My Own State of the Union 2018

This past year has been one of upheaval and change.  While we have faced many challenges and struggles, we have started to confront troubling issues and have brought the darkest faults of our nation to light so that we might build a brighter future.  There is much work for all of us to do.

The president, the administration, and the current congress have all proven themselves unable or unwilling to handle the responsibility of leading us.  They have fallen short by refusing to build up the people – ALL of the people.  Their inability to grasp the importance of caring for one another, their absolute resistance to a diplomacy of peace, and their exploitation of workers and the natural world has led us to another low point for humanity.  How can we escape the downward pull of corruption and greed when our public servants serve only themselves?

It is far too easy to dwell on the failings of others and that path leads nowhere.  What this moment requires is bold and visionary leadership.  That bold and visionary leadership is already growing all over the United States.  We have seen it in the leadership of People of Color and Indigenous in organizations like Black Lives Matter founded by Patrice Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, Honor the Earth inspired and co-founded by Winona LaDuke, and the MeToo Movement founded by Tarana Burke.  We have seen leadership and activism on the streets of Ferguson, the rolling hills of Standing Rock, and the playing fields of the NFL.  It is this leadership that offers us a clear path to a better future.

What world do you want for your children? As mothers and father, as uncles and aunts, as teachers and mentors, we want a future that is better than our present.  What does tomorrow’s world look like and how can we get there?

We must build a world of equity.  We not only need to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the wrongs our nation has committed, but we need to actively work to allow those who were oppressed and marginalized to take the lead in building our shared future.  We must provide reparations to those we have enslaved and murdered.  We must give them the opportunity to succeed on their own terms, and to stand back while supporting them.  Educational opportunities must be culturally relevant and of the highest quality for all.  Economic opportunities must be community based and provide equitable pathways for financial and social prosperity and security.  These opportunities must give priority to those who have not been offered them before.  We must examine real and effective options to the current law enforcement model.  The current model of law enforcement is not only not working, it is actively oppressive and dangerous.

We must build a world of abundant beauty and sustainability.  Rather than exploit natural resources for profit, we must develop a cooperative relationship with our natural environment.  We can still benefit from using the resources nature has provided, but we must do it in such a way that the health of our environment is given priority.  We must find alternatives to destructive and dangerous mining practices, we must never engage in clear cutting of trees, we must maintain a healthy balance between our needs and the health of the world which gives us life.  This means making changes, sometimes radical changes.  We can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels immediately and dramatically by investing in public transportation, bicycles, walking, and cooperative transportation.  We can reduce the negative impact of automobile-centered planning by making walkability and bicycle use a priority in municipal design and zoning.   We can develop a highly accessible, energy efficient, affordable, and mobile national system of fast rail transport  between cities and further reduce our dependence on inefficient modes of long distance travel.

We must build a world of opportunity.  But this opportunity must not be mired in the exploitation of the corporate capitalist system.  We must provide sustainable opportunity locally as well as nationally.  We must empower people to come together and make their voices heard.  We can do that through the establishment of cooperatives and worker owned businesses.  We can do this by returning legal protections to democratically organized worker’s unions. Through local utility cooperatives, we can make faster and reliable internet services both available and affordable for everyone in the United States.  Through public banking initiatives, we can return control of the financial sector to the people for the benefit of all.  We must transform agriculture by promoting farming methods that are sustainable and soil-enriching and by a return to seasonal vegetable and fruit production in appropriate climate zones to keep the land healthy, the water clean and plentiful, and the agricultural economy diverse and vibrant.  We must commit to best practices in education so that every child and every adult has access to an education that develops lifelong critical thinking and creativity.  And we must make that quality education accessible to all, regardless of economic status.

We must build a world of peace.  We have wasted too many lives and too much money in the pursuit of the diplomacy of violence.  We have allowed our military and militarized law enforcement to not only command an unfair share of the economy, but to determine how we interact globally.  Our military and law enforcement are not protective of the people, they are protective of the wealthy and powerful.  They are an arm of violence wielded by the corporate state to induce or create fear and allow more and more freedoms to be sacrificed.  This must end.  By engaging in real diplomacy, by agreeing to unilateral dismantling of all nuclear weapons, and by shutting down military bases outside the United States, we can ensure a more peaceful future.  By removing the constant threat of violence that we have impressed upon the world, we can start building a future based on mutual understanding instead of greed and fear.

