I Voted. Now What?

Despite attempting to swear off political posts for the month, I’m still unhooking from political news and chatter. It’s hard to avoid and today is election day. I’ve just returned from voting. Unfortunately, numerous contests will be litigated for weeks or months on end. The upside of this is that I will not stay up for results, nor check my phone every two minutes throughout the night. I will sleep. Politics do not own me (and I will keep repeating that mantra until I get my sleep, dammit).

39027381I’m still reading Donna Cameron’s book A Year of Living Kindly. Normally, I’m a fast reader, but some books require breaks – time to absorb meaning and think about how it applies to one’s own life. It’s a gentle read for caustic times. In a world full of shouting and knee-jerk reactions, I’m determined to take myself down a different path. Which is why much of my reading lately has focused on ethics and integrity. This morning, though, I read Chapter 30: Choosing to be For or Against. I put the book aside, leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes.

I learned long ago that living in resistance to something is still a negative choice. If I wanted to break out of particular family cycles, I’d never truly be free if I only focused on who I didn’t want to be. I had to know who I wanted to be. I had to know the kind of family life I wanted, what kind of person I wanted to share my life with, what kind of parent I wanted to be. Sometimes those things did not seem clear to me until after making many, many mistakes, but when I realized what my values were, I began to make decisions on their behalf. This is a much harder path to follow than simply not being the other.

Winning or losing, picking a side, this is the least interesting dynamic of any human interaction. But it is the easiest way to sort and categorize people. It’s the easiest way to reduce complex, nuanced thought to a grunt. It’s the easiest way to give up your humanity, your individuality, your sense of right and wrong and to take away that of others.

canstockphoto25182408There is life beyond the power-grab-swap-meets every few years. All politics aside, we still have to look ourselves in the mirror and ask “Am I a decent human being?” After tuning into social media and seeing the mindless droning of insults and labels, I realized very quickly that I need to check myself, away from the din of politics. I know that I have a moral center and personal integrity, but it’s become so fuzzy of late. What do I stand for? What am I willing to fight for, believe in, support? Notably this is not a “who” question, because principles and values are not fungible depending on who is in charge.

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be either good or evil.

Hannah Arendt

Being for something means that my values are not dependent on what the other side is doing. Being for something means that I have a course set before me that is positive. The point of propaganda is that most phrases have very little specific meaning. They’re reductive and easily come to represent the worst of any group. It’s too easy to absolve ourselves of personal responsibility. This is why group dynamics freak me out – when people become essentially nothing more than a bumper sticker, engaging in polemics they wouldn’t repeat on their own.

Perhaps it seems the height of luxury (and of privilege) to insist on one’s own trajectory, to put aside all politics for the moment and say Who do I want to be? Who am I capable of being? Am I being that person now? Much of politics is illusory and is a poor basis for defining one’s humanity. Part of the game is to keep us at each other’s throats, so that we don’t mind our pockets getting picked and lives being diminished. Those in the arena just want to fill the seats – they don’t care how.

The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.

Abigail Van Buren

Today is a good time to step back. Do your civic duty and vote – then let it all go for a moment. Think about what is important to you as an individual. Get off social media, shake off the sloganeering of whomever you’ve aligned yourself with this political season. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you being a good parent, spouse, neighbor, friend? Are you kind and generous of spirit?

Whatever the results are tomorrow, none of us are winning if we serve as mouthpieces for scripted politics. What we represent first and foremost is ourselves. Who is that going to be?

An Introvert Walks into a Caucus…

In the United States, a precinct caucus is the smallest unit of politics one can participate in – it’s the beginning of the beginning.

Last night, the Republican and Democrat caucuses took place in little class and canstockphoto50751416conference rooms all over the state of Minnesota. I have always considered myself an independent and in the distant past, voted for whatever candidate I felt would be best. These days, moderate Republicans are like unicorns and independent parties keep putting up fringe operators at best, so last night I went blue and attended my local precinct caucus for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (Democrats in Minnesota).

