What We Need To Fear


I know that Donald Trump is telling us that the world is crumbling all around us. He paints an apocalyptic picture that goads us into fearing everyone outside of our own circle.

I’m not actually afraid, on a daily basis, of ISIS or of my Muslim neighbors or Mexican rapists.

Here’s what I fear.

The ignorance of far too many of my fellow citizens, that’s what.

Yesterday we woke up to find that our router wasn’t working. We headed off to the nearest coffee shop to use their wifi and cheer up with pumpkin lattes.

The lattes were great, the wifi was spotty. We were talking about our frustration with unreliable internet service when another customer chimed in. He asked if the wifi was up and running, saying that he had planned to get some work done, too.

“The internet everywhere is acting up,” he said. I agreed, thinking about new cable being laid and the recent hacking.

“It’s another Obama move, you know,” the man said. “Another executive order. He turned over control of the internet to the U.N.”

This man was not crazy. He was not a beat up smelly derelict. He was a guy about our age, from our town, drinking coffee and getting some work done.

There was a silence for a few seconds. Then I shook my head. “Uh, no…,” I began. He interrupted me to repeat, “Yes. Obama passed an executive order giving control of the internet to the U.N. It’s all part of the globalization plan.”

Now, my husband is both smart and non-confrontational. He shrugged and said, “Who know. Maybe so.”

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t let that go. I mean, that statement was ignorant on so many levels!

“That’s not true.” I said to the man. “That isn’t even possible.”

“Oh,” the guy said, turning away. “You’re Hillary supporters. OK. I’m for Trump. All about Trump.”

It would be easy to dismiss this guy as an idiot. But I don’t think that’s the problem. What I wanted to do, what I want to do now, is to ask him “Did you check your sources?”

It would be SOOOOO easy to look up “Obama Executive Orders.”  Or to research, “Does Obama control the U.N.?”  It would be a snap to google “Who controls the internet?”

It’s so easy to find out information. Easier than it has ever been.

There is no excuse for ignorance.

That’s what I fear. The ignorant and uninformed.

 

Time to act like a kid


So I must admit, I’m a little bit scared about tomorrow.

Its election day at last (cue the trumpets and confetti: no more political ads!!  Huzzah!). We will finally have a chance to cast our votes and choose the next President of these barely United States.

Of course,  I’ve been through this whole thing more than a few times now.  The first time I voted, it was for Jimmy Carter.  I’ve seen the swings from left to right and back again.

This time, though, its making me feel more than a little nervous.

This time, the country seems to be absolutely divided between the two choices.  Each of the main candidates is polling at just barely under 50%.  We are caught in a perfect tug o’ war between the reds and the blues.

And this time, the level of anger, bitterness and hatred between the two camps seems to me to be sharper than I remember from the past.  The language is more vitriolic and less measured.  People seem to really, truly hate those who disagree with them.

Now, bear in mind, I was totally caught up in the election of 2002, when my candidate won the popular vote, but lost the election.  That was upsetting, for damn sure, but I don’t remember feeling the same level of frustration that I sense out there now.

So.

I’m a little scared about what is to come in the next few weeks or months.  There is a sense of danger in the air, made worse by super storms and unexpected infrastructure collapses.  There is a sense of powerlessness and rage that briefly found its voice in popular movements like the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement.  There is a power and a restless energy that is simmering just below the surface of our everyday lives, and it has been fed and nurtured by the countless months of attack ads from both sides.

We feel assaulted and endangered.  We fear for our children and our futures and our freedoms.  We are not sure just who is to blame, so we latch onto the rhetoric spewed forth by our leaders, and we turn on each other and we believe in the names being called and the lies being told.

We are ready to vote, and we are ready to be outraged by the outcome of that voting.

If we continue to hold onto our personal grudges and our intensely partisan fighting, I fear that our union may not hold.  I fear that we will turn on each other and come to violence.

I can only hope that after all of the votes are finally counted, we can reach deep inside of ourselves and act like children.

Children know how to be inclusive. They know how to recognize unfairness when they see it.  They see “mean” for what it is, and they know enough to reject it.  Children seek honesty and they seek a way to be “nice” even when they are mad.

