La Frontera 2016

Wednesday 9 November 2016

I have a lot of printed t-shirts hanging in my closet, and I’m usually thoughtful about which one I wear on a given day. Yesterday, working the election polls, I decided to go with my Chicago neighborhoods tee (which looks like this, but on a shirt).

Today, flipping through my shirts, I stopped and pulled down my Camp Mowana “La Frontera” theme shirt. The meaning that we were shared (at least as I internalized it) of “La Frontera” was of a place between, neither here nor there, a place of transition from what was to what is to come. In seeing that word and what it’s come to mean for me in the 10+ years since I obtained the shirt, I decided it was the appropriate way to capture my mood this day. (The shirt is subtitled “Where Jesus Meets Us” for some context for the camp’s choice of theme.)

Sitting here, the day after our citizenry (or at least those of age who decided to vote and are not restricted by law from doing so) went to the polls and elected a man who has shown callous disregard for so many different groups of people, I feel between. We’re obviously moving forward, at least in terms of calendar time, but it’s also clear that we’re in the middle of something big.

While there were likely many people who voted for Donald J. Trump out of animus for specific groups and peoples (Blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, Immigrants, Jews, even women), I suspect that that population alone would not have been enough to propel Trump to the presidency. Instead, there were many who simply turned a blind eye to this part of Trump, taking an “It’s not that important” stance to these issues and focusing instead on his anti-establishment rhetoric and their dissatisfaction with the political status quo when dealing with their (economic) lives.

Whatever the reason citizens opted to vote for Trump (who appears to have not even received the most votes overall, just enough in the right states—but that’s a topic for another day), our country will soon know the leadership of a man who embodies a white supremacist and xenophobic framework, supported by an electorate who at worst find this trait positive and at best find it negligible. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that I believe failing to condone such oppression is unacceptable and as good as promoting  that oppression.)

For me, this time—definitely this day, likely the next two months, but perhaps also the coming four or more years—has all the feelings of what I envision for La Frontera. It will be a time of struggle as we figure out where our country, full of a vast number of peoples with a vast number of beliefs and ideals, goes from here.

How can we create a land where all people are able to live in peace and comfort and seek self-fulfillment? How do we heal the wounds that (not only this election cycle but) our history has given so many of us? How do we listen to one another and recognize that my ability to live a full and valuable life does not depend on others suffering, and vise versa?

There are no easy answers, and (as always) the outcome of this election, no matter who had won, didn’t make these questions any less relevant. After all, it takes more than a president to change a country (see: Barack Obama).

As we move through La Frontera, it is important for all of us to ask ourselves what our role will be in the healing future of our country and its peoples. If you’re seeking a place to start on this first Wednesday after the first Monday in November, I recommend it be there.

An Assortment of Analogies For Our Presidential Choice This Election Cycle

Thursday 3 November 2016
  • Taking a flight while sitting between 8-year-old twins who were not given any in-flight entertainment options, in a seat that doesn’t recline
    Taking a flight with Amelia Earhart
  • A bowl of soup where the recipe called for 2 teaspoons of salt but where the chef instead made it with 2 Tablespoons of salt
    A piece of T-bone steak containing botulism, e-coli, and hepatitis A
  • Getting bit by a mosquito
    Getting bit by a mosquito carrying malaria, yellow fever, and West Nile Virus
  • Microsoft’s Clippy popping up on your screen and asking, “It looks like you’re trying to delete some e-mails. Can I help you with that?”
    The blue screen of death
  • Being stuck in an elevator while easy listening versions of Miley Cyrus and Drake songs play on a loop
    Being stuck in an elevator with Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Hannibal Lecter
  • Investing in a Samsung Galaxy 7
    Hoping to turn a quick buck, investing in the Samsung Galaxy 7, by pre-purchasing 1,000 units at 70% retail cost and storing them in your studio apartment
  • Being forced to walk with your family and relatives thousands of miles across the country to relocate on a piece of inhospitable land, only to later be told you’ll have to move again and never having full confidence that some day it might all be taken away anyway
    Having to take a cab instead of an Uber
  • The bike lane ending so now you have to “share the road”
    Driving the bus in the movie Speed, in that scene where the bus has to jump across an unfinished bridge, except the entire country is riding on the bus and there is actually no other side of the bridge for the bus to land on

the racialization of the electoral college

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Today (and the past few weeks), millions are casting a ballot for President of the United States, and nearly as many will be asking one simple question: Does my vote count?