In a fit of pique after the 2016 election, I had joined the nonpartisan League of Women Voters (LWV). They focus on voting rights and community issues, which appealed to my sense of egalitarianism (wasted in the current environment, but old habits die hard). I was dipping my toes into the pool of activism. I’d always been politically informed, a nerd who read The Economist and Foreign Affairs, but joining a march or going door-to-door made me shrink away in horror. And meetings give me a shiver of revulsion.

Current events being what they are and simply being pissed off enough to overcome my personal inclinations, I typed up the voting rights resolutions (items you put forward to be added to the party platform) supported by the LWV and packed myself off to the precinct caucus.

canstockphoto26667276The last time I attended any caucus was about 20+ years ago, while I was attending the University of Iowa. I was working three jobs and trying to get through college. I’d gotten out of the Army with some vestiges of Republicanism, but had given up religion and was turned off by the conservative morality police, so I attended a Democratic caucus down the street from my apartment. Like most of college, I have little recollection of the proceedings.

As an introvert, I have to prepare myself for events. I’m usually filled with nervous anxiety, don’t sleep well the night before, and find myself issuing mental commands: Breathe. Relax your shoulders. And then the reassurances: It’s only two hours. It will be fine. In the case of this precinct caucus, it wasn’t just a case of showing up and listening. I had to speak as well.

My suburb has 14,000 registered voters divided into eight precincts. Statewide, Minnesota has a slight majority of Democrats over Republicans, so statistically, my precinct caucus should represent around 800 Democrats. 15 people showed up. Low-level participation during a midterm year is common to both parties. A woman told me in 2016 that you could barely move through the hallways, it was so packed.

canstockphoto10803271The 15 people ranged from 30-80 in age, all of us having the blotchy pale color of a six-month Minnesota winter. We were ensconced in puffy clothes that made us all blobbish, wearing shoes with traces of road salt on them. This is the red carpet of an involved citizenry. Due to the small number, we were all automatically delegates to the next meeting. Yay?

We followed the rules of order and an agenda, while being interrupted by politicians popping in to give their mini stump speeches. They all seemed a little breathless, as if they were attempting to go to every one of Minnesota’s 4,117 voting precincts.

The first major bit of business was doing a straw poll for gubernatorial candidates, since ours is on the ballot in the fall. I was one of two uncommitted voters in the room. It’s early in the process for me to determine who I’d support. And I simply hadn’t done the research.

canstockphoto39668856When it came to resolutions, I had five. There were only two others from the rest of the room. One was from an elderly gentleman who shook slightly as he spoke – he wanted a moratorium on factory farms. I knew that there were lobbies in our surrounding states to do the same, due to the health issues and the pollution of waterways. His resolution passed.

I went through three voting rights resolutions: automatic registration with the driver’s license (an opt out system rather than the current opt in), pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-old voters (raises early voter participation), early voting using actual ballots and not absentee ballots (saves money and less confusing to voter). Then two government accountability resolutions: no more omnibus bills in the state senate and house, must follow single subject line rule (with the exception of major finance bills which have a lot of moving parts) and transparency in electioneering communications (currently if ads don’t say “Vote for” or “Defeat” in Minnesota, advertisers don’t have to identify themselves).

All my resolutions passed unanimously. A slight victory, since these resolutions will have to go through many more filters before having a shot at making it into the state’s party platform, much less any actual legislation in the very far future.

The last resolution was done on the fly by a man hastily filling in the form. He was talking about school referendums and I didn’t understand what exactly his resolution was, despite asking for clarification. Since I did not have the opportunity to do any research, I abstained from the vote. It, whatever it was, still passed. Easy crowd.

canstockphoto48358399I walked into the caucus with apprehension, but I walked out as the precinct chair, a delegate, and an election judge. I am reminded of a magnet on the fridge that a friend gave me: Stop me before I volunteer again. I am an introvert, but I’m also tired of the loudmouths having all the power. Our system suffers when the extroverts and impulsive blabbers dominate.

