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Staying Power

(Please note: Names have been changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.)

Few are likely to be familiar with Piatt Park in Cincinnati. No one other than those who live or work nearby would have any reason to seek it out. Piatt is not what I am accustomed to in a “park,” really, but rather an urban space, a paved median separating two one-way streets with plants, benches, some wrought-iron fencing and a line of perfectly-spaced trees. No grass grows there to speak of. It’s certainly not a place one would go to walk a dog, toss a frisbee, or stretch out on the ground and look at the clouds on a crisp fall day. The plot may be simply too narrow to build on, donated  to the city park district by an established Cincinnati family of old, and now designated as a manicured public space. It’s perfect for a brief respite from tired feet before one proceeds to a destination, a pleasant spot to eat lunch and check your email via smartphone.

A cool Friday evening…

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Last Friday night, Piatt Park and its environs weren’t still and quiet as is the norm at 10 p.m. There, on a cool, damp October night in the quieting city, the overnight residents of Occupy Cincy, our local iteration of Occupy Wall Street, milled under the arches, awaiting citations for remaining in the park beyond the posted hour. Occupiers proudly pinned citations to their coats. Many people had three or more already, each of which carries a potential $105 fine none can readily afford.

Uncertainty

Something was happening tonight, the slight anxiety in the faces of the occupiers said. Apparently, no citations had been issued Thursday night, at the order of Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig. But what would happen this Friday night?

No deliveries allowed right now

A somewhat offbeat troupe of protesters circled the block on the sidewalk, singing “We Shall Overcome,” clad in black, with striped scarves, funky hats, boots, and the occasional revolutionary-styled jacket. When I joined them, explaining that I had water, snacks, and a few other supplies that might be helpful, they said it was impossible to get the supplies into the park right then, because the police were issuing citations at the moment. Anyone crossing the perimeter of the park would be cited, but I was welcome to drop the supplies off at the curb on the opposite side of the park. In the meantime, I could join them as they marched. Familiar with loitering laws, I thought perhaps I should walk, despite having a gimpy knee for the time being, rather than risk a different sort of citation.

Armies march on their stomachs. Protests march to good music.

The occupiers were good company. “Do you know any good protest songs?” they asked. They had apparently sung “This Land Is Your Land,” and several others, exhausting their repertoire of suitably resistant songs. Having missed the 1960′s entirely, I suggested, the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” which seemed to fit the occasion, at least for me. Besides, the other songs were too down-tempo for my taste, which tends toward the raucous. We could have rocked the casbah or — had anyone had a hard bucket and a pair of drumsticks — killed on “Radio Clash,” which needs only a good percussionist, really.

Just over thirty of the occupiers — or, alternatively, occupants — had stayed within the park past 10 p.m., the hour at which the park “closes.” At least six uniformed police officers stood in clumps, talking to representatives of the protest, discussing the procedure for issuance of citations as had happened nightly but for Thursday since the occupation/protest began Saturday, October 8th. Occupiers proudly pinned their citations to their coats, and several of them had three or more already. New Police Chief James Craig, on the job less than three months, was at the center of the action, obscured from view often by several taller officers, presumably giving direction and setting the tone.

Observed

The scene was quite busy. As we rounded the corner and crossed the street, I stopped at the Garfield Hotel, where three employees with embroidered, logoed shirts stood on the sidewalk, a manager, a security guard, and, once the front desk was quiet, the clerk. Guests had been steadily arriving at the corner, looking somewhat interestedly and cautiously at the nearby commotion, loading luggage from taxi trunks onto dollies and rushing under the awning into the lobby, peering the glass doors.

Two late-40′s-ish women, midwestern in garb and hairstyle, stood on the curb near the Garfield, bemusedly watching the overall scene.

Dave has reservations, as do Garfield Hotel guests

Let’s call the security guard “Dave.” When I asked, Dave said guests were a bit concerned, naturally a little alarmed. But the overall vibe was peaceful, non-confrontational. Dave seemed slightly irritated and a bit dismissive rather than in any way alarmed, much as he characterized the guests. The young front desk clerk in modern, discreet eyeglasses, whom we’ll call Ethan, was quiet during my discussion with Dave, but chimed in when it become obvious that I was generally supportive of the occupiers, especially in the face of Dave’s furrowed brow & curled lip.

“What are they doing that’s wrong? It’s a peaceful protest. It’s free speech.” Ethan said.

“They’re breaking the law. The park closes at 10,” Dave said.

“But who’s the victim? There’s no victim,” Ethan insisted.

I explained to Dave that the occupiers might each have his or her own primary reason to be there, and that each city’s expression of the movement could have great variation within it, as well as from the Occupy Wall Street movement as a whole. That’s the way of it with leaderless, amorphous movements. But from what I had gathered, the common strain was that many people could not get jobs at all, and many others were working several just to make ends meet. Meanwhile, far too little is has been done to stem the increasing power and impunity of powerful interests including Wall Street, the banks, large corporations, and other entities have apparently hijacked the political and economic systems.

“They’re not so scary, are they?” I asked Dave teasingly, gesturing at the passing marchers.

“I don’t like it when they wear masks,” he said. (None of those present was wearing a mask, but several have been seen during the day.)

“What sort of mask? Like surgical masks, or Halloween masks?” I asked.

“Oh, those, those…” Dave gestured to his face, gesturing to indicate a pointy chin, if I’m any good at charades.

“…V for Vendetta masks,” Ethan said.