For many of us, the answer is probably, “No.” It’s not that our votes won’t be counted—in lieu of hanging chads, malfunctioning voting machines, and good old fashioned election fraud, our vote will tabulated and tallied in precincts across the country—but what we really want to know is, “Does my vote matter?”

Civics lessons across the country proudly push the mantra that every vote counts, that “one person, one vote” is the basis of a democratic society, but from New York to California, Texas to the Dakotas, nearly every state is already classified red or blue, its outcome a “foregone conclusion.” In the electoral college we seemingly have a voting process that is truly Orwellian, where some votes truly“are more equal than others.” (And I won’t even get into the issue of money in politics.)

Though he made some changes based on recent polls, a week ago Nate Silver’s 538 blog (published by the New York Times) classified only 9 states as “competitive”: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. These are the “states that matter”, and even the candidates have no qualms about focusing their time and money in the swing states; in fact, according to, of the 252 campaign visits by the presidential and vice presidential candidates since the Democratic National Convention, 251 have taken place in one of these nine states, including 72 in Ohio alone. (The lone outlier was a stop by Congressman Ryan in Michigan.)

This sense of voter disenfranchisement isn’t anything new. While the swing states shift from election to election, many have probably lived their whole lives in states considered a “sure thing” for one political party or the other and felt like they really had no say in who was elected President.

However, examining the effect of the electoral college on the impact of one’s vote in relation to a person’s race leads one to discover a hidden world of voter disenfranchisement of people of color.

One obvious examination would be to look at the racial makeup of the “competitive” states. Based on the 2010 Census, there were approximately 237 million people in the United States 18 and over (the age necessary to vote), approximately 67.2% white. But the population of the 9 competitive states is approximately 71.9% white, a difference of nearly 5%—a significant difference, especially if the race ends up being as close as many predict it will be

However, looking at only these swing states unnecessarily skews the data. This is because, of the 110 electoral votes “in play” in these states, it is predicted President Obama would need only 33 (about a third) of them. So while these are the states in which candidates are still vying for individual votes to win electoral votes, these states will not decide the president in the normal sense of “receiving the greatest number” and thus brings about some mathematical ambiguity.

The true way to see the effect of the electoral college on people of color is to look at the electoral college on a national scale. As noted, the US 18 and over population is approximately 67.2% white; however, based on state populations in relation to their electoral college weight, the electoral college votes are distributed to a population that is the equivalent of 68.1% white. And while this may not seem like a significant difference, it is equivalent to adding 6.6 million whites age 18 and over to the population.

It is not simply the electoral college that cause the voices of people of color to be diluted in elections. Because most states have some form of voting restrictions for convicted felons (a population disproportionately made up of people of color), the number of people of color eligible to vote is reduced, increasing the distribution of white voters.

Also, some ambiguity comes into play because the census counts citizens and non-citizens (green card holds, those here on visas, undocumented residents) alike, with congressional districts and electoral college votes distributed not by the number of citizens but by the population. Thus, the voices of non-citizens—many who pay taxes—are repressed, again disproportionately affecting people of color living in this country.

There is much to be done in regards to election reform in this country to create a system where every vote bears the same weight and every citizen feels they are truly heard. Such reform includes the elimination of the current electoral college structure, a system that continues to disenfranchise millions of people every four years—whether they are aware of it or not.

Visit the National Popular Vote website to see one campaign to end the electoral college.

When it “getting worse” is a privilege

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Over the course of this election season, I’ve at times taken a Zen approach to it all and said to more than a few people, “Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.” And there is definitely still a part of me that believes this may, in fact, be true—sometimes I don’t think anything will change some people’s minds about how our society needs to be run except them experiencing hardship themselves, though I also know that experiencing hardship in and of itself does not produce the same outcomes of belief in all people and can sometimes more deeply ingrain stereotypes and biases…

But aside from all the little spins I can put on the argument to make it seem like a good one, as I’ve thought more about this in the past few weeks, I’ve come to conclude it’s a dangerous outlook for me to have for one simple reason: I’m speaking from a point of privilege.

Over the past few months I’ve also talked to many about how I’m a straight, young, white male, and how that pretty much puts me at the top of the “Privilege Olympics”. So I continue to work toward equality and equity for all people. But continually recognizing and “checking” one’s privilege is a 24/7 job, and it’s easy to let your guard down.

