Archive for October, 2008

Walk Your Talk

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008 © by Susan Swartz

They told us to be ready for, among other issues, the gun question. Nevada is, after all, giddy up country. Once you get past Reno, the countryside looks like a cowboy movie set with mountains and long valleys and lots of horses. And probably more than a few gun owners not taking kindly to peace pushers, especially from California.

As campaign volunteers, our personal feelings about guns didn’t matter. Our job was to pass on the candidate’s message. He was not going to try to change the second amendment or take away firearms used for hunting and family protection. But he would like to get the assault rifles off the streets.

But no one asked about guns. In fact in our assigned part of Washoe County we even saw “No Hunting” signs, next to a whole field of deer sitting around unconcerned, like they were at a spa. That was a stereotype-changer.

Lucky for us, we chose the same weekend to campaign in Nevada as Barack Obama. After his talk to 11,000 Nevadans, even we nervous newbies were ready. It was my first time out of the closet. When you’re a newspaper reporter it’s considered a conflict of interest to even put a bumper sticker on your car or wear a button. But as a free lance writer I get to be political and so last weekend my husband, another emancipated reporter, and I joined a swarm of Bay Area Californians knocking on Nevada doors.

Suck it up and ring that bell.

Reporters are accustomed to approaching strangers and asking nosey questions but canvassing is different. You don’t have a press pass and a notebook. Asking a person who they’re voting for feels intrusive, like asking how much they make or paid for their house. I also know how annoying it is to be called to your front door by the dog barking at some eager stranger with a handful of literature.

I made my husband go first. When he wasn’t shot, I told myself to remember the stakes, suck it up and ring that bell. A friendly woman said she’d already voted. I said “great,” and inquired, “for Obama?” and she said, “No, but if he wins I will support him.”
Because we were coached to remain pleasant at all times, I said, “Well, thanks for voting,” even though I really wanted to say, “Now, why on earth did you do that?”

Two houses later I spotted a Cal Bears statue on a porch, an indication that someone inside had a fondness for UC Berkeley and was a likely left-leaner. Bingo. Two Obama votes. I danced back to our pickup truck.

We went to about 60 houses in two days, a tiny contribution compared to those who’ve donated weeks to do the same in Ohio, Minnesota, Colorado and other swing states. In Nevada we visited neighborhoods we’d never have given a second glance. We saw beautiful wild country lit up for fall with golden aspen trees. We saw evidence of tough times. Houses with eviction notices. Neglected yards. No shiny new cars. Then you’d come to a house where it looked like people were holding on and doing okay.

One affable guy in his 60s said the country needs a president who believes in the common guy. Standing in front of a large house with corral fencing, he said he knew he didn’t look like the common guy but he’d built this house with the hopes of selling it so he could retire. Now with the housing slump he would have to stay and keep working for a few more years.

Nevada’s version of Real America pretty much looks like ours. It was like what Obama told the crowd. There is no fake America. We all rise and fall together.

Listen to the Walk Your Talk Podcast of Another Voice on KRCB-FM

Photo Courtesy of The New York Times

Whispering Hope

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008 © by Susan Swartz

We were playing bocce ball and talking about – what else? – the election, and my friend whispered, “I said it today.”
She had been getting a massage and looked up at the person rubbing the knots out of her neck and quietly said, “I think he may do it.”
And the masseuse quietly said the same thing back.

Nervously looking around for spies, I told my friend I’d said it, too. In bed, drinking coffee, listening to a rare upbeat report on NPR. I said it to my husband and he shook his head and said, “Not yet, too soon.”

My teacher friend and I were walking our dogs when she confided that she and a colleague had just that morning agreed that they were daring to think positive. And then they cringed and agreed not to say it again.

At a neighborhood party I heard a college student start to say something about winning when an older woman across the lawn suddenly turned and said “shush.”

You don’t want to go too public. We’ve been tricked before. So if you must say it, maybe you should throw salt over your shoulder or kiss a newt or something.

You don’t want to jinx anything.

And good Lord, if you feel a victory dance coming on, pull the shades.

One thing, though. Hope sure beats dread and despair, which has been filling some people’s hearts. Witness the not-so-jokey-talk about the best places to move to in Canada. Vancouver has water. Montreal has French sympathizers.

