Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Reflections on my grandma Kay, and the upcoming election

Full disclosure - I am not officially endorsing a candidate for U.S. President on the Democratic ticket for 2020 yet. I'm just not in the mood to be an early adopter this season. But I might be getting close. And if my grandma Kay were still alive, there is no doubt in my mind who she'd be supporting at this juncture: Elizabeth Warren.

I should back up.

Grandma Kay was the only one in my family's older generations back in Berlin, Wisconsin that I can recall, who was decidedly NOT a Republican. Before I moved to Illinois, and around the time of Reagan's re-election in 1984, it was a good thing I wasn't old enough to vote yet, not that it mattered, because I probably would have voted for the Gipper. Not Grandma Kay. Her choice was clear:  She said she was voting for "ABR - Anybody but Reagan." It was the first time I remember her speaking up about her political views. Not that she hadn't spoken up previously, as I am very sure she did, but it was the first time I remember. And it was an awakening, though at the time a small opening. I couldn't understand why she wouldn't like Reagan! I would find out soon enough.

It wasn't until I moved to the Chicago area in 1985 and had some distance from the political climate in which I grew up, that I began to gain a different perspective. Also, I was a sophomore in High School then. And a late bloomer anyway - I was not politically active at that time. I had just sort of agreed with most everyone else in my family that Democrats were people you didn't usually vote for, unless the circumstances were unusual. Ironically, now that we lived three hours away, I think I actually grew closer to my grandma Kay in those intervening years up until her death in 1990.

Living a block and a half away in Berlin meant day visits, but I don't recall ever sleeping overnight there. If I did, those times were few and far between. When I was a little kid, we would spend our days playing board games and sending messages down the laundry chute, and she always made the best, home made meals from scratch whenever possible. I had her undivided attention. And that attention didn't usually lend itself to politics or the world at large. But when we'd come up for a visit from Illinois, we'd stay the night or the weekend. As a result, I'd become more aware of my grandma's daily routine, watching the McNeil Lehrer news hour on PBS and hearing her views more frequently. She was a rare outspoken democrat, as far as I could tell, in a town, county and region of Wisconsin that was steadfastly Republican. The birthplace of the Republican party, Ripon, WI, is twelve miles away.

She was not a churchgoer either. Whenever people in the Berlin community asked her why she didn't go, Grandma Kay always had the same answer: "I practice my church at home."

A recurring theme for her kept coming up: Greed. The republicans currently in power were greedy. They only cared about money and themselves, didn't seem interested in helping people less fortunate than they were. I'm certain how she felt about Donald Trump in the 80s, though she may not have mentioned him by name. They were what's wrong with our country, and our world. People she admired included Barbara Jordan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Goodall, Geraldine Ferraro. Strong, educated women, all. And ones who valued human rights first.

Elizabeth Warren would be someone Grandma Kay would have deeply admired, for her belief in human rights, but also for her knowledge of finance, markets, and her ability to see right through the greed Wall Street is selling, and explain, in layman's terms, why ordinary people are getting screwed on a daily basis and what to do about it. I have no doubt Warren's plans would have been read from cover to cover, and Grandma would especially admire the K-12 plan that just came out.

Grandma Kay would have loved Bernie Sanders too. But I think, if given the choice, she would have chosen the one who is not as open throated in support of the label "Socialism," if in practice Warren's plans are nearly identical to Sanders. That aside, I believe, as one of the relatively few women in our neck of the woods having earned a PhD in 1938, she would support Warren not only because the US has not yet had a female occupant in the White House, but because the world needed more highly educated women in positions of prominence everywhere. Also - Warren, really, would be closer to the label "FDR Democrat." And Grandma was certainly that.

She wouldn't have supported any educated woman for President. She didn't have very nice things to say about Jeanne Kirkpatrick, for example. And she would have had no time for a disingenuous, right wing conservative proudly promoting her popularity among the poorly educated, like being poorly educated is a badge of honor, like Sarah Palin. On the other hand, there was that time during the Iran Contra scandal where she fell for Oliver North. He was such a nice, young man, just doing his duty. But nobody's perfect. The whole point is: Grandma didn't like convenient labels or terms for things, or all-encompassing ones. On the question of not going to church, she didn't say she was an atheist, after all. Grandma never said she didn't believe in God, just that she practiced her church at home.

I guess Elizabeth Warren reminds me of my grandma Kay. Some of the things she says, and the way she says them, reminds me of how my grandma would articulate a point. Always well thought out, prepared, measured, not afraid to just stand up and speak her mind, but not in an off-putting way. Let the facts speak for themselves: "I have a plan for that." Willing to fight back, but in an old fashioned way, with a respectful tone, sticking to the issues, but calling out behavior in plainspoken terms. I think that is what separates her from Bernie, her plainspokenness as well as a reluctance to draw everything into a specific worldview.