It was a big question among my introvert friends last year. How can I make a difference without being loud? I remember a sign that showed up at marches: “So bad, even introverts are here.” The world has become so hostile and angry that people like me want to retract our limbs into our shells. But now is simply not the time. Better to counter the impulsiveness of shameless self-promoters. Just breathe, relax your shoulders, and step into the world, resolutions in hand.

The Anatomy of One American Voter

canstockphoto5811625This post is unusual in that it is excessively long. Apologies on that count. Politics have been eating at my brain all week and it made me think about my motivations as a voter.

The unethical, monied arena of American politics is picking up steam. Political support is reaching all the frenzy of a stock exchange pit.

I find unwavering, unquestioning support of any human or organization to be slightly creepy. This is what puts me off about religion and sports teams and Beyoncé fans. Essentially, any group that seems to demand that one check their critical thinking skills at the door, lay out a bunch of money or spend a lot of time looking for ways to condemn others is too simplistic. And I’m very skilled at being angry all on my own, thank you very much.

This voting cycle is challenging me. So much of it looks like politics as usual, the spewing of vague, unsubstantiated promises, inflammatory rhetoric and sound bite triteness. I stare at the crowds holding signs for this candidate or that and I think What makes you so sure? I’m not. It made me think about who I am as an American voter, uninterested in joining campaign rallies, cynical about every word out of any politician’s mouth, and disdainful of the half-assed reporting being done.

I have prejudices – against the wealthy, against old white politicos, against corporations,  trash-talking politicians, and religious demagogues. Overt nationalism gives me the heebie-jeebs. I have to work with my own biases and critically think about what matters. I need to listen, read and research, because I know relying on my gut feeling or knee-jerk reaction is not rational. I have a history that informs my choices and I need to be honest about that.

Origins

Georgic_postcard.jpgI was born a first generation American. My mother and her family emigrated from England in the early 1950s. Historically, the women were homemakers with little power and unhappy marriages. The men had respectable careers and wandering eyes. Children were born. Divorces were decreed. Poverty happened.

My mother had me when she was 18. My father was around for the first 5 years, but I have little recollection of him. Then a stepfather. 4 kids later, my mother was married to an alcoholic who was irregularly employed and abusive.

I was born into a family comprised of drinking Republicans, raised in the shadows of Seventh Day Adventist fundamentalism and lived in poverty, lining up for government cheese and butter. Judgments from all corners were swift and dogmatic.

Religion

I believed in a vengeful god. As a little girl, I expected to be punished for every infraction. My home life served as evidence. I was baptized in a pool in the front of the church wearing a gown with weights in the hem. The pastor slowly pushed me under the water while my hand scrambled to grab onto his robe. I was 12.

By the time I was 18, I was filled with doubt about the existence of god, the necessity of religion and my ability to believe in something I could not see. In 1987, a 6-year old girl named Lisa Steinberg was murdered by her adoptive father. She was on the covers of magazines. She looked a lot like me when I was her age. It stuck in my head. If I was so protected by faith, why did no one protect her?

canstockphoto7351147It was the studying of Ancient Near Eastern History in college that made me lose my religion. Not some liberal professor or godless academic. It was learning about the Egyptian gods and how gods were changed to suit political purposes and control populations. It confirmed my suspicions that religions were driven by men in power.

It was a nice little set up for them. Ancient texts confirming that they were more important than women, than children, than animals. Organizational rules that ensured women could not lead, corporal punishment could be used on children and that animals could be sacrificed and eaten with alacrity. It was a theological casino where the house always wins. I let it all ride, left with my pockets empty, but my heart lightened.