“Ohhhh, I can explain those,” I said, laughing. I know a few Fawkes-mask-wearing Anons, and while they used to just be in it for the lulz, apparently some of them have decided social justice is worth a few lulz too, of late. “Some of the people wearing masks might be government employees, or be afraid of their faces appearing on camera in connection with the protests. So they’re keeping their faces out of the public eye. But others just like the movie, or the mask. It has panache!”

“But they could be carrying guns. I don’t know what they might do,” Dave said.

Wryly: “Dave, Ohio now allows concealed carry, even in bars. Anyone could be carrying a gun, mask or no. The masks draw more attention than a face, so I think masked people are less likely to be up to no good than someone unmasked.”

“Okay, okay. I’m not talking to you anymore. You argue with everything I say.”

“I do not,” I said, laughing. “We’re just talking here.”

Dave and Ethan went inside, but the scrapbooking ladies had been listening intently.

Friends making memories… (scrapbooker reference)

“Thanks for explaining all this,” the darker-haired one said. “I had no idea what it was all about.” She smiled.

“I kinda like it that someone cares enough to be out here protesting,” I said. “I like it that the invisible people are making it harder to ignore them. There’s something in it that’s inspiring.” Both ladies smiled, nodded slightly, and we had a nice long discussion about Ohio’s Issue 2 (I was wearing a “No on 2, Repeal SB5” button). The dark-haired lady said her daughter is a teacher, and asked for some details about the bill, which I was happy to share. As usual. We stood, discussing the bill for a good ten minutes, arms crossed to hold in body heat, but shoulder to shoulder.

“Thanks! Well, we’d better get back over there,” the dark-haired lady said. “We’re just here for a scrapbooking thing,” gesturing to another hotel down the street. We had a few words about scrapbooking — a years-long postnatal pursuit I delved into to keep myself out of trouble when my own kids were adorable infants through preschoolers, long before the awkward ‘tween phase most of us experience.

And the ladies left.

Our Main(e) guy.

Still watching the action across the street, waiting for the police to finish citing and leave, I walked halfway down the block with Lloyd, a security liaison/lookout for the Occupiers. It was he who pointed out James Craig, explained where the food tent and supply tent were. Lloyd seemed a bit tired, a little frustrated that occupiers were again being cited, and moreso when police went from tent to tent with flashlights, looking inside and calling to ensure they’d cited all who had stayed. Knowing some of Craig’s backstory, which is that he was last chief for Portland, Maine, which I happen to have visited in August, I waited for a chance to hail him. Soon, he and other officers moved our way.

“Chief Craig! Portland, Maine sends its regards and says it misses you!”

Craig threw his head back, laughed, crouched to peer across at me, and crossed the street to talk. (Score!)

“Hi, Chief. Pleasure to meet you. I have friends in Portland, and they gave me grief this summer, said my city was stealing their guy.”

“Well, please be sure to send Portland my regards,” he said, smiling broadly.

We talked a bit. I asked how things were going, generally. He said that the occupiers had been very cooperative, that he was proud of the work of CPD officers. “They’re good guys. The best I’ve worked with,” he said warmly. Craig reiterated his commitment to treat everyone with “respect and dignity,” and said, “I hope we’ll soon come to a peaceful resolution.”

“Chief Craig, what does resolution mean? For them just to go away?”

He might have answered were it not for an interjection — a challenge, of sorts — from Lloyd. (Grr.) What he would have said, I don’t know. In any case, I was left with the impression that he is a good man (handsome, too), in a new job, under pressure from all sides. He referenced with some impatience how much it was costing taxpayers to monitor the situation, no matter how peaceful the intent of the occupiers. He seemed to have a clear sense that while he cannot enforce the law selectively, he will try to enforce it with a firm, but light touch. I like him, given what I know of him from that conversation and news stories.

Whatever tension had been in the air dispersed with the departure of the police. Two cruisers circled the block a few times, and all was quiet. Everyone remaining breathed, relaxed, ready for another long night under the canopy of Piatt Park.

From the end of that narrow strip, on any other night, a row of repeating, evenly spaced wrought iron arches lit with small round bulbs softly illuminate its empty length. In the surrounding darkness, it takes on the air of an abandoned amusement park arcade after all the patrons have gone home, Made in China stuffed animals clutched in fingers that are sticky with melted cotton candy. On any other night, one or two homeless men might sleep on a bench, unseen by passing cars, and eventually be rousted by a passing police patrol. An urban couple might stroll under the arches holding hands on their way back to parking a block or two from where they enjoyed dinner or a show.

Tonight, the park was not as neat, orderly. The alcoves were dotted with domed and canopy tents, some of which would be quite suitable for camping, others quite obviously cast-off flimsy structures, repaired with silver-gray duct tape, shrouded by assorted tarps that fluttered in the brisk air. A few older men, many younger men, and a few young women stood huddled in small groups, talking, laughing, smoking, hugging. Protest signs were on piled near tents, since few spectators were there at that late hour to see them. Perhaps a total of fifty people were scattered through the park.

A new home, a new family, and the heart of it is still the kitchen.

As I meandered among them, talking to people, greeting them, delivering supplies, I saw a great deal of affection, familiarity, even a kinship among the occupiers. I met homeless men who had clearly been drawn to the attention, companionship and ready sharing of supplies the protesters offered. Yet there was little sense of discord or unease. I visited “the kitchen,” which served hot coffee, snacks, fruit, and even featured a somewhat wilted bowl of salad. By this, the seventh night, all seemed to have settled into an easy rhythm, with volunteers working shifts in various roles. Several people had already gone to sleep. Only occasional bursts of laughter broke the hush, and even they were muffled by the falling dew in the night air.

