Vote for Change

As the primary process comes to a close, it’s time to turn our eyes to the November presidential election. It’s not too late to let your voice be heard; it’s not too late to register to vote, and to vote for change.

Obama ’08

Thoughts on Iraq

flag1.jpgIt’s late, I’m supposed to be working on something else, and I’m tired, but I had to write. I got an email tonight from an old friend from high school who leaves his wife (another friend from high school) and young daughter tomorrow to go to combat training in Wisconsin. He deploys to Iraq in mid-May for six month as a medical officer for the army.

So instead of working on this big project I’m going to announce here in a few days, I’m sitting here realizing that in five years, this war never seemed real to me. Until tonight. Until someone I know, someone who at one time long ago was a part of my daily life, part of the gang (the Brat Pack is what we called them actually), part of the long chain of memories and experiences that lead me to be sitting here this evening, actually has to go risk his life in this war.

I’m stunned. In part because he’s going, in part because of my reaction. This is not someone I’ve kept in close touch with–an email once a year has been about it. I’ve only seen the guy once since college, at our ten year reunion, and, although I didn’t have a blog then and won’t waste energy on it now, the evening was less than warm and fuzzy for me. So why am I sitting here thinking I’m probably not going to get much sleep tonight?

Am I lucky because I haven’t been touched by this war, or ashamed? Four thousand people like my friend have gone to war in Iraq and never come back. They had old school friends, families, wives, husbands, and daughters, too, but I barely gave them a thought except in the context of ranting about the politics of oil, terror, and war. So I guess I’m lucky, and ashamed, and wondering how, when so many millions of Americans surely do know one of the men and women that are already in Iraq, we’ve managed to let war become a part of the collective unconscious.

The talking heads relay statistics each day on the T.V. (at least I’m guessing they do–we’ve passed the 6-month mark without network television and I’m not missing it much!), journalists write about it, politicians debate it. But, after five years, have we just sort of tuned them all out? Have we forgotten that, in addition to the immeasurable impact our occupation has had on the Iraqis, that it’s taking a toll here too in blood, money, and perhaps even in our collective integrity? Are the families of these folks just suffering quietly, hoping for the best, and fading away into the background as we charge on to brighter topics like the election or the Olympics? How can we forget about this war? How can we let war become our status quo in this beautiful country?

I don’t usually do things like this because I don’t often like what people try to make our flag represent, but I’m putting a flag on ChezArtz. In honor of my friend, in honor of everyone else that’s been deployed around the world, in honor of those who have died, and to remind myself that war should never fade into the background, never become the status quo. And because, after five years of not doing anything, I feel like I have to do something, even if it’s small.

Super Caucus!

I just returned from my first-ever caucus experience, tucked my exhausted children into bed, and as I promised yesterday, am sitting down to give you the scoop.

There were many things that made the night exciting, like the fact that instead of a teeny little caucus for Precinct 003 (Lyons & immediate surrounds, probably less than 5,000 possible voters all told), this was what they told me was a “Super Caucus” meaning that they lumped most of Boulder County (9 precincts in all) into one big caucus. While it may seem disingenuous for me to complain that my caucus location was less than 3 blocks from my house, I have to say that the Boulder Democratic Party chose a crappy location for this Super Caucus.

Lyons Middle/High School is small at best and does not have good parking or particularly large meeting rooms. The largest room, the gymnasium, was taken up with a girl’s basketball game and, although the cheerleaders lent a festive mood punctuated by a surprisingly-loud buzzer, there just flat wasn’t room for the thousands of people who turned up.

But of course, that’s one of the highlights too: thousands of people turned up. I talked to several precinct leaders who admitted that their entire precinct’s typical caucus turnout was in the single digits. As I mentioned, my precinct represents a tiny area and we had 119 people who braved the freezing cold, the lack of parking, the rather remote location (and, did I mention that the street you turn off of from the highway to get to the High School doesn’t currently have a street sign, making non-Lyons residents’ chances of finding the place fairly slim!?!?).

We walked in at 6:15 and joined the queue to get our little white voter card, then filed into the auditorium. At first I was absolutely inspired. The diversity in the room and the genuine warmth and community spirit on display as neighbors greeted one another, sometimes embracing, other times quietly, modestly squeezing a hand or shoulder of the person sitting next to them, reminded me of what representative government at the local level can feel like. There was no one demographic that dominated the room–young and old were equally present, and from the looks of things, rich and poor were too. The trendy-outdoorsy look that so characterizes the young and upwardly mobile in this area was equally balanced by the cowboy hats, carharts, and Levis.

