A Change is Gonna Come *

Some days I feel like we are falling into a deep hole with no way out, dealing with autism issues, the economic situation, material things that we want and don’t have. Fortunately, every so often some good hard kick in the pants comes along to short-circuit my self-pity.

The Cabana Boy and I saw the film Slumdog Millionaire last week, about a young man from the slums of Mumbai who gets a chance to play the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? I was primarily amazed this movie would actually come here, as we seldom get indie-type films in our little town, so we caught its first showing.

There it was, that kick in the pants.

The depiction of daily life in the Indian slums, where gangs roam the streets randomly killing women and children as police officers watch from their tabled card games, where children subsist on a tablespoon of food for a meal, where women wash the family clothing in filthy water, was stunning.

Children work all day collecting recyclables from huge piles of garbage that circle the poor rattletrap homes, and likely dine there as well. The poor live in huge mini-cities made of walls of rusty metal, full of little corridors and warrens tying them all together. People have nothing, not even much chance of escaping the poverty that has dragged them down for generations.

Mumbai is not an isolated case, of course. Much of the Third World is the same. Even countries of great wealth, places like Nigeria, where diamonds provide the country with astounding income, don’t put that money back into building up its impoverished population.

Nor does the United States, for that matter.  There are still children who go to bed hungry each night, which has long-term effects that surpass growling bellies, people without access to health care and decent housing. (If we can’t even feed and house them, how will we ever be able to get them educated in a way that meets world demands, considering where the U.S. stands?

As much as my children don’t have when compared to other children in our mostly Caucasian, middle-class community, they have riches and opportunities well beyond millions of other children in this world we share.

But I’m hopeful in the era of this new American administration, that the government will spend less time carrying out legacy wars and more time looking at the state of the world, both economically and ecologically. We have the chance to become once again the light of the world, to steer those who follow us in the direction of saving the people and the planet, not in its destruction.

The groundswell of support and energy that lifted Obama to office, however, needs to continue and build. Every person needs to commit themselves to changing business as usual and to make a difference with their own hands. It could be something as small as using Goodsearch for internet queries, giving money to charities without spending a penny of your own money, or other click-to-donate sites.

There are huge campaigns with fancy advertising like the One campaign and the Hunger Site. If you prefer hands-on, there’s Habitat for Humanity and Make a Difference Day in every community. Sign up online for Obama-endorsed USA Service.org. Volunteer to protect battered women, to save endangered species, to elect good candidates.  Go green at your home. Teach your children the value of helping others and conservation of resources.

Can we eradicate the kind of poverty we saw in Slumdog Millionaire in our lifetime? I’m sure it’s wishful thinking. But if you had asked me, four years ago, if we could have elected a candidate of color to the White House in 2008 I wouldn’t have believed that, either. Obama’s attitude of “Yes, we can!” is the key. We must try.  We must achieve. Every step must be a step forward. We accept nothing less in our children’s therapy; how can we accept less for the other children of the world?

Margaret Mead, in her oft-quoted remark, does say it best: “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.

Do you care?  Let’s change the world.

*With acknowledgement to Sam Cooke and his legendary song.


I’m glad to know I’m not out of touch with our community.

Despite the doom-forecasters in the national political scene, we saw justice done this morning in the polls in our county. I arrived to keep an eagle eye on the proceedings just before 6:30 and met three delightful retired ladies, who accommodated myself and the other poll watcher by letting us sit behind the counter with them so we could easily keep track of the incoming voters.

We had lines several times during the day, but no more than a 15 minute wait for any individual. The ladies were courteous and I never saw a trace of any potential racism that I had been warned about. No voter intimidation, no racism in the least. Many students, black, white and Asian all voted peacefully, and those who had never voted before were particularly pleased to put the “I voted” sticker on their jackets!

I’m curious where the information came from that stimulated the need for legally-trained poll watchers; perhaps from the students themselves, as I noticed even when I left there was an 800-number posted outside for those who felt they’d been discriminated against to call. I don’t know if anyone called. There were very few questions about whether someone could vote, and most were handled with a call to the courthouse to verify someone wasn’t just in the wrong polling place, and then a provisional ballot. So everyone got to vote.

All this goes to reassure me that I am not reading my community wrong at all. This is still small-town America (not necessarily the “real” America, but certainly the kind of community that we all think people should live in–fair, caring and good-natured), and we have good people here. We have our disagreements, but when it comes to loving this country and the right to express opinions through the vote, at least, we do the right thing.

Thank you to all those who provided information about the University of Pitt campus and student body. I’m pleased to see they in fact live up to their promises, and I hope those who have the wrong idea about our folk get educated, like I did.

Now I’m just hoping that, since I got up at 4:45 a.m. to get to the polls on time, that I can stay up late enough to see the results.  If you haven’t voted yet, GO VOTE!!!