So tonight, on this last night before the election of 2012, when voices are screaming for the downfall of the black Muslim socialist, and voices are screaming for the end of the rich white Mormon, I am hoping and praying that a majority of us will find a way to see this all for exactly what it is: just one more election in a long string of elections. It won’t save us, and it won’t ruin us.  It’s just another election.  In barely two years time, we’ll be on our way to another one.

Please, my fellow citizens, please try to act like children when the results come in tomorrow night.  You might be happy, but please don’t gloat.  You might be upset, but please don’t turn on your neighbors.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln

We, the People, redux


I originally posted this piece on July 16, 2011, after watching a little too much CNN, NBC, PBS etc.  I am reposting it today, because I am struck once again by the audacity of the people who run this government.  I have edited the post a little bit to update things, but 98% of it is the same.

I promise to stop the political rants real soon! I’m learning to meditate….!

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We the People,

….the American people,  are a really big group.  There are lots of us.  We tried, but we couldn’t all fit around the table at Dunkin Donuts.  There are so many of us that we can’t even fit in a big conference room. Or the Los Angeles Coliseum.   Or the Grand Canyon.

Do you get it?  We’re a big, big pile of folks.  We come in a whole bunch of colors, shapes and sizes, too.  If you could somehow manage to cram us all into one place, we would hardly recognize each other!  Some of us are chubby middle aged white women with plastic bifocals on.  Some are tall, skinny black men wearing three piece suits. We’re brown, we’re pink, we’re young, we’re old enough to remember when Truman was in charge.

We like baseball, except for those of us who don’t.  We adore country music, except for the huge group of us who hate country music and only listen to metal. We have PhD’s and we dropped out of the eight grade.  We have ten different words for a big cold cut sandwich on a long piece of bread.

We all live within these borders. That part’s true. But we are NOT a club. We aren’t all Democrat or Republican.  We aren’t all liberal or conservative.  We don’t all agree about the best way to solve the debt crisis, how to tax big corporations, how to fix Social Security, who will win the next election or the World Series, or how to grill the perfect steak.  Hell, a lot of us don’t even eat steak!!

So…..American politicians.  Please pay attention.  You really, really, really have to STOP saying “The American people” in sentences like “The American people understand that this health care law will mean the end of freedom as we know it.” (Yes, I did just hear almost those exact words from a member of Congress.)  Or, “The American people agree that we need to increase revenues.” (I heard something just like that from the President not long ago).  Stop trying to quote us.  Stop trying to convince us that we agree with you.  We can’t agree on one single thing!!

Wait, that’s not true.  Here is one statement that you can use in any setting, no matter which party you belong to:

“The American people are sick and tired of the sniping, moaning, name calling and finger pointing. The American people, the whole big noisy bunch of them, are overwhelmingly in favor of having government officials act like grown ups who actually know what they are doing. The American people want the government to stop shouting, start listening, make some compromises and get the damn job done.”

Sincerely,

Karen, self appointed spokesperson for the American People.

Take a deep breath, America.


I have been on pins and needles all night, and all of this morning, awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on the United States’ new Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare”.  I was scared on a few levels: one of my kids would have lost his health insurance if the whole law was overturned, a very upsetting thought for a Mammbear like me.

But if you have read this blog at all, you know that I am also a very liberal thinker, politically speaking. I think that this law is a baby step in the right direction, toward a country where everyone is guaranteed basic protections like the opportunity to have the best possible healthcare.

But this blog is not about the law, or about the decision per se.  This blog is an expression of fear about what will come next.  It is a plea to those who are upset by this decision, and to those who are happy about it.

Please, everyone, let’s just take a deep breath.

As the decision was coming down, CNN goofed (hah. Why am I not surprised?) and reported that the key provision of the law, the individual mandate, had been overturned.  I reacted with deep frustration….OK, scratch that. I was enraged!  I burst into tears. My heart was pounding and I yelled out some very colorful words toward the court.  I wanted to smack someone.

Then it became clear that, contrary to what I thought, the entire law was upheld. My “team” won.

