VoteVoteVote. Got it got it got it. But THEN…

Warning: if you’ve had a tough time living in Trumpmerica, this image might make you feel like bursting into tears.

Hope & Change, baby.

Yep–that was me twelve years ago, casting my vote for Joe Biden…as VP to Barack Obama’s President.

I’ll give you a moment. Might need to take one myself.

Fast forward to now, 2020. Two weeks or so before the election. My ballot and the Mate’s are already sealed and ready for dropping off. (We Washingtonians have been handling this vote-by-mail thing for over a decade now!)

Notice I didn’t bother taking a picture of the inside this time.

It’s obvious to me that, compared to 2008, I’m not nearly as excited about the candidates I’m helping to elect. This election feels more like grabbing the emergency brake before the country goes hurtling off a cliff. But I think that might actually be a good thing.

Because…what if my political dreams come true? What if everyone I vote for wins? What if the party I prefer takes over the White House and both houses of Congress? We still have so much on our plate. Poverty. Systemic Racism. Private prisons. A toxic political system, which has created a toxic social divide, and vice-versa.

So this post is just to remind myself: yes, I DID write HUNDREDS of letters to voters in battleground states, over the course of the last few months. Yes, I DID encourage many friends to do the same. Yes, I WILL celebrate on election day if the issues and candidates I voted for actually win.

Dear _______, let me tell you why I vote in every election!

But no, I will not do what I did in 2008 and 2012: celebrate and then relax. Because need never sleeps, and the next fight is always around the corner.

Lesson learned, 2016–thanks very much. And 2020? Let’s hope you’re just the first tiny step away from that cliff.

Bank on This: Phone-Banking Isn’t Everything It’s Cracked Up To Be. It’s Better.

You know those things you swear you’ll never do because you’re bad at them and you think they’re annoying and don’t make any difference and oh, by the way, you hate doing them?

Could I be talking about anything but political phone-banking? And have I been doing it anyway? And am I going to quit with the stupid rhetorical questions? Yes, yes, and yes.

The whole enterprise started with my furlough. I had some extra time on my hands, which I mainly filled with some physical volunteer work: packing school meals to be delivered to children, and groceries to be delivered to families. That felt meaningful.

But then both those programs ended (because hey, everyone knows kids don’t need to eat in the summer, especially when their parents might also be furloughed or unemployed!). [Note: this is NOT a slam on my community, which is doing everything in its power to help everyone.It’s about funding from upstream.]

Anyway, there I am in early June with the world on fire with injustice and COVID, and my deep-seated urges to pitch in have nowhere else to turn but…the phone. Calling voters in states without mail-in ballot programs to try to help voters get mail-in ballots, and gosh, by the way, wanna help elect Mr/Ms/Dr ____ to the ______?

On my first go, in Wisconsin, I swore I was done with this.

Woo-hoo.

Me, phone-banking: This is such a waste of time.

Myself: Nuh-uh, all the political people say it’s been proven that phone calls make more difference than any form of voter contact!

Me: But I even hate getting these kind of calls!

Myself: Well, you won’t from now on, will you? Maybe this is your punishment for not being nicer to the last person who called you.

Me: Not true. I’m always nice. But you may have a point there: this job feels like penance. Can I just go ahead and like, bank it against future sins?

But then the nice campaign people in Wisconsin let me know how badly they needed my help, so next day, there I was again. I don’t know how many calls I made because I hadn’t thought to keep count. But then I took some phone-bank training and discovered the joy of tally marks.

So NOW when I’m calling, I’m really competing with myself. Last week I made 100 calls in 2 hours. How ’bout 110 this week? Do I hear 120?

And along the way, even though there are SO many things I’d rather be doing on a lovely summer afternoon, like

noticing wildflowers…

or

…noticing wildlife…

I’m learning other ways to “enjoy” my political “work.” Like:

Fun with numbers! “Hey, this guy’s number’s almost the same as my Social Security.” “Whoa, a triple 6–wish I had a cool Satanic phone number like that.”

Enjoying the different recordings people leave on their voicemail, like this one man: “Hello, this is Mister Wonderful.” Or this adorable couple: “You’ve reached Grandpa and Grandma Willis.”

[Note: these generally make up for those irritating ones where the person’s clearly trying to fool the caller into thinking they’ve reached a real person instead of a recording. You guys suck.]

