Thursday, December 31, 2009

10 Things I Hate About Florida

I am so excited about the upcoming 2010. So, for the new year, here is my list of 10 things that I hope to see a positive change in:

10. Dirty drinking water. It may surprise you to know that despite Charlie Crist's boat rides throught the everglades with John McCain, that Florida has some of the worst water contamination in the United States. Our governor has repeatedly attempted to market himself as having concern for the environment but there is absolutely no evidence to back it up. In fact, cities where Crist garnered most of his votes (like Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Pensacola) all rank in the bottom 50 US cities for water cleanliness.
Pensacola Florida has the absolute worst water quality in the USA. We need to clean up Floridas waters and stop dumping pollution into them.

09. Hurricane madness. Every time there is a hurricane in Florida, our entire state goes topsy-turvy with panicked media reporting, price gouging, and bizarre "emergency preparedness" marketing gimmicks. Just settle down, people. Every thunderstorm is not Hurricane Andrew. Just board up your windows, buy a few candles and remember the serenity prayer: God help me to accept the things I cannot change. Check out
one of the hilarious parodies of Florida's weather reports on YouTube.

08. De-funding of rehabilitation programs in Broward. This one lands squarely on the shoulders of our Republican Sheriff Al Lamberti. He promised Broward's voters that he would cut the budget as Sheriff. Many of us believed this would be a good thing as there seems to be 2 Sheriff's officers for every citizen out on the streets here. It's a total police state. But Lamberti has gone and exacerbated many of our problems here in Broward by cutting the most essential programs associated with his department - the ones that keep criminals from returning to the streets with a chip on their shoulder. Furthermore, rumor has it with all the new cops he's put on the streets and a
refusal to "just say no" to the PBA, he's actually increased the budget, not reduced it. One officer proudly showed me the computer games he had installed on his laptop in his squad car, which he admittedly plays all the time on his "boring" nights of patrol - paid for courtesy of the PBA. And I can still point to half a dozen obvious crack houses in my community that nobody has busted - including the corner dealer who slings his rock just one block south of the Sheriff's office building. Total shame! (And this assessment is coming from a guy who voted for Lamberti...)

07. Charlie Crist. This guy ran as a moderate and turned into someone so repulsive and pandering that even teabaggers think he's crazy. He's not managed to do much of anything except to strike a severe blow to gay rights and get married to some chick in a
shotgun attempt to prove he's not gay himself. Florida Agenda editor, Dan Renzi wrote a tongue-in-cheek endorsement of Crists ultra-conservative opponent in the upcoming US Senate race in which he stated "Personally, I am rooting for [Marco] Rubio to win the Republican nomination... Crist has sold his soul for conservative votes just to benefit his own career." It must be noted here, that Renzi's "endorsement" of Rubio is at least sarcastic and at most, a hope to see Republicans back themselves into their own corner of shame. The Florida Agenda is a gay newspaper and Rubio is running an anti-gay campaign. But Florida's gays have lost all respect for Charlie Crist because of his support for Amendment 2 and seeing him lose another race to the very people whom he panders to would be bitter-sweet irony.

06. Gay Adoption Ban. Florida is the only state in the USA with a ban on adoption that specifically targets gays and lesbians.
It's unconstitutional, it's wrong and it's hateful. Gay families all over the USA live in fear of this bill becoming a prototype for Nazi-esque family management laws all over the country.

05. Parking issues in South Beach. Every time there is a convention in Miami or South Beach, you are bound to pay hundreds of dollars in tickets, fees or to get your car out of towing (or all 3 simultaneously). City officials have been terrorizing visitors to their lovely haven with the threat of losing their transportation and income to "the system" for far too long. If you want your precious tourism to return, you had better take it easy on us and give us an affordable way to get there.

