October 22, 2010
This blog began as a page on my other blog, The Expanding Life, where I write about the life of our family: no school, lots of learning, plenty of intellectual and creative stimuli, and more than our share of love and laughter. I wanted my readers there to understand why I occasionally wrote about things political.
Then, my political side grew, as I became the Democratic Party Editor for BellaOnline.com. I wrote essays I was proud of for that site, but I eventually came to believe that an online gathering place for everything from soap opera fans to car racing devotees was not the best place to pursue a serious discussion of politics. BellaOnline.com does what it does very well; it was not the right place for me to do what I do (however well I do it).
That’s when this blog was born. I wanted a place of my own to store my essays, and I wanted to write more of them. It’s been a confused journey. I read voraciously about politics, and I often wondered why I want to write about it at all: so many others tell it so well that I see no place for myself. I enjoyed writing my book and film reviews, but I didn’t see that as my main role here, either.
Looking for a friendly place to send my posts to get more exposure, I found none, and so I began the Blog Carnival of Progressive Politics. It really took off; others must have been seeking the same kind of haven I sought—a place to write and read about true liberal values, such as civil liberty, environmental protection, clean energy, and compassionate policy-making. Organizing the carnival each month was a joy for me, but I still wanted more from this blog.
Recently, I received a carnival submission from a blog that has a bona fide perspective. It made me see that what I’d been doing here—poking around with posts, trying to find my way into this blog of mine—had been a very unfocused attempt to write about politics from my perspective. The problem: I hadn’t defined here what that perspective is.
- I grew up in the projects (government-subsidized public housing).
- My father was chronically disabled from the time I was born until he died when I was twenty-three years old.
- My family lived on Social Security disability checks.
- We had no savings.
- We had no car.
- My mother took impeccable care of my father every day.
- We lived in a town with a main street and local businesses galore.
- I went to college on Pell Grants (they were called Basic Educational Opportunity Grants then) and state scholarships.
- My husband and I have schooled our child at home, for mostly political reasons (not wanting to turn her over to the capitalist, consumerist culture at large).
- I was raised Catholic, but the only Biblical thing that ever stuck to me was The Beatitudes.
- My first ideas about human relationships (i.e., politics) were formed by my much-older sister’s Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul, and Mary albums.
- The first presidential campaign I followed was the McGovern campaign in 1972. I was fourteen years old.
- My first-ever vote, at age eighteen, was for Jimmy Carter for president.
- If Bill Clinton could have run for a third term, I would have voted for him. I’d still be voting for him, if I could. In my opinion, my president’s personal life affects me no more than my dentist’s personal life affects me. Both are people I pay to do a job. I wouldn’t change dentists because mine was unfaithful to his wife. I’d only change dentists if mine destroyed my mouth. (And no, to anyone contemplating a cheap joke here, Bill Clinton did not destroy this country. I’d give that prize to Ronald Reagan.)
- In 2000, I foolishly assumed Al Gore would win the presidency.
- In 2004, I worked for John Kerry, but not hard enough.
- In 2006, I “called for change” with MoveOn.org and felt the power of activism for the first time.
- The experience of learning these things from a professorial Bill Clinton at Radio City Music Hall in the summer of 2008 deepened my understanding of the world I live in immeasurably.
- In 2008, I worked with MoveOn councils to help elect Barack Obama.
- In 2010, I became an elected official, a Democratic county committee woman.
So, that’s who wrote My Political Side. Not some anonymous book reviewer, or would-be opinion columnist, but a poor daughter of parents who never owned their own home, an honor student who couldn’t afford to pay for college without the government’s help, a woman with 1960’s sensibilities who has participated in 21st-century campaigns, and an American who wants her country to allow the meek to inherit.
My Political Side is not just my left side. It’s my most personal side—the real me, formed by my experiences. Now, I’m going to focus on writing a book and let this blog stand as a personal and historical record, however small. Thank you for reading here.
November 21, 2010
If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”
The story never ends, and it’s the story of our lives and our children’s lives, and so on and so on. In hopes that it will inspire you to think about the never-ending story of how politics shapes our world, here is the November edition of the Carnival of Progressive Politics.
Eric Gargiulo at Health Bill News asks Is Obama Health Care reform Entirely Good? and posits that the Multi-state lawsuit to stop Health Care Reform is a Gamble.
