by Henry Howell III
Can one walk the Tao in the world of politics? Everyone reading this has a personal meaning of “politics”; maybe not so much the Tao. The Tao is The Way of harmony with the universe according to Taoism that originated in China. We in America have co-opted the term “Tao” to give it a colloquial life. Nonetheless, its inherent original meaning still permeates its colloquial use in the States. Is there a Tao of Politics?
Is it out there somewhere in our country? It is. Some people live the Political Tao. People are engaged in political action while maintaining their presence on the Tao always. We just aren’t looking at them as masters of the Political Tao. We call them charismatic, a joy to be around, a person with boundless positive energy even in the meanest campaign fights, an all-round great human being. Do the losses stop them and depress them and cause them to quit politics? No, because they love being part of a campaign, and they love the people with them in the campaign, and they probably have understanding and empathy for the opponent. They don’t get down. Their political activity is like breathing, and eating, and raising children, and helping neighbors, and doing all the other human activities that we do on the Earth together. They have found the political Tao as they have found the Tao in their lives.
We should learn from these political samurais. They are warriors who are able to fight a lifetime for the causes of justice and peace without our hardly knowing their daily heroic feats. Their children normally carry on the tradition of the political Tao. Can they really be out there in our country during these times when hate is afoot in the body politic? Must we find and identify these individuals who discovered the Political Tao?
We don’t need to. The journey to learn the Tao is entirely individualistic. Each person must find his or her own way to engage in political actions for a lifetime while it constantly enhances your joy and longevity and happiness and sense of well-being. They seek no personal gain or rewards for their political actions. They do politics, because they see it as a necessity of living. Not to engage in politics would be like never taking out the garbage. It’s not done. They know they must be politically engaged, yet they also know they must find a way that politics enriches their lives and those of their families, so that they can do it for a lifetime. They will find a way to do it with love for people and will find strength and courage through that connection with one person at a time.
They accept and embrace that the struggle for justice will not end in their lifetime nor their children’s, but instead the seventh generation will still be bending the arc of history towards justice. Except for Righteous Anger, they are never angry. Anger comes from fear, and they are unafraid. They keep their Righteous Anger in their pocket and pull it out only when needed.
When I became Chair of the Virginia Beach Democratic Committee, I went for advice to Henry Mclaughlin, the head of Central Virginia Legal Aid at the time and the press secretary for my father during his 1977 Virginia gubernatorial campaign. He told me that at the end of the 1977 campaign, he regretted some things he had said to friends whom he did not think were doing enough for the campaign. He regretted that. His advice: Do not do anything that you will regret later and make people feel good. I did that, had a good time, and I do not regret anything.
The year that I was born, 1953, was the first year that my father ran for office. I was in his campaigns up to my eyeballs until 1977. For better or worse, for me there is no escaping the call to duty in politics. I haven’t found the Political Tao, but I know that it exists. My father was in the Tao often when he was with his people: the unions, the African-American churches, and working men and women of all walks and political persuasions. He loved the Wallace supporters, and they loved him after they spent time with him.
He was in the zone of Tao many, many times, but not often enough. After every gubernatorial campaign, my father went into the hospital for major surgery. He didn’t have the body to do all the work his heart demanded of him. After 1977, he lived the rest of his life as an outcast of the Democratic Party. There is not a single public building, edifice or marker with his name on it. As far as the moderates in the Virginia Democratic Party were concerned, Henry Howell was radioactive, with a half-life of at least 50 years, and he was to be kept at a distance. My father had no regrets. There was only one way he could do it, and he did it that way. He made history in Virginia.
No one can be like Henry Howell was in his prime. So we don’t try. But we do draw inspiration from him and his life in politics. It’s okay to lose if you were speaking truth to power and empowering the powerless. It’s how you fight, not whether you win the election. In the fighting you set an example for thousands who will fight on after you are gone. We stand on the shoulders of the fighters who fought before it was our time. In modeling after the people with Political Tao, we find our way personal Tao of Politics.