04. Public officials who live outside their jurisdictions. This issue was brought to my attention by a candidate for mayor of Fort Lauderdale who eventually lost, Earl Rynerson. A great number of city officials in metropolitan areas of Florida do not actually live in the areas that they preside over. This "take the money and run" approach to government is
bleeding our cities dry and decreasing the liklihood that our legislators feel any allegiance to the communities which they supposedly represent. I am currently working on a list of income levels and places of residence for city officials in Fort Lauderdale and I would encourage other Florida bloggers and journalists to keep track of this disparity as well.

03. Hate Crimes. Florida is well on it's way to becoming the Hate Crime Capitol of the nation. Everything from the murder of Ryan Skipper to the
police tasering of an unarmed African American bicyclist in North Florida to the States Attorneys and Sheriffs who flippantly refuse to prosecute hate crimes as such in spite of the new Federal law, The Mathew Shepard Act. For more information, visit Gay American Heroes.

02. Amendment 2. The state of Florida has more targeted anti-gay laws on its books than any other state in the USA - which is ironic considering the number of gays and lesbians who live and vacation here. Gay and Lesbian, NY and European tourism is declining at warp speed from South Florida, the small two-city patch of Florida from which we derive the
upper 35% of our total tax revenue. Businesses are closing and restaurant workers are taking home fewer tips. One major reason for this is because Fort Lauderdale is no longer "where the boys are". Florida has been getting a nasty reputation as the only state that has specifically outlawed both gay adoption and civil unions. Amendment 2, despite the hype from an ultra-conservative group who put it on the ballot, goes far beyond protecting marriage and is a full-scale assault on gays and lesbians. It's much worse than California's Proposition 8 because it outlaws the recognition of civil unions and mandates it's own permanency by requiring that only a super-majority of voters can overturn it. The areas of Florida that voted for Amendment 2 by the highest majority also happen to be the areas from which we recieve the measley lowest amount of tax revenue in the state.

01. Gerrymandering. Here's where I introduce the light at the end of the tunnel. More Floridians (both conservative and liberal) are warming up to the idea of a ballot measure introduced by Fair Districts Florida which would
effectively end Gerrymandering in the sunshine state. The current re-districting policies are probably the one link between all of the 9 problems listed above and a whole slew of other problems including corruption and cronyism. We can all agree that Florida is sick of hateful Republicans and corrupt Democrats. The Fair Districts Florida ballot measure is a way for us to give power back to the voters and to restore confidence in our swing state. We used to be the spotlight of the nation during our elections and our impact on the USA was envied. But in the last few elections we were an embarrassment to our country. We allowed George HW Bush's Supreme Court to elect his son to the Presidency in 2000 and we allowed our state legislators to take away our ability to participate in the Presidential primary election of '08. It's time to take back our state and tell our legislators that we would like to stop being forced to vote for the lesser of two evils in every election. The Fair Districts Florida ballot measure is the way to go!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Coming Out Part 1: Transgender F2M in College

Coming out of the closet is a process that is getting less and less press these days even though homophobia seems to be on the rise. I decided to start doing little bios occasionally on folks who are out of the closet at work and school. In this way, I can really use social networking for its ultimate purpose and hopefully, give my gay brethren a few words of encouragement along the way. The first person (and so far, the only one) to respond to my request for their perspectives on coming out of the closet is someone that I met and instantly admired as a girl but who is now a guy and I still admire him very much. Mason understood right away what my motivation was in wanting to bring the coming out process back into our consciousness. “I’ve definitely heard stories of people being very obviously fired for their identity and having no recourse. Sad as it is, sometimes it just isn’t possible to be out safely,” he warns.

Mason Strand was once a soft-spoken Midwestern girl, who went through a large part of his outwardly transformative process in NYC and has recently settled back in Chicago-land. But he has always been a student of the arts for as long as I’ve known him. The most difficult part in accepting my friend’s transgender status has been remembering to say “he” instead of “she” because, ultimately, in my mind, Mason hasn’t really “changed” but rather just expressed more outwardly who he really feels like on the inside. But also, until Mason, who has been a family friend for quite some time, came out as transgender, I had no frame of reference for this sort of thing. Being gay does not automatically give someone an innate perspective on all matters relating to sexuality.

