Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wanted: An Atheist Candidate For President

I was raised Jewish but my personal beliefs are agnostic. I’m not so arrogant to reject the concept of a higher power. I don’t claim to know what the divine truth is and reserve the right to have a deathbed conversion when I reach old age.

For the time being I’m inclined to believe a higher power is really a more evolved life form that doesn’t respond to prayer or monitor my personal morality meter. In my opinion John Lennon put it best:

“God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”
However, I respect religious people. Furthermore I believe it makes sense for Democrats to persuade those motivated by the social responsibility component of religion to be part of a progressive coalition. It’s always better to add members to a coalition and not subtract. We progressives need all the numbers we can get.

Individuals motivated to promote social justice because of their religion are natural allies for the progressive movement. Those of us on the left who snicker at religious individuals should take a hard look in the mirror: many religious people travel to dangerous hot spots to save lives because of their faith based moral compass. How many of us are feeding impoverished people in Sudan?

While phone banking prior to the mid term elections I met a fellow volunteer studying to be a minister and angered by the Christian Right’s homophobia. He explained that part of his motivation to get out the vote was reclaiming a piece of the national conversation for the religious left. I respect that.

That said I believe too many religious people don’t respect secular individuals such as myself. Sadly, if you believe the polls, many religious people in America will not cast their vote for a secular minded person regardless of their other virtues. This is a taboo that must be addressed head on.

Consequently I would like to see an atheist emerge as a national candidate in 2008. Who that could be I have no idea. Nor do I expect such a candidate to prevail. It is my hope that an eminently respectable citizen with stature would illustrate that non-religious people have values and can be entrusted with power. A vital contribution would be made to our society if such a candidate emerged.

How about an old fashioned conservative who believes in personal responsibility, fiscal discipline and civil liberties running in the Republican Party? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if an attractive atheist candidate with a photogenic family took on the GOP's radical Christians? I suspect many secular minded civil libertarians would be both relieved and appreciative.

How about a Democratic candidate that aggressively courts civil libertarians who have traditionally supported the Republican Party? Perhaps many of these libertarians might give the Democratic Party another look if an avowed atheist championed the banner that Americans don’t require a morality police regulating personal choices.

Among the more painful memories I have from 2004 was Howard Dean attempting to appeal to religious voters and misquoting the New Testament. Dean who otherwise was refreshingly authentic appeared to be a fish out of water. How terrible that preserving the viability of his candidacy required not appearing overly secular.

Again, I respect religious people and have no problem with candidates articulating how their faith motivates them to achieve social justice. Nevertheless, secular people are also moral, have families and should not be embarrassed by what they are. Put another way: I’ll compare my morals with Pat Robertson’s anytime.

If neither party welcomes an atheist candidacy than a sensible self-financing independent might be what is needed. Typically, I am an advocate of a strong publicly financed campaign system. However, any independent candidacy that hopes to make a statement about atheists having a place in the national conversation will require funding outside of public financing.

Barriers of race, gender, minority religions and sexual orientations are finally being tackled in our politics. Hillary Clinton is considered the presumptive frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008. Barack Obama is also considering a run for higher office and could have a realistic shot at the nomination. Several years ago President Clinton appointed the first female Secretary of State in Madeline Albright. In 2000 Al Gore had a Jewish running mate.

President Bush’s first Secretary of State was a black man and currently a black woman fills the position. Minnesota just elected the first Muslim congressman in Keith Ellison. Congressman Barney Frank, a homosexual is about to assume the chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee.

Regardless of how you feel about any of the names referenced above their symbolism is important. For example I’ve heard Keith Ellison say he hopes to be viewed as a congressman who happens to be Muslim instead of a Muslim congressman. By breaking a barrier he makes it possible for other Muslim citizens to be accepted as candidates. Hopefully future Muslim candidates will be voted up or down because of their credentials, character and experience instead of their religion.