Whenever I’ve said that maybe “it has to get worse”, I’ve subconsciously been confident that whatever “worse” means, it doesn’t mean worse for me:

  • If Roe v. Wade is reversed, I won’t be the one who has to suffer the consequences it would have for the control of my body and reproductive choice.
  • If salary inequality continues such that women are paid only 70-80% of what men are paid, or if that percentage decreases, I won’t be losing any money from it.
  • If voter ID laws that disproportionately affect the poor, elderly, and people of color continue to be rolled out and applied, I won’t have to worry about losing my ability to vote.
  • If the movement of equal rights of homosexuals is halted, and gains made in the past years reversed, I won’t experience the consequences of any of those changes.
  • If Obamacare is repealed or amended, I’ll still have health insurance or be able to afford coverage.
  • If the economy takes another downturn, I’ll probably still have a full-time job. And even if I should lose it, I have significant savings that could last me for a while and have everything working in my favor to help me get a new job faster than others in a similar position. And even if worst comes to worst, I have grandparents who own their homes outright that I could live with (in addition to parents with a partially paid off home).
  • If religious rights of non-Christians are curtailed, it won’t affect how and if I want to worship as I see fit.
  • If we continue to fight wars, allow drone attacks, and permit oppressive governments to bring about terrible lives for people around the world, it won’t be my life that’s affected.

So while it may not matter to me personally if “it has to get worse before it gets better”, it sure does matter for many others (well over half the country, actually). If I’m going to be fighting for the rights of ALL people, to be striving for equality for the oppressed and marginalized, then I need to be taking a stand toward creating a better country for us ALL to live in and recognizing that when changes for the worse happen, even if they don’t affect me directly, they still matter and aren’t just “collateral damage” for some eventual change that may happen some day.

So when you and I go to the ballot box and vote (and even those who choose not to vote), it’s important to remember that it’s not all about “me” but about all those we know and don’t know who will be affected by the very real consequences of decisions made by those we elect to positions in our government. Our choices matter and directly impact the lives of other around the country and around the world. It’s not to be taken lightly; I’m going to continue to try to remember that, and I hope you do, too.

What’s wrong with politics (AKA: Why Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts)

Wednesday 20 January 2010

When I woke up this morning, I remembered there had been an (important?) election yesterday and asked someone who won.  I was not surprised in the least.

I’m not a political correspondent.  I don’t live in Massachusetts.  But you don’t need to be either of those to know why Brown (a Republican) beat Coakley (a Democrat) to take the Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy in (what the NY Times calls) “the overwhelmingly Democratic state of Massachusetts.”  You just need to follow the political system a little bit these days.

Here are my three reasons why Brown beat Coakley in Massachusetts:

1. There is no such thing anymore as “party loyalty.”
While there may have been such a thing in the past, we’re past that.  Sure, people my have liberal or conservative views, but for the most part, people don’t care what party label the person carries on the ballot.

The first example came in the 2008 election.  Barack Obama won many “formerly Republican” states.  I say no, these weren’t “Republican states,” but instead states that had previous voted in the majority for the Republican presidential candidate.

Secondly, the current “tea party” people.  Many would say they’re Republicans who are mad at their party.  I say no, these are conservatives who no longer see enough Republicans championing the issues and values that are important to them.  In the special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district in November 2009, you actually had the officially endorsed Republican candidate drop out after massive pressure by a conservative, “tea party,” challenger backed by people like Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News’ Glenn Beck.

People can no longer be counted on to vote a “straight party ticket,” as they call it, for people will choose to vote as they see fit (see reason #3 below).

Reason #1 is the basis for the next two reason:

2. Marth Coakley got lazy and ran a horrible race (if you can say she ran a race at all)
Again, I’m not a political correspondent, but if you followed the news stories before the election, you know this to be true, and it was definitely a factor in her loss.  Obviously, she was counting on the “party support,” but as I said in reason #1, that doesn’t exist any more.

3. Voters are sick of all the government bureaucracy and things not getting done, and they’re not afraid to voice their opinion about it at the ballot box
It seems to me that recently, voting has become not a way to select what you want but a referendum on what you don’t want.  Since I can recall, I’ve been told that voting is the way to “make your voice heard,” and I’m sure millions of others have been told the same thing.  While this is definitely true, voters are now using this in a new way, a way that really fuels the fire they’re trying to put out!

Underlying voter habits the past 5 or so years has been an overwhelming feeling that government is broken, and it needs fixed.  Thus, the remedy, it’s been decided, is to get rid of all the people in Washington (and maybe the state capital, too) and get new people in there who will surely do a better job.  Instead of focusing on how to work with the government already in place (when was the last time YOU called your representative?), the general consensus has been to just get rid of what’s there and start over.  That’s why there was so much turn over in the recent fall 2008 and 2009 elections.

