Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Great Day in DC

Sometimes living in the Nation’s Capital doesn’t suck after all—in fact, sometimes it’s pretty damn cool. Like today, on a sunny, windswept afternoon when I drove my car down to Capitol Hill, parked beneath the shadow of the dome, and walked over to Senate Park for a rally against Social Security privatization.

It was truly heartening to see that despite all sorts of construction and other impediments, despite roadblocks and tight security, out of town visitors were all over the Hill to see democracy in action for themselves. I walked across the west front of the Capitol grounds, entered the park and sat down on a set of bleachers next to an older looking woman dressed in sun hat and t-shirt, who, as it turned out, was also from DC, and was there because she had recently qualified for Social Security and felt strongly about the issue. Surrounding me was a group of female AFSCME retirees—some of them old enough to be my grandmother, I’m sure—who had traveled to DC to take part.

Despite being comprised of a variety of organizations, the rally was well-organized—union people know how to do that—and loud. A staffer from the group in charge of the rally handed me a sign and some bottled water expressly ordered for the event (it had anti-privatization slogans on the label—they don’t miss a trick getting the message out, do they?) Things were running late, as they are wont to do in DC, but about ten minutes later the first group of speakers arrived and, one-by-one, took the pedestal to address the crowd. Having grown up here and having attended many of this type of event, I knew what to expect—a lot of slogans for the media (which was there in numbers, both print and broadcast), a lot of catch phrases and rah rah. Truth be told, if it were just these folks speaking, I might have considered staying at home. But a large group of House and Senate Dems was scheduled to appear, so I stuck around past the scheduled ending time to see the grand finale. (Hey, you don’t get opportunities like this one that often, even when you live here.)

And it was pretty damn grand indeed, even by Washington pomp and circumstance, everything-is-a-photo-op standards. Instead of walking the group of elected officials up to the stage from the side, the rally organizers walked them through the assembled crowd and right past the bleachers where I was seated. I know most people will not understand this, but to many here in the Nation’s Capital, politics is a spectator sport, and these people are its first-teamers. I live here, and I seem them all the time, so it’s very easy to get jaded. But even I was stunned to see the parade of familiar faces that walked so close by me, stopping to shake hands as they walked. Despite the obviously choreographed nature of the proceedings, it was nonetheless awe-inspiring to see the leaders of our democracy walking among “the people,” especially given increased security concerns here in DC. Sen.s Patrick Leahy and Paul Sarbanes, Rep.s Charles Rangel and Barney Frank, all familiar names and faces, heroes to many. There was Hillary, shaking hands, smiling at the dozens of women calling out her name. And before I knew it, there was Sen. Ted Kennedy with his lion’s mane of stunning silver hair, his ruddy complexion glowing as he reached out to greet people.

[Note: My parents both voted for Jack in ‘60 and worked for Bobby’s ill-fated 1968 presidential campaign. I myself worked on Ted’s campaign in 1980, so what follows should come as no surprise to anyone: When Sen. Kennedy walked by, I couldn’t help myself. I reached out and I shook his hand. And I’m not sorry.]

The rally was spirited and lively—Rep. Rangel got by far the most crowd response with his uniquely New Yawk speech and demeanor—but all to soon (hectic schedules being what they are), the busy politicos filed off to walk back across the Hill to their respective offices (after first signing a pledge to protect Social Security to the strains of Tom Petty’s ubiquitous rallying cry “I Won’t Back Down”). Parading in ones and twos, stopping to greet well-wishers and constituents, they walked purposefully back across the sun-dappled lawn toward the Capitol dome. Joining beside them, I was both thrilled and awestruck to finally have the opportunity to shake hands with the great Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a truly larger than life figure who, despite my being a lifelong DC resident, I had previously seen only in history books. This is the guy from the documentary footage, the guy who truly put his body (and his life) on the line that day in Alabama, the guy who got his head bashed in on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The guy who spoke at the March on Washington, one of the founding members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, truly one of the great figures of the modern civil rights movement. It’s not often living history walks right in front of you, and you have to seize these chances when you can. I approached him and mustered something to say—what do you say to one of your heroes?—and shook his hand. He very graciously smiled, responded, and with great dignity went on his way. That right there, I thought, is all that is uniquely American, truly what makes this country great: That figures such as this are still here, and are still, after all we have been through, so accessible, is nothing short of a miracle for which we should all thank our lucky stars every day.

