A Discourse on Bernie with my Brother

Wow…it’s been a while.

I have to say that I have missed blogging, but after the 9/11 anniversary event, the course of this blog seemed to change, and I with it. It was moving in a direction toward which I didn’t entirely know how to charter, and so I backed off.

Stories from the Heartland has gathered a lot of dust. It’s been more than three years since my last post–a missive about the Midwestern winters I suffered through each year, trying to tame my San Diego blood in sub-freezing temperatures.

But when my brother emailed me after Bernie’s primary loss in New York saying we should write a blog post about it, I perked up. I love sharing writing space with people, and he doesn’t have a blog. So I agreed.

And since his win in Indiana last night and his march toward our home state of California, it’s good to keep the conversation going.

Here’s what he wrote:

Optimism in the Afterglow

Post-New York primary, the delegate count is probably insurmountable for Bernie. But, wow, who would have thought someone with such uncompromising dedication to taking on the power structure of this country would come so far?! I am optimistic about the future.

Younger people broke heavily for Bernie and I’m not so sure this is because you become more “pragmatic” or conservative when you age. I think the most important factor driving the generational divide is the difference in where people get their information.

My mom and other good friends of her generation, who generally hold the same values and ideals as I do, were suspicious of Bernie because of things they had heard watching the news or listening to NPR. A limited set of sources. I get a lot of my news from Huffington Post or Common Dreams or my Facebook feed, all of which synthesize news from a broad array of sources. And those younger than me who spend more time on the internets have an even greater and more diverse set of sources from which to get their information and read opinion. Remember that poll showing that the word capitalism has stronger negative connotations than socialism for millennials?

So I’m optimistic that this movement will grow and that we will continue to fight for economic and social justice. For real equality of opportunity. I’m optimistic that the younger generation more clearly understands the degree to which large corporations control our economy and environment. And they’re looking for alternative models.

Bernie represents a manifestation of an alternative, and it has encouraged many. If Hillary indeed becomes the Democratic nominee, we must make sure she feels the pressure to fight against old friends. This article by Naomi Klein shows just how hard that might be.

But the Republican alternative at this point is either corporo-fascism (Trump) or theologo-fascism (Cruz). And I’m optimistic that not only will we reject those divisive alternatives in November, but we will continue to build on the progressive movement that Bernie, a socialist (well, democratic socialist) invigorated.

Thanks bro!

aaronHere’s a quick background on my brother. He’s always smiling, and he has a great smile. People are always commenting on his great smile. He’s optimistic and passionate about his beliefs, and he’s had some brushes with activism. But he also lives in San Diego, a hotbed of content, of sunshine and glistening ocean views. I’m not quite so optimistic.

Here’s my response:

I’ll Believe It When I See It

All the momentum and excitement Bernie has generated among the young people, the progressives, the decline-to-states and the I’ve-had-enough-of-the-status-quos is wonderful. But it’s no more wonderful than Occupy Wall Street, Save the CSU, Black Lives Matter and the 2000 Nader campaign.
All of those occurred in my conscious lifetime, and I have been marginally or deeply involved in them. They have all had great surges, and then the bottoms fell out and the momentum fell with it.
I’m not hopeful that once Clinton gets the nomination, much to my chagrin, that she will keep talking about the many points that Bernie raised—equal pay, universal health care, affordable/free college, a ban to fracking. These issues are not just pressing, they are dire.
We face a very real catastrophe on our hands in the form of climate change. Humans are quite adaptable for sure, but geez. What is the next 10, 20, 30 years going to look like? Bernie’s chutzpah to not take corporate money, to fund a national, high-profile campaign at a truly grassroots level, made me think that I could trust him to not kowtow to corporate interests when it came to the environment. Clinton? Is she going to say what needs to be said? Do what needs to be done?
That’s just one issue.
I’m glad he was able to direct the conversation toward progressive values, but that conversation has not been picked up by the mainstream media in any substantial form. Most voters don’t read alternative media like you, dear brother. Bernie doesn’t have the name recognition that Hillary has. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Bernie’s disdain for the establishment (media included) has been the major obstacle of this campaign. And it’s a main reason he hasn’t topped Hillary in the delegate count. People don’t know who he is, and the media’s not about to tell them.
So where do we go from here?
For real, on-the-ground change to actually happen there needs to be continuing agitation on very local levels that translates to elected leaders in city council, county seats and state government. Even school boards!!
This is what the Tea Party did, then they were able to get people into the House, into the Senate…and they have hijacked the GOP. This is what the Christian Coalition did before them, moving conservative social values into the GOP platform.
Progressives need to think in that broad, long-term vein, where we can steer the Democratic Party and force it to address some of these intensely needed and crucial policies Bernie has been relentlessly stumping. We need enough candidates running on all levels of government that it doesn’t seem so strange to have a true progressive on the ticket.
 Birdie
The optimist in me hopes that Bernie’s movement doesn’t wither away like the others I’ve witnessed. I hope he can continue to encourage his supporters to stay active in the political process, to get involved on their local levels. And I hope he doesn’t go away. I just put a “Birdie” bumper sticker on my Prius (ha ha, shut up), and I don’t wanna take it off.

