Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving dinners past and present

I read Sarah Seltzer and Lauren Kelley’s hilarious article “5 Ways to Deal With Your Conservative Relatives This Thanksgiving” before going to my sister’s for Thanksgiving dinner. It got me thinking about Thanksgivings past and how life has changed. My husband and I are the older generation now. The conservative relatives who would have made those cringe inducing remarks have for the most part passed away.

I had some very ugly fights with relatives in my family of origin. Over the years I frequently bit my tongue at Thanksgiving dinners with in-laws. When you’ve married outside your racial/ ethnic/ religious group (which I’ve done 3 times), getting into a political fight is a bit more risky.

We used to drive to Rhode Island every year to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s relatives but most of them are no longer with us. Now we spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her friends. She has created a surrogate family with a group of old friends and they’ve taken us in.

When most of the folks around your Thanksgiving dinner table are good friends who share your progressive politics, you are not likely to hear climate change denials and birther rantings.

My sister, her immediate family and friends are all liberal Democrats. The only danger of a political argument would be with liberals who have become disillusioned with Obama. So I took Seltzer and Kelley's advice and went to brush up on the President’s accomplishments at “WHAT THE FUCK HAS OBAMA DONE SO FAR?” (Yes, I know there have been disappointments but over-all it’s an impressive record.) It turned out to be unnecessary. The only political anger expressed was directed--as it should be--towards the Republicans.

My sister used to bemoan having such a small nuclear family and long for the big holiday dinner. Well, she got what she wished for. Her Thanksgiving celebration keeps growing as her friend’s children have married and bring their partners. This year she could barely squeeze her expanding family into her house.

My guess is that my sister’s mix of family members and good friends is increasingly becoming the norm in our mobile society with changing notions of what counts as family. It sure beats the Thanksgiving Dinner from Hell that Seltzer and Kelley describe.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How is gardening like politics?

This may seem like a ridiculous question but there really is a connection. To everything there is a season.

Each Spring and Fall there is an election We political activists work really hard and sometimes we have a great victory (2008) and sometimes a crushing defeat (2010). But there's another election in six months or so and a chance to make up lost ground.

The next election is for municipal candidates-—mayor, city council candidates, judges.(Unfortunately we elect judges in Pennsylvania.) Philly is very dependent on resources from the state and federal government, and the future looks grim. We need the best possible local leaders to get us through these tough times and figure out how to work with the Republicans who control state government. So I’ve already switched gears and am working on fundraisers for 2 city council candidates who will be running in the May primary.

Gardening also has its cyclical rhythms. I made a lot of mistakes this gardening season (as always) but there’s a fresh start next Spring. I love seasonal rhythms and can’t imagine life without seasonal change.

November is usually a sad month; however, this November has been unusually mild and we have yet to have a hard frost. I still have flowers in addition to the fall foliage fireworks. The last dahlia:

Dahlias bloom from June until a hard frost. The only drawback is that the tubers have to be dug up and over-wintered.

The last camellia:
Hybridizers have finally developed camellias which are reliably winter hardy in the Delaware Valley. This variety (unfortunately name unknown) has gorgeous glossy leaves, delicate flowers and fragrance.

The last Japanese anemone:
This gracreful but amazingly tough perennial blooms from August to a hard frost.

The last veggie, mustard greens:

This vigorous self-seeder gets more pungent as we approach winter and easily survives a light frost.

The last rose:

New Dawn is the toughest rose ever—-an incredibly vigorous climber and a repeat bloomer with an aromatic fragrance; it never gets black spot and sometimes blooms in December.

So I’m enjoying these last flushes of bloom and getting ready for the great die down-—in some ways a welcome respite from garden work. And then it all comes roaring back in the Spring.

There is one seasonal rhythm which no longer governs my life--the academic calendar. Just like gardening, if things didn’t go so well that season (or semester), there’s another chance with new students, a new improved syllabus. And like gardening, you never get it quite right—always room for improvement.

But I don’t miss the academic rhythms. Gardening and politics supply my need for seasonal change!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Generation Gap: The Real Story in the Mid-Term Elections

The gains Republicans made among women voters has been one of the main storylines of the 2010 mid-term elections. Despite these gains, the gender gap has persisted and according to the Center for American Women in Politics: “was at least as evident in 2010, a year of substantial Republican gains, as it was in 2008, a year when Democrats were elected in large numbers.”

So the gender gap persists, but pales in significance when compared to the generation gap.