Gifts are bestowed.

One homeless man with a name badge, Mark, offered me a copy of “Street Vibes,” a publication from the Coalition for the Homeless. “One-dollar donation,” he smiled at me. I told him had no money. Not a dime. But I had given $5 for a copy the previous Saturday, hesitant to ask for change from a charitable organization. I share work-related connections with a homeless shelter, so we eagerly started talking about places we both knew.

“Oh, I know that place,” he said, and we each named counselors and social workers we know, exclaiming happily when we found one we both knew.

He handed me the newspaper. “Mark, you don’t have to,” I said.

“Take it,” he said, and gave me the address of the home office so I could send a donation later. He even went to the kitchen and brought me back two cookies, obviously donated and wrapped carefully in plastic wrap with a jaunty piece of ribbon as a closure.

Another man and I worked together to reposition and secure a tarp. It had wafted off the mesh dining shelter which must surely have once been used by some family to keep mosquitoes at bay in a suburban back yard, because it would be good for little more. The man sleeping inside never stirred, but must surely have been cold, sleeping there on the hard pavers. I found a hose clamp on the ground, and used it to secure the tarp to a pole using the grommet at the corner. Camping experience for the win! Only for this man, given his relative lack of other supplies, blankets, or other comforts, I don’t think this was camping so much as a temporary relocation of his makeshift home.

I had worn capri pants and brown leather no-heeled maryjanes, and was chilled from the knee down. I had also begun to draw a bit too much attention. It was time for me to go.

But on my way back to the car, I stepped back for a moment, thinking, Piatt Park had really become a camp. Maybe a refugee camp, for some. A military camp for others. For other still, it’s a rare chance to speak out, be heard, be visible, because others have joined them in homelessness, even if temporary.

What does/will/can it all mean?

Do I support Occupy Wall Street? (grimace) Conditionally. I’m cautiously optimistic.

I want to know more. Will it last? Will it hold true to the sometimes-mixed message coming from other cities? Can the movement as a whole, and especially our city’s contingent, overcome the eventual flares of temper and ego that come as some step forward to speak for others who may not share total agreement? Will Cincinnati, a quiet, conservative city, long tolerate an ongoing display of defiance? Will it produce any legislation, or change in policy that will actually help people, change things? Or is it just an extended, futile urban camping adventure?

I’m not Carnac the Magnificent

So many questions remain yet to be answered as to where the Occupy Wall Street movement is going and what, if anything, it will produce in terms of change. But as long as these people are nonviolent, the idealist in me hopes they can keep it going, pounding home a consistent message and concrete demands until someone pays attention. I hope all of the participants are now registered or will register to vote, and that they vote as if their lives depend on it.

In the end, I think their lives do. Mine too, and my kids’ in the long run. Most of all,  I’d very much like to think that, in every sense, the American people have some staying power.

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Red and Blue Outlined in Neon (Part 2 of 2)

Presumably  you read Part 1 of this post, which you’ve had plennnnty of time to do, ladies and gents. If you haven’t, go back. I’ll wait. Not a problem. Come back when we’re on the same page, because I don’t want to skip ahead.

Okay. Ready? Let’s chat.

In some places, “red” has stained the very soil. Inches deep.

On this, I know whereof I speak. I am a product of the area described in Part 1, and know in my soul that it has been as I described since time immemorial, or at least for decades. After all, I’ve been of this land since I was a toddler, except for a few years chasing my dad’s entrepreneurial efforts through Florida, California, Nevada, South Carolina, and Illinois, where he and my mom picked me up originally. I spent six years in even more conservative Hancock County, Ohio immediately following my marriage, going whither my husband went much as my mother and countless other women have done.

The more things change…

I returned to this particular neighborhood, the same district from which I graduated high school, in the spring of 2003, as a mother with two preschool-aged children, to find it changed, yet unchanged. Where once had stood fields of corn and soybeans were subdivisions of .25 or .33 acre plots with smallish McMansions carefully sprinkled in housing developments. Some of the platted subdivisions have cul-de-sacs on cul-de-sacs, approaching fractal repetition that is absurdly comical. Utilitarian strip malls had been retrofitted into or replaced by the zoning-required brick-facades of faux continental malls with a very conscious “town square” air to them. Their faces sport pretty clocks with Roman numerals above chain stores selling the same brands of foreign-made consumer goods available elsewhere, anywhere. Sale today! Consume!

Outcompeting the Joneses, those slackers

Some communities around here, such as the City of Mason in Warren County, work even harder to project “look, we have money now” prosperity. Mason has lovely planted medians dotted with black street lamps evocative of gas-light era days, but with a modern upscale touch. Even those medians have automatic sprinkler systems built into them, in some cases, which is — of course – merely a protection of taxpayer investments, preserving expensive perennials, decorative grasses, and shrubberies during the bone-dry months of late summer. Mason was once the poor sibling of wealthier West Chester, but has since blossomed and is determine to show it has chops. Yes, the same lower middle class people in service industries and trades still live in this region as they did when I was in high school, but they’re quieter now. Meeker. They’re striving hard not to lose more ground to the middle managers who shop at Whole Foods and dominate these suburbs with sheer attitude and, still, apparently, plenty of disposable income.

