Saturday, May 10, 2008
Friday, May 9, 2008
I have delayed posting about my canvassing experiences this week in North Carolina. I jotted down tidbits of things that struck me as my good friend Will and I walked throughout various neighborhoods to Barack the vote in NC's primary. While I am thrilled with Tuesday's outcome, I can't help wondering what will change in the daily lives of the people we encountered. Will any president make a difference to their plight?
It has simply been too difficult to face the hard core, pounding, bass riddled music. I start a post and then leave my laptop, feeling spent before any substantial words get out. It's hard articulating what I saw and felt. And I'm finding that it's even harder keeping it in.
Will and I canvassed in some of Raleigh's poorest neighborhoods. Places that we read about and hear about but manage to neatly sweep under the rug in our brains and hearts because we know it is too devastating to face the reality that we saw. Neighborhoods just a few miles from where we live. That's the worst part, it's so close yet totally out of sight and mind. I live in a perfectly lovely neighborhood that harkens back to the days of yore when neighborhoods were communities and neighbors were friends. It bears zero resemblance to the places we canvassed, leaving me feeling ashamed, guilty, sorry, frustrated, lost, but mostly, just deeply sad. Here's a taste of our day:
Stray dogs, full, heavy teats swaying while digging through trash that didn't make its way to the dumpster. Hunger in their eyes. Skeletal frame and patches of crusty, infected fur. Paws bleeding and torn.
Broken glass everywhere. I mean everywhere. It crunched underfoot the way gravel does on a park path. I would have surely endured glass shards to the toes had I not been wearing sensible flats (BTW, canvassing in flip flops is a very bad idea. Trust me, I did it on Monday in a hilly neighborhood. Very bad idea.). The only patches of green in the whole apartment complex were covered in shattered glass that I imagine being tossed from balconies by angry, bitter even, frustrated people who are just trying to get by and feeling abandoned. Forgotten. Worse, ignored.
The four-year old girl who was small enough to pass for two, and not in that dainty peanut of a way. She was clean but wore a tattered, too-big sundress. What struck me most was that she and the dogs shared the same steely, empty look in their eyes. This little girl (the same age as my Bird!) was home with an 18-year old boy. I have no idea if he was her father, brother, uncle.
The men, young and old, drinking cans of Budweiser at 10:00 in the morning, lighting a fresh cigarette from the butt of the current one. Tossing those beers cans into the bushes, onto the sidewalk. Reaching into the Styrofoam cooler to pop open another. Music thumping, blaring from an unknown place. The steady, hard beat. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
The smoking. All that smoking. The people who do not get decent healthcare are the very ones who will need it most, and smoking certainly fuels that fire. What got me was the smoking around children. All those babies clutching on to a mom who has a Marlboro Red hanging out the corner of her mouth. A lipstick stained cigarette butt held between the fingers of a mom wiping her baby's drool with that very same hand. I'm not judging here, just noting.
A sorry excuse for a playground. There was a patch of sand about 10 x 10 with a very small slide and a climbing structure. That's it. No monkey bars, no swings, no real playground equipment. It was as if it were an afterthought in developing the apartment complex. An imagined primary color oasis amidst the otherwise colorless, lackluster surroundings.
The dilapidated buildings. Shame on those landlords who perpetuate the state of disenfranchisement these people face everyday! Busted doorjambs, broken windows with duct tape to hold the pieces together, nails popping out of steps, fallen handrails, gutters askew, shingles flapping, uneven balconies, dented doors, crumbling sidewalks.
The few homes with silk flower spring wreaths on the door and potted geraniums on the porch. Shoes neatly lined up on a mat outside the door. Porch swept. Windchimes swaying and tinkling something that sounded like songs of hope in the breeze.
The filthy dogs chained up to porch rails. The stench of feces infecting the air as we walked up the front walk. Dogs angrily growling, babies wailing, children playing with pieces of an old refrigerator, a legless old man rocking on the front porch, oblivious to it all. No mother or father in sight. Filthy conditions unsuitable for even the worst offenders, much less children. Squalor sums it up.
The eviction letter taped to the door, dated three days prior to us knocking. There were Hefty bags stuffed to the brim, toys, and toddler size 8 sandals waiting to be claimed, left behind in a hurried departure.
Oh, the children. My heart aches for those faces. Those parents don't love their children any less than I love mine. We all share the same intense, consuming, indescribable giddy love that only those who have parented a child know. Their fierce desire to protect their kids is no different than mine. The difference is that paying rent is never an issue. The lights, phone, and gas will never get turned off at my house. Three squares with a few snacks thrown in will always be served. Healthy squares at that. I don't have to weigh the cost of treating an ailment with putting cereal on the table for breakfast. Little, and big, luxuries aren't given a second thought at my house.