Then the speakers started. After a brief introduction and a request to split the caucus into two groups to alleviate the cramped quarters and lack of seating, members of the public presented 2 minute speeches on the candidates. These were not slick campaign-trail sound-bites, but honest and heart-felt (if long-winded) plugs for the candidates that the individuals were supporting.

But then the sound that would characterize the rest of my evening rang through the room. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Boobie, Boobie, Boobie!” A couple of other moms (and dads) gave me sympathetic looks as I tried to quiet Lily down to no avail. Then a gentleman who I’d watched hug his neighbor so graciously just minutes before asked me to leave. The amazing thing is that, rather than bite his head off or tell him where to shove it, I got up and walked out, feeling utterly deflated.

When I got into the hallway, I realized that I was not the only one with a child who found the lengthy speeches of caucus night less than thrilling. I spent the next half an hour getting all the confirmation I needed that I was not alone in feeling that this format does not live up to the promise of representative government–that everyone can participate and cast their vote.

We’re lucky. We live minutes from our voting location. We work day jobs. We have two parents to wrangle two children. And still making it through the 2.5 hours from the time we walked in to the time we finally got to cast our votes (with the vast majority of our precinct, I’m happy to report) for Obama was exhausting. We finally ended up taking turns watching the kids out in the hall while the other listened and then whoever was on kid duty would pop in, raise the vote card in the air, get counted, and pop back out again.

The caucus format is absolutely not representative government. People who work nights, single parents, people who live far from their caucus locations, or even people with sick children or those who cannot afford babysitting (or whose babysitters were either voting or not available) were not able to participate tonight. Those of us who parent young children and who still managed to participate this evening were in the minority and I wonder how many stayed at home, or sent a single parent to vote.

There is no way that I’m aware of to vote by proxy in a caucus (I would have happily stayed home with the kids if Matt could have voted for both of us instead of just casting one single vote) and there’s no ballot by mail. This is in part because a caucus involves nominating and voting for delegates to participate in the county-wide conventions that are part of the run up to the National Conventions this summer, but it would be so simply to allow people to be nominated in advance and to provide a mail-in option. It would be even simpler to allow a proxy vote (although the chances of this allowing single moms or night-shift workers to vote seem dubious).

In the end, Obama won the day and I cast my first ever vote for a candidate who truly inspires me. But I can’t help feeling just a bit marginalized by the process, even though I got to participate. I can’t imagine how it would have felt to be a single mother and have to choose between wrangling both of my children through that chaos or passing up my opportunity to vote. You can bet the Colorado Democratic Party and anyone else I think might have a say in this process will be receiving a letter from ChezArtz urging them to be truly representative by allowing some sort of absentee option for those who cannot easily participate in caucus.

Get out and Caucus!

Tomorrow is the biggest primary election in history with 21 states casting their votes in the Presidential Primary. If you are a registered voter, consider finding your polling place and casting a vote tomorrow. Voter turnout so far in the primary process has been at unprecedentedly high levels and I like to take that as an indication that we as a nation are coming together to bring about change. Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing if we saw not only a very high turnout this coming November, but a decisive victory that can unify the nation behind a strong new leader and thus putting an end to the divisiveness of the past 12 (20? 40?) years of politics?

It will come as no surprise to any of you that I intend to vote for Barack Obama tomorrow. I believe he is the candidate to bring about the change our country so wants and deserves, the candidate who can bring the American people back together with his hope and vision.

Although I urge you to join me in supporting Obama, I encourage everyone, regardless of affiliation, to vote. You can find your polling place here: http://www.vote411.org/pollingplacebystate.php

And if you’ve not registered to vote in time for tomorrow’s primaries, now is your chance to make sure you’re registered in time for November. Voting is not just a right, it’s a responsibility upon which our representative government depends by its very nature. So get out and vote.

By the way, although I have voted in a primary or two before, I have never voted in a caucus, which I’m learning is a much different experience! So tomorrow evening, Matt, Gabriel, Lily & I will be hoofing it across the street to the local high school to participate as a family in the Democratic Caucus here in Lyons. I’m pretty sure the kids are going to be up past their bed times, and it may be hard to keep them entertained, but I’m anxious to participate and promise to report back here Wednesday morning…

You Tube & the 2008 Election

There is no longer any doubt that the Internet is changing politics and campaigning in the United States and around the world. An interesting twist that’s coming up during this year’s election mania is, of course, YouTube. I haven’t always been a huge fan of YouTube, in part because of the quantity of crap that’s out there. I don’t really want to watch someone try to light their farts on fire or watch some of the inane “America’s Funniest Home Video” rejects that make frequent appearances.

But recent emails from MoveOn.org have contained a variety of interesting videos from amateur campaign coverage to this music video tribute to one of Barack Obama’s more rousing speeches. YouTube is not only here to stay, but it seems that its presence in the political arena will continue to grow, further blurring the line between politics and pop-culture. I’ll leave it to historians to decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it certainly is interesting.