Hollow houses

True story: When I was a very nauseated, pregnant small-town reporter back when, a sofa saleslady told me of many very, very nice homes there that were all but empty of furniture. She said people would live for years in these echoing, empty homes, filling them for work events or family gatherings with items she allowed them to take “on approval” but which came back the following week with a treated wine stain and often a some excuse about their unsuitability. This is how many suburban Ohioans live in John Boeher’s and other Ohio Republicans’ districts. Trying to look as if they’re not sweating it. They are, but they’re ashamed for neighbors and coworkers to know it. After all, aren’t the others doing well? Then they should be, too, and will if they just try a little harder. Occupy Wall Street isn’t being so loud about a problem that’s new, so much as a reality that’s become inescapable.

What do people of this area have in common?
They vote Republican. Mostly.

I examined the Board of Elections data for the 2008 and 2010 elections. Warren and Butler counties went overwhelmingly for the Grand Old Party. Even with Barack Obama to fill the sails of local candidates on the Democratic ticket, John McCain “suspending” his campaign to sit uselessly in Washington during the economic meltdown, and Sarah Palin winking/pageant-walking like a spastic hooker joining fellow Dating Game contestants, Dems got spanked here as usual. The same is true of Hancock County, Ohio. We have a few well-known outliers, i.e. winning Democrats, but overall, margins run 3:1 or at best 2:1 in favor of Republican candidates regardless of whether they’ve ever made a local appearance. The brand alone is enough to carry them here, for these are generational Republicans who don’t want any truck with liberals, because they don’t associate Democrats with common sense or casseroles. (Mac and cheese people. Which party buys more of it? Which party makes more from scratch? I’ll have to look into that.)

Getting out the vote simply will not be enough here, folks.

The numbers bear it out. Even if every person registered to vote who did not vote is tracked down at home, picked up, and driven to the polls, and if every single one of those people votes Democratic… Republicans will still win these districts. Some precincts are winnable, but the districts themselves will not be won by merely dragging all “Likely Dem” voters to the polls.

What, then, are we to do?

Some simple things, almost passive measures, have value. Put a bumper sticker or magnet on your car. (Not eight, please. Keep it tasteful. Don’t damage the brand, people.) When I dropped in on Senator Sherrod Brown’s regular Thursday “Constituent Coffee” in mid-September, he demonstrated his familiarity with this area. “Keep speaking out. Stay visible,” he said, because it encourages whose who lack the “courage” which he approvingly asserted I have in ample quantities. (Thanks, Senator Brown. I like the way you characterized me, rather than saying I have no filter. Nice.)  Those of us here must let quiet, hesitant, frightened progressives and liberals know that others of like mind exist. Many feel isolated and intimidated, unsure with whom it’s safe to voice their fears and concerns.

If we don’t talk to each other, why should our representatives?

If any one thing is responsible for the ideological gridlock and mutual condemnation that dominates today’s political environment, it just might be air conditioning that eliminated porches and let us stay inside. Or the interstate highway that allowed “white-flight” and created doughnut cities with struggling urban centers. Or the existence of media pundits whose bottom line depends on creating false controversies, polarizing viewing audiences, and setting up strawmen for jousting contests followed by bonfires. Pick a culprit. There are plenty of them, but all of them perform the same function: segregating us, silencing us, keeping us from talking to each other.

We don’t talk to each other anymore. That has to change.

On Twitter, wonderful progressive/liberal friends tell me not to waste my time talking to Republicans, “RWNJ’s,” Tea Party members, and so on. Often they do so from iPads and iPhones in sophisticated, urban and quite comfortably blue districts. “Why bother?” they ask me. “They’re a lost cause.” I understand why my friends say that. Many of them can afford to write off a certain segment of the electorate and still have a fighting chance at winning their districts and their states.

Not me. Not here.

But I can’t. So I will not and do not write off anyone who will have a conversation with me. Sure, there are extremists here who will never be reachable. They’re too angry to discuss, some of them, and prefer to shout for awhile. I’ll let them. But others have been misinformed, misled, or vote for the same names year after year because they’re not quite sure who else to vote for. Keep in mind that so GOP-safe is my area that we often have no Democratic candidate, and if we do, one has often never heard the person’s name before stepping into the voting booth.

We play to our own crowd, and so do our representatives. Enough, already.

Many voters in my area have never, ever heard the case for any liberal position made by a neighbor, a friend, someone who carpools with them or hosts them for a playgroup. These voters have a preconceived notion of what it is to be liberal, one that seems scary, distasteful, foreign or just a litte too something to them. But if I come along… another midwestern mom, a product of Ohio through and through, articulating facts, reason, and doing so with warmth and genuine good will? At minimum, I’ve moved the bar a tiny bit away from artificial divides, backfilling the “you’re with us or you’re against us” chasm with a different image, a different experience.

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Talk, talk, talk.

I’ve been told plenty of times that I talk too much. Sure. That’s right. I do. But some of us talk too little, or without an ultimate purpose. Yes, let us share information and have our spirits buoyed by talking to those who share our disposition. But let’s not only preach to the choir, no matter how easy or downright fun it is. What would be the point of that other than personal enjoyment? Getting reassurance that we’re “right” and reveling in applause of a friendly crowd for our for witty jokes about rednecks and racists? *eyeroll* Well done, I guess, if that’s the only goal.

We all matter. Get out there and represent, please. It’s not just talk. It’s… outreach.