Ophelia Keith presents Breaking News! about the rich, and asks Are We, Too, Not the Sons and Daughters of Revolution?
That’s all for this edition. Future carnivals are on hold—as is this blog—while this writer pursues a completely different project.
As always, I do not necessarily agree with all writing on a contributor’s blog. If a post appears here, it is because I consider it worth reading.
I wish us all happy endings upon happy endings.
November 16, 2010
We’ve all heard about Frank Luntz, the man who taught the GOP to speak so that the sheep would listen. He now runs a company called The Word Doctors, which describes itself as “a powerhouse in the profession of message creation and image management.” The company describes Luntz as “one of the most honored communication professionals in America today.”
So Frank Luntz is an honored message creator and image manager. Honored by whom? Well, the web site lists among its corporate clients Disney and McDonalds and Pepsi. And a Psychology Today article claims that Luntz “gives us valuable insights on how subtle shifts in word usage can mean the difference between success and failure.”
Whether we like it or not, American politics function as a battle, and battles are all about success and failure. Frank Luntz and The Word Doctors know that—and take ample advantage of it for personal gain. According to Time magazine, via The Word Doctors, “If words are a weapon, Frank Luntz is a Samurai.”
So, let me get this straight: The Word Doctors is a powerhouse and Frank Luntz is a Samurai. It sounds like an action movie coming soon to a theater near you. Actually, the work of Frank Luntz and his disciples is near you, all the time. I got a swift, subtle reminder of that just the other day.
George W. Bush was on television promoting his book. Compared to the major lies Matt Lauer let slide by, this was a small moment, but it struck me—maybe because I had recently re-watched Fahrenheit 9/11 and been moved by the footage of protesters on GWB’s inauguration day. When Matt Lauer asked Mr. Bush about those protesters, he replied, “This crowd of activists were, you know, trying to disrupt and ruin the inaugural parade for others.”
“This crowd of activists.” Activists. What hit me like a slap across the face the minute he said the word was how ugly he made it sound. We all know what the GOP has done to the word “activist.” “Activist judges.” I knew it, but still it floored me, because it was so casual, so off-the-cuff.
The definition of the word activist (noun) is as follows:
an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause, esp. a political cause.
“Activist” has no intrinsic character, good or bad. One may find the cause for which the activist advocates good or bad, but Mr. Bush used the word “activist” in a way that made the word “activist” bad. And I personally resent that.
Activists make up Margaret Mead’s “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” who can change the world. The activists Mr. Bush spoke of were American citizens vigorously asserting their right to free speech, at a time when they felt that their right to vote had been maimed and debased by a group of thieves. Were they trying to disrupt and ruin the parade? I wouldn’t say that. I’d say they were trying to get out the message that the parade was a sham.
If the Bush inauguration protesters were activists, so are the Tea Partiers, and so are the Operation Rescue folks. They advocate for causes, don’t they? But would Mr. Bush call them activists, in the same faintly disgusted tone I sensed when he was speaking of the people who held up signs expressing their feelings about his rather strange road to the White House?
Doctors heal. I don’t find the Frank Luntz kind of message creation healing. I don’t think perfectly healthy words should be turned into sickening weapons for personal gain. If you disagree with my opinion, perhaps you can get a Word Doctor to rewrite my post. Maybe some “subtle shifts in word usage” can transform my message into one in which Mr. Bush is not a word killer.
November 2, 2010
To express our gratitude for life and liberty, and as a way to pursue happiness, my family and I attended The Rally to Restore Sanity on the National Mall on October 30, 2010.
We’re glad we were there. And although I found the experience to be more philosophical than political (see photos of signs at the end of this post to understand why), I can think of no better thing to send out into the blogosphere today—Election Day, 2010—than Jon Stewart’s closing speech. Please read it, from beginning to end, and tell me if you don’t agree that it should be required reading for all residents of the United States of America.
I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith. Or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.
Unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour politico pundit panic conflict-onator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems and illuminate problems heretofore unseen, or it can use its magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous-flaming-ant epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.
There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and tea partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez is an insult—not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put forth the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish between terrorists and Muslims makes us less safe, not more.
The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything we eventually get sicker. And perhaps eczema. Yet, with that being said, I feel good. Strangely, calmly good, because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a funhouse mirror, and not the good kind that makes you slim and taller—but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass like a pumpkin and one eyeball.