Every time I read a poll that says candidates must be people of faith to be considered viable by religious voters I cringe. It shouldn’t be that way. First we need to break a barrier and have an atheist throw their hat in the ring. Hopefully a courageous trailblazer will enable the public to perceive future individuals as candidates who happen to be atheists instead of an “atheist candidate.” And that will be better for everyone.
Cross postings for this topic on several community blogs provoked lively commentary and discussion. Special thanks to Gottlieb for frontpaging this topic on My Left Wing. Click Here to review comments from that community. Interesting responses can also be reviewed at cross postings on The Forvm (Click Here), Talking Points Memo (Click Here), Booman Tribune (Click Here), MyDD (Click Here), Swords Cross (Click Here) and Daily Kos (Click Here). And for a European perspective I also crossposted on European Tribune (Click Here) and their point of view is worth reading.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Tears For the Once and Future King

Saturday night I saw Emilio Estevez’s movie “Bobby” at the Brooklyn Heights Cinema. The movie timed with Robert Kennedy’s 81st birthday on November 20th has focused attention on his life, values and the times he lived. Also one can’t help but compare the turbulence RFK tried to heal with our lives today.

The movie itself is effective because the focus is not on Kennedy specifically. Instead it captures the sensibilities of numerous intersecting characters at the Ambassador Hotel that fateful day. Hence the movie provides viewers with a snapshot of our country at that time and closes with a sentimental montage of RFK footage. I was teary eyed along with the other patrons.

Afterwards I pondered why I was moved. Robert Kennedy died a year before I was born. True, I read a great deal about him, saw numerous documentaries and intellectually understood his historical impact.

Nonetheless I’m a member of Generation X and wasn’t alive to process the Civil Rights struggles or the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King and RFK. The Vietnam War ended when I was an infant and nobody in my family died in the jungles of South East Asia. The Beatles had far more of an impact on my life personally than Robert Kennedy.

Yet I was always drawn to him. After the movie I realized what fascinated me about Kennedy was his personal evolution and life journey. Robert Kennedy is enshrined in the pantheon of martyrdom. But the man is far more compelling than the legend.

Imagine you’re born into the Kennedy family. Your father is powerful, ambitious and wealthy. Irish immigrants and Catholics were stigmatized in America but Joe Kennedy was a self-made man. He served FDR as America’s ambassador to England during the Nazi Era. He made many enemies and was later discredited as a defeatist and isolationist.

Yet Joe Kennedy still managed to influence events and pushed his eldest surviving son to the White House. Your eldest brother, Joe Kennedy Jr. died in World War Two and he was the sibling your clan had the highest expectations for. So instead the torch is passed to your brother John and he becomes President. Think about that. It’s established that you’re supposed to do big things.

Hence it is the quest for power and recognition that drives you in your formative years. Naturally you become somewhat ruthless and detached. If it serves you to perform work for Joe McCarthy you do it. And you become your brother’s enforcer as he achieves the pinnacle of power.

You’re rich and successful. Big brother makes you his Attorney General. Everybody knows you’re second in command at the White House. The President’s number one confidant and most influential advisor. You play an indispensable role during the Cuban Missile Crisis and go after Jimmy Hoffa. You also play a key role in helping your brother make history regarding Civil Rights.

Might you become a little bit arrogant at that point? Perhaps you start to feel invulnerable and hubris sets in. Along the way you make mistakes and abuse power. You’re involved in assassination plots against Castro and covering up your brother’s indiscretions.

But you’ve gotten away with it. Your brother has accomplished some important things and it’s easy to rationalize you’re using power for a higher purpose. You’re making enemies but you have the ultimate shield: your brother is President and his political standing is strong.

And then it’s gone. Your brother defined your identity. In death he becomes a mythic icon. You no longer enjoy his protective shield and the burdens of expectations are thrust upon you. You are the new crown prince of Camelot and obliged to fill the role. Insecurity and vulnerability are not an option.

Some might become more detached or live in denial. You go through a period of grief and paralysis. The nation lost a President but you lost your brother and intimate collaborator. Crowds cheer for him through you. You’ve become the symbolic conduit to a ghost. Talk about a mid-life crisis? Where is my place you wonder?