Oops.

As I calmed down and started to scroll through blogposts, tweets, FB posts and online reporting, I was struck by the intense and truly violent rhetoric on both sides. I have read references to “your fascist tyranny”, “the end of America”, calls for “revolution”, declarations about “the death of the conservative dream”.   Gulp.

I get it, I do!  Remember, I reacted with the exact same violent rage when I thought the “other side” had triumphed.

Yikes!

I’m an overweight, middle aged teacher, for goodness sake! Why did I feel like the evil forces of darkness were attacking me and mine?  Why are political decisions taken so personally by so many of us?

Maybe its time to stop thinking in terms of our “teams”. Maybe its time to let go, at least a little bit, of the “us” vs. “them” mentality. Maybe its time for Americans to slow down, take a deep breath, and ignore the bullshit that the politicians keep feeding us.

THEY are the ones who stand to benefit when we are at each other’s throats.  THEY are the ones who live or die by the success of their “teams”. WE will prosper when we work together.  WE, the people, will thrive when we listen to each other. WE are actually on the same team.

We need to remember that the differences between us really amount to different opinions about how to make things better for everybody.  Our goals are the same; we just have different thoughts about how to achieve them.  We need to remember that the people who are running for office have no desire to be truthful with us; their only desire is to convince us to pick their side in the next election.

Its time for us to remember that the Civil War was the bloodiest, most costly, most horrific event in US history. Whether or not we all buy health insurance is no reason for us to be thinking about doing it again.

Postscript: I have taken quotes from some blogs and tweets, but I refuse to attribute them to anyone.  I will not fan the flames or shine a light on any of the crazies.

Bureaucratic Bullshit


 

I apologize in advance. This is going to be a rant. There is no doubt about it.

Let me just set the stage.   I spent today reading about Mitt Romney’s offshore investments, his Swiss bank account, his righteous indignation about those who “demonize success”.   America, according to poor affronted Mitt, should be happy for those who have managed to be successful.   OK, Mitt.  Whoopdeedoodledoo, you are richer than god. How nice for you.  You pay 15% of your income in taxes.  How special! Really.  You pay 15% of your money to support our soldiers, to pay for our schools, to keep our roads and bridges up to date, to provide support to our frail elders. And what, exactly, is it that you contribute to our society? I spent the day trying to figure that out.

I also spent today on the phone, trying to reach the state Unemployment Office.   See, my nineteen year old son is a full time college student.  Last fall he managed to get himself a job at Staples. He was working 15 hours a week while also taking a full course load. Good for him! But the store closed in December, because the economy in the small town where my boy goes to school is worse than most of us can imagine, and people aren’t buying expensive computer equipment.  My boy was disappointed (he was so excited to have a job that didn’t involve cooking, serving or cleaning up after meals!), but he was happy to hear that he would be eligible for unemployment benefits.   He hesitated about taking these benefits, I must add, saying, “I should try to find another job, Ma. I don’t want to get paid for nothing.”  When I told him that his Dad and I have been paying into the unemployment fund for a full 40 years, he felt a little better, and agreed to seek his rightfully earned benefits.

It is now a full four weeks after his eligibility date, and my boy has not only not received a dime, he hasn’t yet been able to apply for benefits.  He went to the Unemployment office three days in a row, but was confronted each time with a sign that read “We have received our maximum number of applications for today. Please come back tomorrow.”  I should add that the first day he arrived at 2 pm, the second day at 11 am and the third day at 9:15 am.  So he decided to just apply on the phone, as he was advised by the state .gov website.  He called.  He called again.  He called several times in one day.  He kept calling.  Nothing.

Today I had the luxury of an unexpected day off (another post for another day…..!) and decided to do what I could to help.  I decided to pretend to be my boy, and I decided to make the call myself.  So I dialed the state unemployment office main number. I was asked what language I wanted to hear, (beep, press 1), what service I was seeking (beep, press 1), whether I had already filed a claim (beep, press 1 yet again).  I was told to enter my Social Security number (beep times nine) and my year of birth (beep times four).  I was asked about my dependents, about my military service and about my foreign stays (beep, beep, beepbeepboopbeepboop).  Then I was told to wait while I was transferred to “an agent who can handle your question.”  I waited.  The phone crackled.  Finally, I heard a phone ring. “OK”, I thought, “here we go at last!”  I heard the phone connect, and then a voice said, “We regret that all agents are currently busy. Please call back at another time.” BEEEEEEEEP.