And then my bro wrote back…

I do agree that the tea party movement was quite successful at creating a Republican party with strong and cohesive values. But remember how this originated – a consortium of big-money think tanks funded by the Koch brothers and their ilk.

Real Populist movements throughout our history have originated in the streets. We shouldn’t seek to emulate the tea party approach because we’ll never be, and never should be, top-down led. Top-down inspired, sure, as what Bernie has done. But remember, the reason Bernie has done so well is because of the aforementioned movements that have infiltrated our psyche.

Occupy and the 99% vs. 1%? That completely changed the dialogue. Black-lives Matter? That is not fizzling out any time soon, and will be here in one form or another until “the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.”

The movement to stem Climate Change continues to strengthen. You’re right, not fast enough. But as Dad would say, that means we just have to push harder because the alternative is giving in. We change the conversation and the politicians will follow. Keep bringing it up at dinner parties, chatting with your friends and acquaintances. Keep posting on your blog.

Because the young people are reading this stuff…

 

 

Where to go next?

As my family and I have made our way eastward across the United States, curiously along Interstate 80 from San Francisco to Oakland to Des Moines, IA, to the Toledo, OH, area, we often joke that we’ll continue our eastbound route and end up in Pennsylvania or New York next.

But, neither my husband nor I want to settle farther east. We want to return to the West, possibly to California where we have spent most of our lives and where our families live, or possibly to a new state, like Idaho or Colorado. The problem is that now that we’ve left California and seen it from the outside—the high cost of living the damage a ruinous legislature and ineffective governor has had on state services like public education—it’s harder to return than anticipated.

We live now in a quiet suburban town outside of Toledo, which is a former industrial city famous for supporting Detroit’s nearby auto industry. But much of the manufacturing has left the area, as it has in so many cities across the country, and there are elements of despair and abandonment that hover over this place.

In our little neighborhood, people seem content and settled in their lives. They mow their lawns, wash their cars and walk their dogs with regular routine. They drive shiny cars and take their kids to baseball games. The schools are good, and one of the high school’s hockey team just won the state title. But this neighborhood is in a bubble. Life here is easy.

It’s nice not to have to listen to screaming firetruck sirens racing down your street at 2 a.m., and not to walk out the front door and find a homeless man has defecated on your front stoop. It’s nice to not battle flocks of dirty pigeons nesting on the porch or to weave between globs of phglem-tinged loogies and equally disgusting pigeon poop on the sidewalk. Of course I’m talking about the streets of San Francisco, but I still miss those streets.

So as we look to where we will land next, we have to take into account the benefits and detractors of every possible place. Surely most our decision will depend on where the best job offer comes from, but we do have more of a say in this move than in either of our two prior moves. Taking all this into account, it’s clear we’ve learned a thing or two in our years abroad (in the Midwest).