Your brother’s widow turns you onto the classic literature of ancient Greece and a spark is lit. Slowly you climb your way back and with a softened perspective. Vulnerability becomes your strength. You’re not just ruthless Bobby anymore. There is more to power than its own sake.

The Senate becomes a platform and access point to explore the underside of American life: poverty, struggle and famine. You’re transformed into the tribune of the underclass and embrace the role. The role suits you. All that combative energy you used against big brother’s enemies and organized crime is focused on the cause of peace, justice and dignity for all human kind.

The Presidency beckons. Those who reside in Camelot yearn for the restoration of the throne to its proper place. Part of you is seduced by the expectations of dynasty. You are human after all. Mostly you feel the burning hopes of those who see you as the vessel of their dreams. When people reach out to touch you it’s not solely for your brother anymore. You’ve become a human kaleidoscope: Americans of all kinds view their desire to become whole through you.

You attract citizens ready to follow the banner of segregationist George Wallace and followers of Martin Luther King. Older people who crave order and inspired youth envision their salvation through your candidacy. Migrant workers, Native Americans and the poor believe you’re the one who understands their need for respect and dignity.

And there is the horrible war. The country is losing faith and wants an honorable exit. Civil unrest intensifies as America’s social fabric unravels. Your soul mate Martin Luther King is gunned down like your brother. A crowd is engulfed by grief and ready to erupt in violence. You remind them that you lost too and want no more senseless killing.

All this is happening and to millions you’re the singular figure that can heal, soothe and deliver peace. How can others feel despair or hopeless when you’re quoting George Bernard Shaw:

“Some look at things that are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”
And you’re taken from us and all that promise is left unfulfilled. Killed senselessly just like your brother and Martin Luther King.

So I watched a movie named after someone I never knew who died before I was born. And walked away in tears.
My thanks to Maryscott O'Connor for frontpaging the above topic in My Left Wing. Click Here to review comments from that community. Also my thanks to SusanG. for including me in Daily Kos's diary rescue (Click Here). Interesting comments can be reviewed in cross postings of this topic at The Forvm (Click Here) and Progressive Historians (Click Here).

Friday, November 24, 2006

Inside John McCain's Brain (satire)

Anyone have the feeling John McCain's political star is declining but nobody has caught on yet? Certainly not the mainstream media or the Republican Party establishment. So I thought I would have some satirical fun and take a peak between his ears.
This is my time. I’ll be damned if that crew of chickenhawks in the White House is going to screw it up for me. If I had my way, 4 million troops would land in Iraq tomorrow. What's the big deal? Bunch of sissies in that White House!

I’m older than dirt and nobody is going to stop me. Who else in the Republican Party can pander to conservative nuts but still appeal to the vital center of bipartisanship?

Rudy Guiliani? In his dreams! I love the guy but get real! I’m whiter than him. Rudy’s a New York ethnic. I’m more of a man than him. I bled for my country. Rudy had to kiss ass to the New York elites about abortion and gay rights. He endorsed liberal Mario Cuomo in ’94. And has anyone ever seen those skits he performed on Saturday Night Live? Try selling that to Jerry Falwell.

I can’t wait for the press to pop Hizzhoner’s hot air balloon with a few choice pieces about his former police commissioner Bernie Kerik. Everybody knows Guiliani ran a corrupt shop as mayor. He’s going nowhere.

Chuck Hagel? All he’s got over me is hair. That’s it. My Vietnam story is far sexier than his. Nobody’s making any movies about Chuck Hagel in Vietnam like they did for me. And he talks like a fluffy liberal when it comes to national security. I love Chuck like a brother but what the hell did he do with his crown jewels? Politics isn’t beanbag. I’ll nail Chuck to the mast by calling him a liberal all the time.