So, why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin-assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is—on the brink of catastrophe—torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.
Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats or Republicans or conservatives or liberals. Most Americans live their lives that our just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often it’s something they do not want to do, but they do it. Impossible things get done every day that are only made possible by the little, reasonable compromises.”
Stewart then plays a clip of cars merging before entering the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey
“These cars—that’s a school teacher who thinks taxes are too high . . . there’s a mom with two kids who can’t think about anything else . . . another car, the lady’s in the NRA. She loves Oprah . . . An investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah . . . a Latino carpenter . . . a fundamentalist vacuum salesman . . . a Mormon Jay Z fan . . . But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear—often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.
And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile-long, 30-foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river . . . And they do it. Concession by concession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go—oh my god, is that an NRA sticker on your car, an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s OK. You go and then I’ll go—Sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute. But that individual is rare and he is scorned, and he is not hired as an analyst.
Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together and the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.If you want to know why I’m here and what I want from you I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. You’re presence was what I wanted. Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you.
I went to the rally thinking I wasn’t guilty of demonizing those whose political opinions I disagree with, but while there I realized that I have given some fellow Americans some degree of enemy status. Mantras work well for me when I want to change a bad habit, so my new mantra is “You go, then I’ll go.”
To my friend who likes the Tea Party, I’ll say, “You go, then I’ll go.” You explain your position to me, and I’ll explain mine to you. Even if we can’t find common ground politically, we still have over thirty years of common ground in other areas. To my relative who disapproves of health care reform, I’ll say “You go, then I’ll go.” I can understand why this reform makes you uncomfortable. Let’s talk more about it.
I remember working on group projects in high school. There was usually someone in the group who had a ridiculous idea, and someone who wanted to run the show, and someone who wound up doing a majority of the work without receiving credit or thanks. But, somehow, everybody got handled, and the project got done. How I’d love to see that happen in the Senate. And whatever is happening or does happen in the Senate from this day forward, I want to focus on solutions—and I want the media to do the same.
My thanks to Jon Stewart and company for an enlightening, enjoyable day, during which I laughed (a lot) and cried (a little) and proved that a human being can go eight hours without sitting down once. Everyone we encountered—on the Metro, on the Mall, and on the port-a-potty line—was cheerful, kind, and reasonable. It was like being in a perfect USA for a day. With Cat Stevens/Yusef. (That’s the part that made me cry.)
October 27, 2010
You’ve heard of pop culture. Meet pov culture, the culture of poverty. A recent New York Times article by Patricia Cohen provides a history of the poverty culture theory, which states that persistent poverty is the result of a web of closed doors leading to bad choices, leading to closed doors, leading to more bad choices, etc.
The most compelling example of pov culture I’ve ever read is Random Family by Adrien Nicole LeBlanc. Subtitled Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx, Random Family made it clear to me that being poor in a blighted place where every else was poor, except the drug dealers, who were rich for a while but then went to jail or got shot, was like living in a dysfunctional web. The world of poverty is a culture, in the exact same way that Ancient Greece was a culture. Poverty has its own set of behaviors, beliefs, and expectations.
Somehow, growing up in the projects, I avoided the culture of poverty. I think it was because:
- I was sent to a private school, which separated me from the other kids in my neighborhood (and their attitudes about life) for eight hours every day.
- I was repeatedly informed by my mother that we were not “on welfare.” We lived on “Social Security disability” because Daddy was “chronically disabled.” This also made me feel separate from the unfortunate connotations that were attached to the word “welfare” in the 1960s.
- My much-older siblings, who had already flown the coop before the coop became the projects, were college graduates. At age five, I knew that a thing called college existed and that my older sister had gone there on something called a full scholarship. Escape from the projects was always a possibility for me.
- The projects in the 1960s were about teens drinking beer at night down at the end of development; the powerful force of the drug culture did not yet exist.. (A note of interest: my 1960s projects were lily-white.)
I came from a culture of academic excellence and upward mobility before I entered the world of the culture of poverty. My mother was a bystander among the welfare mothers who raised their kids to aspire to a rent-subsidized apartment right next to mom’s, because they didn’t know there was anything better to achieve.