Mason describes it this way:
“I experience and think of my entire queer identity as political, and I think a big part of that is not letting people get by with the “gay (or trans) people are just like us” thing. Some LGBTQ people are like straight people, but some aren’t, and shouldn’t have to be. Even though I’m male and date women, I’m nothing like you’re typical straight dude, and in fact don’t identify as straight, because no part of my sexuality fits into the ideas of what “straight” is. By being out, I queer even what people’s idea of a man is.”
Seeing his identity as being political is something that I can certainly relate to as an activist of sorts. I suppose if we’re being honest, gays and lesbians seem to have a choice in whether or not to pursue the politics of our culture but we really don’t. Politics in America eventually comes knocking for all of us, because, as the feminist mantra goes – the personal is political.

Let’s, for the sake of clarity though, offer the rest of Mason’s thoughts on coming out in Q & A format:

FS: What made you decide to come out at school?

Mason: I feel like saying you’re “out” is something of a contradiction or a misnomer, because you can never really be completely out – you’re continually having to come out to people, because you’re continually meeting new people. And so you’re making these decisions every day: who do I tell? Have I known this person long enough? Will this affect our ability to work together?

The fact that I work on a campus makes it so that I am out in certain circles, while other people have no idea. It isn’t that I’m hiding it at all – I started and continue to run a group on campus for transgender students that has a pretty visible presence – it’s just that with some people that I see infrequently it simply hasn’t come up. It’s also a little different for me because, as an ftm I’m often perceived as a gay man. So even if I’m not out as trans, I feel that I’m often perceived as queer one way or another, and that makes me glad. I think that straight people feeling the presence of LGBTQ people is important because it helps them remember that we aren’t just the people they make jokes about, or the funny sidekicks on TV. We’re real, whole people, who are infinitely varied and complex. This is a big part of why I want to be out.

Additionally, I feel like it’s important for me to be out at work and at school (which are the same place for me) because I’m interested in working in and for the LGBTQ community, and I think that necessitates a willingness to be upfront about your identity. I can’t run a group for trans kids on campus, or advocate for our rights if I’m not willing to tell people that I’m transgender.

FS: Has your “coming out” experience been overall, a good one or a bad one?

Mason: Overall my experience of being out has been very good. I’ve actually not had any negative reactions, and have experienced nothing but support and acceptance. I know that this makes me very privileged and fortunate, and the fact that I work at a big liberal university in a large city has a lot to do with this. But, that said, the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in my life was when I was stealth (passing as male without disclosing my transgender identity) in a workplace. I was miserable and paranoid about being “found out.” Some people are perfectly happy being stealth all the time, but it makes me feel really icky (to use a technical term).

FS: What sort of work or school are you involved in and what special talents or appeal can GLBT persons offer to your line of work or education?

Mason: I work in the Center for Interreligious Engagement at the University I attend, where I’m also getting a Master’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies (my BA was in Film). I think that LGBTQ people are so incredibly valuable in a University environment because, for a lot of people, it’s the first time they’re really able to be out, and the first thing they’re looking for is a supportive community. My university happens to have a really high LGBTQ population, both in the staff and faculty and in the student body. This makes the campus a really great environment, because everywhere you go, you’re bumping into “family.” Even the Center I work at, which you would think would be conservative, is run by an awesome, progressive gay man, and does remarkable, thoughtful programming. I think that any person who has been marginalized tends to understand the world in a very different way, and has the potential to have a great, deep compassion for others who have encountered oppression. So that is something that I think LGBTQ people can be really great at, though I think it’s important to realize how interconnected all oppression is.

Additionally, I think that, on a Campus, whether you’re a student or an employee, there is a lot that you can do for LGBTQ students. Your presence and your work can inspire people to further explore their identity, and to feel empowered. It’s also great in that, if there’s something you don’t like at the school – a policy or the way something is run - you can work to change it. I think of it as practice for engaging the government once you get out of school (although you can, of course, do that while in school as well).