Volunteer. Canvass. Phone bank. And beyond that, take a few risks. Talk to neighbors in line at the bank, or at the grocery, or wherever we are, respond to the magazines and headlines around us… AUDIBLY. Talk to people we might not ever really like or find to be kindred spirits, but that we can understand if we make a sincere effort. They may be fearful, misinformed, scarred by previous experiences and life history, or vote GOP for any number of other reasons, including peer pressure, family pressure. But I know what they aren’t. Evil. So persuade them.

Half this country is not evil.

There. I said it. No matter which “side” one is on, rest assured that the other side is not wholly made up of evil, nasty people. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Be kind. Be warm. Be friendly. Have a sense of humor when needed. It’s refreshing, surprising to see what a difference it makes. Even if we, as individuals, never swing a single vote that we know of for certain,  we will make a difference.

Let’s get to work, find concrete acts we can perform, such as registering voters, talking to the general public, getting out the vote, sharing information with those who do not already have it. Let’s go into the world, try to understand others, try to be understood by them, then find areas of commonality. We can prove to those in our own communities that our ideas and favored candidates are the best solution, or at least have valuable ideas. That will depend on trust and good will.

Keep scorn, disdain, mocking, and jeering to a minimum.
For me. (And you.)

It’s a simple plea. Don’t make it harder for me to do the work I do in this swing state. The nastier other liberals, Dems, progressives, etc. are to my neighbors, the more uphill the battle in presenting ideas and policies. Why don’t they vote their own interests, many ask. Well, they might were it not for all the “us vs. them” baggage driving them to self-identify with manipulators. Let’s give the fine line between wit and contempt some very serious thought. No one listens to those who insult them. If I can refrain, anyone can, and in doing so, we all become better able to effectively inform, persuade, and motivate.

Be fired up, but be positive.

We’re trying to change the world here. One conversation at a time.

Thanks. J.

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Farewell to the Personal Unicorn Wing. Nice Knowing Ya.

Why, oh why, can we not focus on winning elections?

We can all agree that such concepts as “productive” and “unproductive” exist. We can disagree regarding application of said concepts to reality, but the concepts themselves are fairly well accepted. (Work with me, here.) All of us at times have self-indulgent or unproductive moments where we need to vent, of course, and I’m no stranger to that. I’m often the poster child for it. Sorry.

However, the orgy of condemnation of President Obama and all Democrats from those who claim to support progressive, Democratic, or “lefty” positions has reached levels that aren’t merely unproductive but actively destructive of all for which we presumably stand. And I’ve reached my limit in terms of listening to it when it takes purely critical, non-constructive forms. I commenced to outright ranting over the most recent weekend, and did a bit of unfollowing and blocking just to prevent myself grinding my back teeth to powder.

Entering the fray. Perhaps not a good idea, but what else is there to do? Knitting?

I posted many, many tweets under the username LibertyBelle4 to that effect of “It’s not all disastrous. Focus on the long-term result. We have to protect our candidates, because we don’t have any more on the bench.” between Sunday, July 31 and Tuesday, August 2. Drop into my feed nearly anywhere in that period, and you’re quite likely to find yourself in the middle of either calm exhortation or all-caps ranting replete with cursing. (Moods will vary, you know, depending on the severity of immediately preceding provocations. *wink*)

Here’s a sample. Some of it’s pretty loud. But some of it’s powerful stuff. Check it out or don’t. But you kind of need to, just for context. Humor me.

Of course, I cooled off a bit later. And became somewhat less a personification of my very own assertion that negativism is bad. I like to think I pulled my shit together for just awhile. Enjoy, here. Again, it’s a good idea to skim it, if only for context on what provoked the stuff coming down the pike, below.

Here’s the sort of thing I got in return. (See, I told you. the following is a response to what you didn’t read. So are you gonna, or what?)

Enter Very Angry Old Dude

Oh, yeah, I got some responses to the admittedly, chronically excessive tweetage. This, er, gentleman  did not appreciate exhortation. Not at all. Fortunately, he merely amused me. I was in a great mood, had said some fairly productive, positive things, and he came out of the blue with quite an attitude aboard.

His self-stated mission isn’t so much supporting Democrats or advancing progressive causes as “fighting righties” which is not a particularly useful avenue of pursuit. Go to Twitter, wander into the #tcot hashtag, throw down, and find out for yourself. Really. Several days later, you’ll have red, tired eyes, have kicked ass because logical fallacies are aplenty over there. Yet the same people will be saying the same shit day after day with no apparent adverse, impactful effects of said ass-kicking. A bit intractible are the right-wing nutjobs. (Yoda says so.)

Enter Another Dude Disappointed That I Had Unfollowed Him

Said elder gentleman asked me publicly if I had left him. Yes, I had. Said so. We, too, had parted ways over whether supporting Obama was the act of a corporatist, Kool-Aid-drinking tool or someone who had pragmatism in mind. Guess which position I held. If you followed the above links, you already know. Not a mystery, you know. Stick with me, please.

He and I agreed to follow one another and to meet via direct messages this afternoon. We did. And here’s the course of…

The Discussion with the Freedom Fighter Green Dude with Ultimate Powah:

(Greetings are exchanged)

Me: So. What do we do now? You’re not alone in your views. Neither am I. And I want to win. But I’m tired & discouraged. *rueful laugh*

Him: I don’t see this as a contest, but rather more informational.

Me: Inform me, then.

Him: I guess I should begin by saying that I begin from a place where you may not begin. That may be the problem.

Me, thinking this is going to take awhile: I’m listening. Just keep going for a stretch, then I’ll respond. Deal?