I poured another cup of coffee, settled myself in my chair, and redialed.  I went through this whole process twelve times today.  Twelve times I entered my son’s social security and birthdate.  Twelve times I was told “we regret……”

Are you F#@#^!! serious here?!?

Six hours after I first began this process, I got a different message. It said, “All agents are busy, but if you would like, we can call you back instead of asking you to wait. We will call you back within 30 minutes.”  I agreed to this plan (Beep!) and waited.  A full hour later, I got a call from a machine, was told to wait “approximately 15 minutes”, and put on hold. I waited.  At last, at long, long last….a human voice!!!!!  She asked my name, and I gave her my son’s.  She asked what I wanted (SERIOUSLY????) and when I explained, she said, “You’re not Tim! I’m transferring you to a supervisor!” CLICK.  BEEEP.  And a recording, “All agents are busy, if you would like to wait, it will be approximately 30 minutes. Or you could call back at another time.”

Now. Is this honestly the best we can do in this country for people who have lost their jobs?  Both Tim and I would be the first to admit that his claim is not a life and death situation. But what about the hundreds of thousands of other people in our state who ARE depending on these services to keep their families together, to feed their kids, to pay the mortgage?  What about the people who have paid into this fund with every single paycheck for twenty or thirty or forty years, and who now need to collect some of that insurance back?  What about those who can’t sit on the phone for twelve hours a day, re-entering the same damn information?  Is this what we call a functional system?

I won’t even go into the very obvious inefficiency of the system, because anyone with a brain cell can see that it would make sense for us to just state our social security information once we have reached an actual human being, rather than being asked to enter it a thousand times into an open phone line and then having our call cut off.  Instead I will focus on the complete failure of our government bureaucracies.

Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama, Mr. Gingrich and the rest of you wealthy, out of touch upper crusters: We need some damn help down here in the trenches.  We pay about 30% of the money we earn as we teach, counsel, serve, heal and help.  We can’t afford vacations, new cars or expensive lobbyists.  We can’t buy Congressional seats or insider information.  We’re just trying to afford books while we take classes at small state colleges.  At least you could take care of trimming down some of the bureaucratic bullshit that stands between us and survival.

 

 

Idealism on Wall Street


In the heat of a passionate and thoughtful political conversation this morning, a friend called me “an idealist, not a realist”.

It kind of made me laugh, because at the ripe old age of 55, seeing many of my dreams in the rear view mirror, I feel more like a cynic than an idealist.  But I’m pleased to hear that I still give off some idealistic energy.

The conversation with my friend, the one that lead to his unintended compliment, was a discussion of the recent “occupations” in various cities around the country.  These small but growing protests are an expression of frustration at the injustice in the current political and economic systems.  They are largely unfocused, very peaceful, and filled with the kind of youthful rhetoric that hasn’t been heard in this country since about 1973.  Cries of “democracy now” and talk of “we the people” resonate through the crowds. There is chanting, drumming, and demands for a new world, a new day, a new democracy.  People are donating food, tarps, raingear, medical supplies. Volunteers are cooking, cleaning up, handing the press.  The marchers are taking care of each other. I hear echoes of the campus demonstrations of the sixties in these voices. I feel a breeze from the age of Woodstock. I see a renewed sense of greater community and a belief in a greater good.

When I became a mother, I embraced my idealism.  To raise a child is to declare our belief in a happy future.  Every New Year when my children were young, I could look ahead to the adventures that awaited us together.

And I teach elementary school.  It’s hard to think of a more idealistic life choice than that!  But I haven’t felt politically idealistic since….well, since Jimmy Carter, I guess!