Mike Huckabee? Save your story for those Subway commercials Governor Fatso. Mitt Romney? I don’t think so Mr. Mormon. Politics isn’t beanbag and I’ll cut you up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy you truly are. You’re nothing but a Massachusetts pro-life flip flopper. You’re John Kerry light.

Sam Brownback? A freak. Even the Christian Right know he can’t go all the way.

George Pataki? What a joke he is! The man is a failed commissar of New York’s Republican Party.

Newt Gingrich? Nothing but a pot smoking draft dodger from the sixties! Do we really want another one of those in the White House? Newt has a big mouth. The man has a paper trail longer than the Great Wall of China. He’ll be easy to destroy.

Duncan Hunter? He bought into Rumsfeld’s strategy from day one. I did too but the mainstream press isn’t about to challenge me. I can get away with saying I wanted more troops from day one when I really didn’t. I’m John McCain and I’m the straight talker even when I’m lying.

The Club For Growth types want to recruit South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford now that George Allen is gone. They don’t like me because I opposed Bush’s tax cuts. But they’ll find out real fast that Sanford is a lightweight who can’t carry my political jock. They’ll come running to me and I’m open for business.

I’ll have no trouble selling out to big business. I’ll just say I opposed tax cuts during a time of war but not in principle. I want to cut spending and let America’s “producers” keep their hard earned capital. They’ll go along and the mainstream press will write I’ve united the tax cutters and GOP deficit hawks.

I’m the man! Republicans have no choice but to nominate me. I’m anti-gay, pro-life and a closet corporatist. But the media portray me as a sensible centrist and good buddy Joe Lieberman always says nice things about me. I’ll take the nomination in a cakewalk.

The Democrats? Please nominate Hillary. The woman can hold her liquor. I’ll give her that. But who the hell do you want as Commander and Chief? Bill Clinton’s boss or me? During our joint appearance on Meet the Press I was chivalrous and said Hillary’s qualified. But everyone knows that Commander and Chief of the armed forces is a man’s job.

John Kerry? What a clueless sap! I enjoyed turning my political knife in his back! I may do it again for recreation. But I'll still refer to him as my good friend John Kerry. Politics isn't beanbag.

John Edwards? Just a pretty face. Barack Obama? I can always pick Collin Powell as my running mate. He’ll make a statement about supporting a McCain Administration’s policies on abortion. We’ll sell it as the grown up team ready to lead and in my administration Powell will have a real voice. He’s still popular. And he won’t say no to me. Powell’s a soldier and he’ll respond to the call of duty.

Al Gore? Ha! That Borg drone doesn’t stand a chance against the Straight Talk Express. I’ll beat him like a drum. He made that global warming movie and everyone forgot about the Buddhist Temple and “no controlling legal authority.” Politics isn’t beanbag and the media will do the dirty work for me. He’s Adlai Stevenson to my Dwight Eisenhower. I’ll blow Gore out.

Joe Biden? A northeastern windbag with a hairpiece.

My ole friend Russ Feingold would’ve been fun. He really is a straight talker. But he can’t compete with the Clinton money machine and dropped out. Me, I’m Mr. Campaign Finance Reform and the top fundraising dog in the Republican Party! I love it! I’m feeling my oats. I’m John McCain and nobody’s going to stop me.
Although the above is complete satire I believe McCain has accumulated a perverse hubris. McCain believes he can continue to portray himself as a sensible maverick and straight talker. The truth is very different and reality will close its grip on McCain just as it did for the Republican Party this past November 7th.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

ILJ's One Year Anniversary

Anniversaries are personal touchstones. They allow us to reflect upon where we’ve been, where we are and what comes next. It happens that November 20th is the one-year anniversary of the Intrepid Liberal Journal.

A year ago I emerged from self-imposed apathy about politics and current events. I worked my butt off for the Kerry campaign in 2004. Kerry didn’t inspire me but I believed our national honor could only be salvaged by Bush’s defeat.

So I took bus trips to Pennsylvania and canvassed. I brushed off my telemarketing skills from the ‘90s and phone banked every night after work – even though I hated telemarketing and swore to myself I would never do it again.