As mind-blowing as this all was to me, even this was all fairly normal, and fairly typical by Washington standards. Typical, that is, until I became aware of a flurry of activity to my right as I continued to walk across the Hill beside the parade of politicians. It was Sen. Barack Obama.

Those of you who do not know who he is yet, I have two words for you—you will. This man is a rock star. People ran out calling his name, chasing after him just to touch him. As I parted ways with the main procession and stood on a corner to cross the street, I encountered a group of kids from the Close Up organization, a group that brings school kids to Washington to witness “democracy in action.” Well they got that and then some when Sen. Obama suddenly appeared in their path. There was a group of about ten kids, probably eighth grade or so, of mixed ethnicity and gender. I have lived here all my life, and I have never—repeat—never seen kids react to a politician like they did to this man. They stood there on the corner in open-mouthed awe, daring each other to step forward and greet the freshman senator from Illinois. Finally, one girl bravely ran up to get his autograph, (which she did) and then ran back to the group screaming like she had just met Elvis (work with me here, no one gets this reaction in today’s music world, at least not that I have seen). I mean, this girl was jumping up and down with a look of crazed adoration I have seen only in footage of Beatles concerts.

Jaded person that I am, this sight truly brought tears to my eyes. Yeah, I am a political junkie and probably place way too much value on these things, and yeah, I have lived here and seen it all, but I honestly thought that the next generation of Americans just didn’t care about anything, that “the kids” were disinterested and disengaged, and that things were in a very bad way as a result. I truly held out little hope that the kind of selfless passion for public service and activism that I had witnessed as a child of the ‘60s would ever return. In fact, I had pretty much given up on the idea that the “youngsters” could be convinced to care passionately about much of anything beyond the latest cell phone accessory. To see them care enough to come to Washington, and to know who these people were by sight, and then to see them recognize them as real heroes–role models even—was positively stunning to me. I really have believed for a long time that one of the biggest problems facing this country is that children today don’t look to public service as a career choice anymore, that they all aspire to be basketball players or musicians, to make lots of money and participate in the greed and conspicuous consumption that have all too sadly become the norm. Today, however, I am happy to report that I have been convinced otherwise. There is indeed hope for America’s future—at least there is as long as there are kids who genuinely care as much as these kids clearly did about the persons who, as duly elected representatives of The People, speak for them.

It’s not every day you get to see history, get to shake hands with one of your heroes, get to have your (ever-waning) faith in humanity and in the future of the Great Experiment that is the American Republic restored. Many days, living here in Washington really is everything it is cracked up to be—a depressing treadmill of sycophancy and dysfunction. And as Washingtonians, we have grown quite accustomed to hearing about how other cities are bigger, better, or just more "real." But on bright sunny, star-crossed days like today, living here in the Nation’s Capital “doesn’t suck” at all—on days like today, it just out and out rocks. (Take that, New York City.)

Oh, and watch out for this Obama fellow, I hear he’s going places.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Things I Like Vol. 20

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World:

1) the Paramount Theater, Asbury Park NJ
2) "Tougher Than the Rest" - live solo piano version - Bruce Springsteen
3) sunrise over the Manhattan skyline
4) Cerphe Colwell, one of the coolest DJ's ever
5) "FDR - A Presidency Revealed" - History Channel documentary
6) Julia Ward Howe
7) Walter Cronkite
8) The Great Unraveling - Paul Krugman
9) "Why Independent Record Stores Fail" - Marah
10) Prince

Hero of the Week (tie): Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, two great minds who saved America from disaster

Villain of the Week (tie): Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), for showing America the depths to which politics can sink when personal agendas are allowed to prevail over the rule of law.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On Mother's Day

I have tried for years to get to the root of why the Mother’s Day holiday bothers me so much. Part of it is certainly the Hallmark card forced emotion/guilt of the day—you MUST buy you mom flowers or you are a BAD child. (No mention, of course, of what you are supposed to do if your mother is deceased, or the details of how such forced rituals might affect people who have lost their mothers). Wonder how much money the greeting card, flower, and restaurant industries make on this.