What are necessities to us are luxuries to them.
Will and I talked with some lovely people. They were candid, friendly, funny, and warm. Perhaps in different circumstances I would have been afraid in these neighborhoods. On a sunny 82 degree May day on which people were casting a vote for the first black man to potentially be our President, I felt no fear. Hope, amid the desperation, was palpably in the air.
We met great grandmothers who had never voted before but decided to make use of the free ride to the polls to cast their votes for Obama. We met teenagers who voted for the first time, despite the fact that their parents had never voted to set that example. We met men who waited in line for longer than the lunch break they were granted to vote early. For the first time. We met people think that they could make a difference, which is exactly the reason we were canvassing. Will, as all-American as you can get, and I, the short Indian woman who looked a bit like Suzy Cheesecake that day, were welcomed into those neighborhoods with nary a glance of judgement. Would the same hold true had those folks entered my neighborhood? Sadly, we know the answer to that. Guilty as charged.
We were all brought together for one cause, cliche and treacly as that sounds. We had a rare chance to hear what's on the minds of some of America's disenfranchised. When is the last time you had a dialog with people who don't live life as you know it? I don't know what Obama will do for these people. What I do know is that a lot of these people feel inspired in ways they had never known. They feel that he's helping them tell their story. They have a glimmer of hope that they won't be forgotten or ignored after all. Mind you, these are not folks who want a Lexus or summer beach house. They want fair wages, healthcare, decent schools for their children, affordable grocery bills, and gas prices that don't eat up the grocery bill. Some of these people cannot afford the gas it takes to get to work, yet they cannot afford to not work. The worst Catch 22, no?
We all have our version of the American Dream. My father did too when he left the only home he knew and moved his wife and two small children across an ocean to give us opportunities he had merely tasted as an adult. As a young, inexperienced man he had the incredible foresight and fortitude to risk everything to bring us here. I will never know the real risks, anxiety, and struggle he faced all those years ago in 1970. There aren't enough words in me to begin to tackle the issues of immigration, race, and classism that my parents endured. Issues very real today.
The American Dream is real. It's not one that will ever be old fashioned or passe. Let's protect it. Let's make it attainable to those after us. These are the principles upon which my brother and I were raised. Mac Daddy and I will raise Bird and Deal in the same fashion, with a keen eye on imparting gratitude and empathy.
My campaigning over the last fews days and weeks has demonstrated that a good many folks were raised with the same values. Admittedly, many a stereotype was shattered for me. Just because a plain front khaki pants and Brooks Brother oxford shirt clad 20-something looks like a good ol' boy doesn't make him one. Just because a young black man wears baggy jeans and Timberland boots doesn't make him a louse. Just because a woman wears Lilly Pulitzer doesn't make her a Republican. Just because people are poor doesn't make them lazy, uneducated, or entitled. Just because people are rich doesn't make them generous.
This is the chanting I heard from the back seat this morning:
"David Archuleta! David Archuleta!
Mommy, is he gonna win?
David Archuleta! David Archuleta!"
Deal has only seen a snippet of American Idol, yet he is apparently hooked. I imagine he replays the parts he saw over and over and over again in his head. I'm pretty sure those Idol producers aren't looking to tap the preschool market. Then again, the Wiggles could use some competition.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Do you have any idea how difficult it is to corral two boys without a voice? I am coughing my way through the day with a bad case of bronchitis and laryngitis. The hacking is annoying to anyone within a 5 mile radius. What's worse is my feeble, muted attempt to speak.
For anyone who knows me, you know that staying silent is not something I do well. One time Mac Daddy, Tony, and Cathy challenged me to not speak for five consecutive minutes on a road trip to Alpine Valley to see Jimmy Buffett. I couldn't do it, captive audience and all, how was I supposed to stay silent when there was SO MUCH to remark on in that time?! Every single report card I got as a kid said in one manner or another that I talked too much in class. Here at age 39, I still talk too much. No lessons learned, I suppose. Bird keeps getting yellow cards in school for the same reason. It's hard to punish him for that. He can't help that the talks-too-much gene is crowding his gene pool.
The house is eerily quiet with Deal napping and Bird building a fort with jump ropes, pillows, paper towel tubes, and cardboard. Geesh, I think he's making a booby trap. There's only so much interaction we can have, me being the mute and all. He can't read yet so writing notes is fruitless. I always sucked at charades so that's of no use. Gesticulate as I might, it's not going well. Pictionary, anyone?
Should I book a flight to head to New York's Voice and Swallowing Institute?