According to the New York Times analysis of exit polls:

The generational divide exposed in the 2008 election was more pronounced. Voters under 30 were the only age group to support Democrats but made up just 11 percent of the electorate, typical for a midterm election. By contrast, voters aged 60 and older represented 34 percent of voters, their highest proportion in exit polls since 1982.”

The numbers are striking:
In 2010, 51% of women% and 57% of men voted for the Republicans.

Among voters 60 and older, 56% of women and 60% of men voted for the Republicans.

Among voters between 18 and 29, 39% of women and 44% of men voted for the Republicans.

If young voters had voted in proportions similar to older voters, we would be looking at a very different electoral map.

For liberals/ progressives these figures give reason to hope. A segment of the electorate (largely white and over 60 and associated with the "Tea Party") is unsettled by the country’s changing demographics and can’t accept the election of an African-American president, the cultural diversity of 21st century America, and the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage.

The Tea Party claims that this is all about reining in big government. Considering that these very same people did not protest the huge deficits of the Bush administration, I can’t believe that all this anger is just about the deficit. The Tea Party may have cleaned up the overt racism in many of the signs brandished in their 2009 rallies, but their “take back our country” rhetoric has an ugly, racially charged subtext.

This segment of the electorate will ultimately lose. From Tim Wise’s widely circulated article “The Last Gasp of Aging White Power: But Time Is Not on Your Side:”
I know , you think you’ve taken “your country back” with this election — and of course you have always thought it was yours for the taking, cuz that’s what we white folks are bred to believe, that it’s ours, and how dare anyone else say otherwise — but you are wrong.
You have won a small battle in a larger war the meaning of which you do not remotely understand.
‘Cuz there is nothing even slightly original about you.
There have always been those who wanted to take the country back.
There were those who, in past years, wanted to take the country back to a time of enslavement and indentured servitude.
But they lost.
There were those who wanted to take us back to a time when children could be made to work in mines and factories, when workers had no legal rights to speak of, when the skies in every major city were heavy with industrial soot that would gather on sidewalks and windowsills like volcanic ash.
But they lost.
There were those who wanted to take us back to a time when women could not vote, or attend any but a few colleges, or get loans in their own names, or start their own businesses.
But they lost.
There were those who wanted to take us back to a time when blacks “had no rights that the white man was bound to respect,” – this being the official opinion of the Supreme Court before those awful days of judicial activism, now decried by the likes of you – and when people of color could legally be kept from voting solely because of race, or holding certain jobs, or living in certain neighborhoods, or run out of other towns altogether when the sun would go down, or be strung up from trees.
But they lost.
And you will lose.

Wise’s article at times has an ageist tone which I find a little hard to take--after all I’m in that demographic he can’t wait to get rid of--but his analysis is correct. The country is changing dramatically; at some point the political system will reflect the politics and demographics of the new majority.

The changes are happening much more rapidly than I ever thought possible. Like so many in my age cohort, I never thought I would see the election of an African-American president, the high point of my political life.

Accelerating this time table will depend on persuading young people it's in their interest to vote. President Obama certainly delivered on some of his promises which would directly impact young voters. Young people can stay on their parents' health care plan until the age of 26 and the revamping of the student loan program has led to significant savings for students and their families.

But it appears that many young people do not see the connection between these policies and voting in mid-term elections. There’s no magic bullet here, but I think making it easier to vote has got to be part of the solution. In my state, Pennsylvania, voters must register 30 days prior to the election, there is no early voting, and the process for getting an absentee ballot is very cumbersome.

Young voters, who are often juggling school, jobs and family responsibilities often find squeezing in time to get home to vote a real challenge. Older voters, who are in many cases retired, have a relatively easy time getting out to the neighborhood polling pace. This system of voting in one’s neighborhood may have made sense when most people worked close to home, but it’s clearly creating hard ships for many working people now.

We also need more young, vibrant candidates who will appeal to young voters and give them a reason to go to the polls.

So there’s a lot of work to do, but the change is coming. The question is how soon.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fall clean-up: The way to deal with depression about the mid-term elections!

Whenever I’m down in the dumps working in the garden is usually the cure for what ails me. It’s gotten me through some difficult patches in my life and it's helping me get over my deep depression about the mid-term elections. We Pennsylvanians we’re hit really hard—a Republican governor, the Republicans in control of both houses of the PA legislature, and a far right wing Republican senator.