FS: If you could offer advice for anyone else who is thinking of coming out of the closet, what would that entail?

Mason: My honest advice for someone on coming out is to start small, especially if you are nervous about it at all. Tell a few people that you can trust, and work up from there. That way, if you ever do encounter any problems, you’ll know you have someone to back you up. I would also advise knowing what your rights are in the workplace, like whether there are anti-discrimination laws for lesbians and gays, or for trans people (because sometimes it only covers the LGB and not the T). These are different for every state, and I’ve definitely heard stories of people being very obviously fired for their identity and having no recourse. Sad as it is, sometimes it just isn’t possible to be out safely. But, if it’s possible, and you want to do it, I would advise people to be out in school and work, simply because it is so freeing, and everyone deserves to get to be their full selves in all parts of their life.

Their FULL selves… in ALL parts of their life… There’s a novel idea. I wonder if anyone in America can be themselves 24 hours a day anymore. We all wear so many hats and it seems as though the entire nation might be stricken with multiple personality disorder. Can a Christian teacher really be a Christian at a University? Maybe if they work at a religious school… Can a gay male athlete be himself while vying for placement on a college team? Can an HIV positive woman really be frank with her co-workers while she is covered by the company insurance? Can a Republican candidate admit to thinking that Equality is a worthy endeavor? I’d like to think that eventually the answer to all these questions will be “yes we can”. But for now, we just don’t know, do we?

One thing that certainly helps to ease the mind is knowing that people like Mason are out there, every day and in every state and every metropolitan area – being themselves to the best of their ability.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sex Scandals In The Media – Something’s Gotta Give

One of the most curious entrances the GLBT community has had into the American political sphere was when a gay sex website called became a political hot potato during the 2008 Presidential race.

In a condensed version of the story, the trouble started when gay activists learned that the popular “hook-up” website had donated the maximum allowed to Republican candidate John McCain. The larger gay community, usually assumed to vote Democratic, felt as though they had been betrayed by the website and that their membership fees were going toward their own political demise. The story became exponentially more complicated when conservatives had their own problems with the news. They wanted to know how their Republican candidate could justify using money from a gay sex website and still be considered morally sound.

In the end, attempted to regain some of their fiercely Democratic customer base by issuing statements, firing people and even making an equal donation to the Campaign for Change. But their donations were returned from both Presidential campaigns and then Manhunt users were left with an even weightier question: Why are political candidates so fearful of accepting money or words of support from the adult industry?

Perhaps the answer to that question can be found in a would-be scandal that I call “Bondage-Gate”. In the Fort Lauderdale Mayoral race of 2009, Fox News decided to get involved by releasing a “news story” about one of the 3 leading candidates, Earl Rynerson.

Rynerson was one of two openly gay candidates for Mayor running against another Democrat who eventually won - Jack Seiler. Rynerson’s campaign was rather slow compared to his opponents, so on some level, the controversy brought him a bit of attention, but it wasn’t the kind of attention he wanted. According to Fox News (who had gone digging through his old credit card receipts), Rynerson had rented pornography and bought a lifetime membership to an internet bondage website a few years ago. Fox News has since removed the inflammatory piece from all their websites, the election is over and both Rynerson and Trantalis (the other gay candidate) lost the election.

However, there are two internet websites which found value in keeping the article online. A neo-NAZI website operating out of West Palm Beach (the infamous keeps the story up, as well as a similarly fascist anti-gay website called These websites use the story as a platform to show their readers that those “filthy” gay people should not be elected to public office because they will supposedly “turn the office into a sexual playground”. But according to an ABC poll (in which less than 5% of the people polled were GLBT), a whopping 12 percent of Americans are already having sex in the workplace, literally… on the clock.

