Friday, May 27, 2011

I am.....

I am an individual.  I am responsible for my own actions.  I choose who I care for, who I support, where I give what little influence I have.

I am part of my town.  I pay attention to local politics, I chat with my neighbors at the grocery store, I choose to be involved in community events.

I am part of my state.  I want to see all people - citizens and immigrants, red and blue, rich and poor - succeed and have influence on the national stage.

I am part of my country.  I want America to be the place where all have equal opportunity, but all can get help if in need. 

I am part of my world.  I do not want the US to be a global superpower only so that we can blow up the rest of the world.  I do not want us to poison another country in furtherance of private profit, because what affects other countries affects us (read Nevil Shute's On the Beach for an example of this).

I am all of these.... and so are you.  You may believe in the bootstrap myth, but no one - NO ONE - succeeds without using the hard work of others, in the past and contemporary.  

Think you got where you are all by yourself?  Did you pave your own road?  Pump your own well?  Educate your own children?  Grow your own food?  Dig your own latrine?

No?  Then acknowledge that the work and foresight of those who came before you are partly responsible for your success.  There's no shame in being gracious about this, but there is shame in believing that it's all about you. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I've been thinking lately about crossroads. A crossroad is, generally, the place where two roads or paths come together.  It is at the crossroads that we made choices - go left, right, ahead, back?  Change direction or continue along the same way?  Stop for a while at the side of the road, have lunch and a cup of tea, and ponder where each path will go?  Wander off into the grassy spaces between the roads, blazing our own trail?

America is at another crossroads.  There have been many over the past 200+ years.  Join a global organization?  Enter a world war?  Treat all of our citizens equally, no matter their gender or skin color, or disenfranchise and enslave them?  Welcome immigrants and give them a path to citizenship, or put up fences and throw them in jail?  Who is entitled to the American Dream, anyways?

Who are we, as a country, as a society, as a people?  Are we all rugged individualists, each accountable only to him/herself, responsible for no one else?  Are we a diverse collection of tribes, banding together to form one country but retaining tribal loyalties?  Are we citizens of a larger global community, with responsibility to that community?  All of these?  None?

How do we care for our neighbors in need?  Does "personal responsibility" mean letting the children of irresponsible parents suffer?  Does "the common good" mean intervening unnecessarily?  Where would you rather error - take the risk of intruding in the wrong place, or letting defenseless people fall through the cracks?  Does personal freedom always trump collective responsibility?

How to we allocate shared resources?  Do we allow the tragedy of the commons to prevail?  Or do we recognize that shared space requires shared commitment?

How do we decide who represents us?  Is the politician that I favor answerable to only me and my opinions, or is he/she answerable to all constituents?  Would I be just as angry at a "bad" decision if it is made by a politician I favor as at one I do not?

These are questions each person must answer for themselves.  But how each person answers will in aggregate answer the question of who we are as Americans.

I always marvel that every two years we have a change in leadership without (much) rioting in the streets; there are not many countries in the world that can say that.  I think it's a tribute to the grand American experiment.  We bicker, we complain, we shout, we throw tea bags, and once in a while we shoot each other, but generally we restrict our weapons to words.  

But recently the rhetoric has taken a particularly nasty edge.  I know that historically there have been acrimonious elections, particular presidential, but no one (to my knowledge) has questioned the legitimacy of a sitting president.  We now have a politician - openly, in a town forum, knowing he was being recorded - calling not-wealthy people "moochers" and telling a retiree that she would be "happier living in another country" if she expects to receive the Medicare that she's entitled to (and paid for)... wow.  Is this politician really representing his constituents... or his corporate overlords?  (but that's a post for another day)

Until about 20 years ago, I thought politics was a fascinating spectator sport.  No longer - it's too important for me to just watch from the sidelines.  But how to change the debate?  How can I, individually, bring civility back to the public discourse?  How can I express my disapproval of those who try to divide us into haves/have-nots, rich/poor, white/other?

With my words, emailed, phoned, or in person to the offender in question.

With my actions, supporting candidates I believe in, finding the flaws of the positions of those I do not, and questioning all of them.

And with my vote.  Bottom line, this is the only expression that matters.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Promise

There was once a country with promise.  It was a young country, as countries go, only a couple of centuries, and there were some growing pains.  It went steady with slavery for a while, but there was a bad breakup.  It fought with other countries, but it helped others because its heart was in the right place.  It tried to be a good country, and a good neighbor.

But then it got proud.  It started thinking that its way was the only way, that it was exceptional, that it was always right.  It started throwing its weight around and bullying its neighbors. It decided that instead of being for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all its people, it would bow at the altar of "free-market capitalism" and that money would determine who was worthy of being heard.

The country that started with such promise lost its way.  It allowed wealthy people to hijack its purpose, and allowed poor people to die for lack of health care.  It let some people decided that other people were unworthy of consideration or care.  The love of money was everything.