Military

I signed up for the Army when I was 17. I was a smart kid, but no one ever talked about college in my household. We worked. We survived. We didn’t ask for more. But I wanted more. I took tests and signed on for an eight-year gig in military intelligence as a Russian linguist, 4 active duty, 4 inactive /reserve.

canstockphoto0087452.jpgBasic training was at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. I got held up because my mother was not a citizen. When the background check finally cleared, I joined the ranks of women trainees. We were the first company of women to be trained more on par with the men. Except every day, we knew we weren’t.

Physical training put us in thin gray t-shirts and gym shorts. A lieutenant would walk around, watching us do sit-ups, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his dick was always at attention. Drill sergeants bellowed out Jody calls that would only make sense for men and then laughed their asses off when we’d repeat them.

I spent a lot of time doing push-ups, because I had a bad habit of making direct, angry eye contact with people who were bossing me around. My drill sergeant had the red-rimmed, watery eyes of an alcoholic. I hated him on sight.

I graduated basic to spend a year at the Defense Language Institute in California. Then 3 months at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. My final duty station was Wuerzburg, West Germany supporting an infantry division. I spent two and a half years there, mostly out in the field or at the motor pool with a team of 4-5 men. Off-duty I rambled about Europe either drunk or hungover.

For my reserve time, I joined a field support hospital unit, got re-trained as a combat radio operator and waited, with the rest of the unit to be called up for the first Gulf War. Despite the combat-hungry commander, who called Washington nearly every day to volunteer the unit, and all the training sessions about how when I got over there, I couldn’t drive and had to keep my sleeves rolled down, we never got called. Once the war paused, I left the unit and did the rest of my time on inactive duty.

Education

I settled in to use my college fund. I tested out of basic college requirements and did a cheap year at a community college before attending the University of Iowa. I graduated with my BA in two years and with no plan, went to grad school. The college fund was gone, so I worked three jobs to pay for that first year. I was out of my league and regularly fell asleep during lectures. I quit because I didn’t want to pay any more to be miserable.

Work

canstockphoto18405495I’ve always worked my ass off, but seemed ignorant of the fact that I was chronically underemployed. I cleaned toilets and did laundry at a hotel. I waitressed at a truck stop. I cashiered, unloaded trucks and did ungodly shifts at a big box retailer. I was a security guard, a library manager, a medical records reviewer. I made doughnuts and sold VCRs. I translated Russian political documents and managed a medical residency program at a university. My last job was as a small business manager.

I worked with a wide variety of people in very different environments. And the only lesson that really stuck with me is that there is no they or them. Every single person has a story. Which makes life complicated. Which makes politics complicated.

Relationships

I never imagined that I would get married or have children. I didn’t have good relationships and they didn’t fit in with my fantasy of being a writer who traveled the world and sipped coffee over the New York Times.

canstockphoto2872319It took me awhile to realize that I was hungry for stability. I decided to stay in one place. I hung out my single shingle and met my partner. He was a progressive Lutheran with a sense of humor and a MacGyver competence with duct tape and PVC pipe that was damned impressive.

My wedding with 10 people in a park and a justice of the peace dissipated in the face of his beliefs. His wedding was in a Lutheran church with a zillion people and all the trappings of tradition. He got his wedding. I kept my name. Almost 16 years later, we still like and love each other. And vehemently disagree about religion.

Parenting

Having a child is a game changer. At 37, it also meant that I would never sleep a full night again, as babyhood evaporated into the insomnia of perimenopause. I attended parenting classes, because I knew more about changing a tire than I did about raising a kid. It has been, for me, an amazing experience. Older, good job, more money, higher education – people may disavow a need for stability to have a happy home, but holy shit – it helps.

3,728 soccer games and music lessons later, I am raising an amazing person. More amazing than I ever could hope to be. She knows how to work, she’s kind to others and she asks the best questions. What will the world hold for her? Who will represent her?

I’m a fervent supporter of public education, but I’m angry about it. Kids have become guinea pigs for the pedagogical meanderings of disconnected administrators, while teachers try not to drown under the unrealistic expectations of bureaucracy and taxpayers. The unimaginative application of corporate values to education has created a cobbled-up mess of logos and hot air.