Now, even the most prudish among us can see that there a number of problems with this sort of smear campaign. First and foremost, it’s just not a big deal. Pornography made by consenting adults is just not quite the political pipe bomb it used to be back in the 60’s and 70’s. In fact, the heavily Mormon population of Salt Lake City Utah has been found to consume more internet pornography than any other place in America. Let the record show that even as I write this post, I have a second window open with some very naughty things going on… and yes, I’m very much ok with that.

Secondly, these kinds of non-news stories only serve to divert our attention away from bigger issues and real life “sex problems” that people face. Perhaps nobody remembers that there was a much more serious Floridian political sex problem in late 2007 that actually involved murder and suicide. You might not be familiar with this story, because to my knowledge, the only person who covered it was Pam Spaulding on her blog.

According to PamsHouseBlend:

* the bodies of Republican political consultant Ralph Gonzalez, 39, president of The Strategum Group, his roommate David Abrami and "a friend," Jason Robert Drake, were found in the house of Ralph Gonzalez.

* Gonzalez served with the Republican Party of Florida's House Campaign Division and executive director of the Georgia Republican Party and counted the Alabama Republican Legislative Committee as a client, producing an anti-gay flier accusing a Dem candidate of supporting marriage equality.

* A newspaper, Florida Today, initially reported that there were signs of a struggle, printing "Lovers' fight may have sparked three deaths" as its headline. The paper later scrubbed any references to a love triangle.

Now, these are the sorts of sex-scandals that we need to hear more about because they present the cold hard truth about the society we live in. These poor guys would rather kill each other and commit suicide than come out of the closet and admit to their Republican colleagues that they are gay. Yet, the mainstream media would rather focus on the non-story of a South Carolina Deputy Assistant DA who committed the heinous crime of being caught with sex toys in his SUV. He was not using the sex toys in his car and from what has been reported, the toys and a single tablet of Viagra were not even visible from outside the vehicle when police pulled him over. The Assistant DA was flogged by the media and then fired from his job even though no crime had been committed. The big question we should be asking here is why a man deserves to lose his entire livelihood over the possession of perfectly legal items in the privacy of his own property. But absolutely NOBODY in the mainstream media has raised this question in relation Roland Corning’s non-scandal.

America has hang-ups when it comes to sexuality. The human mind is capable of going to some very dark places and when we can’t even admit that we enjoy sex, the dark recesses of our minds begin to consume the entire landscape of our thinking… leading to sex addiction, sinister behavior and yes… even victimizing children.

I would put forth to any Fascist organization (Stormfront, AmericansForTruth, NARTH) which demonize the expression of sexuality that THEY are responsible for every child who has been harmed and every life that has been taken by the inability to receive mental help in terms of self-acceptance and release from the pseudo-religious dogma we have come to call “group-think”. Predators go undetected and parents are left without the necessary resources to raise their children with awareness and dignity.

This “disease” of sexual dishonesty is not just one for politicians, although they seem to be the most inflicted. A good majority of Americans are living in the psycho-sexual dark ages according to just about every world survey on sexual dysfunction. Unfortunately, in our tabloid-centric society, nobody is learning "the moral of the story" anymore. Rarely is the opinion presented these days which reflects that "the problem isn't the sex they're having, it's the lying about it."

Even so, the lies and cover-ups of everyone from Carrie Prejean to John Edwards really amount to people who are trying so desperately to protect the sanctuary of their private lives from the monster created by their media-induced public image. Can you blame them?

They don't owe us any explanations, really. We should concern ourselves with more important matters. That's the real "moral of the story."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Planning and Executing a Political Demonstration

In Brief: This post describes how to think of protests and activism in ways that are beneficial to your cause. It is meant as a forward to the list of 10 ways to make your protest a good one.

Having taken part in dozens of political protests and demonstrations over the past 8 years or so, I have noticed some things that work very effectively and some things that just don’t fly. Particularly in terms of gay rights advocacy, there is a problem with a lot of our demonstrations and protests in that the persons who are most inclined to participate have not been armed with a solid understanding of the advocacy process. Furthermore, many people don’t even understand the issues at hand but they know they are angry and they know that there is injustice somewhere so they get involved before they are ready. Lastly, they fail to narrow their myriad of causes and issues down to one simple and effective message or goal.