The other kids viewed me as different from them, I think, and not because I talked about being different or tried to act differently. I think it just came across in my demeanor—the fact that I wasn’t going to stay where they were. In the NYT article, Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson is quoted as saying that culture is “shared understandings.” My understanding of the projects was different from theirs. To me and to my family, it was way station: although my mother never left it, I knew that I would, like a traveler on a layover who knows she won’t spend the rest of her life in a grungy hotel room in Minneapolis—just one night.
That one night was about eighteen years long, but I got out. Some of our neighbors did, too, taking advantage of nursing programs, vocational education programs, the military, and college grants. One woman even married up and moved to a brand-new house in the suburbs. But some of our neighbors had three generations living in the projects.
Sampson correlates poverty and “moral cynicism.” That makes sense to me. Like the people in Random Family, my neighbors spent most of their time navigating the web of being poor and trying not to get caught by the welfare agent or the police for some minor infraction of the rules of either entity. They had no mental space, no imagination, left over for envisioning a way out.
According to Cohen’s article, poverty is about more than how little money you have. My neighbors where I live now don’t have a lot of money, but they don’t have moral cynicism either. Sampson talks about “the shared perception of a neighborhood.” Here, we all see this neighborhood as a place where the lawns should be cut and the doors should have seasonal wreaths. In the projects, those things were far down on the list of “shoulds.” Besides, the housing authority never bothered to plant grass.
How to provide open doors for the people living in the culture of poverty? Many find my ideas, which are settlement-house type ideas, naive. But here they are:
- Expose them to a culture other than pov culture.
- Bring examples of the culture of aspiration into their neighborhood.
- Talk to them as if they can get out.
- Model moral optimism.
- Don’t expect them to change overnight.
- Praise small changes.
- Don’t give up.
- Resist stereotypes: As the article reports, low-income unmarried mothers don’t necessarily think marriage is useless. They just think the men in their circle are not marriage material.
The only time many people see pov-culture people is on a street corner, waiting for a bus. Even then, you can make a difference. Instead of looking at the person and thinking of him as lazy, stupid, or in love with squalor and violence, think of him as someone from another culture. It’s as hard for him to assimilate into your world as it would be for you to feel comfortable in his. Smile and say hello. Every little dent in the armor of moral cynicism is a step toward eliminating pov culture.
October 23, 2010
After November 2, 1010, we may need each other even more than we do now. So, let’s bond over these insightful posts, and for the sake of all that is good, let’s vote for Democrats on the 2nd. Here is the October edition of the Carnival of Progressive Politics.
Greg Laden enlightens us about Public perceptions of energy consumption and savings.
Ben Harack at Vision of Earth advocates Personal and social change for a green energy future.
Ron Delfs at Environmental Science Degrees lists Presidents with the Best and Worst Environmental Records. This carnival usually rejects “list” posts, but this one contains some useful talking points for your next personal debate about the environment.
As always, I do not necessarily agree with all writing on a contributor’s blog. If a post appears here, it is because I consider it worth reading.
October 15, 2010
It’s Blog Action Day, and that’s a very good thing. Bloggers all over the world, including this blogger, are educating themselves about water: who has it, who doesn’t, and why it matters.
Three points stand out to me.
- People who live as I do—in the US, in a house with indoor plumbing (Don’t laugh! It’s not that common worldwide.)—use much too much water. We take water for granted, I believe. That’s why I recommend that you take five minutes of your time to use the Water Footprint Calculator. By answering a group of questions about your water usage, you will learn where you fit into the big picture. I found out that my family uses about 200 gallons less per day than the average family—but, no cause for applause there, since we still use 943 gallons per day! I also learned some tips for how we can lower that number, such as installing low-flow shower heads and faucets.
- People who live in developing countries, such as Africa, don’t have enough water, especially clean water. They aren’t in a position to be thinking about low-flow shower heads; they’re too busy walking miles each day to the nearest source of water, just so they can walk miles back home while carrying it. And, unlike mine, their water has a great chance of being contaminated. According to charity:water, “Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.” People living under these conditions need an immediate solution, and I think the best one is a village well. You can find out about how to help a struggling community get one.
- The people like me, with water to spare, and the people who desperately need water, are related. By cutting down on my water use, I can help keep the environment clean, save energy resources, and save money. With the money I save, I can help people who are in imminent danger of dying because of water-related illnesses. My low-flow faucet for their well. What’s the key to improving the lives of the many? The key to preventing 80 percent of their deaths? It’s the water, stupid.
Now, sign the petition from Change.org.