  • Cost of living is important. We would rather not have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars to buy a house just because it is in a prime location. We want to live comfortably, but not excessively. We don’t want to be in debt.
  • Prime public education. That is almost an oxymoron in itself. But there are places where a solid public school still exists. We live in such a place now, and we are hoping that we can find good schools in a Western state that hasn’t been desecrated by privatization and budget cuts.
  • Work/life balance. There’s nothing that can compare to life as a medical resident. It is a tough road. My husband has been sleep deprived since he started med school in 2006, and we’re very much looking forward to having a balanced life again. Here in the Midwest, people seem to achieve that more than life on the West Coast. People are less busy here. They don’t schedule events months on end. It’s a slower pace, and it seems more sustainable.
  • Proximity to family and friends. Relationships are key. And beyond our own nuclear family, we miss being around our extended family members and old friends. It’s been hard to miss births, deaths, anniversaries, retirements…all the life moments that are huge and small. We’ve been gone for so long. We’ve learned how to live without that support network, but it can get lonely, and I often feel disconnected. Getting back into the fold would be a great additive to our move.
  • Beautiful surroundings. Some argue that the Midwest is beautiful. I agree that there are some parts I consider to be nice. But nothing compares to the jagged cliffs of the Northern California coastline, or the soaring redwood trees. Overlooking the ocean from a cliff in San Diego, watching pelicans glide in the breeze and surfers wait for a set to roll in is truly beautiful. Enjoying the mountains, the rivers, the lakes and everything in between…we miss that.

It’s exciting to think about the next phase of our lives as a family, and where we will end up. But more than anything I am yearning to put down roots, to settle in a spot and stay put. In my twenties, roaming the world and having adventures sounded like the best idea. Now I just want to develop community. I want to get to know my neighbors and feel invested in a place and in people and friendships. I want to plant a garden, knowing I’ll be there the following year to tend to it.

Life can be fleeting, and while I struggle to stay in the moment and be grateful for what life presents me each day, I still can’t wait to move on to the next chapter. We’ve got a year and a half to figure out where that will be, and until then, I’ll be trying to figure out what makes the most sense for a long-term commitment to home.

A change in the weather

When we lived in San Francisco, we befriended several people from Wisconsin and Minnesota who had moved to the Bay Area. At one point or another, each of these friends would opine about missing the seasons, the snow, the fall, the spring.

Granted, California has seasons—it just depends where you are in the state to experience them. June in San Francisco is like winter in Seattle. October in Fog City is like late summer in the Midwest. And San Diego is just pure bliss, nearly every day of the year. A yearlong season of bliss.

After living in the Midwest for six years, I am beginning to understand why someone who grew up with seasons would miss them. The bursts of color in the fall and spring; the snow and crispness of winter that promises sledding and snowball fights. And then there are the long, hot, humid days of summer that seem unbearable but come mid-winter it’s the only thing I long for. It’s nice to have the change, though each season has become less predictable each year we’ve lived here.

Still, I am a Californian at heart and in my bones. Growing up in San Diego must have programmed my body chemistry to reject temperatures below 68 degrees and above 74 degrees. It’s a small window, and it gives me lots of grief. I am still apt to complain when the mercury rises or falls below my minimal comfort zone.

But I do surprise myself from time to time. It was 50 degrees out today and sunny. I wore only two layers instead of three or four, as I would have a few years ago. I even went sockless while running an errand. I might be getting tougher after all.

Transporting Myself

As I’ve moved eastward, I’ve become more suburban. Though I still consider myself a city girl, loving the amenities of urban life, I do admit the suburbs have some benefits, especially when kids are in the picture.

Today I came across a blog dedicated to researching and writing about smart transit. It got me thinking about my own progression from living in San Francisco using mostly my feet, bicycle and relatively reliable public transit for getting around to living in a suburb of a post-industrial Midwestern city where the garage doors go up, the cars go in and the garage doors go down. Now I drive every day. I have to make it a point not to drive to run errands, though it is hard to do when surrounded by sprawl. In San Francisco I rarely left my neighborhood except to go to work.

