Sunday, November 25, 2012


I have been busy, so I haven't written in a while. Busy preparing for tomorrow, Monday, when the Stop Concealed Carry Coalition, which I helped put together, will hold its first press conference. We will announce our intention to make sure that Illinois, which is now the only state that does not allow people to carry concealed weapons, remains free from this danger. We chose Monday for our event, because on Tuesday the Illinois legislature goes back into session. We want our representatives to know that the NRA is not the only voice they should be listening to. They should also be listening to the people in Illinois, a majority of whom don't want concealed guns in our state.

That's the message. That's the plan. As everyone who has ever done this kind of thing knows, the press may or may not show up and even if they do, the newspapers and broadcast stations they work for may or may not run the story. Despite all the effort that we have put in, we may or may not succeed in getting our message out to the public. Something more urgent may get the attention of the reporters, or their editors may just not be interested in what we have to say. A lot of other people and organizations will be vying for their limited time and space.

As always, I am in awe of the people with whom I have been working on this effort. They are so capable, so energetic, so selfless, so dedicated. When something needs to be done, they know what to do and they do it.

As always, I am anxious. I tell myself that regardless of how much press we get, we have succeeded just by putting together a coalition and energizing people on the issue. We have gathered more than 6,600 signatures on a petition which we have delivered to legislators. We know that some legislators have noticed and have been responding. At the minimum, what we have done has accomplished more than if we had done nothing.

I have read books and attended workshops on how to organize and lobby on issues. I have tried to learn from others with whom I have worked. One of the most important lessons I have learned is that I am not really the best person to be doing this kind of thing. I have far too much self-doubt. I don't like to ask people to do things. I don't have enough patience. I am not good at attending to details. I don't put a high value on bureaucracy, even though I recognize its importance. I really like to just get things done.

The other thing I have learned is that I love doing this sort of thing, even though my stomach gets tied up in knots and I get overcome by worry. I love it even though our side often loses, and when we win the victories are usually modest.

Tomorrow I will stand with people who have worked longer and harder than I have on this issue. Some of them have lost family members to guns. Some of them have counseled survivors. I will be among people whose hearts have been torn and whose faith has been tested. It will be a privilege.

When tomorrow's event ends, someone will turn to me and ask, “What do we do next?” I don't really have a plan, just a goal. I want the shooting to stop. I want people to feel that they don't need to be ready to pull out a gun to defend themselves. I want people to live without fear that the person next to them on the street might be carrying a gun. I want people to trust one another. I want people to feel justifiably confident that their government will protect them as best it can and that they do not have to arm themselves. I want hope and faith to replace doubt and despair.

I know that there are many whose vision is the same as mine, and who can be counted on to do what they can. The holiday is over, but I am still giving thanks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Observations

Every election, people complain that money has too much influence on politics, and then they spend even more on the next election.

Every election, people say the electoral college should be abolished and we should have direct elections, and then no one does anything about it.

Every election, Republican and Democratic candidates claim to be independent of their parties, but they never run as independents.

Every election, voters complain that the filibuster and other Senate procedural rules stifle debate, and then they reelect Senators who continue to follow the same rules.

Every election, people tell the pollsters that they want change, and then they reelect nearly all the incumbents.

Every election, whichever party is in the minority in its state legislature or in the U.S. House of Representatives complains that the Speaker of the House has too much power to suppress legislation that is proposed by members of their minority, and then if they gain a majority, they elect a Speaker to wield as much power as possible to suppress legislation that is proposed by members of the other party, which is now in the minority.

Every election, TV commentators complain that the rules for televised debates are too restrictive, and every year they televise the same types of debates.

Every election, some politician gets caught on tape saying something offensive, and the next election politicians try harder to keep audio and video recorders out of their events and to catch their opponents on tape saying something offensive.

Every election, candidates spend months bragging about themselves, and if they win, they tell us how humble they are.

Every election, candidates promise to run positive and clean campaigns. Then they attack their opponents and complain that their opponents' retaliatory attacks are dirty politics.

