OPINION: America is burning. Will you help put out the fire?

America is burning. No, seriously, it’s on fire. Several wildfires have been going off throughout California and Oregon for almost two weeks, one of which was caused by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used as part of a gender-reveal party in El Dorado, California. The fires have caused insurmountable damage, with more than 2,094,955 acres burned across the state this year.

The scene is basically apocalyptic, complete with orange skies and numerous deaths. And while this is happening, America is still seeing nearly 50,000 cases of COVID-19 a day as a result of the government’s negligence, and there is still civil unrest in various locations throughout the country due to the countless murders of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. 

The wildfires, with the exception of the one in El Dorado, are not any particular person’s fault, but one can’t help but feel like these occurrences are sort of symbolic — or even some sort of spiritual reckoning — for the countless social, political and economic atrocities that have occurred in America in the years leading up to this next election. America is literally burning. Will you help to put out the fire? 

Being Black and Queer in America

Before I began speaking about the election, I want to make it clear that, as a Black gay man who was born and raised in America, I understand why many Black and queer people, as well as other minorities, may be absolutely and unequivocally TIRED. As a Black man, I have to live with the fact that, despite the fact that my ancestors were brutalized into basically building this country, while also having their entire culture, history and identity stolen and erased, I’m still fighting to be heard and respected in 2020. My grandparents didn’t legally gain the right to vote until 1965. That was only 55 years ago. My mother was two years old in 1965. 

As a gay man, I have to deal with the fact that being gay was considered a mental illness until the 1970s, and sex between two men was considered illegal in many states until the 1990s. Because of this, HIV/AIDS was seen as a “punishment” for committing “illegal” and “immoral” acts, so the government sat by and did nothing as millions of gay men died of the virus throughout the 80s and 90s. Marriage rights have only recently begun to be extended to LGBTQ people within the last five years in many American states

With this said, there is no doubt a lot of political side-eyeing coming from both the Black and LGBTQ communities about this upcoming election. The system has proven not to be beneficial for us time and time again, despite who’s in office. It seems that minorities and underrepresented people are not safe, and many of us don’t know who we can really trust to work in our favor. 

The Obama Years

When President Barack Obama was in office, we seemed to be getting somewhere. From the moment he stepped into the political spotlight as a presidential candidate, his message of change was incomparable to anything we’ve seen. After becoming the first Black president, he became a symbol of hope for a nation of people that were in need of it. After experiencing years of negligence under the Bush administration, we crawled our way out of a recession and gained universal healthcare, among other great accomplishments, under the Obama administration.

Young Democrats and liberals have since developed split opinions on Barack Obama’s legacy, with many far left-leaning, young progressives coming out to describe him as “Republican-lite”, and criticizing his policies as far too center and not radical enough to spark real change. However, many other left-leaning progressives, such as myself, still respect and admire his policies, while also recognizing that there’s still a need to expand these policies. Alexander Burns from the New York Times perfectly writes, “Interviews with Democratic voters and party leaders found near-unanimous admiration for the former president and his policies, a sense of nostalgia for what they recall as his dignified conduct — and, at the same time, a hunger for something new.”

This desire for something new is what’s driving this election. Under the Trump administration, we have literally experienced an uprooting of every single policy that was accomplished under the Obama administration; Melania Trump’s uprooting of the White House rose garden seems like perfect irony. The last four years has seen America battling every type of bigotry imaginable from our President and his legion of MAGA hat-wearing followers. Our economy is crumbling, our healthcare system is abysmal, and we’re literally on the verge of living under a dictatorship.

Now, we have a chance to get rid of Trump, and set us on a path back to where Obama left off. Yes, there’s still work to be done, as Obama’s administration was not in any way perfect. But things were a lot better in 2015 than they do in 2020. Not perfect. Not even that great, to be honest. Just better. 

Problematic candidates

Since Kamala Harris and Joe Biden first appeared as presidential candidates, they were met with a lot of scrutiny, much of which is valid. Kamala Harris’ background as a prosecutor in California during the time of the “War on Truancy”, which made it a criminal misdemeanor for parents of elementary and middle school students to allow their children to miss more than 10% of their school days. This led to many Black parents being arrested and prosecuted across the state. 

Joe Biden, Obama’s former Vice President is also not popular with young Democratic voters, particularly because he’s seen as old and out of touch, and too center-left for the comfort of those who are far-left. There are also murmurs of Biden being in support of segregation during the Civil Rights movement, and other instances of questionable racial insensitivity and tone deafness, including telling popular Black radio personality, Charlamagne Tha God, that any Black person that didn’t vote for him “ain’t Black”, that has landed Biden on the “don’t vote” list. Throw in the allegations of sexual misconduct that were recently thrown at him, and it becomes clear why many young Democrats and liberals have labeled him as “no better than Trump.”

No Better Than Trump?

But is he REALLY no better than Trump? Can we legitimately look at ourselves in a mirror with a straight face and say “Biden is no better than Trump”? Can we legitimately say that former presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who is now Biden’s Vice Presidential running mate, is just the same as the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck? I really don’t think so. But, because of these claims, many young voters have decided that, if the only choices are Donald Trump and Joe Biden, they will cancel voting this year

AMERICA. IS. BURNING. In my opinion, there is no one more heinous and hideously unqualified to lead a country as Donald Trump. Biden and Harris may not be as far-left as we would like them to be, and they may have some problematic political history, but they are Democrats, they are substantially more progressive than anyone in Trump’s administration, and, most importantly, THEY ARE NOT DONALD TRUMP. Donald Trump cannot be reasoned with. Donald Trump has sociopathic and narcissistic characteristics, which makes him incapable of empathy. I would much rather vote for someone I can hold accountable to do better. 

So many people have said that both choices are so bad, that there’s absolutely no way to avoid America continuing to go up in flames. They feel that all hope is lost, so there’s no reason to vote. Although I think hopelessness is a valid reaction to trauma, depression and anxiety, I also can’t hope but question if some people aren’t just allowing the fire to keep burning in order to prove a point. What if they are so hellbent on proving that America is unsalvageable that they allow it to continue to burn. I hear it all the time — Let it burn. The feeling is valid. But, what happens after the smoke clears? Do we have a plan for that?

I don’t have an answer. All I can say is that I plan to be at the polls in November to help put the fire out. Will you do the same? 

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Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.