Thursday, April 10, 2014

Voting IS Your Voice

I just registered to vote in South Carolina online. All I needed was my driver's license number, and no where did I indicate my politial affiliation. I guess I'll have to wait to see what this mean when I receive my registration card in the mail. In the course of registering, I was once again reminded about the women who died to afford me this most basic freedom.

A powerful advocate for freedom, justice and women's rights, Midge MacKenzie, died in January. She was my age. She was best known for her documentary, Shoulder to Shoulder, aired in 1975 on PBS's Masterpiece Theater (as it was called in those days). I lived on South Street in Waltham, Massachusetts in the mid-1970's with three other single women; each with one child like me. Two were divorced, and one was an unwed mother like myself.

The strongest-willed of us, and the most ardent feminist of our little chosen family, was the first to teach me about politics. In those early days, I found it difficult to understand what Left, Right and Center meant. She taught me that concept and many other things. When we all lived together in our little "commune" in the suburbs, we watched a lot of Masterpiece Theater.

When the series, Shoulder to Shoulder, aired, watching it changed my life, my attitude, and my spirit. I had no idea what women suffered to win us the right to vote from men until I saw the force-feeding of women in prisons depicted in that series. In that moment, I grew from a naive girl, who ignored Watergate and Vietnam on the news while it was happening, to a woman who always votes as (I believe it to be) my only means of having a voice in how this country is run. My political "wake-up call" was driven further by watching the movie, All The Presidents Men, aired in 1976. When I fully realized what I had ignored as a teenage girl, and I was embarrassed by that awakening. In that moment, I vowed never to ignore what was happening in this country ever again, and my will to vote my conscience grew even stronger.

When I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1976, I began acting out my political beliefs: testing the waters, the boundaries of "Free Speech", and my Voice. I joined a group called, Citizens Against Nuclear Threats (CANT). I learned I had a talent for asking hard, poignant questions, and did my first news rebuttal on local television. I worked as a temporary secretary for Continental Oil, and befriended their local attorney. We shared our views of nuclear waste because New Mexico contained active uranium mines, especially in Grants. My new friend was going to attend a conference of uranium mining attorneys as Continental Oil's New Mexico representative. He invited me to join him. I approached the CANT group for funding, and they approved paying for my airfare. It was a day trip, and I would pose as a (non-descript) Continental Oil representative. I gave no details of my employment when asked, and my non-answers were readily accepted because I knew enough to name-drop. I was a spy for the very first time. Later in 1983, when the movie, Silkwood, came out, depicting the real-life disappearance of an activist named Karen Silkwood, I realized how dangerous my act could have been. I took vociferous notes at this conference and shared them with the newspaper. As far as I know, nothing ever came of them, but I was nervous.

I wrote many letters to the editor of the Albuquerque Journal newspaper, and one morning as I was leaving the house for school (I was a student at the University of New Mexico), I received a call from a man from the New Mexico Environmental Protective Agency. He told me he was organizing a day-long conference on nuclear power, one of his speakers cancelled at the last minute, and he read all my letters in the newspaper. Would I like to fill the forty-five-minute slot he asked? "Yes" was out of my mouth before my mind registered the answer, and as soon as I hung up, I went into a mild panic. This speech would be my first public, professional presentation.

I was a nobody student, without degrees of any kind, presenting a self-written and researched, forty-page paper on nuclear waste to a room full of "suits" with initials after every name. Once I wrote the paper, I had Ph.D. engineers in CANT review it and approve its content. I was complimented on its accuracy, and on my writing. The praise felt really good and powered my on. I then just had to figure out an image to present as a speaker. I was a student of the parenting technique, PET (Parent Effectiveness Training).

PET's philosophy, as I remember it, was that there are three approaches to communication with children, and with everyone: one can approach the other person speaking as either a parent, an equal or a teacher. I decided I needed to look like a teacher for my presentation. My friend, Kate, a classmate at UNM, who was also one of the original creators of "Mothering" magazine attended and wrote an article about it for the magazine. When the conference was over, Kate told me I spoke like a parent telling a bedtime story. In the end, because I was also the last speaker, I was the most successful of all the speakers, and I felt the highest I had ever been without drugs. Everyone at the conference approached me to congratulate my success. It was an amazing feeling.