Argh, I miss my voice!!!!!!!! (!!!!!!! for added effect since I can only figuratively scream right now)
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Here's a snippet of John Dickerson's article on slate.com entitled "Obama Wins Split Decision." You can read the whole article here. Dickerson's words are far better than the rant I was conjuring up.
"When Hillary Clinton questioned Gen. David Petraeus last September, she famously said that to believe his description of progress in Iraq required "a willing suspension of disbelief." After the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, the same may now be true about her case for winning the Democratic nomination. It's not that she can't win, but with only 217 delegates up for grabs in the six remaining contests, the scenario for victory has become more fantastical, narrow, and painful.
Clinton won Indiana, but, as she pointed out repeatedly to Petraeus, individual victories—even a surge of them in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania—don't change the whole story. The larger reality still holds. Barack Obama has the lead in elected delegates and the popular vote. Those leads increased Tuesday as he widened his margin by 15 delegates and roughly 200,000 more votes. For Clinton to move ahead in those numbers now, she must bring more states into the union."
It seems to me that Hillary is trying to claw her way to the top of a scratching post that has lost its carpeted sheath. This makes it even more evident to me that she's in this race for herself. To outdo her personal best. A mere check mark on her life's oneupmanship to-do list. I'm not seeing any gumption for the people, the issues, the paradigm shift that our country so desperately needs. After Hillary's plea for money in her Indiana victory speech last night, she just seemed pathetic. Hanging on to the shred of carpet that was worn off ages ago.
By the way, I am indeed on a first name basis with Hillary. She branded herself that way to seem more accessible and open. As with all brands, the promise must deliver. It didn't.
Now don't get me wrong. I started out a Hillary supporter. My family has a long love affair with the Clintons. When my mom shook Bill's hand at a book signing she called me and vowed to never wash her hand again. I too met Bill, sax in hand, when I was in college and first getting involved in and excited about politics. We all defended Hillary's universal health care proposal and thought she was not given a fair shake. We dissed the men who were so obviously threatened by her, for she is a woman who is undoubtedly bright, fierce, distinguished, and tenacious.
What tugged at my doubt in this campaign were the elements of warmth, empathy, passion, and earnestness that were clearly missing from her long list of values and attributes. I found myself supporting Hillary because she is a woman. And only because it would be amazingly cool and empowering to have a woman in the Oval Office who is not serving (or servicing, a la Monica) the President. I found myself moved emotionally, and into action even, when I learned more about Obama. He made me hungry to learn more and motivated to do more. That's when I shifted my allegiance. Simply having the X chromosome wasn't enough. I wish it were, for I still hope to see the day a woman rules this country.
But for now, let's just sew up the oozing abdominal wound in the Democratic party and move on. Let Hillary exit with grace and dignity. And a standing ovation for her efforts. But please, pass the baton to Obama, and let's kick McCain's war monger ass.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Here we are ready to vote. This is the first time in 20 years that North Carolina has had a voice in the Democratic primary presidential nomination. I am so proud to cast my vote today. Man, I love voting.
Game on, Hillary.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Tonight before dinner Bird wanted to say a prayer that he made up all by himself. Apparently he was quite proud of his masterpiece because he's been reminding me all day that he's going to say a prayer instead of our traditional thank-yous before dinner. I even caught him whispering something that sounded an awful lot like a prayer in the car this morning, and I wasn't even speeding, swerving, or cussing like I normally do when monogrammed minivans and W stickers are present.
Sidebar: WTF is up with the preppy swirly pink monogram on your VEHICLE?! Muffy and Biff, I have seen it all. Now I must go fix myself a bloody mary to deal with this prepdom. Spicy with Absolut Peppar, natch.
I'm not sure where Bird's gush for God came from but I honored his wishes. Here's what he said at the table tonight with hands clasped, Deal diligently and earnestly repeating every word. And me, I was trying not to snicker while feeling touched and humbled at the same time.
In Bird's words:
"Thank you, God, for our dinner. For our broccoli.
Thank you for trees. And nature.
Thank you, God, for making everything.
Oh, and stumps.
Thank you for our bones.
Thank you for all of us.
Thank you for potties and for playing outside.
Thank you, God, for books.
Thank you for toys and treats.
And thank you for TV.