Coming clean, I don’t do a whole lot of blog surfing. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I do to find some real jewels. This blog, called Progressive Transit, is maintained by an electrical engineer who is passionate about the ways we get around.  He posts this:

Cars do not belong in cities.  A standard American sedan can comfortably hold 4+ adults w/ luggage, can travel in excess of 100 miles per hour, and can travel 300+ miles at a time without stopping to refuel.  These are all great things if you are traveling long distances between cities.  If you are going by yourself to pickup your dry cleaning, then cars are insanely over-engineered for the task.  It’s like hammering in a nail with a diesel-powered pile driver.   To achieve all these feats (high capacity, high speed, and long range driving), cars must be large and powered by fossil fuels.  So when you get a few hundred (or thousand) cars squeezed onto narrow city streets, you are left with snarled traffic and stifling smog.

Before moving to the Midwest in 2006, I walked or rode to the grocery store, local restaurants, bars and coffee shops and even took walks around the neighborhoods I lived in for exercise. I loved being mobile by foot or bike, not dependent on our single car other than for long trips.

When we moved to Iowa I continued to try to walk and ride my bike to run errands as much as possible, but it became more difficult on roads with heavy traffic, no bike lanes or poor or no sidewalks. Car transportation was so dominant, I regularly was the only pedestrian or bicyclist out and about. I tried to commute by bike to work a few times a week and walk to the grocery store when the weather permitted.

Now in Ohio, time transporting myself on my feet or by bike has sharply decreased. My neighborhood is safe, and the neighbors keep to themselves. The schools are good and though most everything we need is within a 10-mile radius, ditching the car has been harder than ever.

Destinations are so spread out here, and the roads aren’t very friendly to non-vehicle traffic. I often felt safer riding through the chaotic streets of San Francisco on my bike than navigating through the suburban sprawl of my town.

But, with everything, one needs balance and compromise. We traded a smaller carbon footprint for good schools, a safe neighborhood and plenty more time in the car. Still, we can work to reduce our impact on the environment, but it’s good to be reminded that I can still try harder to live a life less tied to my car.

Stay away Terminator

Today, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said out loud what many Californians (and probably a lot of other people around the world) have thought, or maybe didn’t think because why would they: “No matter where you go in the world, people still want to come to California,” Schwarzenegger said. “There’s no one screaming like, ‘I can’t wait to get to Iowa.’ That I can guarantee you. They want to come here to California.”

I had to laugh when I read this because, being from California I would have never considered Iowa a destination. In fact, Iowa never entered my thoughts except when I watched “Field of Dreams.

But now that I live in Iowa, I thought Schwarzenegger’s comment to be offensive and misplaced. There are far worse places than Iowa that get far less tourism and far fewer mentions in national media coverage. He had one thing right: California does attract more tourism. People think of it as a destination. And I, too, would rather spend time sunning on the beach in San Diego or running through Golden Gate Park than battling through another Iowa winter (or summer for that matter).

Iowa has some good things to offer, though. It has the Iowa State Fair, as pointed out in a rather snarky comment by a Des Moines Register reader. It has lots of open space and blue skies most of the time. It has Iowans, who have this remarkable ability to stay in Iowa and survive the winters, and it has lots of pork, if you’re into that.

One thing it does have that California doesn’t, and Schwarzenegger can read this as a direct, in-your-face stab at his policies during his tenure as governor, is a functioning state government. While this year has seen a steep budget cut for Iowa, its legislature and governor are working more or less in union to address the problem. There will be no IOUs. There will be no late budget.

No, the pragmatic and earnest Iowa politicians are aiming to push through the legislative session in record time–just to save the state a bit more money after it reorganizes government and trims the budget. I can’t imagine Schwarzenegger or any of the California state legislators making fixing the state a common goal and actually getting something accomplished.

And that is one good reason to come to Iowa.

California Dreamin’

Here I am in California, but it feels like purgatory.