Twenty or so years later, while living back in my hometown of Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts, I ran for Ward 5 Alderman. I ran against a man who had been an Alderman previously, a mayoral candidate, and had many political endorsements. I didn't even understand the importance of endorsements. I was mentored by the now deceased, very powerful at the time Alderman, Dick McGrath. He taught me about the importance of campaigning "door-to-door". I taped a street map of Ward 5 to my little home office wall on Abbott Street, and each day highlighted streets to walk. I had a professional photograph made, flyers and buttons. I secured a Campaign Manager and a Treasurer, along with a few workers. As election day came, I was the only worker I had left. The others went to work on the McGrath campaign. I lost by 225 votes. When my opponent bragged about expecting to win by a landslide, he expressed his respect to me for doing such a great job as a first-time candidate. I never ran again. Why? Because as I got more and more involved in city politics, I realized I was too open to be a politician. I felt like a "lamb to the slaughter", so after I shed a few tears over my loss, my next reaction was relief.

I was raised to be an independent free-thinker by my hard-working, lower-middle-class parents. I had a child alone, I bought my first house alone, and I ran for political office virtually alone. I never thought there was anything I could not do. I spent much of my young adulthood, middle years, and later years proving just that to myself. I know I can do anything if I put my mind to it; desire it, and believe I can have it. That's it. But, I have come full-circle politically.

I always vote, but I have become jaded with the political process in this country. Being active locally, I realized that politics is not about campaign speeches and promises forged out of a "party line". It remains a game played by ego-driven humans lusting for the spotlight and personal power. Politicians, in my opinion, regardless of party, do not necessarily represent their constituents. Even if a "newbee" politician gets elected with every intention of "doing the right thing", (s)he eventually finds out that the game is much larger than they expected. They either scratch the back of a representative who wants something special for a constituent town or city, or they don't get what they want. Period. It IS a game.

But, as a voter who still believes in the "power of the people", I must vote in every election. I must be as informed as I can, especially in local politics, because locally is where government affects us directly. I must be as informed as I can on the statewide and federal levels because the funding shared at the upper echelons of our government affect our local funding. I am typing this, because I haven't practiced it. I vote, but I am not as informed as I should be or want to be. I am tired. I am a sceptic. I am jaded. I am trying to renew my confidence in our government, but it is difficult.

I believe the two-party system is outdated and does not work anymore. I want more choices. I don't care what Democrats and Republicans preach. I believe that once in office, the game takes over and they act exactly the same. All the campaign rhetoric goes out the proverbial window. I don't believe them. And, there is no government party right now representing what I have come to believe.

I believe in personal freedom for ALL. I believe in a limited set of rules to attempt to reduce chaos. There is no way to legislate human behavior. Someone in government must recognize this fact and eliminate attempts to do so. I believe is helping some in need with strikes against them thereby prohibiting their ability to move forward with prosperity. But I do not believe in a "free ride". Expectations have to be made of those who receive aide. There is no free ride. Period. Limits must be set on receiving aide, but those limits must be reasonable and realistic with a focus on the recipient being successful.

This blog post is already too long, so I won't continue. But I vow to become knowledgeable of candidates in the upcoming South Carolina elections. I vow to be an informed voter in November. I still believe my vote counts for something. Too many women died long ago to give me this right. They believed as I do in the power of human potential in everyone. The United States is all about potential. Voting IS my voice in the wilderness of government.

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), British Women's Suffrage Leader.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What if we just disengaged?

What would it take to drop out of society? What would happen if we just stopped paying property taxes? What if we just said NO! Unless you get paid in cash, which doesn't happen much anymore if you have a "real job" (as opposed to working "under the table") or are retired, the Feds have control of your paycheck before you even get your share. The federal and state governments take percentages of your salary and leave you what's left. Taxes are mandatory. Not paying taxes is breaking the law. You can be arrested and serve jail time for non-payment of taxes. Then, if you are lucky enough to own property, local government mandates you pay even more in property taxes. These taxes have nothing to do with fees charged for the privilege of living your life, or fines imposed if you don't pay up.