Grooving on cool names. I like to do this: “Hi, I’m Gretchen with the ____ Campaign, and I’ve been calling folks all afternoon and you’ve just won the Coolest Name of the Day award.”

Playing the Find my Age game: I’m 58. Nothing so special about 58, right? Except that only about .000008 of the folks I’ve called seem to BE 58, and only half of those are women. So when I get a 58 year-old female on my list (all we get are name, age & gender, and sometimes not even gender), I let them know how excited I am to talk to them! [If they pick up, that is. Which they do only about 10% of the time. So I’ve really only bonded with two other 58 year-old women so far. Sisterhood is beautiful.]

So much darn fun, I can almost forget I’d rather be kayaking.

For those of us who enjoy Life Lessons, there’s the Note Your Prejudices game: see what mental image pops into your head when you see someone’s name, age & gender pop up, then–quick, before they answer the phone!–re-arrange that prejudice into something completely different. Then find out how right or wrong you were when they answer! (If they answer. ūüė¶ ) And briefly ponder the internal biases that caused your initial guess, quick–before you dial the next number.

Then, of course, there’s always good ol’ Gazing Out the Window…trying not to think about hiking into the sunset

Not till you’ve finished your tally marks.

or making pie.

I think I’ve earned pie.

But really? It’s all about the tally marks. And yes, just in case you were wondering: I DID make 120 calls this afternoon, thanks!

Which means I need to shoot for 125 next time. 

Total # of calls (since I started keeping track, so it’s really about 100 more): 650. And when I get to 1,000, I WILL make a pie.

Anyone else engaged in some political work right now which requires a struggle to feel meaningful? How do you keep your positive energy up?

 

Americans of Conscience Checklist: For Those Of Us Who Can’t Keep Up

I admit it. I hate calling my Congressperson. I actually have to ASSIGN myself a time to call, or a number of calls to make, depending on the issue. But after calling, I always feel good, and wonder why I had to fight so much inertia.

If this sounds at all like you, you might be interested in this website I was just introduced to by my friend Iris, the Americans of Conscience Checklist.

I signed up to receive the weekly Checklist via email. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. As it tells you on the home page,

the AoC Checklist features clear, well-researched actions for Americans who value democracy, equality, voting, and respect. To stay engaged through challenging times, we practice gratitude, self-care, and celebration.

So I get the best of both worlds: a definitive, time-based reminder that’s done all my legwork for me. All I have to do is choose one thing–boom, done. I can go deeper if I want, but that’s entirely up to me.

My own little bit for America (photo by SweetShutter, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take this week’s list, for example. It offers actions to take if you are concerned about…

…advocating for a crucial safeguard against election fraud:

[h/t Verified Voting]Call: Your two state legislators (look up).

Script: Hi, I’m calling from [ZIP] because I want security around [STATE]’s elections to be public and trustworthy. Nonpartisan experts agree that a specific type of post-election oversight called a risk-limiting audit (RLA) is the strongest and most cost-effective defense against malfunctioning or hacked voting systems. Can I count on [NAME] to support mandatory RLAs in [STATE] beginning with the 2020 presidential primaries? Thank you.

…the rights of vulnerable people, like Native American women:

 [h/t National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center] Call: Your two senators (look up).

Script: Hi. I’m calling from [ZIP] to express my deep frustration that the Senate still has not acted on the Violence Against Women Act, lapsed now for more than a year. As a result, Native American women in particular are even more vulnerable to assault and rape. I’m asking [NAME] to support the complete House version (H.R. 1585) and call for an immediate vote on it.

The checklist goes on to offer a name of someone worthy of thanking. This week, it suggests: “Thank NBA Commissioner Adam Silver¬†for affirming employees‚Äô individual rights to¬†freedom of expression.”

And of course it provides Mr. Silver’s address.

Then comes my favorite part, the Good News section. Don’t know about you, but I need this stuff to keep me hopeful! There’s national good news…

A federal court¬†issues a temporary injunction¬†against the administration‚Äôs ‚Äúpublic charge‚ÄĚ rule, which would limit aspiring Americans‚Äô ability to receive green cards should they need to utilize public assistance.¬†

…as well as state-by-state, like this from Vermont:

VT will allow young adults aged 18-20 with criminal charges to remain in the juvenile court system, providing them with age-appropriate services and allowing them to avoid a life-altering criminal record.