All of this requires a radical shift in priorities.  We must transition from a society founded on war and exploitation, to a society of peace and prosperity.  We must transform our economic values from greed and selfishness, to an economy of cooperation and mutual benefit. We must transform our relationships from those of division and hatred, to relationships of interdependence and respect.

It will take great effort, but we have always risen to the challenge.  The challenge starts now.

 

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Honor the Future

We talk about the past in our country… a lot.  We reminisce about the good old days, we ruminate on how we used to be, we long to make ourselves like we were.  Our feet are firmly cemented in the past.  As a student of history, I understand the importance of knowing from whence we came, and, more importantly, being aware of whose perspective is reflected in our knowledge of the past.  But, as a Progressive, I see real danger in drowning ourselves in the quicksand of misplaced sentimentality.

This has most insidiously manifested itself in the oh-so-patriotic campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”.  That statement relies on some assumptions that do not hold up well to scrutiny.  The obvious mistaken assumption is that America was ever great.

There is a valid argument to be made about the Enlightenment thinking that informed the white males who drafted the Constitution of the United States, and how it signaled an important milestone in governmental and social evolution.  However, those same enlightened white males also excluded women, ignored indigenous nations, and codified the brutish and ethically barbaric practice of slavery.  So, how great, exactly, was America for these groups of marginalized people?  Oh, you say, but America changed and learned.  Yes, I suppose, slowly, painfully, violently, and reluctantly, white males loosened their grip on exclusive power.  But, of course, it historically has required a lot of killing and oppression to make any progress at all, and we are still experiencing the overwhelming effects of those morally reprehensible views and choices today.  Well, there’s money to be made in making people work for nothing, keeping the majority of people from voting, and stealing natural resources from the people who already lived here, so… CAPITALISM!

We saved the world from Hitler!  Um… no.  Many young American men lost their lives opposing a destructive, hateful demagogue, and while their sacrifice contributed to the effort, the involvement of the US was not the decisive factor.  The USSR sacrificed FAR more lives and had more direct effect on destroying the Third Reich than anyone else, and they did it with little material help from any other country.  The staggering suffering and loss of life suffered by the people of the USSR, especially Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, is almost incomprehensible – 26.6 million dead. Almost an entire generation destroyed.  Had Hitler not stupidly wasted his resources and military on the Eastern Front, there would have been little the US could have done to prevent Hitler from conquering all of Europe eventually.  But, Japan, right?  Well, there is considerable evidence that the mere threat of the USSR invading the Japanese home islands, and the ease with which the Red Army obliterated Japanese forces in one week in Manchuria played a much bigger role in the surrender than even the atomic decimation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that an actual US invasion was neither imminent nor necessary, despite the often repeated stories otherwise.  As for those atomic bombs, we are still the only country to use a nuclear device as a weapon.  We did it twice.  Against civilians.  Not exactly a sign of greatness.  Well, there’s money to be made in dropping bombs on people, so… CAPITALISM!

Industry!  We were the manufacturing giants of the world!  Yes, this is true.  After World War II, the United States was the only major country to survive with its manufacturing capabilities intact.  So, what did we do with this?  We created, for the first and only time in our history, a vibrant and economically secure middle class, and finally started to live up to the American myth that had been created around rugged independence and prosperity.  With one major caveat… you had to be white.  Really.  Oh, there were non-whites who found their way into the middle class, but they were most certainly not living any kind of dream.  And it was not just the South that relegated non-whites to the status of second class citizenry, just in case any Northern self-righteousness crept into your consciousness.  Then, a mere thirty years later, we pulled the rug out from under everybody who made the engine of industry run.  Even white people.  Now, once again, it’s a crime to be poor.  Literally.  Well, there’s money to be made locking up poor people, so… CAPITALISM!

But we were a super-power.  Ah, yes.  We possessed far more death-dealing devices than any country on earth ever has in history.  We had the capability of ending life on earth several times over.  Fortunately, we have not given our quite ill-mannered and intrusive military-industrial shadow government the political or “moral” opportunity to use them, as they not surprisingly would have liked to many times.  If we don’t use them, then they don;t need to be replaced with more, so peaceful foreign policy is bad for business. Well, there’s money to be made in killing or threatening to kill people in other countries, so… CAPITALISM!

Living in America’s past does not bode well for any kind of future.