Him (several DM’s, altogether): I see what is happening as a major battle in a War that has been raging for centuries. So this is not a confrontation between Republicans and Democrats. // This is a war between “THE PEOPLE” and “THE AUTHORITARIANS.” Or, as some might say, the tyrants and the freedom fighters. // Now, there are generally three groups. The tyrants, the freedom fighters, and the slaves or non-combatants. In wars, they are civilians. // Politics is just War by other means in this context.

At this point, I imagine the deep-voiced trailer-narrator guy saying, “In a world…” but I’m hanging tough, playing nice.

Me: (interjection) Fact: We must function within *some* system, and those who become part of it are still just people. // Despite the dream of it, there is no peaceful, agrarian, egalitarian society. Systems develop because they’re needed for function.

Him: The slaves are politicians who stay in the middle and carry out the orders of whichever side is dominant at any point in time.//  All societies and tribes since the beginning have functioned in some system. That is nothing new. Ours just happens to be the best created.

Me: Well, if you wanna do away with the politician, what are you proposing in its place within the system? Seriously. // Quitting the system isn’t an option, because we’re still subject to it. Participating in it, using smart tactics seems the only doable option.

Him: I have never said that we should do away with them. I just acknowledge their role and what they are. Slaves or tools, if you will.

Me: Yeah. That’s delightfully theoretical, and I’d love to live in the world of Platonic forms. Meanwhile, there’s work to be done. Ya know?

Him: I have never said anything about quitting the system.

Me: Well, IMO, anyone who proposes tossing Obama in favor of a “purer” spirit is barking up the wrong tree. Massive footbullet.

Him: There is a great deal of work to be done. But it can only be done through education. // My point is that Obama is a tool to be utilized. Right now, Obama is in the hands of the opposition. We have to take possession of him.

Me: In the meantime, the practical, pragmatic, determined spiders on the right will have you caught in a web. // We can talk, talk, talk, talk all day, but if it doesn’t result in a vote that moves us, however slightly, to the left, it’s pointless.

Him: Freedom fighters are the opposition. We are always fighting them. We are never “caught.” We either live free or die.

Freedom fighters. “Never ‘caught’”? “Live free or die”? I am losing patience, despite myself.

Me: My heart is with you, but seriously, this is the talk of the perpetual real-life losers who claim MORAL victory, no results.

Him: I can see that you are having trouble understanding me. // The only real victory that anyone ever has in this world is a moral one. // You must conquer your own fears before you can truly be free.

Me, trying like hell to be nice, really: I see your heart. I see what you’re saying. But when your moral victories fuck up my real ones, we’re done. Fuck that. Seriously.

Him: That is where your perception is faulty. You believe that Obama’s victory was your own. But it can only be your victory if you make him YOURS.

Me: This is frustrating me. Can we just agree to disagree? Because he’ll never be mine or anyone else’s. This is dreaded “THEORY.”

Him: Boehner is owned by the Tea Party. But you do not own Obama. Remember, you have the power over him, IF, and only if, you are prepared to use it. // There is nothing theoretical about POWER. You have seen the POWER of this small TEA PARTY. Size is not the source of power. It is WILL.

Me: Yeah, yeah. So how much power are you exerting, because I’m not seeing it. Really. Show me an outcome. One. // Oh, so you wanna be the fanatical lefty counterpart to the Tea Party? Just as unreasonable & inflexible? Then you’re the enemy, too.

Him: It is the failure of Democrats to have the WILL. That makes them weak. You saw that in the vote on the debt ceiling.// I have a lot of power because I am a GREEN and I vote my WILL.

Me: You have zero power and you’ve accomplished absolutely nothing. You didn’t show me any power at all. None.

Him: Someday, your choice will be to choose between Bernie Sanders and a Republican. Not Barack Obama and a Republican.

Me: Bullshit. Even if that choice ever comes, Sanders will lose. he doesn’t have what it takes in this world to win. Period.

Him: He has WILL, INTEGRITY, HEART, and VALUES. People will ALWAYS select those over other things. // That is how we got our greatest presidents. They all had those things. It happened in my lifetime with JFK.

Me: Honey, I hate to say it, but you and I are gonna have to part ways. Because I don’t have time for this. It’s insanity to me.

Him: Well, I am sorry you feel that way. But if you think I am insane, I must absolutely agree.

What. The. FUCK?

No way, no how could I possibly have remained civil throughout that discussion, which struck me as so pie-in-the-sky as to seem batshit crazy, without engaging in a bit of side commentary.

Being practical? Not really. (laugh)

For all the talk of me trying to be practical, I should have been doing some private, paid work at home, or sending out resumes in preparation for a pending job change. Just goes to show how passionate I am on these subjects and how utterly impractical I can be. Which means that if I find this guy off in left-left-left field, he really, really is. Freedom fighters? Oh, please. I’m just trying to help like-minded, reasonable, generally liberal people standing for election get into office. And yeah, I’ll count that as a win, because policy doesn’t come out of mere moral victories. It comes out of committees and bodies politic that are full of candidates who won the damned election.

The Moral of the Story

I’d love to say I’m done having these stupid, useless, looooong discussions with people who don’t have realistic goals but are full of romantic notions of freedom fighting to get Bernie Sanders on the top of the ticket. I will probably keep doing it.

But it will be useful, to an extent, to have THIS here, so I can just link it and say, “All THAT. Now leave me alone so I can get out the vote, you idiot.”

Sheesh. (shaking my head) People are weird.