Every election, candidates say they want to represent all their constituents but put most of their effort into getting members of targeted ethnic, sex, religious, and other demographic groups to support them.

Every election, in their victory speeches, winning candidates thank the volunteers who tirelessly walked door-to-door and made phone calls for them. These candidates never thank the smaller group of lobbyists, party bosses, and large donors who were essential to their campaigns. Those thank-yous are made off-camera.

Every election, losing candidates promise to continue to work in their communities on the issues that the people who supported them think are important. Do they?

Every election, news commentators spend more time predicting which candidates will win than talking about the issues. Then the commentators complain that the candidates aren't talking about the issues.

Every election, people who know nothing about how government runs say we should elect them because they know how business runs.

Every election, exhausted volunteers swear they will never work on another campaign. Every year, they are the first to get involved.

Every election, people ignore what the candidates are saying, then the day before the election they ask a friend who is involved in politics who they should vote for.

Every election, people who have never worked on a campaign show up at candidates' offices and ask for high-level jobs running the campaigns.

Every election, some candidates pledge to not accept money from special interests. Guess what they do?

Every election, the map of red and blue states looks a lot like a map showing which states were on which side in the Civil War.

Every election, voters who threatened to move to Canada forget to move.

Every election, we are told it is the most important election in our lifetimes.

Every election, nearly as many people don't vote as vote.

Every election, someone writes a list like this one.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Don't Throw Away Your Teeth

The 94-year-old woman was frustrated with her new dentures. They irritated her gums, despite repeated visits to the dentist who kept telling her to give it time and she would get used to them. She complained to her friend she wanted to just throw her dentures in the garbage and eat soft foods. He told her, “Don't throw away your teeth.” He said he had the same problem when he got new dentures, but reassured her that he did eventually get used to them.

Throughout our lives we trade advice and encouragement with friends. “Dump him, he's not right for you.” “Don't worry, you'll get a new job that's even better.” “It isn't a big deal, kids grow out of these things.” “I know you miss her after all these years, but time will make things easier.”

Coming from people we know and love, these simple platitudes help us get over the little bumps in the road and through the most profound losses. They are just words, but they make a huge difference.

Sometimes we need more than words, more than a hug, more than a gift basket. That is what Mitt Romney doesn't seem to understand. His gesture of packing canned food to ship to areas hit by hurricane Sandy, and his running mate Paul Ryan's photo op helping at a soup kitchen, were supposed to show their deep concern for people in need. Instead, they were powerful symbols showing how far from reality current Republican attitudes towards social responsibility are.

Damage from the hurricane will run into the billions of dollars. Millions of people need power, water, debris removal, rebuilding, transportation, medical care, and more. The effort will require many thousands of people and many billions of dollars over a period of months, and even with all that, people will suffer losses. The notion that a shipment of canned food or a serving of soup is all that is needed is astounding, and yet that is the essence of the Republican party's call to eliminate what they label as entitlement programs for what Romney called the 47 percent whom he said “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” Today, the people who think they are victims and that government has a responsibility to care for them includes nearly 100% of the people in New York and surrounding areas.

Just as ridiculous is the Republican philosophy that people can get by without government assistance because private charity will get the job done. Last year, the American Red Cross spent $283 million helping victims of nearly 70,000 natural disasters in the US, including drought, tornadoes, and floods. The same type of disasters occur every year. There is no way the Red Cross or all other charities put together will be able to help nearly as many victims of hurricane Sandy as the government will help. And yet Romney and his party pretend that miracles will happen and the multitude will be fed with a few loaves.

If we abolish FEMA and eliminate government assistance as Romney suggests, we will be turning natural disasters into human catastrophes. If we continue to deny the influence of man-made climate change, as the Republican platform proposes, we will have more natural disasters with more severe consequences.

There are things we can do as individuals, other things we can do through philanthropic institutions, and still other things we can only do as a nation with the assistance of our government. Right now, the most important thing all of us can do to help the victims of hurricane Sandy and victims of disasters still to come is to not vote for Republicans.