But, because the country's heart really is in the right place, it can find its way again.  It can once again be a leader not because it's a bully, but because it is following the right path.  There is hope.


The above thoughts have been rattling around my head for a long time.  When GW Bush told us that instead of planting gardens and conserving gas, we should go shopping (shopping?!?!), it was more clear than ever that we are no longer looked as citizens, but just as consumers.  What defines us is not our status as American citizens, but how much we can buy, consume, and waste.

This is because we (the collective "we") worship at the altar of free-market capitalism, not at the altar of democracy.  It's all the government you can buy, all the time.  And if you can't afford to buy your very own government? Sucks to be you.

We must - MUST - be vigilant against the efforts of our corporate overlords to distract us with the shiny.  The Internet and television can be great sources of distraction - oh look, another episode of LOLCats and American Idol! - but also vehicle of ideas and community.  Look at the success of Facebook.  Started out as a way to connect students in a college.... it's now a worldwide phenomenon that links people and communities in ways never dreamed of by Benjamin Franklin.  And Twitter!  It has facilitated democratic revolutions and reminded dictators that the world is watching.

We must have hope.  We must believe that we have intrinsic worth as people.  We have worth separate from the balance in our bank accounts.  We must remember that..... and we must remind our corporate overlords.  Loudly. Often.  Continuously.  We must not stop.

Well then, let's get started

I think my friends are getting tired of my political rants and my mother hides my posts on Facebook (she denies it, but I know it's true), so perhaps a blog might be a better outlet for my outrage.

What am I outraged about?  Politics, mostly, and the way that self-described Christians don't act very Christlike.  As Bill Maher points out, Gandhi was more Christian than most Christians.  Some people just give a good thing a bad name.

Politics... there's a hot-button issue.  Back in the day when dinosaurs roamed the earth (before they invented saddles; I like to think of herds of untamed brontosaurs running free), I was pretty "meh" about politics, as were most of the people around me.  If pressed, we'd probably say that we were politically conservative but socially liberal.  We mostly didn't care above the local level; we didn't see how national - or even state - politics affected us much.

And the "socially liberal" wasn't true, either.  Everyone knew everyone else's business, had an opinion on it, and wasn't shy about voicing that opinion, either.  Lip service was given to "live and let live", but that was just the illusion that people hid behind while they gossiped about you.... oh, excuse me - expressed concern for their fellow brothers and sisters (gossip is what you did about people who didn't attend your church).

But I left my small cozy Southern town and ventured out into the big world, and - pay attention, this is the important part - started to think for myself.  I grew up.  I started to ask all those questions that parents fear: "Why do we go to church?"  "Why is that man asking for money on the street corner?"  "Why is everyone tsk-tsking over the pregnant homecoming queen?"  You know, the questions that make people uncomfortable and tell you, "That's just the way it is.  Now go outside and play."

And the more I thought for myself and paid attention to the world around me, the less I believed in American exceptionalism and the more I believed that we are all in this together so we should work together.  Yeah, yeah... just like any good liberal, I had a kumbaya moment.  So sue me.

Which brings me to outrage.  While I've often been disgusted by certain political philosophies (**cough** capitalists/republicans/randians **cough**), there was at least a veneer of pretending that those philosophies were just a different way of governing.

I don't think that any more.  I am shocked (shocked, I tell you!) how open the GOP has been since, oh, the election of the very first not-white-male President about dismantling the very social fabric of this country.  In the perfect Republican world, there is no Medicare (seniors can die), no Medicaid or WIC (those poor women and children can starve), no unemployment insurance (no jobs, but don't let that get in the way of a good bootstrap myth)..... basically, if you're not rolling the dough, you aren't a Real True American (RTA), you're just a leech on those who are.

For a long time I gave my conservative/GOP friends a pass.  They're good people, most of them volunteer, they're kind to children, they don't kick their dogs.

But I'm rethinking that position.  They may personally be wonderful people, each and every one of them, but they're voting in people who hold frankly unAmerican positions, who try to destroy the safety net that our most vulnerable citizens rely on, and they are trampling on the rights of Americans in order to enrich their corporate overlords (and themselves).

Elections have consequences.  If my friends vote for GOP candidates, then one consequence is that I might think less of them.

What's a noble experiment?

A "noble experiment" was what my grandmother called something she was trying for the first time and she wasn't sure of a successful outcome. I've since found out that it also was Herbert Hoover's term for Prohibition, but no matter.

I'd come home from school and ask what was for dinner, and if I heard "oh, it's a noble experiment", then it'd be a new recipe or an... uh, interesting combination of leftovers.

Since I design knitted items without a pattern (I unravel a LOT), most sweaters are noble experiments - I don't know how they're going to end up, exactly.  Each sweater, sock, hat, or afghan is a journey.

And that's my life.  No real plan, no roadmap, just a general idea of the direction I want to go and faith that it'll work out in the end.  I never end up where I think I will, so I might as well enjoy the journey.