My aim in this post, no matter what your political stripes, is to give you some advice on how to handle your protests, rallies and demonstrations in a way that encourages understanding of your point of view and doesn’t become a moment of contention between only you and your peers.

I have always believed that there is a secret understanding that political activists have of each other. This empathy extends even to their arch nemesis on the other side of the picket line. Political activists are very fiery, imaginative and independent people. They can be clever, even wickedly so… But they also have family and friends that they love and wish to protect. They are loyalists to an ideology but they generally have a modicum of respect for public health and safety. Two rival activists will often have respect for each other and sometimes even feel almost kindred, as though they might have been friends in another life. This is because both of them know what it’s like to be outsiders looking in… they are the rogue cowboys and Indians who battle over a new frontier ahead of all of their peers.

Most people don’t like to get involved with political protests – and they don’t always think very fondly of those of us who do. They are afraid that their boss will see them on the nightly news and fire them the next morning. In some cases, this is a realistic fear but in most cases, it’s very pessimistic and a little bit paranoid. Perhaps you will see your boss’s daughter at the event… and even on YOUR side of the issue! I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard naysayers reason that they can’t get involved because they have “real life” to contend with. Well, I’ve got news for them: We activists are the creators of their “real life” as it will be tomorrow. We are not “the sheep” even though that is usually the metaphor chosen to describe us by our nemeses.

Having said that, there is a certain amount of “herding” that goes into organizing a demonstration or protest and a good shepherd will not let his flock be embarrassed and sent home feeling unaccomplished. A person’s self esteem can be greatly enhanced or diminished after participating in political advocacy. We all have an interest in making sure that nobody (not even our so-called enemy) feels too bad about partaking in their American right to free speech.

I have put together this list of 10 Steps to Make Your Protest or Demonstration a Good One to use as a reference if you are just beginning your involvement with public activism.

10 Steps to Make Your Protest or Demonstration a Good One

In Brief: In this post, I describe some simple best practices when organizing a political demonstration, and help the reader to spot potential problems that may occur within their current structure.

To read my forward about why this list is so important and what's wrong with political advocacy today, click here.

  1. Learn as much as you can about YOUR side of the issue. Too many people get all worked up about what other people are saying and doing. They don’t take the time to understand the facts and feelings put forth by their own side of the debate. For instance, in a gay rights rally, you will rarely find an advocate that knows how many soldiers have been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

  2. Ignore the media. I know that might come as a shock to a lot of people because they believe in that old adage that “the media controls the message” but it’s simply not true. The media is lawless and crazy in America and they control THEIR message… which is often in stark contrast with what you may believe as a concerned citizen. The media will be impressed with your actions if they are interesting and well-planned but they cannot be counted on to side with you or even be compassionate toward your point of view. What’s MOST important is communicating to the people passing by in cars and those whom you can talk face-to-face with. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. You can be more effective in changing one person’s mind through careful dialogue than you can by instigating thousands to react without reason.

  3. Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.). There are certain events (like the National Equality March in DC back in October ‘08) where it is very effective to bring a number of similar issues together under one big banner. But most activism that a person can take part in will be on a much smaller scale with less funding and support. You need to pick just one small issue and tackle that. Narrow your message down to just one goal and go from there. For instance, if your idea is to “empower the religious community” then you are going to have problems because everyone has a different religion and they don’t want each other to be more empowered… But if you wanted to plan a demonstration called “Baptists for Repealing Amendment 2” then that could be far more effective.

  4. Be nice to police officers and security. This needs very little explanation. These folks have a job to do and they don’t make the rules. You can’t let your fear of authority taint your view of the men and women who have been assigned to keep you safe. Sure, there is always that egotistical jerk that is just aching to use his or her taser but usually you are dealing with a regular Joe who just wants to make sure nobody blows anything up.