But the current anger at big banks, corporate lobbyists and Wall Street speculators is a chord that I think crosses party lines, age lines and philosophical lines.  All of us who are members of the bottom 99% of the national economy are fed up with the collusion between the government and the richest corporations in the world. So I for one will join my voice with those hopeful young idealists, including my own three children, who are spending today holding signs and chanting for change on Wall Street.

I am realistic enough to expect that the next President will come from either the Democratic or Republican Party, and that he will have a whole host of corporate owners whose bidding he will do while he is in the White House.  I am realistic enough to understand that the people on Capital Hill, whose seats were largely bought and paid for by business groups and company CEOs, will be slow to change the laws that regulate those businesses and banks.

But I am idealistic enough to believe that a loud enough outcry from the streets can change history. I am idealistic enough to believe that all political and economic systems change and evolve.  And I am idealistic enough to take Abraham Lincoln at his word, spoken at his first inauguration:

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.”

Anonymous. Ignorant. Cowardly.


I went outside this afternoon, on this sunny Friday, to put a new bumper sticker on my car.  As a lot of you know already,  I’m a crunchy granola, aging hippy, super lefty liberal.  I make no apologies; that’s me! And I love bumper stickers. I love showing my loyalties to my fellow commuters. You never know when another old hippy will drive by and smile.

A few weeks ago, one of my sons brought home a bumper sticker saying, “No Farms, No Food”.  I figured I’d put it on my car. I have been having a wonderful time for the past year learning all about local foods. I’ve joined a wonderful food coop (MassLocal.org) where I buy all of my meat, eggs, most of my veggies and even some flour and honey from local farmers.  Delicious, healthy and supportive of local economies. I was feeling pretty happy about my new logo as I approached the back of my car.

As I looked for a likely spot to locate my new, nicely inoffensive sticker, my eye fell on my older items. “Youuuuuuk!”  looked just fine, on the left side of my trunk, next to my big red R for the Red Sox.  I smiled as I panned to the right, my eyes falling on my aging “Obama” sticker from the last election.

Suddenly, my heart stopped. I gasped, and heard the words, “Oh, no!”as they fell from my lips.  I felt frozen, unable to react or move. Unable to accept what I was seeing.

Someone had taken a black sharpie and written the word “Nigger” across my bumper sticker, just under the word “Obama”.

I knew that the word wasn’t aimed at me, not directly, but I still felt assaulted, violated, shocked beyond words. My sheltered, naive, hippy mamma world view was shattered.  How could anyone be so…..incredibly small minded, ignorant, backward?  I looked uneasily over my shoulder, scanning my isolated, tree shaded driveway.

Who had done this?  When had it happened?  I don’t look at my car trunk all that often; it could have happened out here in the woods, or at work in the suburbs. It could have happened on one of my trips into Boston in the past few weeks, or while my car was parked at the Woods Hole Ferry. I don’t know. I’ll never know.

What I do know is that in 2011, in light of all that is happening in the world, this one ugly word is as loud and clear as a billboard.  The writer of this word is stupid, uninformed, ignorant, small minded, racist and helpless.  Anyone with any ability to understand the complexities of  American politics or of world events would recognize the utter futility and uselessness of such name calling.  Anyone with the intelligence to recognize the power struggle between the two American political parties would immediately understand that writing that word under that name is equivalent to responding, “Oh, yeah?” when faced with a challenge for which one is completely unprepared.

But even knowing all of this, even recognizing that the writer of the ugly word is unworthy of any reaction…..my heart began to race and my anger began to rise.

I am not African American, but my President is. My governor IS. I have students who are African in origin.  I have friends who are black Americans.  I am furious and hurt and disgusted for all of them.  Because that bumper sticker was on my car, I am one of them.

When I showed the awful word to my son, Tim, he reacted in just the same way. But he added something more.

“Way to go, dude.  Totally ignorant. I mean, hell, what year is this?  And to do it anonymously? Ignorant coward.  What a coward.”

And so.

Although I have been disappointed in a lot of things that our President has done, and although my support has been wavering lately, I am going to get myself a new OBAMA bumper sticker right away.  And I am going to put it on my car.

As Tim said, “Otherwise, the ignorant cowards win.”