The early excitement over exit polls turned to ashes in the mouths of progressive activists in November 2004. There was also the lingering suspicion that Kerry really won but the election was fixed. I angrily told people I thought what happened in the Ukraine also happened here. Nobody seemed to care. Worse I was forced to acknowledge that even if the election had been fixed – Bush enjoyed enough support to make manipulating the results possible. The same also had to be said about 2000.

My country had turned into a train wreck and if Americans were too dumb to change course I wasn’t about to invest anymore time and energy. Right or wrong that’s how I felt.

Then Hurricane Katrina happened. The callous rot of Bush’s rule was exposed and apathy was not an option. Too many of my fellow citizens in the Gulf Coast were condemned to death because they were black, poor or both. Katrina renewed debate about our direction and I wanted in.

My only familiarity with blogs was through a close personal friend. I suppose you could describe her as my blog guru. Her Corporate Ethics blog, is dedicated to exposing the corruption and crimes of Kaiser Permanente. More than a blog her site has become an information repository for standing up against an evil corporate giant.

My friend had been a Kaiser employee, was familiar with their dark underside and personally suffered because of them. I suggest reading her site to learn about her personal story. I read her blog regularly and was intrigued.

Occasionally I posted comments anonymously – when people attacked her I took it personally and still do. Among her accomplishments was a state agency in California fining Kaiser over $200,000 for exposing Medical Record Numbers of their patients on their website.

My friend has little money and since losing her job at Kaiser she’s scrapped together a living with freelance work. And yet she was making a difference and giving voice to people who had suffered at Kaiser’s hands. Her blog also intrigued me because I saw parallels between them and the Bush Administration. Out of control crony capitalism, a compliant press parroting Kaiser’s propaganda and regulatory agencies that mostly overlooked their crimes against the public. Even if she weren’t my friend her blog would’ve fascinated me. There was nobility to it and a sense of empowerment from reading it. She was fighting back.

I wanted to do the same and after Katrina my passion for the progressive cause returned. My original plan was to write about various topics in advance, investigate the world of blogging and get started in January 2006 with the material I had put together. I wanted my first post to be about civil liberties and promote the concept of liberals taking a more aggressive stand and ply libertarians away from the Republican Party.

But in November 2005 John Murtha rocked the political world and called for a redeployment of our forces in Iraq. It seemed the whole world was engaged about the merits of his position and I was on the sidelines. So, ready or not I had to jump in.

And I felt reinvigorated. How wonderful to discover a whole community of progressive bloggers standing up for peace, economic empowerment and social justice. Their vitality gave me hope as I sensed the path of renewal through the netroots.

Whenever reading about bloggers in the mainstream press I’m amazed at how we’re portrayed: “dangerous,” “extreme” and with subversive values. Recently at a Barnes & Noble I spoke with someone at the history section. Somehow the topic of liberal bloggers came up and I admitted I was one. Her response to me was, “oh you’re one of those people.” I had to laugh.

Yes I’m one of “those people” whatever that means. And who are we? True enough the blogosphere has characters I would rather not be associated with – inevitable considering its size. For the most part bloggers resemble your neighbors down the street.

If you take a look at my left sidebar, underneath “Friends of ILJ” you’ll notice Joe Irvin’s Blog. Joe was the first blog to link me. An editor of a small city newspaper for 35 years, Joe served in the U.S. Army and raised two children with his wife. Yes, I see why people might fear someone like that. Decent people with sense are dangerous.

There is also Deirdre Helfferich of Ester Republic – the second blog to link me. Deirdre is an Alaskan Green Party activist and she promotes clean government, clean air and clean energy. Yes, Deirdre is terrifying and must be stopped. Anyone who supports conservation and developing alternative sources of energy must be a terrorist. Tap her phones now!