Health Care

People can complain (and do) all they want about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but somebody finally did something. Our health care system is unfettered capitalism at best, mercenary at worst. The PPACA may be the wrong thing. It may need some work, but no one seems to have come up with an alternate plan that can be reasonably implemented. At least not with the sloppy mess we now have in Washington.

Guns

Despite my military experience, I am scared of people with guns. The availability of assault weapons, this much-defunct wild west mentality, the insecurity that drives conspiracies, the hyper-machismo, the idea that more guns means we’re safer, is absolutely delusional. Have you met humans lately? Some of them can’t drink hot coffee without injuring themselves.

Politics

I used to say in that pithy way that wishy-washy people do, I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Since none of the major parties represents these ideas, I went from a registered Republican to a Democrat to an Independent. I’m really none of those. Most of the time I vote Democrat, because their rhetoric sounds less likely to kill us all.

Summary

The point of this incredibly long post is that I’ve come to believe that it’s not just the politicians who are lying. Voters unwittingly lie about their motives, their beliefs and their objections. They lie because they don’t think about what informs them as a voter – which means their choices are ones of default.

I see people fervently supporting one politician over the other and wish they’d just take a timeout and ensure that their beliefs are reasonable and for the common good, because it matters. Even if our political system is corrupted, even if we feel powerless, personal integrity matters.

I love my country. I love its potential, its diversity, and in the end, its optimism. What I love, most of all, is its changeability and believing that I can be part of that.

I’m an American voter.

What experiences inform you as a voter?

You Get What You Pay For: The Midterm Elections

canstockphoto3694682This morning, we Americans were treated to a bevy of smug smiling old white men from every media source. I voted, so settle in – I get to complain. This morning, I scrolled glumly through the election results. Let’s face it, same old shit, different day. I’m not going to launch into the typical polemics of them versus us, except in the sense that them versus us is all about the average American versus the political oligarchy that swims in the sewage of big money. Politicians of any ilk.

President Obama, in my mind, has not distinguished himself from any other president in the last three decades. I had hoped, especially early on, that he’d be bold. Instead, the only change he implemented was the change he ran on – “not Bush”. Mediocre presidency. The Democrats have spent this entire time acting like the bullied kid on the playground – not pushing back, not taking a stand, not doing much of anything except wringing their hands about them bad ole’ Republicans.

The Republicans are still confusing ideology with good policy making and while they tout the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, they are as white and misogynistic as ever. Her campaign was based on “there are no women or race issues, only people issues”, which reflects the tone-deafness of her fellow party members. Guess what? Not acknowledging problems doesn’t make them go away. And exactly what are the people’s problems? Because seriously, I have no issue with not calling corporations people and getting creepy male politicians out of my privates and training police officers how not to shoot black people. And for goodness sake, stop telling me what a real marriage is, especially when so many of your own houses are in disarray.

Billions of dollars were poured into these midterm campaigns, spent on making dysfunctional political families look like something out the 1950s, while rabid dogs gallop across lawns. And then there were the family pets. I am discouraged. I participated in the process. Most of the candidates I voted for won, but I feel like I just got out of the gutter. All this money scares the hell out of me. Four billion dollars for a midterm election? Four billion dollars? Holy shit. Welcome to our pay-to-play system. For all the harkening back to the founding fathers, I truly doubt that this is what they envisioned for this country.

So, what’s an American to do? I’m pretty fed up with reading angry blog posts (and just about done writing this one), since social media doesn’t mean squat in this river of money. It’s another way we citizens can seem to be involved and powerful that, in the course of history, will just be an added distraction for the masses, like Candy Crush. Or voting.

As someone who is relatively optimistic about my country, I’ve hit a new low. Four billion dollars. Republicans who are doing their doolally happy dance this morning, act like they won something based on their super duper plan for improving the country. Nope. They just paid for it. Democrats look downright rudderless. They paid for that, too. Worst of all, we, the People, are going to pay the price for this cynical and corrupt political system as we suffer the next two years of relentless campaigning for the 2016 elections. Four billion will be just the tip of the iceberg.