So it’s garden therapy time! And there’s a lot to do. My bulbs are not in the ground, very few leaves have been picked up, some of my house plants are still out in the cold, and most of the daylilies and hostas I planned to divide will have to wait until Spring.

How can this be? I’m retired. I thought that when I was retired I would have the perfect garden, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I did manage to transplant a few flowering shrubs. I know enough about gardening to make sure this gets done in time for the shrubs to settle in before frost. Bulbs can be planted any time until the ground is frozen—-which in Philly usually doesn’t happen until late December. I have planted bulbs around Christmas and yes they have come up, but it sure is a lot pleasanter to do this when the temperature is in the 60’s.

So we procrastinators have some time with our bulb planting and leaf pick-up. And my guess is my husband and I will still be picking up leaves in December. One of the truly wonderful things about our Northwest Philly neighborhood is all our mature trees. But everything has it’s downside and our beautiful trees drop a ton of leaves—in addition to each one a power outage waiting to happen. Just about every year a tree (or a tree branch if we’re lucky) falls and does major damage.

But then the downed trees sometimes provide opportunities for new plantings and in a garden as jammed packed with plants as ours, the only opportunity to introduce a new plant is a death in the garden.

Despite all my complaints and frustration as the perfect garden continues to elude me, I can’t imagine a life without my beloved plants. And when I'm out there planting my bulbs, I won't be thinking about Senator Toomey and Speaker Boehner.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thoughts on the 2010 mid-terms: after the euphoria of 2008, this is really hard.

After the euphoria of 2008, this is really hard. I thought after Obama’s election, that just maybe the long backlash against the 60’s might be over. I thought I would be spending my retirement years helping to build a revitalized progressive movement.

WAS I EVER WRONG. Of course the rotten economy was a major factor in the Democrats’ losses. But there’s more going on. A segment of the electorate (largely white and over 60 and associated with the "Tea Party") is unsettled by the country’s changing demographics and can’t accept the election of an African-American president, the cultural diversity of 21st century America and the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage. This segment of the electorate will ultimately lose. But they came out to vote in large number and scored a major victory in 2010.

They claim that this is all about reining in big government. Considering that these very same people did not protest the huge deficits of the Bush administration, I can’t believe that all this anger is just about the deficit. The Tea Party may have cleaned up the overt racism in many of the signs brandished in their 2009 rallies, but their “take back our country” rhetoric has an ugly racially charged subtext.

I’ve been a grassroots political activist for 40+ years. It was one disappointment after another--the tragedy of the sixties generation was to have spent our youth at time of tremendous social possibility and our middle and later years in a time of reaction.

And then came the heady victory in 2008. Well, the euphoria didn’t last very long—-the idiocy of the birthers, the ugliness of the Tea Party and now the Republican resurgence of 2010.

Of course the Democrats bear some responsibility. Some progressives think we lost ground because we didn’t push hard enough for progressive policies. (The defeat of progressives such as Russ Feingold and Alan Grayson tends to undercut that analysis.)

Some think the leftwing attacks on President Obama for compromising overmuch contributed to disaffection with the president and his party. From Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column, “Give Obama a Break:”

The sourness toward Mr. Obama reminds me of the crankiness toward Al Gore in 2000. We in the news media were tough on Mr. Gore, magnifying his weaknesses, and that fed into a general disdain. So some liberals voted for Ralph Nader, and George W. Bush moved into the White House.

There’s a lesson here.

And from Rachel Maddow who seems to have learned this lesson:
We may have attacked the Democrats in power from the left, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said last night, but let's take a look at what they've done. She showed a long reel of clips in which she and her fellow anchors reported on bill after bill getting signed.
With a Democratic majority in both houses of congress and a Democrat in the White House, the legislation (watered-down though some may find it) has been coming fast and furious--and although it may have spent a lot of political capital, it's made a difference.

Now she tells us after months of relentless criticism!

We progressives have demonstrated that we can elect left of center candidates like President Obama but we don’t know how to support our candidates once they’re in office. I don’t mean uncritical support. I’m not saying we shouldn’t criticize the President nor try to pressure him to support progressive polices. But there is a way to criticize that acknowledges the real achievements and doesn’t buy into the right wing narrative that President Obama has done nothing right.

This has been rough for progressives--especially for Pennsylvania progressives--a Republican governor, the Republicans in control of both houses of the PA legislature, and a far right wing Republican senator. We’re back to playing defense, most of our energy going into fighting back against the right.
Once again, we’ve got to pick ourselves up and soldier on. Not so easy.