The ubiquitous Jay Lassiter of Lassiter Space is also “one of those people.” A front pager at Blue New Jersey and Democratic Party and human rights activist who helped push Robert Menendez across the finish line in his Senate race. Jay believes gays should enjoy equal rights including marriage. His father served in Vietnam and Jay is committed to bringing our troops home as soon as possible. Jay has the temerity to believe our troops shouldn’t die in an immoral and ill-conceived war. Yes he must be stopped too.

Another “one of those people” is Bill Kavanagh of Big Bill’s Diamond Blog. Bill is a Massachusetts born New Yorker and obviously an elitist with his intelligent and cogent observations. Who the hell does he think he is? Somebody slap the cuffs on him please for his recent post about police abuse on the UCLA campus.

I look forward to the return of Bob Higgins of Worldwide Sawdust. Right now his link is dead but I understand he’ll return with his own community blog soon. Bob is a war veteran against the Iraq War from Ohio. His combination of poignancy and humor make him a very dangerous man. Bob is also “one of those people” you see. Everyday I check to see if his link is working again and can’t wait to receive an Email that he’s back in business.

If you were to put the bloggers underneath my “Friends of ILJ,” “Intrepid Voices” and members of the “Community Blogs” I list in a hotel ballroom the conversation would be lively. I suspect we would agree 90% of the time and incessantly debate over the 10% we disagreed about. That’s what progressives do. The give and take is our strength. We don’t fear debate. Debating ideas is fuel for true progressives.

Collectively, the voice of progressive blogs has become a critical mass striving for reformation and justice. We helped drive the debate and voter turnout during the recent mid-term election won by Democrats. Many bloggers such as myself either raised money, canvassed or phone banked on behalf of progressive candidates. It seems all the intellectual ideas and innovation about global warming, world peace, social justice and promoting an economy that empowers people is on our side. With progressives ascending and taking power on both the federal and state level our voice will be even more amplified.

I’m proud to be a part of it.
Special thanks to Nanette of the fabulous community blog Man Eegee for including me in their weekly roundup every Sunday. I'm proud to be an Eegian!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Capitalism's Redeemer: A Podcast Interview With Author Peter Barnes

Is capitalism salvageable? Can it be a vehicle for improving the human condition? Is it possible for free markets to preserve our environment and adapt to the realities of global warming? Or is capitalism an instrument of profit for a few and nothing more? Can government regulation effectively balance the public interest with corporate power? Peter Barnes, the author of Capitalism 3.0: A Guide To Reclaiming the Commons (Berrett-Kohler Publications, Inc.) has pondered such questions for three decades. CLICK HERE to download his book for free in PDF format.

Barnes began his career as a reporter for the Lowell Sun (Massachusetts) and later wrote dozens of articles for Newsweek and The New Republic about economics. As a child he helped his father “crunch numbers” for several books he wrote about the stock market. Yet, Barnes reveals that,
“But my real economic education began in my thirties, when, after a midlife crisis, I abandoned journalism and plunged headfirst into capitalism.”
The theme of his entrepreneurial career is profit and social responsibility. In 1976, Barnes co-founded a worker-owned solar energy company in San Francisco and in 1983 he co-founded Working Assets Money Fund. Working Assets screened money market funds for investors who wanted to put their money in companies with a social conscious. He also became president of Working Assets Long Distance. In 1995, Barnes was named Socially Responsible Entrepreneur of the Year for Northern California. Currently he is a senior fellow at the The Tomales Bay Institute in Point Reyes Station, California.

Specifically, Barnes considers how modern life has diminished “the commons”: a generic term like the “market” or “state” referring to assets we inherit such as the ecosystem or the culture we create. Barnes describes the commons as assets that are gifts and shared by everyone. Air, water, ecosystems, languages, holidays and music are assets we share and haven’t earned.