Licensed to Complain

In preparation for November 6th, I have dutifully surfed my way over to Minnesota’s Secretary of State website and printed out the sample ballot for my zip code. And the Googling begins. For many elections, I am ashamed to say, I voted a straight party ticket and went with all the incumbents for judges and unaffiliated public offices.

As a registered Independent and independent thinker, I can no longer rely on political party as a guide. After all, there are douchebags on both sides of the aisle. I’m not wasting a vote this year on a douchebag. People argue that their vote, in what has become a monied, two-party system, is wasted and I have often felt this – that my vote is useless.

As redistricting, voter registration laws and other political maneuvers screw with our system, we the people, seem to have less impact on the electoral college and its outcome. It is an outdated system, especially in an age where technological advances would make a popular vote easily managed. Although the phrase “popular vote” makes me think of a reality show – but really, what else is this? We’re just as likely to vote for a person who cries on TV because somebody broke up with them, as we would for someone who believes in education tax credits. That’s what “news-tainment” has done for us.

Regardless of my resentment of a system taken over by big money and gerrymandering, voting seems to be the very least I could do. As an American, I’m always on board with doing the least amount of civic duty possible. In an age when we’re supposed to be carpooling, recycling, buying fair trade, conserving energy, not buying from sweat shops and all the other things that would make us good citizens of our nation and of the planet, voting seems the simplest civic duty to fulfill. Show up at an old school gym, stand in line, fill in some circles, go home.

The voting experience has changed in the last few elections. Instead of chatting up our neighbors in line, we stare suspiciously, wondering whose side they’re on. Our state ballot is even more divisive this year, due to a couple of constitutional amendment questions. Yard signs are not only numerous, but every other sign, depending on your perspective, is offensive.

I despise the proposed constitutional amendments, especially since these seek to restrict the rights of others (marriage amendment and voting ID laws). The marriage amendment just baffles me. I’m heterosexual and married (we like to refer to ourselves as one man, one woman all the time) and I don’t get this initiative. There are a lot of lesbian and gay soldiers fighting and dying in our wars abroad. Preventing them from sharing the overwhelming bliss of fighting over where the spatulas in the kitchen go, is simply not a priority. Whatever your religious or moral beliefs, this is not an effective use of time, money or energy. State constitutional amendments that seek to limit, or restrict any citizen’s rights seem antithetical to the whole small government spiel.

The photo ID requirement amendment is worthy of contempt as well. Ostensibly it will require all voters to have photo ID, but the fine print on the ballot says the state is required to provide free identification to eligible voters. Um, how much is that going to COST? Estimates run anywhere from $10-25 million dollars. It makes me want to throw up a bit. This is the conundrum of being a fiscal conservative and a social liberal – both parties fail miserably on fiscal conservatism and the Democrats are barely passable on social liberalism (uh, didn’t there used to be other people besides the middle class?).

I have to cherry pick candidates from across all political borders to meet my bare minimum requirements. Then I have to talk myself into voting for the candidate, even though he or she talks about fiscal accountability in one breath, and how we’re going to improve our economy through cheap Martian labor in the next. Batshit crazy. The major political parties are just a little bit better at downplaying their Perot/Gingrich/Dean factors, but they’re there, just waiting to freak us all out when they’re elected.

The real reason I vote is a lesson from childhood and a story I’ve told before. Political discussion on the maternal side of my family was often heated and insulting. My mother and grandmother retained their British citizenship until the early 1990s, but they were very strident in their opinions about American politics. Finally, after hours of debate, my long-suffering, gentle grandfather would get frustrated and snap “well, you can’t even vote, so who cares?” The room always got very, very quiet after that. I’m owning up to the reason I’m voting. It’s my license to complain until the next election.