Black and white

I got a few desperate calls from Rob, the Democratic “Voter Protection” guy in New York, and called him back, wondering what was up, since I’d already confirmed my voting precinct here in town, signed up for online training, and arranged to pick up my official credentials in Pittsburgh, 90 miles away, on Saturday.

Well. Seems the Democrats had arranged to protect the most crucial 1,500 precincts in the state, the ones that had to make sure people got the chance to vote if they wanted to, but also that would likely give the Democrats the important numbers they wanted. As I suspected when they first asked me to be an attorney poll watcher, nothing in Crawford County was even on that list. (We’re pretty low-key here; pick-up trucks with shotgun racks, and so on. Rep. Murtha really wasn’t so far off. I’m not sure why everyone got insulted.)

So, I didn’t really need to cover the precinct where they’d assigned me. However, they were having some issues that I would never have expected. Over in Titusville, the second largest city in our county, Rob said, there had been a particularly successful voter registration drive at the local branch of the University of Pittsburgh, including some 800 new voters who are black. Titusville is about as ‘white bread’ as you can get. See the problem coming?

Surely with all the suspicion about ACORN and people interfering with voters, people would be very careful about trying to influence or block certain segments of the population from voting, wouldn’t you think?

You’d think.

But Rob said reports had come in to the national offices that there had been ‘misinformation’ directed at these new black voters from the Dean’s office about their ability to vote. The registrar had interfered with their school activities. They were told by the uniformly Caucasian officials that if they put up political signs, none of them could have Obama’s face on them.

Odd behavior from a place that commits itself to “freedom of thought and expression” and supports “a culture of diversity.” See the Pitt Promise.

So Rob is instead sending myself and another attorney I know to share Election day in Titusville, to make sure that each and every person who’s registered is not hampered from entering the polling place on campus and casting a vote for his or her candidate of choice.

The whole situation makes me sad. I know I was somewhat puzzled that they thought they even needed people to watch polls here, because we’re not Philadelphia, Brooklyn or Chicago. Discovering that the evils of racism and discrimination are blatant and poisonous here in our midst shows me I’ve really turned a blind eye to the truths of our community.

Just let them try to mess with these kids. I’m ready to pick up the phone and call the election authorities, the party lawyers, heck, even the newspaper and tv. This is the twenty-first century, and we’re better than this.

Keeping democracy honest

I received an interesting phone call today from a gentleman named Rob in New York City who wanted me to spend election day as a poll watcher. He was recruiting attorneys, law students and other legal professionals, he said, because they were expecting trouble at the polls.

Now I know, of course, that this election is very close, and each party needs every vote it can win. The negative ads show that people don’t hesitate to play dirty, right up till the end. Next week I expect it will be worse. I don’t even want to think about the first three days of November. But our little county is pretty rural, and pretty laid-back.  Did we really need to worry about these things here?

According to Rob, we do. Our county has five targeted precincts where the national committee has determined that some sort of interference with the voting process will likely take place. This interference could take the form of open challenges of each voter by a party representative, making each person verify their identity and prove they are registered and belong in that district, to the point of harassment and delay that might cause people to give up and leave the polls. (I’m not sure why people would come to vote without ID and voter’s registration card. But in our small county, no one has ever asked me for it. I just walk up, give them a name, and they sign me in. Then again, I’m a pretty ordinary-looking white woman.)

Some of the other tactics he described mystified me. He suggested that in some counties, it has been documented that whites rented up a bunch of Lincoln Towncars, put on suits and dark glasses, and cruised the neighborhoods where primarily black voters were going to the polls, intimidating them. Some people really don’t have enough to do with their time, I guess. Others are openly discouraged from voting once they’re inside the polling place and can’t be seen from the street.

Here in town, the courthouse is closed on election day; time for all the courthouse workers to drive their friends out to vote, I guess. This county is heavily Republican, has been for years. The county is 97% white. One would think Obama would have an uphill battle. But not this year. There are Obama signs all over the place, amongst the McCain signs. People wear Obama buttons, have bumper stickers. The Democratic headquarters finally has people moving in and out of it all day–the first time I’ve seen this in years. Are we ready for change?  Yeah.

No. HELL yeah.

So I agreed to go to the training to learn how to “protect” the voting process. I’ll be at the polls where I’m assigned on election day, and I sure hope I’ll be able to protect the same freedoms our troops and elected officials are fighting for: making sure each of us has the right to have our say. I’ll show my children I’m willing to take the stand.

Make sure you’re out there, too.

Taking a stand

Since my office is in the same building as Republican headquarters and right across the street from Democratic headquarters, it was kind of inevitable that I’d get flagged as a target for campaign sign placement. After all, I live on a main drag, where lots of people would see the sign every day.