Scarcity of common assets that influence our quality of life is a modern trend. The demands of working longer and earning less have debased our culture and profit at the expense of nature has contributed to an era of scarcity for people not earning top dollar. Hence, Barnes’ observation that,
“When capitalism started, nature was abundant and capital was scarce; it thus made sense to reward capital above all else. Today we’re awash in capital and literally running out of nature. We’re also losing many social arrangements that bind us together as communities and enrich our lives in monetary ways. That doesn’t mean capitalism is doomed or useless, but it does mean we have to modify it. We have to adapt it to the twenty-first century rather than the eighteenth. And that can be done.”
His book partly explains how capitalism’s past and current “operating systems” have devoured nature and he provides a blueprint to upgrade it for modern life. In devising this upgrade Barnes believes society must go beyond the antiquated paradigms of government regulation or market solutions. He contends societies should construct “trusts” that preserve the commons for future generations instead.

Ben Cohen, Co-Founder of Ben & Jerry’s said:
“Barnes shows us how to build a new economic sector that is held in trust for future generations. Ecosystems and their services would be managed for long-term benefit rather than short-term profit, and all Americans would get cash dividends.”
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., of the Natural Resources Defense Council also praised the book:
“Using his years of experience as a successful entrepreneur, Barnes shows how capitalism can be upgraded so that it protects rather than devours our planet. Required reading for everyone who looks further than the next quarter’s results.”
Barnes agreed to an interview with me about his book and ideas for upgrading capitalism. Please refer to the media player below.

This interview can also be accessed for free via the Itunes Store by searching for "Intrepid Liberal Journal."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

America's Democracy Has A Pulse

Just a short post this morning - instead of my typical essay format. Simply put, any governing party presiding over an immoral war, corruption and pervasive incompetence deserves to be defeated. Had Republicans prevailed it would not be possible to say our democracy is healthy. I'm still not prepared to say our democracy is completely healthy. One simply can't magically erase the previous six years and restore America's honor. However, with the House of Representatives changing hands and as of this writing perhaps the Senate as well - it can be said America's democracy has a pulse. And that gives me hope. It should give all of us hope.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Turning On the Janes and Phone Banking

My spare time is consumed by phone banking after work and weekends. Blogging has taken a back seat – true of many progressive bloggers as the campaign winds down. I live in Brooklyn, New York and almost every office I can vote for is not in doubt. In the ‘90s I earned a living largely by telemarketing. Hence, phone banking to help get out the vote in other states is the most sensible use of my time and skills prior to Election Day.

A conversation I had with a woman from Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Friday evening especially illustrates the challenges we face in getting out the vote this Tuesday. As with numerous others I’ve spoken to in recent days she was cynical and resistant to the idea of voting at all. We’ll call her Jane.

Jane is a single woman raising two kids and a nurse. She’s living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to be a good mother. Her children are twelve and nine years of age. Jane’s job does not allow her to be home for her kids after school. She’s frustrated about not being able to attentively supervise their study habits and be more involved in their school. “I’d like to at least meet their teachers.” Everything from groceries, clothing, utilities and the phone bill is a hassle. She has no time and money is very tight.

I could hear Jane’s kids in the background as our conversation was interrupted. She alternatively disciplined them to “clean up” and “stop fighting.” Yet she stayed on the phone with me even as she seemed constantly on the verge of hanging up and I learned more details about her life.

Jane’s immediate response to my inquiries about whether she intended to vote or knew where to go was,

“I’m not waiting online all day like last time. Screwed up my whole day and my vote for Kerry didn’t count anyway. It was stolen.”
She protested that I was,

“Wasting my time with these calls. It’s fixed and the politicians never care about people like me.”
A decade of honed telemarketing skills has conditioned me to move on and make another call when I can’t make a sale. When it comes to politics however I’m stubborn and refuse to give up on a vote as long as they’re willing to talk to me and Jane wasn’t hanging up in spite of her rhetorical resistance. Every single vote is precious and my instinct is to fight. I’ll be damned if I was going to lose this vote to cynicism. It’s not only fear that’s kept Republicans in power. Cynicism from voters like Jane have also empowered their reign of indecency.