Grandma Kay was pragmatic, but only to a point. There is the argument from some of us on the Democratic side of the aisle - in this election, we just need to take out the racist white male and the only way to do that is by nominating a white male blue dog democrat who can attract those white, middle class, middle aged males from Ohio and Pennsylvania who are probably also racists. I think that is a mistake, and it is a fear-based strategy. And it would betray the four words I try to live by and tell our kids to live by: Can't live in fear. Also: we need to inspire! So we've gotta vote for what we're really for, not what we think will just win. Grandma Kay would believe that, I think. Pragmatism to a point. She didn't live to see Clinton elected, so I'm not 100% sure. She would have hated it when Hillary said she wasn't going to just sit around and bake cookies though.

For me in 2020, it will certainly be ABT, just like it was ABR in 1984 for Grandma Kay. I like the bumper sticker going around now that says "Any Functioning Adult - 2020." I think the final four, at this writing (but past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future returns), will be: Warren, Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg. Among those, I'll plug my nose for old Joe - who, like Hillary before her, has a keen nose for sniffing out, and then snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and I'll happily support Mayor Pete, if he makes it this round (if not, he'll probably be back). There's something corporate about him, though. And I don't like the state of Indiana. Sorry, Hoosiers! I'll vote for Bernie - but I'm not going to ever be a full throated socialist, or democratic socialist. I just don't like labels. I was never a punk rocker, never fully new wave, prog rock or anything else, even indie, in my gigging days. I was for music that had integrity and shied away from easy labels. But I'll vote for the socialist candidate if he's the nominee.

At this juncture, I'm leaning Warren. I'll forgive her for the nativist gaffe, or attempt at pandering, or for trying to apply a label to herself that really probably isn't there, is more of an appropriation. If that's the worst thing that comes out of her mouth - a mild form of cultural appropriation, well, I'll take that over someone who just compared his impending impeachment to a lynching. Also: I don't care what she'd look like riding around in a tank. We don't need more male bravado. We've had enough of that with the first 43 white male presidents and one black male. Yes, the number is 44. Look it up. Let me give you a hint - the reason it's 44 and not 45 is not because the current holder of office is a shit stained aberration on our nation's legacy and shouldn't be counted - it's because of a name that includes a character from Sesame Street and the largest city of Ohio. We've had enough dudes. We need: 1. Unapologetic civilian leadership. 2. It's time for a woman. And one who isn't a naked opportunist.

I guess that's pretty close to an endorsement. And my grandma Kay would approve. In a sense, I'm thinking I might be voting for her.

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P.S. My Grandma Nev, an English teacher, was equally awesome and spent a lot of undivided time with me too. I never asked her about her political views, for some reason. But she did provide the book of U.S. Presidents, which I memorized in order one rainy day in the early 80s and haven't forgotten to this day. I love her too! I'll post something about my Grandma Nev another time.




Saturday, October 19, 2019

Wagon Reprise, 2.0, 2019

Once Oaktoberfest 2018 came, i tentatively took the first few sips. It felt weird to feel a buzz from two pints, but soon thereafter I picked up right where I left off, and in about ten months I was confronted with the same problems I had created for myself as the last time, only this time I was asked to move out. I made plans, thanks to a good friend, to do just that and, after the first week back on the wagon, had the stuff I needed all but packed. And then, a second chance. Or maybe a third? Fifth? Who's counting. Long story short, I'm two months in now, back safely on the wagon. Physically, I'm fine (though I've gained weight - need to cut the sweets). Emotionally, I'm back to where I wanted to be: no crippling anxiety. As before, the drink exacerbated anxiety for me, it didn't suppress it. Socially, as another good friend of mine has said, it's like you're a salmon swimming upstream. Drinks are everywhere, you've gotta just deal with it. I've been to some meetings this time, and they've been good, but some of them just devastating - in terms of some of the other people and the things they've been through. I'm trying to find the right balance, and so far so good. One day at a time. I'm not counting the days. I probably will pause and reflect should I pass my previous "record," but I think that was the mistake I made last time: setting a timeline. This time it comes down to that choice every time I have a temptation (and thankfully that feeling of temptation so far has been on very few occasions, two so far): Do I want to go back down that path? I know where that path leads. Or do I stay safe from anxiety, safe from potential guilt, shame, or the roll of the dice that might get me a DUI or worse? The two times I was tempted: The evening after my good friend's father's wake, where we went back to their house and, at the table where his dad's spot was kept empty to honor him, the wine started flowing. The second was at Oaktoberfest 2019. I ran the gauntlet and made it through. Three cheers to one day at a time!

You can rule that out

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