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Air: We All Need It

Air is not free. It costs 75 cents

Air is not free, but it should be.

Scene: the greater Cincinnati area, a Speedway gas station. Heat shimmered from the pavement driving mixed particulates of gasoline, oil and humidity upward in silvery ribbons. I sat in the car waiting for my tank to fill, another middle-class Ohio mom in a mid-sized SUV on her way to a part-time shift at work, jamming to The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me” and enjoying the occasional stir of air from open windows.

“Excuse me. Miss?”

The words that startled me came from a dark-haired man in his late 20′s, wearing a white tank and work pants, such as would be worn by a workman under an embroidered work shirt. Sweat shimmered on his brow, and his left arm was already outstretched in a gesture toward a large, once-luxury sedan behind him, parked beside the air compressor at the edge of the lot. Through the open windows I could see plush, dark upholstery on the seats. Upholstery that simply had to radiate heat like an unwelcome seat warmer in this weather. The young man looked stressed, eyebrows raised questioningly.

“Do you have 75 cents? Could I have 75 cents? I need air in one of my tires, and it takes, the machine takes 75 cents to make it go. Gotta get to Dayton. But I don’t have anything.”

I had reached into the change compartment in my car before he got to “tires,” so I said “Sure,” and reached out with three quarters in my palm.

He stepped forward to take it. Nodded at me. Stepped backward before speaking again. “Thanks. I really appreciate it. I really need to get to Dayton for work. If I don’t get some air in that tire, I don’t know what’ll happen. Just, thanks so much,” he said.

“No problem. Really,” I said. “I’m glad to do it. We’re all short now & again, and always at the worst time.”

“Thanks,” he said, looked at me one last time, shared a mutual half-smile with me and waved wearily, turning away, as the pump signalled with a loud click that my tank was full. I got out. Topped off. (I have a thing for even amounts. Topped off an extra 16 cents to make it an even seventy-five dollars. The amount wasn’t lost on me.)

I felt happy, briefly, to have had a small human moment. I go through my days often isolated, except for interactions with my immediate family and friends on Twitter. It felt good. So small. Not really worth much fuss. Maybe I made a difference, prevented a turning point that could have been bad. Maybe I postponed the inevitable, for one day. I’ll never know. Such a tiny generosity isn’t worth any congratulations. Not at all. On the contrary.

But the moment also aroused some discontent, unease.

He half-expected me to say no. It was written on him.

I saw his uncertainty. The humility. The slight hope. And THAT, over such a small courtesy, causes me a combination of extreme sadness and absolute rage.

I know people who would say this guy was a beggar. That he “worked” me. That it’s a mistake to let him get close to me with my wallet nearby, and that he came to a “low state” through his own choices. Some of them would even say that it’s good for him to learn to maintain his car better, and I should have allowed him to live with the consequences of his own failure. Seriously. We know those people. I have some in my own family, and those voices live in my head along with the voice of caution that warns against talking to strangers asking for money.

But he was awfully specific. He didn’t ask for much. Not one dollar, or five, or ten. He asked for seventy-five cents, three quarters. And his eyes shows a gratitude that makes me almost ashamed to admit how much it had cost me to fill up my own tank, and how little thought I had given it while I sat as the pump ran, jamming in my car, lost in my own life.

Air. All this guy needed to make it work was air.

But even air isn’t free anymore. It used to be. Once upon a time, gas stations had compressors freely available and maintained at the edge of the lot, open for use by travelers local or making their way cross country. It was one of the courtesies provided at no charge. A loooong while ago, a serviceperson would have come out and filled your tire for you, checked your fluid levels, cleaned your windshield. A boon to travelers, I’ll bet it was, not that I’m usually the nostalgic sort.

Yessss, I’ve been told that compressors are expensive, difficult to maintain, often fall victim to vandals. (And you know who you are, the first person who heard this tale. Grrr…) Call me a clueless bleeding-heart liberal for it, but I simply don’t care in this case. Surely the profit margin on the $.06 worth of soda we all pay $1.49 for in hundreds of separate transactions must, must amount to something. I guarantee you that the hot dogs aren’t worth a whole dollar each, even if you count the condiments. I’ve had lots of ‘em. Maybe some of that margin should go toward providing an air compressor.

None of us should begrudge another mere air.

This man has the car. He has the gas. He has the tires, although one is obviously leaking. He has a job, one that he needs, and which obviously doesn’t pay big bucks, but I’ll bet he actually produces something with his hands. How many people make millions of dollars a year and never, ever have to worry about a deflating tire but produce nothing tangible or of true worth?

The small experience again reminded me of how far the spirit of… supporting one another has fallen in this country. Of mutual good will. The sense of being there for one another and investing in the things that make it possible for people to grow, learn, succeed, prosper, no matter what their beginnings. True, we come together in times of trauma, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, where the high are laid low along with the already-low. What about ordinary days? When people are going about their business, doing their absolute best to get through one day? Very little respect is given to the dignity and worth of people who get up and work every day. Even less concern or caring is shown for their quality of life, their access to healthcare, childcare, quality food, education, and all the other resources that make it possible to get “all the way to Dayton.”

What is wrong with us, that the notion of the common good has been lost in public discourse? For all the talk of Christianity, it’s no longer the religion my mother held to. Many megachurches in my area pat themselves on the back for their righteousness and celebrate how successfully some member of Congress have represented their hateful perversion of what my mom believed. This new prosperity-gospel says “If you’re poor it’s because God thinks you deserve to be, so I won’t help you.”