  5. Leave your vanity at home. All too often a demonstration goes sour because some idiot wants to play king or queen for a day and turns your activities into a lime light for themselves. I have not yet found a way to get rid of these people but I know better than to become one of them.

  6. Be tolerant of diversity but do not worship it. What I mean by this is that it’s ok if you and your peers all feel the same way about something and have a similar ideology. For instance, at a gay pride parade, you will see drag queens, circuit boys, political activists, religious leaders and sexual fetishes all displayed in the middle of the street. This is fine for a celebratory kind of environment but it does not send a clear message to anyone and does little to advance your philosophy on the national stage.

  7. Bring at least one member of your family or a close friend with you. Do whatever it takes to convince them to participate. It will be a momentous experience that they can be proud of for the rest of their lives. I don’t know how I could function without the knowledge that I have been part of a movement of people who fought for what was right. I pity anyone who has never held a picket sign or a megaphone.

  8. Figure out whether you’re participating in a protest or a demonstration or a rally. There is a major difference between protests and demonstrations. The term “protest” should only be used if you are specifically standing AGAINST the actions of a person, group, business or government entity. In that case, your motivation is to get them to stop their evil ways and you have more freedom to be angry and outrageous (as long as you’re abiding by the laws). In a protest, it is perfectly ok to use strong language and show that you mean business. But a rally or a demonstration is quite different because, in this case, the point is to advance your own cause. You will want to be pleasant and attractive. You will want to convince people to join you and identify with you. In the case of a rally FOR a cause, you will need the help of politicians and upstanding citizens who have reputations to uphold. The tone changes drastically when your motivation is to attract rather than to shock or scare. Both kinds of activism are valid and useful, but you have to know the difference. In my opinion, this is what failed with “the tea party movement”. They failed to decide whether their aim was to scare people or attract them. They weren’t clear in whether they were against Obama or rather FOR one of the many politicians who were involved. The combination of pandering and protesting did not mix very well in people’s perception of the movement.

  9. Decide on your role and stick to that. In every engagement, you will need a person or committee (depending on your size) to handle one of the following tasks: Designing pamphlets and signs, a media contact or liaison (the person who most understands the issues), a visible speaker/leader, a host to provide beverages and moral support, sign holders, pre-event promotion, a transportation/RSVP coordinator and a couple of people who are willing to chip in for the costs involved.

  10. Don’t let other organizers dilute your message and don’t do that to other people’s demonstrations either. Time and time again, someone will attempt to rally around an issue but it will get away from them and become something foreign and meaningless because of some type-A, egomaniacal opportunist who sees their cause as another chance to step in front of a camera for their own organization or self-promotion. You have to encourage supporters to get behind the issue because it’s important. Remind everyone of exactly what your mission is and thank them often for their participation. If you think that signs promoting another idea or concept are going to disrupt your message, don’t be afraid to tell someone nicely that you would rather they leave those particular signs at home. But you MUST have clearly legible signs with simple, catchy phrases or else it’s your fault if other people’s messages detract from your own. A protest sign should have no more than 8 words on it and be printed boldly enough that it can be read by a passenger in a car at least 40 feet away. And well designed literature like pamphlets, postcards and brochures are an EXCELLENT way to get your message out there without having to be a perfect spokesperson for your cause.

If there were to be an 11th rule here, it would be to expect steps 1-10 to fall apart before your very eyes no matter what you do. I have seen countless protests, rallies and demonstrations over the years and every single one of them has had its own unique flavor and set of challenges. The important thing is that you accomplish your mission or goal to some degree. If your goal is a realistic one, you have better chances. You must have a satisfactory outcome in mind when engaging in any political action. If your only motivation is to be a rabble-rouser, then you are what I call an "aww", a cute little acronym which I've coined to mean "angry with the world". Nothing can really be done for these people except to simply sigh in sympathy for them... "aww"...