Then there’s the whole notion that we must somehow celebrate the fact that a certain segment of our female population has chosen to procreate. I’m sorry, but I don’t see why someone else’s reproductive choices are more culturally “worthy” than mine. After all, wasn’t one of the goals of the Women’s Movement to gain reproductive autonomy? And at the rate we are using the worlds’ resources, it seems downright selfish for all American women (citizens of a country that consumes a disproportionate amount of the worlds’ resources to begin with) to have children. Further, just because a significant majority of American women can physically have a child, does that make these women “mothers” in the true sense of the word? Does it make them somehow more “special” or “”valuable” to our society? Why should we reward women who have children with this “Hallmark holiday” while we ignore the other women (such as myself) who, for health, sanity or a million other very valid and personal reasons have chosen not to become mothers--to say nothing of the thousands of women who desperately want to become mothers but have fertility issues. What are we supposed to do, and how are we supposed to feel? Remaining childless is every bit as valid a life choice (and certainly more earth-friendly), than is having a child. Why don’t childless women get a “day”? (And of course, we won’t even get into the cultural and economic issues surrounding motherhood and working women—the hypocrisy of a culture that celebrates “motherhood” while failing to provide equal pay, childcare, etc. for working mothers.) America is no longer the huge, untamed wilderness in need of populating that it was when prolific childbearing was the norm. Isn’t it about time our cultural values caught up?

Alas, does any of us really know what Mother’s Day is and why it is celebrated? If you don’t, don’t feel bad, it’s not like they teach this kind of information in grade school. I myself was only made aware of the historical origins of Mother’s Day in the weeks before the Million Mom March here in the Nation’s Capital a few years back. Ironically, it is really supposed to be an active, not passive holiday, a day for action and reflection, not mindless consumerism. The national Mother’s Day holiday is, in part, the direct result of the horrific carnage of the Civil War—a day envisioned by poet Julia Ward Howe (of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” fame) in 1870 as a means to galvanize women across the globe to rise up and proclaim their opposition to war as a political tool, to find common ground as a gender across international borders and to inspire political leaders to consider non-violent public policy alternatives, leaving war as an instrument of last resort. It was, in other words, a significant attempt to organize women on a global scale in order to achieve specific political goals. So it seems that rather than a somewhat generic excuse for guilt-associated gift giving, the Mother’s Day holiday is truly a milestone of the international Women’s Movement. Of course, Howe’s idea didn’t catch on right away, but by 1914, the entire nation was enthusiastically celebrating Mother’s Day (needless to say, the history of how the holiday shed its idealistic origins is a discussion for another time).

However one feels personally about the ongoing American military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan (and god knows there are many good reasons to be disturbed), isn’t it about time we gave some thought to the sacrifices American mothers, fathers, sons and daughters continue to make every day so that we can spend the first Sunday in May contributing our hard-earned dollars to the greeting card/flower/restaurant industrial complex? This Mother’s Day, instead of contemplating which restaurant has the best dessert tray, how about taking some time to think about how we can assist our friends in the armed services who continue to sacrifice so much for us. About how these conflicts in the Middle East are being conducted, what this says about America as a society, and about what has happened to the core American values that we once held dear. Beats thinking about the bland salad bar at Ruby Tuesday, I think.


Want some alternatives to “traditional” Mother’s Day activities? Visit Code Pink’s site for a list of great ways to spend the day promoting peace and economic justice (mother—child bonding opportunities abound)!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Things I Like Vol. 19

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World:

1) Turbotax
2) "All I'm Thinkin' About" - Bruce Springsteen
3) Apple iTunes
4) the Washington Nationals - baseball is back in DC!
5) Tambourine - Tift Merritt
6) "Let it Ride" - Ryan Adams
7) "Adam & Dave's Bloodline" - unreleased demos by some Squad boyz
8) IOTA Club and Cafe, Arlington VA
9) Woody Allen: A Biography by Eric Lax
10) Glamour magazine, 'cause sometimes mindless entertainment is fun

Hero of the Week: Johnnie Johnson, the sideman who invented rock'n'roll piano - R.I.P.

Villain of the Week: DC Mayor Anthony Williams, milking the return of baseball while ignoring the rampant, ongoing dysfunction in the Nation's Capital

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Things I Like Vol. 18

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World:

1) Elsie's Sub Shop, Red Bank NJ
2) "Jesus Was an Only Son" - Bruce Springsteen
3) Paul Westerberg, my future husband
4) The Randi Rhodes Show on Air America Radio
5) high speed wireless Internet access
6) diet Coke with lime
7) cold Corona with lime
8) soccer, the beautiful game
9) daylight savings time
10) Bruce Springsteen

Hero of the Week: Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, whose graceful wit makes you laugh instead of tearing your hair out

Villain of the Week: Peter Angelos, who has managed to keep the local MLB team's games off of local TV so he can force-feed us his Baltimore franchise instead

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Marage, Philly, 3/26/05

The Marage, Philly, 3/26/05
Originally uploaded by MrBadExample.
Dave Bielanko in full effect. Need we say more?