My family and I are here for a month, in and out of the Sacramento-area, while my husband completes a medical school rotation. It’s been about a year since I’ve spent any length of time here, and right now it feels like such a tease.

We left California–the land of our births–more than three years ago. At the time we didn’t know what adventure lay before us as we made our way on Southwest Airlines to Omaha, Neb., and finally to Des Moines, Iowa. We had our twin boys, rapidly approaching their first birthday, and a household full of stuff to fill our new house on a quiet street in the northwest part of the city.

We have had many opportunities to come back to California to visit friends and family, and each time it felt great to come back, feel the sun on my face and enjoy the relative ease of slipping back into my California comfort zone.

This time has been different. It almost pains me to be here. I’d rather stay away and forget it exists for the time being–that time being the remainin year and a half in Iowa and subsequent residency years somewhere else.

I wonder if this is what a caged bird feels like, when seeing the vast space before it, wanting to fly around, perch on a tree over there, bathe in a birdbath over there. Freedom is so close, but unattainable.

So I wonder, how do you continue to forge relationships, build careers, keep on going full speed when you are stuck in a holding pattern?

Christmas Card Friends

I’ll never forget the time I was in anguish about some friend drama when I was in my early 20s, and a close friend of mine said something along the lines of: sometimes friends just become Christmas Card friends.

At the time I scoffed a bit at this comment. I couldn’t imagine any of my close friends, no matter how much drama came with them, demoting themselves to Christmas card-only status. And I didn’t even sent out Christmas cards.

Alas, the time has come when the wise words once spoken have come true. I now have a handful of Christmas card friends. They were once close, but time and distance has ceased regular conversation. We now only get correspondence in the form of Christmas cards. The friend who explained this phenomenon has become one of them. Actually, we don’t even do much of the card exchange anymore.

It’s hard to see friends come and go. People you thought were once so close they could be a sibling become distant memories. People you thought would be your best friend forever or your maid of honor at your wedding didn’t even RSVP. But, this is what happens. Lives change. People change. Paths diverge. It happens to everyone.

I do say, though, that Facebook has created this notion of closeness to friends whom I have not been in touch with in 15 years at least. It’s an interesting social experiment. I don’t necessarily feel closer to these people, but I suppose it deletes the need to have much small talk at high school reunions. You can just get down to the nitty gritty of why you lost touch to begin with and how amazing it is that Facebook brought us all back together again.

In fact, I’ve been thinking that high school reunions are going to become obsolete because we can all peer into each others’ lives through Facebook. How much real conversation are you going to have with someone you haven’t seen in more than a decade once you’ve gotten past that initial cocktail party chit chat? Take this out of the equation and is there really anything else to talk about?

I’d rather just send a Christmas card.

June Gloom

It happened to be a glorious day in Iowa. Not just for me. I heard the word “glorious” spoken several times out of several mouths. It was a “glorious” day.june-gloom-explained

And a rare one. While some of my cohorts in San Francisco are suffering from June Gloom, I had a remarkably fanastic day in Iowa. I even went so far as to encourage fellow Californians (yes, I still consider myself a Californian) to move here to escape the destruction a certain political Hummer (read: Arnold) is having on the Golden State. Closing parks and beaches? What sort of message is that supposed to send? Aren’t we all doing our part.

Well, not me, obviously. I’m in Iowa. But isn’t it the political obstacle course set up in Sacramento’s gilded halls that has caused this meltdown? Read about proposed park and beach closings here.

It’s interesting to write about California’s problems from abroad. Having lived there all my life, save for the last three years, I feel somewhat distanced from the place. I feel I can view it a bit more objectively. But I want it to land on its feet. It has so much to offer. On the other hand, the fickle California voters have shot themselves in the foot. By voting in stodgy Arnold the Governator and then re-electing him, they did themselves in. I proudly say I did not vote for him–even fought against his election and re-election. But, California is a complicated place with complicated people and complicated problems. It’s not all Arnold’s fault. But at least he’s not planning on running for president.