Barring that, you must try to hold on to your dignity and sanity in the process. Political activism starts from a place of personal strife, trials and tribulations. From this anxiety is born a movement. But just because you put in the blood, sweat and tears does not mean that God, society or your local government is going to give a hoot. After the engagement is over, you will have to go back home and live with yourself. You must practice some acceptance of your friends, co-conspirators and even your opposition, because without them, you are reduced to being that crazy person who yells at traffic for no apparent reason.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Confession of Ignorance

In short: I describe the need for more education in America on the fundamentals or basics of our nation's economy and I blame the mainstream media for failing to provide even the most rudimentary understanding of economic events.

Ok, so this morning I was reading an article in the Washington Post (described by readers in the comments section as "insipid") about Neel Kashkari, the hapless guy who dreamed up the bailouts under Secretary Paulsen and now chops his own wood for his fireplace.

If Laura Blumenfeld, the author of the article, meant to anger Americans with her descriptions of how he and his wife are "coping" and "detoxing from Washington" in their little cabin in the woods with their dogs, then she accomplished her goal. But there was no education involved in the piece.

At one point, she offers defensively that the Kashkaris actually took a pay cut to move from CA to DC and that the TARP funds were not used for personal gain. But that's the only line in the 1400 word memoir that serves to educate the public. And I'm not confident that the author would know these things for sure.

Let's go back to a couple weeks ago where MSNBC was interviewing hillbillies at a Sarah Palin book signing in order to highlight their ignorance of world affairs... The reporter grilled one girl (about 25 years old) who was wearing an anti-bailout T-shirt and when the poor girl confirmed that she thought Sarah was against the bailouts too, the axe fell swiftly and Democrats cheered.

However, we are ALL like that misguided girl in the stupid T-shirt. None of us know what's going on. While I applaud MSNBC for having the brass to show us that huge crowds of people can all be wrong about something (or everything), I would also appreciate a little bit of information I can use. I had no idea whether Sarah Palin was trained to offer an opinion on the bailouts or not... So the only difference between myself and "the stupid girl" is that I don't particularly like Sarah Palin and I don't wear T-Shirts with slogans on them.

I took an Economics class in high school where I learned how to sign over a check to my mom if I wanted to. Many years later, I took a Macro-Econ class in college and I learned (roughly) what the Dow index is used for. Nobody is there to explain why TARP was necessary (if in fact, it was) and nobody is there to explain the differences and similarities between capitalism and socialism to us (unless they happen to be a capitalist or socialist themselves and wish to spread a bit of propaganda).

We have become so sharply divided in politics but at the same time we know next to nothing about the gears in the machine itself. We push flashing buttons and hope for the best. The best education we can get on economic matters are little quips we hear in the news like "congress holds the purse strings" but those are misleading in their over-simplification.

Perhaps the saddest thing about Obama's first year in office is our nations gradual understanding that nothing had really changed in the heart of America's economy and that all the same players are still doing things as they've been done all along. I think that even some Republicans were secretly hoping that Obama would shake things up and we would get to war over socialism vs. capitalism in some apocalyptic battle for America... In fact, I KNOW some Republicans were hoping and planning for this battle - they are now called teabaggers.

But alas, even Michael Moore could not reach Paulsen by phone and so Moore's documentary on capitalism fell short of being touted as "Fahrenheit 2.0". Even more to the point, Elizabeth Warren just looked pathetic in Moore's movie. A brilliant Harvard educator who had crucified the credit card industry in a better documentary has now been reduced, thanks to her Obama appointment, to some kind of hermit in a windowless office somewhere in DC with no real way to influence anything anymore. Thanks Michael Moore - we can always count on you to slay the dragon.

Let this post be read as a plea to math and history teachers everywhere to find for your students ways to understand our nation's economy which allow room for dialogue. There is really no point in understanding math or history in America without talking about the economy. I don't even think the treasury was mentioned in my high school American History book. How sad is that?

If anyone would care to offer some links in the comments section to any educational websites which can help us gain an elementary understanding of current economic issues, we're all ears and eyes!