Put the compressor back on the curb, and open that baby up. I’ll pay an extra few dollars to make sure it’s there when I need it, or you need it. The same goes for a public option, good education through the college level, and so many other fundamental characteristics of a healthy society.

Air. Just air in the tires. People aren’t asking for much.

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Don’t Just Bitch. *Do* Something.

In late summer 2008, a sauna-steamy Ohio Sunday, I waded into John Boehner’s home district with: a clipboard; a pen; a walk-list of “persuadables/likely Dem voters”; and the admonitions of our local Obama team leader fresh in my ears.

Stick to the script.

Encourage early voting.

Offer voter registration cards to unregistered voters.

Most importantly, keep moving.

Leader Pat – a young man of good instincts, I must admit — might have given me the stink eye when he said, “Don’t spend too much time in one place. We have a lot of ground to cover.” Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

Fast-forward. *knock knock*

The door of a moderately-priced rental townhome opened to reveal a craggy-faced man, mid-50’s with longish stringy hair, wearing a faded Cincinnati Reds tee-shirt, and jean shorts. Fashion statement: Borderline homeless. Then again, it was Sunday afternoon, slouch time, so I’m not judging.

“Hi, I’m Joan, and I’m here on behalf of the Barack Obama campaign. We’re encouraging area residents to update their voter registrations and take advantage of early voting.” (If you’ve done it, you know the drill. If not, find out. Ground to cover, people. Boots on the ground.)

The man, whom we’ll call Bill, said somewhat challengingly, “I don’t vote. I’m sovereign.”

Alrighty then. Faaaaascinating. Fun!

“And that means…?” I asked, with a half-smile. And likely a glint in my eye.

Bill drew his shoulders back and assumed a surprised-but-pleased expression at being asked, obviously accustomed to being treated as a nutter. “Well, I’m sovereign. I don’t recognize the authority of this regime. I’m not a subject of this tyrannical and illegitimate system. I don’t vote or participate in this corrupt political process because I’m independent of it.”

(If you are holding a Buzzword Bingo card, holler “Bingo!”)

One person rambling, the other face-palming

You're kidding? Right? Just... stop talking.

More delighted and amused than irritated by this silliness, I teased, smiling, “Oh, are you now? Do you drive? Have license plates on your car? Drive on roads? Stop when the police pull you over? What about the sidewalk over there? Ever walk on it? Didya pay for it?”

Insert long, contentious-but-friendly discussion ranging from pesticides on produce to neighborly disputes. Bill shares details of his personal situation. Rapport, mutual respect and tolerance for the f-bomb are established. Time to get serious.

“But, (heavy sigh) Bill… you can’t even paint your fucking walls without getting permission from the landlord. And I use the term ‘landLORD’ advisedly. You’re not sovereign. You’re unemployed, for cryin’ out loud. No income. You’ll be lucky if you have walls six months from now, much less a castle from which to rule as a ‘sovereign.’”

Bill shuffled his feet, but said nothing, looking down. 

“Bill. Bill. Look. You know I’m not a complete idiot after this conversation. And I love it that you read up on things and enjoy a spirited discussion. But the bottom line is that you’re not ‘free’ at all. And never will be if you keep distancing yourself from ‘the process.’ That’s bullshit. It won’t get you anywhere. You’re much more likely to get what you want and need if you vote, and particularly if you vote for my guy. (shrug) I’m just saying. Read Obama’s books. You’ll like ‘em. Good stuff… And don’t buy that ‘socialist’ bullshit. There’ll be a metric shit-ton of really pissed off über-liberals two years from now. Mark my words.”

Bill said, “Not promising anything. But I’ll think about it.”

“You do that, Bill. I’m not kidding around.  I’m not pounding the pavement in this soup because I enjoy the exercise. Sweating is not fun, and I’m going to be in big trouble for spending this much time on one vote. Hear me? I gotta move on, but you take care.”

Bill, smiling, said, “I will. You too.”

Stick to the script? Nuh-uh. I don’t like ‘em. We’re not assembling widgets here. We’re trying to change somebody’s thinking — not a sport for amateurs. Luckily, Bill wasn’t one of the KKK-type sovereign guys, evidenced by the fact that he didn’t shoot me for trespassin’. Be careful out there.

What’s the take-away? Most people mean well. Even when what they’re doing and saying is destructive or apathetic in effect. They think they’re working for a higher good. They think they’re helping. Even if you and I disagree.

*gritted teeth* Even Tea Party people.*shudder*

We’re all capable of staggering cognitive dissonance. To preserve pride and sense of self, we transform our own terrible history or condition into a crusade, a statement, a blow at “the system.” Some allow rhetoric to make us feel guilty for needing help or even demanding access to that which we have earned, paid for. Some identify with others not on the basis of common circumstances and experiences, but based on deliberate self-deception about our own status, ambitions.

Unfortunately, we fail to consider by what means we will become that to which we aspire. And we utterly fail to secure those means with our votes.

Yes, I could have walked away from Bill with a smile and, “Thanks. Have a nice day.” Probably should have. I was late getting home that day.  I got stuck with a clipboard, and hubby had to make dinner. Perhaps my plan all along? Of course not.

I’m not giving up. Not on myself. Not on you. Not on “them.” All I have to do is get one particular idea through. Okay, maybe two.

Do something. It matters. Whatever your talents, use them.

And don’t screw it up for the rest of us.

This is hard enough already without mostly like-minded people working at cross-purposes. Deal?

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