Way to go, Vermont! I doubt I would have learned that news from any other source.

Point is, my inertia doesn’t stand a chance against this kind of easy, hand-picked list of ways to weigh in on things I do care about, even if you wouldn’t know it from my laziness. If you can relate to this at all, I hope you’ll consider checking out the Americans of Conscience Checklist here.

Let’s go, America! (photo by finn, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

 

Election Violence in My Hometown: Why I Prefer to Look at the Bright Side

Okay, Hillsborough, NC isn’t exactly my hometown, but the farm I grew up on is halfway between Durham, my official birthplace, and Hillsborough, where I began my public school teaching career. Close enough.

And close enough for me to freeze between disbelief and horror when I heard about the firebombing of Hillsborough’s Republican HQ this past weekend.

Photo by Justin Cook for NYTimes

Photo by Justin Cook for NYTimes

Hillsborough?! Home of Orange High School (go Panthers!) and the Village Diner, where my fellow teachers and I used to gorge ourselves on the salad bar during staff workdays? (Hey, if fried chicken has lettuce under it, it’s salad!)

In the words of Richard Fausset’s excellent NY Times article, Hillsborough is

this small North Carolina town, where residents, in the face of cultural change, have largely found an amicable balance between liberal and conservative, traditional and trendy, in the heart of a swing state that is one of the nation’s most politically and culturally divided.

Although I should be inured by now, acts of violence like this always shock me anew. My first response: WHY?! My second: Thank god no one was hurt. And now I have a choice.

I could let my horror sink deeper, adding to the sick sense I think most of us are feeling this election season.

OR…

I could focus on this sentence in the NYT article:

A group of Democrats created a GoFundMe page that had raised more than $13,000 by Monday evening for the Orange County Republican Party.

Or this one:

Evelyn Poole-Kober, the vice chairwoman of the Orange County Republican Party…said she was long used to living among Democrats and was friendly with many of them, including members of her garden club.

Election ugliness? La la la, I can’t hear you. I’m too busy focusing on Democrats raising money for, and growing flowers with, their Republican neighbors.

And voting, quietly and without a fuss.

Not THAT Breakfast Club: Why Hip-Hop May Be More Straight-Laced Than You Thought

“Establish the culture and practice of voting as part of a desired civic lifestyle through integration of non- partisan election work, issue work, and culture work in a continuous cycle.
Empower and train leaders and volunteers from our communities to be strategic leaders, messengers, and spokespeople for issues critical to equality, justice, and opportunity.”

Sound like good goals to you? I can’t think of anyone in any political party who would not subscribe to them.

So what if I tell you these goals are espoused by someone called Charlemagne Tha God?

This guy (courtesy twitter.com)

This guy (courtesy twitter.com)

I just saw him interviewed on The Daily Show and came away feeling inspired by his inspiration to get folks to vote. I was so intrigued, I looked him up.

His real name (according to good ol’ Wikipedia) is Lenard McKelvey, and he runs a Hip-Hop radio show called The Breakfast Club. It’s the home base of Hip Hop Caucus, whose website can be found under respectmyvote.com

Those goals above? They come from Hip Hop Caucus. More specifically, this is what those folks do:

‚ėÖCommunity Organizing: We organize 14 ‚Äď 40 year-olds, who identify with Hip Hop Culture, and share values of justice, equality, and opportunity.

‚ėÖGrassroots Leadership Development: We provide leadership training and real-world civic leadership opportunities for cultural influencers at the grassroots level.
‚ėÖCommunicate to Large Audiences: Through partnerships with artists, celebrities, and media we drive narratives about important issues through cultural channels reaching millions of people.

‚ėÖCultivate and Promote Thought Leadership: We source solutions for local to global challenges from our communities and advocate for them to decision makers and influencers.

You know what? Except for the word “influencers” (sorry, old English teacher here), there’s nothing about the above that I don’t celebrate for my country.

Why am I sharing this now? Because you know, as I do, that Hip-Hop culture is marginalized in our country. Many–perhaps most?–older white folks (like me) assume Hip-Hop is probably apolitical at best, anarchic at worst. But these guys? They’re downright Kiwanis.

My mind feels broadened, learning about Hip-Hop Caucus. And with all the stupidity of this election year, my heart feels warmed. Go, America.