I really hadn’t made a firm commitment to either presidential candidate. Frankly, I’d be real tickled if in some election year there was actually a candidate that I admired who the party picked who I thought was competent and not a sleaze. (I know. I want a lot.) Politics is something I don’t really get into these days, because it’s disheartening to find the system doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, the people just spend time making negative claims about everyone else, and nothing positive seems to be accomplished.

But I was raised on politics. My father was the Republican precinct committeeman, a campaign manager, a San Francisco Goldwater convention delegate–you name it, he did it. For years, I did it too. I was the kid who got sent door-to-door in strange neighborhoods canvassing, then I was a page at the Ohio State Republican Convention when I was 15. I cold-called people in support of candidates. I handed out bumper stickers with the best of them.

The little old ladies at the polling precinct were so proud when I was 18 and walked in for the first time to vote in the Ohio primary, handing me a Republican ballot with bated breath. Of course, that’s when I had to tell them I’d registered Democrat because all my friends did, because they liked Howard Metzenbaum and I wanted to vote for him. I didn’t think jaws could drop that far. But my dad, through gritted teeth, made some comment in the background about the system working. I think there was something there about how I couldn’t drive the car any more, too.

Many of us in the autism community may have preferred one of the candidates who was eliminated earlier in the process; I haven’t heard much from either of the two main men on the subject. Special needs children certainly came into focus with the addition of Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket– but honestly, it feels like that little boy is more of a prop than a cause. (See more on this here.)

I’ve been reading and reading and liking what I read less and less. The last straw was when the New York Times revealed that the scope and format of the vice-presidential debates would be limited because “McCain advisers said they had been concerned that a loose format could leave Ms. Palin, a relatively inexperienced debater, at a disadvantage and largely on the defensive.”

Excuse me?

If they didn’t think she could handle the job, they shouldn’t have offered it to her.

That, along with the general tenor of the Republican party line, as the evangelicals grow louder again, McCain sounds not like the candidate he was eight years ago, but like the current president, and there are threats to a woman’s right to control her own body, and for everyone’s right to choose a loving partner, regardless of gender– all of this finally settled in and we made a decision.

There is an Obama sign in our front yard, and I’ve volunteered to cook some meals for campaign volunteers, in lieu of going door-to-door, which is a little difficult with our issues and schedule. We’re registering people to vote, too, and encouraging anyone we know to get out. This will be a close election, and we all remember what happened in 2000.

It’s time to take action, before it’s too late.

The quick-fix society

I remember the days when people used to write something–a novel, a newspaper column, whatever–and it stood. Absent some blatant factual error, what you read was what you got.

The same used to be true about what people said, particularly famous people, who speak a lot, in public, with people listening. You researched your topic, you wrote your speech, knowing people would hear it, and you tried to be as accurate as possible.

Somewhere these tenets of publication changed. Society now seems to be running on a paper-towel roll philosophy: whatever is said today, if someone attacks it, you tear off the next sheet and apologize, and try again.

The 2008 presidential campaign has been rife with these episodes. Hillary with her Bosnian landing field, Obama and his “bitter” Pennsylvania voters, McCain as well, and all their staff people shooting off their mouths left and right, coming in as soon as a criticism is made with a “Oh, gee, we’re sorry, we misspoke.”

And there, in the public confessional, they say their Hail Marys, or whatever penance is necessary, and then the campaigns move on to their next outrageous attack–that they’ll withdraw as soon as someone speaks up.

(Don’t even get me started on Bill Clinton and his tilting windmills. Or the current president, for that matter. I wouldn’t believe anything either of them said at this point.)

Aren’t these people supposed to inspire confidence, instead of undermining it? With all their advanced degrees from prestigious universities, shouldn’t the rest of us be able to feel like they know what they’re doing? That they think before they speak? That they know the difference between the truth and a lie?

I’m equally disturbed about several blogs I’ve read lately about readers forcing a publisher or author to change their work. Like the postThe Jungle Book, for example, Amanda Marcotte’s effort to turn her successful blog platform into a launching place for the book It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. This is what all the publishers and agents are telling us writers to do, when we go to conferences. So she did. But then women of color protested the illustrations from classic comic books, which showed a blonde woman battling assorted evils, and an “undifferentiated brown horde.”

So, does Marcotte say, I know my audience and this is my book, if you don’t like it, don’t read it? No. According to The Root, “the publisher posted an apology on its Web site and announced they would change the illustrations in any subsequent print runs of the book. Marcotte apologized as well, on Pandagon.”

So here we have the functional equivalent of all these big-name stars (Can we say Sharon Stone in China any more? I don’t think so.) who do something people don’t like, then fall all over themselves to apologize. Just before they go into rehab and emerge shiny-new. So, the author and publisher apologized, CHANGED THE MATERIAL despite their previous satisfaction, and that’s the end, right?