So I am sorry for the gloomy June in California, not so much for the fog rolling in from the Pacific or the thick marine layer hovering over beach towns, but because the state has managed to dig itself into a canyon. And, any life lines that are extended end up frayed and broken.

Remember: in a democracy, your government is what you make it. There are lessons to be learned from our mistakes.

Score Another for Iowa

Eager, anxious Californians waited Tuesday morning to hear the state Supreme Court’s ruling on Proposition 8, passed by voters in November, that banned gay marriage in this state. The court upheld Prop. 8, leaving many angry and perplexed. Others, of course, were elated. This is the changing face of California.

I have watched this drama unfold from a distance. Meanwhile, where I am standing, Iowa’s top court affirmed gay couples’ right to marry. An interesting juxtaposition. Here you have one state, California, a place that has become known for its left-leaning politics and ideologies—a place where many people in Iowa find distasteful for all of its freeness and peace, love and understanding. But this is not the case. A state with these attributes would not have had such a oscillating view on equal rights and gay marriage.

Maybe it’s time we stop thinking of California as this liberal, free-wheeling bastion of equality and progressive values and start seeing it for what it really is—a conflicted hodgepodge of sun-soaked people who really can’t seem to screw their heads on right (friends and family excluded, of course). First with the election of Arnorld Schwarzenegger and then his re-election, then the demise of the state legislature’s ability to come to a consensus and pass a decent budget without cutting vast sums of money from public infrastructure (namely education and social services). Now the back and forth on gay marriage.

It has only taken one try so far here in Iowa. From my vantage point it seems pretty definite that this state in flyover country, that only gets attention every four years during presidential primary campaigns, is setting the standard for equal rights and humanity in our country. Not only that, but real estate here is actually affordable. And, perhaps with climate change, its weather will get a little better.

At least for now, Iowa has shown its worth.

From SF Chronicle:

Calif upholds gay marriage ban

By LISA LEFF, Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The state Supreme Court has upheld a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, but also decided that the estimated 18,000 gay couples who tied the knot before the law took effect will stay wed.

The decision Tuesday rejected an argument from gay rights activists that the ban revised the California constitution’s equal protection clause to such a dramatic degree that it first needed the Legislature’s approval.

The announcement of the decision caused outcry among a sea of demonstrators who gathered in front of the San Francisco courthouse awaiting the ruling.

The Two-State Solution

From Yahoo! Buzz http://buzz.yahoo.com/buzzlog/92599?fp=1

California: Breaking up is hard to do
California’s budget problems are kind of like the boy who cried “wolf.” Nobody pays attention anymore. Well, hardly anybody. A radical idea that would split California into four distinct states garnered some attention on the Buzz. Commenters chimed in with their thoughts. Some even suggested names including Calidormia (for the “bedroom communities and burbs all across the state”) and Califarmia (for the huge agricultural regions). The commenter notes that Calinormia could make for a nice state, but, alas, normal doesn’t exist out west. Experts argue that the proposal doesn’t have a chance of working, but we say “never say never.” This is the state the elected Conan the Destroyer, after all.

—————-

Here’s my two cents:

Make the Bay Area its own state. Include Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties (maybe Santa Cruz, too). Erect a 20-foot wall around this new state and let no one in or out without adequate identification.california_north_90

Why?

If cost of living were not an issue, this region would create a utopian state. You’ve got redwoods (check), beaches (check), a world-class city (check), and international airport (check), good art, theater and music (check), interesting, diverse people (check), a solid economy (check), public transportation (check), mountains (check), Sea Ranch (check), rain and sunshine (check), good biking (check)…I could go on for about three more pages. Most important, however, I think is the progressive ideology that permeates these counties.

A new state would most likely have universal, singer-payer health care, better public transportation, tighter regulations on air and water pollution, more community gardens, more outdoor music festivals, free public Wi-Fi, an ample amount of newspapers and publications and a high literacy rate. The schools would also be top-notch and well funded.

I would move to this new state in a heartbeat. Now all we need is a name.

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