With the rising costs of living, how do we even do it? How do we balance that dwindling paycheck with living a happy life? I am assuming happiness is your ultimate goal. It is certainly mine. As L'Oreal proclaims in it's advertising, "I'm worth it." But I am losing sleep these days worrying about having enough money to live happily, and according to the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed. My husband and I are retired now and in good health. We lost a bundle in the economic crash of 2008, and our property is not worth what it once was. Who knew real estate would become an unwelcome investment? Owning property is a wonderful thing. Property ownership connotes independence, doesn't it? Nobody has control over how long you live there or what you can do with it, right? You make the rules; not some landlord. Not so. The reality is that if you own property, you can do what your town says you have the right to do, and charges you through the nose for that privilege. If you live on the water, the government charged with overseeing that public resource dictates what you can and cannot do, and charges you hefty fees for that privilege. More importantly, it threatens you with fines and jail time if you don't comply. Who isn't threatening us? From every direction the slaps come. Why? For the privilege of living in our screwed up society? What town's government isn't screwed up? What county's? What state's? And how 'bout those feds? What can we really do about it?

Well, this morning I woke up before the crack of dawn wondering what it would take to just say no to this financial drain, disengage from the game of living and just try to live. What would that change really take? What would it cost me? How does one go about taking back control of one's life? I am lucky to live in America where the rep is "Freedom". I don't deny I am grateful to be here. I just don't feel very free. Compared to countries where citizens are killed for speaking their minds, I am free. I am writing what some would called an anarchistic message. I am not an anarchist. I just want my money and my right to choose back. I am beyond child-birthing age, so the right to choose takes on a whole new meaning. I am talking about the all-American right to choose how to live my life. I am talking about real freedom. That concept got lost along the way to attaining and maintaining what we call freedom.

I let my imagination go wild lying in bed, wide awake in the dark this morning. I imagined just not writing that property tax check. I imagined cutting down the shrubs to four feet high to improve our water view once again. I imagined reclaiming our lawn and mowing down the government-imposed, illogical, "buffer" that draws wild foxes closer to our door. Tall grass and weeds are a great place for critters to hunt and hide. We own twelve-pound lap dogs. The buffer is a great place for them to poop so we don't have to clean it up. That's the only "up" side of having it. But it makes it more difficult for us to protect our pups from predators. I dreamed of baracading ourselves in by surrounding our entire property with a six-foot fence. The fencing material became a debate in my head: wood or chainlink? Wood is solid and nobody can see what we're doing behind it. The gates could be electrified, or not, but certainly locked when we wish them to be. Chainlink would allow shrubbery to grow through it so it eventually would disappear, leaving nature as our primary view barrier. This latter choice is far more desirable, but the metal would have to be coated to withstand salt air corrosion over time. Wood also rots over the years and would require replacing. In that case, plastic fencing would be required. The fencing would be a huge initial investment, but with no maintenance or replacement costs in our lifetime, deemed worth every penny. When "Big Brother" comes to get us for stopping payment on those checks, they'd at least have to break down the fence before they can get to our door.

We'd have to also invest in self-sustainable electricity. Wind and solar are logical options for us right now, but would also require a huge initial investment and maintenance costs over time, unless my husband figures out, like he does most things, how to maintain them himself. We would continue to pay our electric and propane bills, until the government cuts our lines and stops delivery to punish us for non-payment of taxes, fines and fees. Generating our own electricity would allow us to heat and cool our home, run our water well pump and our septic system. We'd have to figure out how to still get propane for the backup system that heats our home below a certain temperature. Maybe we can work an "under the table" deal with the local propane dealer. Hopefully, the government won't find out about the propane dealer and punish them for helping us.

Gardening our own food will be required and not just a hobby. And, we'll have to buy a gun to hunt for food. We'll certainly have to fish. We'll have to invest in a huge freezer, and I'll have to go back to canning vegetables and fruits. I have always considered the "pioneer" lifestyle romantic. But, could I really live it as a senior citizen? I am healthy and relatively strong still. So is my husband. How long will that good health and strength last though? Longer than our finances in this environment? It may be a toss up. But, therein lies the nightmare. Will we run out of cash before we die? I really don't want to be a WalMart greeter or be eating out of dog food cans when I'm eighty. Would you? What, then, can be done? How do we turn this downward spiral we call our economy around? How do we stop the financial blood-letting by all the governments that run our lives? Can we just say NO? Could we ALL just stop paying? Could we just refuse to play this game anymore? Can we truly disengage from the dance of our current society? What would it take and how would we change things? Are we willing to live with less in order to have more money in our pockets to last our entire lifetime? Are we ready to take back control? I know. It's complicated. And, complicated problems require complicated solutions. Can we just begin by saying NO?