I am pretty sure I have the only kid in America, perhaps this hemisphere, who includes broccoli in his prayers. Both Bird and Deal clamor for it in the produce aisle, making me proud yet wince with a bit of embarrassment lest people think I deprive my children of tasty, preservative-laden treats and other delicacies that reek of childhood. I presume the stumps he refers to are tree stumps since we don't know any amputees. Perhaps we've been reading the Giving Tree a bit too often. I am glad he separated potties, trees, nature, and playing outside. I am working on convincing Bird and Deal that just because nature calls while they're playing outside near a tree, it doesn't mean they shouldn't march the six steps into the house to pee in the newly renovated bathroom we paid good money for. Let's not take indoor plumbing for granted, boys. My favorite is the last nod to God about TV. Bird has not earned a television time reward for a few days now. I suppose his voice did have a lilt of nostalgia and yearning for the ol' Sony Wega.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Guess what Mac Daddy, Bird, and Deal are doing right now? I will bet you all the lovely, strappy, citrus hued shoes in the Nordstrom's shoe department that you won't guess correctly.
Spending quality time with Moose A. Moose?
Making pink pancakes?
Cleaning up pee from the floor?
Beating each other with helium balloons?
Nope. Not that they haven't already done all those things this morning.
Mac Daddy, Bird, and Deal are watching American Idol. David Archuleta has entranced them at the moment. Deal does not even like television, yet the magic of American Idol has its glitzy showbiz grip on my son. My 2 1/2-year old son. You know what he just said? "I wish I could be that boy." Gulp. Do I have a Clay Aiken on my hands? Should I get him an agent so he can dazzle audiences on the Mickey Mouse Club? What the #@*!
So from where did this stem? This American Idol curiosity. Oddity, even.
McDonald's. As in the hamburger joint. You know the one. Of Happy Meal fame.
The boys got American Idol toys in their Happy Meals recently. Oh, please. Like you don't indulge your kids with crap to stuff their little faces with from time to time. The innocent Hershey's Kiss doled out to pottying toddlers or a Cinnabon to give in to the senses at the mall? Don't judge me for patronizing McDonald's. It's not like my guys eat fries and drink Dr. Pepper. They get the apples (no caramel dip) and milk (white). Trust me, the kids at Dirt & Noise eat quite well, even for grown up standards.
Bird and Deal were rockin' out to the American Idol happy meal dudes they scored. They made a pretend stage and had a rock concert. Then the questions started. All from a logo. Preschoolers know what logos are! Granted, their mother (that would be me, and I enjoy referring to myself in the third person time to time) works as a marketing consultant. Words and concepts like logo, brand, and consumer are already implanted into my children's psyche.
Sidebar: I'm willing to bet that Bird and Deal understand branding better than most adults who think a brand is simply a logo. Maddening, it is! I suppose all the banter about end caps, shelf talkers, and EDLP in the grocery aisles is paying off.
Bird and Deal wanted to know all about American Idol, which of course included wanting to watch it. Since they go to bed at 7:15 it was out of the question. "What about DVR"" asked Bird. OMG. The things they learn and know at this age astound me. And so here we are watching American Idol on a Sunday morning. And here are my boys latching on to David Archuleta. Perhaps because they can sense he is a youngin to whom they can relate.
And this brings me (finally!) to the issue at hand - marketing to children. McDonald's usually has Happy Meal toys that advertise movies that the Happy Meal Set cannot even watch. I'm pretty sure that rated PG kids aren't satiated by one meager burger and apples. Pirates of the Caribbean for three-year olds. Really? Spiderwick Chronicles for America's four-year olds? What, do we want to invite nightmares into our late night slumber? Why promote movies that are inappropriate to the audience? It sure makes life harder for us parents. I love the grocery check out lines that are labeled "No candy." As if teaching graciousness and thankfulness isn't difficult enough.
Bird and Deal mostly watch commercial-free television, but that doesn't mean they aren't subjected to and exposed to other forms of advertising. Now remember, planting messages into people's heads is my livelihood. The irony is that I want to protect my children from it. Selling high fructose corn syrup snacks (especially under the guise of being GOOD FOR YOU!) and skater dude video games to little kids is not OK. I know that kids influence many, many purchasing decisions in the household. And many, many parents succumb. I just wish that everyone, people like me included, would think about the bigger picture and promote positive images and products to our youth.
I'm not suggesting that parents are to be absolved of responsibility or that we should not indulge our children. Could we just be more mindful of the effects of what we are selling to our children? Little girls don't need Bratz dolls. They will face a long road of body image and confidence struggles without those hoochie dolls sexing them up at a tender age. Boys don't need to develop skater dude too-cool-for-school attitudes in preschool. Once lost, innocence cannot be found. Unlike happiness, innocence is a destination. Once you've been there you cannot leave, and it follows you everywhere.
Let us diminish the ill effects of marketing to kids and replace those messages with positive ones. American Idol is innocent enough. Rated G merchandising is innocent enough. I don't have a problem with the likes of Nemo or Curious George making their way into our toy boxes. I can even handle American Idol. There's a clear demarcation in my household because Mac Daddy and I drew the line.
Must I remind you of Joe Camel?