The truth is that we are still Neanderthals more concerned with the short brutishness of our own self-centered existence and demise rather than highly evolved beings with the experience to comprehend how deeply everything we do matters to everything else on this little blue dot in the great expanse.  We are far more concerned with honoring and respecting the dead rather than honoring and respecting the living.  We gaze longingly at the past, suspended flawlessly and completely inaccurately in amber, while our fellow humans and our planet suffer horribly around us.  We weep over yesterday instead of preparing for tomorrow.  We condemn ourselves to stupidity, suspicion, superstition and strife instead of freeing our minds and souls with knowledge, understanding, vision, and peace.

We need to look forward.  Progress.  Change.  Adapt.  Evolve.  Live.

 

The Boogeyman

Stop it.

Stop using fear to try and convince me that voting for the lesser of two evils is reasonable.

Stop trying to convince me that some orange goblin is going to destroy our country.

Just.  Stop.

The GOP has drifted off the end of the world. There is no hope left there, so why waste our time?

As for the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders will concede at the convention.  He will keep his word and not run as an independent, because he is an honorable man.  Then, the DNC will pay lip service to the Progressive ideals brought to the forefront by his campaign.  Finally, they will summarily ignore those ideals and keep drifting to the right – inexorably, unceasingly – in their Quixotic quest to stay relevant.

There is another way… all those independents, progressives, and conservatives who saw the importance of an equitable economy, who recognized that we need to get involved and stay involved to keep our government accountable to us, who long for principled leadership,  and who have seen past the illusion of choice in the two-party system have the opportunity to change how we choose our representatives.  Vote for Jill Stein. It would be monumental.  An intelligent, energetic woman from a third party serving as President and making change and hope a reality.

Maybe it is naive to believe there is enough political energy to allow her to win, but your vote would not be wasted.  By garnering a mere 5%-6% of the vote in most states, the Green Party is given the same advantages of public funding and access afforded to the other two parties.  It can happen for Libertarians, too, or any party that you feel actually represents you and what you value most.  It takes will.  It takes energy.  It takes courage.

You may fear a Presidential candidate who is a bloviating windbag without a shred of political capital, a wealthy dilettante and narcissist who will serve one useless term and be gone when he realizes that leadership is far too much work, a candidate whose own party is repulsed by the Frankenstein’s monster they have created.  The only reason his absurd and ridiculous mental drivel has a soapbox is thanks to the complicity of the media intended to watch out for us. He should have been laughed off the stage months ago, but the infotainment media does love their circuses – and the inevitable ratings that follow.  They’ve built him up into this frightening boogeyman from which we need a savior.  It’s brilliant, really, in it’s singular manipulative way.  But, I don’t fear him.  I don’t think about him at all, because he is truly irrelevant.  Even if he were to become President, he would oversee a four-year term where very little of consequence would change, because we have been headed this direction for over 30 years.

Politics in the US have been shifting economically conservative since 1980.  The Democratic Party decided to sell itself completely to the new captains of finance that erupted from the pustule of President Reagan’s deregulation and militarism binges of the 1980s.  Their betrayal of the people became complete with the financial deregulation and self-destructive (well, to workers and small business, anyway) trade agreements enacted under President Clinton in the 1990s.  Since then, both parties, while serving the only master that matters in this financial Gilded Age – money – snipe and spar over social issues and engage in nation toppling like so many toddlers in a sandbox, rather than battling over issues that have real meaning for families struggling to merely survive.  They throw us the crumbs while they feast.  And you think more of the same is a good idea?  I fear the status quo far more than I fear a reality star turned politician.

The status quo in D.C. serves two things – power and money – that happen to be the two most corrupting forces on earth.  Don’t you think it’s time to change that?

Stop trying to convince me that the 30+ year slide to the right by the Democratic Party isn’t so bad, that their betrayal of workers, the poor, and the vulnerable while they curry the favor of the wealthy and maintain their own power and wealth isn’t hypocrisy of the highest order.  Instead of universal health care, we have the smoke and mirrors of the ACA which still allows catastrophic, long term, and terminal health issues to result in bankruptcy and financial ruin.  It is not a step forward, it is a step sideways.  Instead of addressing environmental concerns head on, we have half-measures that prop up those who would destroy the world around us for their own gain.  Instead of doing the will of the vast majority of citizens and enact real reforms about gun ownership, we cower ineffectually in the face of moneyed lobbyists.  Always money.  Enough, already.

