-than-thou. Elected politicians are not different from us, they are just acting out their politics on the national stage. Politics is about community and how we, a community made up of different size fingers, can best work together to reduce our own suffering, and the suffering of other beings.
I claim that the human mind or human society is not divided into watertight compartments called social, political, and religious. All act and react upon one another. -- Mahatma Ghandi
Arriving at the convention, I asked myself whether I want to be an active politician or an inactive one. Am I kidding myself when I say that I am "non-political"? Each of us holds a political office of our own. How we contribute to our communities is how we hold office. Instead of judging how honest and compassionate a political is, I can ask how honest and compassionate I am in my office. Though I may not have been elected at the polls, my role in the governing of myself, my street, my neighborhood, my country, and the world is just as important as any elected official. And so is yours.