I’m a believer!

I’ve been careful not to comment on the presidential primaries currently underway because, although I have had a favorite candidate for some time, I just wasn’t sure he was going to be able to pull it off. Tonight, I’m feeling a little more sure.

Barack Obama made a believer out of me not when he won in Iowa, but today when he won by 28 points in the South Carolina primary. Yes, he’s young, yes, he’s a first-term senator with less experience than some, but here are a few quotes that illustrate why I’m a believer (from his speech this evening in South Carolina, as reported on Salon.com):

“We are looking for more than just a change of party in the White House. We’re looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington. It’s a status quo that extends beyond any particular party, and right now that status quo is fighting back with everything it’s got, with the same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems people face.”

“…while we breathe, we will hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt and fear and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of the American people in three simple words: ‘Yes, we can.'”

Full text of his speech can be found online courtesy of cnn.com.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had reason to feel hopeful about the potential for change in the government. I take that back, this is perhaps the first time in my lifetime where we have an opportunity as voters and Americans to make history. Not just in electing a young, African American president, but in electing someone who is actually interested in involving the American public in the political process, in healing the wounds of the past, um, 20 years of hateful partisan politics.

It’s a tall order, and we’ve got a long year (slightly less than) ahead of us, but Obama, tonight you made a believer of me!

Food for thought…

This week, I twice fell prey to savvy marketing. Or, more specifically, I fell prey once, my son fell prey once, and I caved to avoid a tantrum in the supermarket 😉 Gabriel loves anything with a picture of a baby on it. He loves the diaper aisle, my Mothering magazines, or anything else displaying images of little people. So why shouldn’t he get the yogurt with the cute little bottles and the pictures of adorable two-year-olds smiling up from the packaging? “Because, ounce for ounce, it costs more than twice as much as buying plain yogurt in a big tub, that’s why!” my newly-budget-conscious brain protests. But such is the marketing guru’s genius–contrary to what many brash-talking mamas claim, most battles between Mom and 2-year-old are won by the one still in diapers.

So, now for the part where I succumb to the marketer’s spin: Organic pop-tarts. Even typing those words is hard because the concept is so ludicrous. I’ve recently become obsessed with cutting chemicals out of our diets, giving up my beloved Cool Whip after a particularly eye-opening article about the ingredients in Wired (Note: If you might be scarred for life, like I have been, by having to give up Cool Whip, do not read this article), and trying everything from natural body care products to bee’s wax candles to cut down my petroleum consumption and improve my family’s health. I haven’t had a blueberry Pop-Tart in years, but I used to love them, just like I used to love Jell-O pudding and Cool Whip (don’t even read the label on the Jell-O, man, it’s scary!).

So I couldn’t resist when I saw the organic variety on sale at Vitamin Cottage this week. I bought them, rushed home, ripped open the little foil packet (darn it, it looked like a Pop-Tart and was even packaged like one), and popped it in the toaster. It smelled like a Pop-Tart too, right until I bit into it. Let’s face it, it’s the preservatives and the unpronounceable chemicals that make junk food taste so good. *Sigh* And don’t even try the organic version of Cool-Whip, it tastes like peanut butter and is slightly gray. Ewww. Just go for plain old, full fat, 100% dairy whipping cream. Arteries be damned!

Laughing, Laughing, Laughing

You gotta love Bill Maher. OK, you don’t have to love Bill Maher, but I do, and I got a kick out of his ruminations about a recently-discovered memo from one of Mitt Romney’s political strategists that says “Hillary=France”. Now before you get all self-righteous, I’m not a huge fan of Hillary (I’m currently on the fence, but if I had to choose today, I’d choose Obama), I’m just amused that conservatives in this country are still trying to use the “France” card to win political victories.

Note to any thinking souls out there: We could do a lot worse than being like the French. Not only, as Maher points out, did they inspire the US Constitution, but have a fierce national pride that makes them stand up for what they believe in, even if the big bully in the sand box disagrees. And hey, Matt & I met in France, so it can’t be all bad 😉 Anyhow, read the article!

Avoid Another Costly War

Even as the war in Iraq continues to progress (or digress…), Iran continues to work on developing its nuclear program. Although the thought of such an extremist government having nukes is frightening, equally frightening is the prospect of another war in the Middle East that our brave soldiers cannot possibly win. Wes Clark has a web site devoted to sending letters to President Bush, Congress, and the media urging the use of diplomatic & economic means of resolving this situation rather than involving the over-taxed US military. Take a look and take action: http://www.stopiranwar.com/