But it’s still many days until possible jubilation. There are many intermissions in this endless movie. Confidence is risky. Cockiness will get you in smarty-pants trouble with the gods.

With this in mind, I took a day off and put my torn psyche in the hands of a two-year- old, a creature who faithfully believes that fog eventually lifts and rain stops, just because she wants it too. And when the sun comes out it will dry all the swings in the park before lunchtime.

The world of a two year old is, as she says “pretty fun.” With shoulders to ride on and swings that go higher and higher. No wish is denied. All wishes are reasonable. And tolerance is a given. If the yellow slide is occupied, you run over to the green one.

No one will challenge your claim that cows have Cheerios for breakfast. And if they do try to argue all you have to do is ask “why?” 20 or 30 times and they will concede.

Two-year-olds don’t have to meditate to be in the moment. They don’t wake up scared and asking, “Now, what’s happened?” They sing just because they feel like it. When they get cranky they admit it and say, “I’m having a hard time.”

They can deal with a financial crisis. If they covet a stuffed giraffe with legs that move and you throw up your hands and say “no money,” they accept it.

They are loud but they are not mean.

You can tune out all the grown-up junk when you’re sitting with a two year old and spreading peanut butter on apples. You can get very close and whisper, “Maybe, even better times are coming.”

Listen to the Whispering Hope Podcast of Another Voice on KRCB-FM

My Country ‘Tis of Us

Friday, October 17th, 2008 © by Susan Swartz

One of my favorite movie scenes is in “Casablanca.” It’s in Rick’s bar when Nazi officers begin to sing a German patriotic tune and are drowned out by the French loyalists who stand and deliver a defiant and joyous “La Marseillaise.” Always brings the tears.

It did the other night when I saw the film again. It’s amazing how a story about a corrupt world exploiting desperate people who’ve lost their homes and fortunes can lift your spirits these days. Of course, we know how that story ends. We’re still waiting on our own.

La Marseillaise is not my national anthem but it made me think of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” which is kind of our unofficial national anthem. Most of us know it by its first line, even though its title is “America.” Just good old America. Not Middle America. Or Regular America. Or Small Town America. Or Urban Elite America.

We’ve been belting it out since we were school kids, most of us probably without even thinking about the lyrics. So I thought I’d go through them again.

“My country ‘tis of thee.”
Whose country? MY country. I am my country. My country is me. All 300 million of us “me’s” have joint ownership and responsibility in America, which, as the song points out, is a country, not a club.

“Sweet land of liberty.”
Sadly our land is not as sweet as it was in 1831 when Samuel Smith, a seminary student in Massachusetts, wrote about it. That was before factory farms and industrial pollution and endangered songbirds and plastic dumps the size of a disappearing glacier.

And what about the sweetness of our people? “I’m going to whip his you know what,” is not an oath that just came out of a boxing ring. It was preparation for a presidential debate, an event which is supposed to reveal the greater statesman, not the latest sucker punch.

And “liberty”? One definition for liberty is immunity from arbitrary exercise of authority. We’re still having trouble with that one

“Of thee I sing.”
Singing about your country is good. As long as you sing along and don’t try any strange, unusual harmony.

Be careful who you sing with and from which songbook.

“Land where my fathers died.”
That’s plural. Everybody’s fathers. Black, white, brown, red, yellow. Fighting fathers and working fathers. Desperate fathers who crawl on their bellies through the American desert for a chance to pick tomatoes and grapes for Big Ag fathers.
Land where mothers died too. Some because they were forced to have children for whom they couldn’t care. Some who watched their children grow up angry and sick because family values don’t always extend to people like them.

“Land of the Pilgrims’ pride.”
Here’s a nod to our first and noble immigrants, religious refugees from England who were searching for a place where they could freely practice their beliefs. America developed into a nation where religion and government didn’t mix. Something happened.

What about that word “pride”? Americans were once proud of our openness to new ideas. We used to brag about our superior education. But today? Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be intellectuals.

And now for the finish:
“From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
That last part, “let freedom ring,” is repeated often but never so eloquently and hopefully as by Martin Luther King, who must be somewhere thinking, “America, what are you doing to My Country?”

Listen to the My Country ‘Tis of Us Podcast of Another Voice on KRCB-FM