I don’t expect free stuff, I expect better utilization of resources.  We need a government that leads by protecting its most vulnerable, that accepts the rights of all to access quality healthcare, that places more value in people than armies, that doesn’t believe that the ability to pursue justice rests solely in the ability to kill, that recognizes exercising global influence means more than installing puppet governments, that understands that a healthy economy is built from the bottom up.  The Democratic Party has failed miserably in almost all of these, and I refuse to curse us all to more of the same.

My vote goes to Jill Stein, nominee of the Green Party.  We are long overdue to elect a leader who is a woman and we deserve a candidate who we can be proud to call Madam President.

Purple

The sudden death of a famous musician is always a time for fans to come together and memorialize and mourn.  What I am seeing and feeling with the loss of Prince Rogers Nelson is something different.  Of course there is sorrow, a feeling of loss, regret for not having seen him in concert, but there is something else – a vibrant outpouring of love, music, and togetherness.  It is more than just shared sorrow, and I could not quite put my finger on it before, but it may be one important physical fact about Prince is why this seems less about loss and more about celebration.

Prince stayed in Minnesota.  Fiercely so.  He was ours and we claimed him with a passion that can only be understood by those who happily endure winters of bone-numbing cold and summers of sweat-drenched heat.  When someone local rises to the level of celebrity, it is a moment of pride for us.  Then, usually, they leave to pursue their dreams.  They escape to the coasts, or to wherever the rich and famous go to be rich and famous.  Prince remained anchored here in a way to which we were not accustomed.  F. Scott Fitzgerald left.  Judy Garland left.   Bob Dylan left.  This mercurial musical genius who had the world worshiping his music, his persona, his energy, not only stayed, but helped define one of the most vibrant music scenes in the nation.

The music.  It was the soundtrack of my teenage years.  And my twenties.  I lost touch with him for a few years as my tastes diverged from his projects at the time.  Then, he started creating some of the most intense rock music of his career with 3RDEYEGIRL.  Wow. He spilled genius like others spilled milk.

As with any genius, he had his eccentricities.  I imagine he reveled in them, and considering his well-known sense of humor, he may even have crafted some just because.  Kevin Smith famously cued us in to some of them, and I suspect Prince could be difficult and strange.  He made music on his own terms, so it is unsurprising that he certainly experienced life on his own terms.  But, he did not submit to the usual downfalls of fame: drugs and alcohol. He was not dogged by scandals.  He apparently had an astounding self-awareness.  He loved Dave Chappelle’s skit about him so much that he used a shot of Chappelle in character on the album cover of his “Breakfast Can Wait” single.

It sounds self-serving to say that he was one of us, but he was.  He was uncompromising, something we northern types admire, even as we politely conform.  He was a brilliant musician.  It turns out he was an incredibly generous philanthropist, something his faith did not allow him to make public.  He was goofy, sensual, intense, enigmatic, fascinating, frustrating, odd, complex, energetic, focused, spiritual.  He was human. He was us. He was a Minnesotan right up to the day he left us.

And he left us some of the best music ever written.

Don’t rest in peace, Prince.  That wasn’t your style.  Funk it up.

Music Dance

Is it even possible to imagine the first human song?

Not the full-throated howl of nature but something new,

Fired in the soul;

No mere mode of communication,

But a plaintive wail against the nothingness of the night,

A joyous burst of celebration,

Intense emotion made tangible only for a moment,

Then dissipating into darkness.

One voice then two now more

Extracting the fear or pain or alone or love or laugh

Distilling it to melody.

How can one explain what music does?

Sound pulses electric from the heart and mind at once

Curls around the feet and head and envelopes from the inside,

Struggles by succumbing, relents by resisting,

Dances in the architecture of each painted moment.

What will be the sound of the last song?

The last music an ear will hear

The last note committed to memory

Defiant, lonesome, aggressively surrendering to silence.

 

Floodgates

Even the most neglected memory

Covered in cobwebs

Creeps into the edge of consciousness

Unbidden, the uninvited messenger

Of yesterday sent to portend tomorrow

Or like a Dickens spirit subvert it.

That dark corner quarantines the uncomfortable

Needle sharp and blunt force and aching want.

They maraud thoughts, overrun

Stillness and corrupt the heart.

Awaken the soul and read their messages

Carved graffiti on the walls of memory.

Heed the omens of the vicious past or

Curse your forever.

February Morning

It is difficult to dream

When the fog creeps in on cold, heartless calm.

Every breath pulls deeper from the well

Of slow desperation that millstones your hope.

In this uncolored dreamless dawn there is no pulse

No surge, no electric twinge,

Only a day spread out blank before you.