No. From The Root: “The more Seal Press and Marcotte tried to make amends, the more voices rose telling them just what was missing from their apologies; each renewed charge would spark new, and newly misbegotten, explanations or apologies.”

My question is, why did all these people, some of whom I’m sure had never even read the material in question, have the right to demand changes anyway? It wasn’t their work. They may not have agreed with it, but then don’t read it! I mean, how ridiculous is this? Does this open the door to demanding from the Melville estate that Moby Dick be rewritten because whaling is barbarous? Or that someone redraft Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for all the reasons they won’t let it be taught in school any more?

Technological advances have made our world a little smaller and more intimate. We can hear campaign speeches 24-7, or read about them online. We can discuss public acts by public people with others around the globe. We have an opportunity to weigh in with our opinions on just about anything, still, as long as you stay clear of Homeland Security.

I believe this sharpens up certain rights and responsibilities. Speakers/publishers have the obligation to guard their words to make sure they are true and accurate–the first time. Readers/listeners have the right to consider the words and decide whether to accept them as given. But I don’t think the reader/listener ever gains the right to control that content. Content belongs to the author. Authors are entitled to opinions. Authors say what they have to say. Take it–or leave it. But don’t fix it.

Issues of the Day

My friends, this is NOT the week to be a registered voter in the state of Pennsylvania.

The phone is ringing at least once a day with someone demanding to know if we understand their candidate’s position on the important issues of the day: Clinton’s a recorded message, Obama’s a live person (point: Obama).

Frankly, I have never been so happy we really gave up watching local networks in favor of cable. Even the TODAY show is crammed full of political ads, none as vicious as we may have seen in years past, thank the Powers that Be. For some 20 minutes in the morning, the only local news we see is inundated with campaign rhetoric. Most of it is in the non-controversial vein, i.e., do you want to keep your job, stop abuse, get medical care, protect freedom, etc. Well heck yeah, that sounds good. (Except maybe the job part.) As a general rule, people working? GOOD. Health? Good. Protecting kids–GOOD.

But somehow those people’s “issues of the day” are not my “issues of the day.” My issues are much smaller, closer to home, like trying to convince my Aspie boy that even if he remembers what the teacher said, that he should still take notes in math class. Because she said to. The world does NOT revolve around you, dear. When you go to junior high next year, you can’t just get up and wander around the class because you feel like it. And the worst of all, what the school psychologist kept bringing up at our last meeting: Hormones. But I’m just not going to think about that now. Call me Scarlett.

Or fighting to expand therapies for my daughter so she can learn to use language in a world centered around verbal and written communication. Or keeping up with 8-10 loads of laundry a week while making all the children’s appointments, dealing with educational issues, cooking, cleaning, etc., oh and having a mostly full-time job. I sympathize with those of you who are also dealing with this or any one of the other experiences you all share every day. Or dealing with the small inequities in the legal system that subvert justice for my individual clients.

So those folks on the commercials will have to forgive me if I don’t really focus on those broad brush strokes. Not much I can do about them, to my mind. I’m not even convinced that any of these candidates can do much, in this clogged-up bureaucratic government we’ve inherited. These little issues, I can maybe solve. It’s that saying that’s posted everywhere about how a hundred years from now, the things you own might not matter, but the changes you’ve made in a child’s life might mean everything. I’ve got to concentrate on that, at work and at home.

I admire and encourage those who have the interest and energy to keep up with the political arena, particularly in the area of autism. The woman who comes most to mind is Cindy Waeltermann of Autismlink. I’m on her mailing list and get editorials and calls to action regularly. But other blogs I read regularly show me people are paying attention, like this and this and many others. I just find it hard to get fired up about any of that when I’m dealing with perseveration and hypervigilance and doctors and therapy and meetings and SpongeBob. Again.

That’s a real shame, because here we have the first viable female candidate in American history, something for which I would have been firing off rockets about 20 years ago when I left law school, my feminism in full flight. I was always sure I’d be out there campaigning and flag-waving when that happened. But this one, she just doesn’t move me. Not just because of the canned phone appeals, either.

We also have a young, idealistic candidate, who would normally have been someone I could get behind and respect– but he just doesn’t click, either. But I’m glad he does click with young people, because they need to learn how valuable the right to vote is, and get out and use it.

Then there’s the other one.

I’ll be in the voting booth on April 22, with my kids, because we always take them along to show them how important it is to exercise their rights. Baby steps. But as Lao Tzu said, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Lao Tzu also said this: Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. This is the reason for the new button in my sidebar, “How Rich are You?” which I learned about at Alvinology. I discovered today that even though our family struggles each month financially to stay on top of things, that by this scale I am in the top five percent of the world, income-wise. That’s mind-boggling. So, test it out. Maybe we can discover that we are all, in many ways, much richer than we think.