The problem comes in the disconnect between the reasons voters are making their choices and the way politicians, our elected officials, interpret them, as I don’t think politicians are getting the message.  Let me simplify this, again with a few points.

a. Voters want government to do something
b. When government is stagnant and not making things happen, voters get frustrated
c. When frustrated, voters get upset and want to get the politicians who are the problem out and someone (usually anyone) else in
d. When a politician is voted in, they think the voter picked them because of their ideas and beliefs — who they are — when, in fact, it may have more to do with who they aren’t
e. When an elected official doesn’t realize the actual reason they were elected, they make no effort to change the structure of government, and not much changes
f. If nothing changes, voters continue to be upset and the cycle continues.

Now, here are a few suggestions that might help remedy all these problems:

1. Elected officials need to work together…
… their jobs depend on it!  Until politicians get the picture that no one is safe and voters aren’t afraid to continue turning over the name cards on office doors in Washington and state capitals, no one is safe.  The “Obama brand of politics,” where you try to get support from conservatives and liberals alike, doesn’t work when he’s the only one playing — and unfortunately for Obama, he’ll suffer, too, if no one else joins in.

2. Voters need to work with and pressure their current elected officials, not just wait until the next election to change them
Perhaps, when all is said and done, the change really needs to happen here, or else there really won’t be any change at all.  Politicians aren’t dumb people (no matter what you believe), and part of their job is doing what it takes to get reelected, and in most cases, that means making the constituents happy!  The “whatever it takes” mentality is obvious in politicians switching parties, as well as recent retirements by those who feel they couldn’t win anyway.

Elected officials do listen to their constituents — if only because they want to get elected again!  They may not believe everything they have to do, but that’s not the point, the point is that they act on behalf of their constituents.

Unless we, as voters, communicate with them, they can’t do that — and just voting them out for disapproval isn’t how it’s going to happen.

3. Voters need to pay attention to their representatives, not the outcome as a whole
It takes some energy, but just because the end results didn’t come out how you, the voter, wanted them to, doesn’t mean your rep is personally doing a bad job and needs to be axed.  Voters need to recognize this when they go to the ballot box instead of holding a “get rid of them all” mentality when things don’t go as they hoped.

OK, so there’s a lot of room for discussion here.  Please have some!

Palin McCain sign brings me joy

Saturday 1 November 2008

So while I’m sure this kind of switch-a-roo may have already happened on photoshop in various forms, when I was driving down a rural Ohio road Friday afternoon, I saw this sign in a yard and just busted out laughing and decided I must turn around and snap a picture.

At first I thought that the campaign had actually created this sign, which seemed ludicrous, but then I realized that if one looks closely, you can see this supporter has carefully removed each name from its previous location and reversed the order, putting Mr. MCain as the under-card.

I’ll let you be the judge of interpreting what exactly this means, both for the person whose yard this can be found in, and for this election as a whole.  Feel free to comment and link this page as desired.

in the middle of the night…

Tuesday 22 April 2008

I was up at 4AM last night (I had good reason), and maybe it was the hour or just the time to really do some thinking, but I found myself thinking, “I should run for Congress this fall.”

I was preparing to write my mom an e-mail and ask her if this was viable (logistically, not if she thought it would be a good idea, though it would be a good question, maybe, too), and if so what I would have to do to get my name on the ballot, but instead I found a little bit of time to surf the Internet and find out for myself.  And actually once I found the right combination of words to use in my search engine of choice, I soon arrived at the answer that my name, in fact, could not appear on the ballot.

Even though I met all the basic requirements, according to the Ohio Election Calendar 2008 (because I would certainly be running, at this point, at least, in the Ohio 5th Congressional District), to be considered for one of the “major” parties, i would have had to have had my petition in 60 days prior to the primary, which was held on 4 March, so I had obviously missed that.  Since I did vote in the Democrat primary in Ohio, I am thus currently affiliated with that party, so I couldn’t run as an independent candidate — to run as an independent (and if I run in 2010, I’d maybe go independent in the 5th District), one need only have the paperwork in a day prior to the primary, but that, too, is already passed. — But as history seems to show, a non-Republican seems to fare a bit better in the 5th District when people aren’t voting for president, but this year, you never know.

You’d think that 6 months in advance to get your name on a ballot for elected office would be enough, but I guess that isn’t the case.  I guess I’ll have to table all the slogans and platforms I was dreaming up for another two years or so.  And maybe by that time I might be what they actually call a “viable candidate.”  (I’ll probably at least have hair that doesn’t touch my shoulders at that point, but you never know.)