I reminded myself to listen and empathize – a technique that worked well for me when selling products or services. So I internalized Jane’s message to me, a tortured combination of pride, hurt, frustration and struggle. A husband that picked up and left her to raise two kids by herself. She's a musician forced to give up on her dreams. “But I’m still raising my kids in dignity.” Jane’s youngest enjoys music as she used to and believes "she can be something if she gets the chance.” Her oldest gets picked on when he studies because his peers “say he’s trying to be better than them.”

Jane is easy to like. She’s proud of making it on her own and meeting life’s challenges head on. But I sensed frustration at her inability to control her destiny and having absorbed too much risk. “My paycheck buys less and less” and “my health plan just plain sucks.”

Jane’s mom is elderly and forced to choose between paying for basic necessities or medication. Her dad died last year because his colon cancer wasn’t detected early enough and his health insurance issues prevented him from getting the treatment he needed.

“I’m a nurse and I could do nothing to help him. And I can’t do much for my mom either.”
Jane had two younger brothers. One died in Afghanistan in 2003 and the other was killed in Iraq in 2004 when he was forced to endure another tour of duty. The one in Afghanistan signed up shortly after 9/11 even though he had a football scholarship. Her other brother enlisted in the National Guard prior to 9/11 and had no choice about going to Iraq. She’s angry about losing both of them to “Bush’s wars.”

“My brother in Afghanistan might be alive but they don't get enough support because of Iraq. My brother in Iraq was supposed to come home.”
Ultimately we spoke for almost forty minutes and it was a losing effort for most of it. The conversation turned in my favor when I said this,

“Voting is about influencing destiny and not just accepting whatever fate dishes out. You could be passive about your kids and your life. But you get up every day, work hard and do the best you can. So why be passive about the right to vote? Why be passive when we’re fighting an immoral war and the politicians care more about stealing than you’re slice of the pie. Let them know you count. Make them care about people like you. They want you to just accept your vote won’t be counted. Participate so you can’t be ignored.”
To my relief Jane finally embraced that she had to vote on Tuesday. I've said similar things to others in recent days without success but it worked with her. The conversation ended with Jane asking for my address so she could mail me a copy of an old music demo she had done. And she promised to show up November 7th. Forty minutes well spent.

Since that conversation I’ve been thinking about Jane and cynicism possibly depressing turnout. Her cynicism is quite understandable. Let’s face it her vote may not count this year because of vote tampering. Also, Democrats are hardly a panacea and like many progressive bloggers I’ve vented about the party’s direction on issues such as war, torture and corporatism.

Should Democrats prevail this Tuesday we in the progressive netroots will have a special obligation to remain vigilant about core principals. Taking over and shaping the Democratic Party is an ongoing struggle. There will always be tension between pragmatism so Democrats remain politically viable and core progressive values.

Nevertheless, a Democratic victory in both federal and statewide elections is essential for the health of our democracy. If Republicans prevail this Tuesday then voters such as Jane will never believe the system can work. Citizens like Jane need reassurance that accountability in our democracy is real and that means Republicans being voted out on November 7th. They also need our leaders to nurture an economy that expands the middle class.

For a generation we’ve watched the GOP systematically shift the burdens of risk onto voters such as Jane while enriching the mega wealthy. Elderly people such as Jane’s parents are simply neglected by a substandard health care system that cares more about profits than patients. And her brothers were killed by feckless neocons that considered them disposable in pursuit of their imperialistic delusions.

I’m not naïve. I fully realize that Democrats prevailing this Tuesday is not an elixir. A whole lot of damage needs to be repaired and we need the White House. The first step is changing the national conversation in this country, shifting the center of political gravity and educating the public about their stake in national policy. Victory on November 7th is a start.

Let’s get as many people like Jane in Cuyahoga County, Ohio to the polls as we can. We can all do something to help make it happen. Three days to go.
"SusanG" rescued a cross posting of the above topic on Daily Kos. CLICK HERE to review the comments. Also, an FYI for New York residents - many Democratic candidates are also on the Working Families Party ballot. For whatever it is worth, I am going support that ballot line.