Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 15: Wickid Big Government

          Is it just me or does watching coverage of the devastation in New York bring back haunting memories of September, 2001?  It's such a surprise to remember that a place with so much muscle can be as vulnerable as it is.  And this time at the mercy of nothing more than weather.  When I think about the experience of having a baby sick in the hospital (that will be tomorrow's post so stay tuned), I remember how exhausting it was.  How it just took all of our brainpower to make the right decisions that would keep our kid alive.  When I superimpose upon that experience Super Storm Sandy conditions--no power, no transportation, 85 mile an hour winds, streets flooded with water, sideways rain--and imagine my baby about to be carried down nine flights of stairs to an ambulance, and then to a different hospital, and through hallways a mile long, and elevators, and another room that needs to be cleaned before we can settle in...  Honestly, if I could give my heart to the parents of those children I just might do it.  Because I can't imagine theirs will last much longer than the generators.
         I grew up on the East Coast and remember only two hurricanes to speak of from my youth.  They were called Gloria and Bob.  Having never lived through a hurricane before, I was a little anxious about Gloria's arrival.  My mother comforted me with stories of the only really big hurricane she could remember in her lifetime.  That one was called Carol and it touched down in 1954.  And of course there are pictures of me beside towers of snow during the Blizzard of '78.  And my dad always talks about the Blizzard of '88 when his grandparents came over from Ireland.  That's 1888.
          So, I'm not a meteorologist, or historian, or climate scientist, but I do have a really good memory.  And by my count the number of natural disasters that have befallen our country during the life of my nine-year-old daughter outnumber all the rest that occurred during my lifetime plus those passed on through oral folklore from the entire previous century.
          I'm not kidding myself, I know I'm not the first person to notice all this, but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway: seems like this is a trend.
          And as tempting as it is, I'm not going to tell you that Mitt Romney is so dumb he hasn't picked up on this trend and is going to throw FEMA in the dumpster with our big yellow-feathered friend.  He did seem to say something to that effect (see the transcript) but that was a year and a half ago.  And as tempting as it is, I'm not going to say that Mitt Romney could easily change his mind six times since June 2011, so there's no need to fear he'd get rid of FEMA.  I'm not going to say those things, because I don't actually think they are the real problem.
          Because the problem is not mind-changing.  Mind-changing can be a sign of growth after all.  And I want a president who can grow.  The real problem, as I see it, is always looking around to figure out what's popular instead of what's necessary.  Romney's position changes don't hint at growth; they speak more about the crowd he's talking to, or the State he's running in, or which part of the Party he's trying to win over on any given day.  And so it's a problem that we don't know what he really stands for other than wanting to be President.  But the bigger problem is that we have every reason to believe he will govern with the same haphazard and shortsightedness that he campaigns with.  That he will be for the military when he is with the military and the teachers when he's with the teachers and for ending pre-existing condition exclusions when he's with the voters and for keeping them when he's with the insurance companies.  That he will cut FEMA when he wants to look like a guy who knows how to trim a budget, and praise FEMA when they're heroically rescuing half as many people as they could have if they'd had a budget to cover the equipment and staffing they needed.
          My partner, Darling Virgo, works for Columbus Public Health, where she tells me there are rooms full of meticulously packed emergency kits.  Bunches of them.  And every year items in those kits are replaced because the expiration dates have passed.  And there are people whose job it is to think about those kits.  To think about whether the supplies could be packed in a way that would make the kits ten seconds more convenient for the person who will someday need to use them.  And whether those bins could be stacked in a way that would allow them to be shipped out the door more quickly.  And the Department has days where the entire staff responds to simulated emergencies, with hundreds of people role-playing possible different scenarios.  So they can practice.
          This is (as we would say back in my home state of Massachusetts): Wickid Big Government.  I mean, you don't get bigger government than stacks of annually replaced unused supplies, right?  And this is just in one city.  Imagine how many stacks of annually replaced unused supplies there are in this entire country?  It's enough to cause a Republican aneurism.   I mean, it just might be the least popular use of tax payer dollars ever. But here's the thing: that's what it takes to do it right.
          We don't always know when disasters, natural or otherwise, are going to strike.  One day New York City looks like the proudest place on Earth, and the next it looks the most humble.  If we don't have a government that shows up ready everyday, then we won't have a government that shows up ready on the day.
          For sure, President Obama has not delivered everything he promised.  But if he has proven anything, it's that he's got some serious multi-tasking game.  Two wars to end, an economy with a seized engine to replace, millions of people without access to health care... and he has kept everything moving forward.  That kind of leadership doesn't come from short-sightedness.  It comes from peripheral vision.
          So I've got my tornado supplies in the basement.  Fifteen gallons of water.  Piles of canned food.  Can opener.  Crank flashlights.  And a mattress.  But I may need someone to dig me out, and I want it to be someone who has his head in the game, not the polls. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 14: The shifting coordinates of women's health.

          I've never been the victim of rape, but I have dear friends who are not so lucky.  And these friends have taught me a thing or two during this election cycle.  While the rest of us gawk as would-be Senators opine about the hypotheticals of a woman’s body’s response to rape or the point at which God is present in the pregnancy resulting from a rape, while we forward on rape-related sound bites and articles and memes, these friends have been cringing in real-time pain, every time they see or hear the word: rape.  They’ve been tuning out the news, turning off their Facebook feeds, knowing there’s just no way to predict when that word will jump back out at them during this despicable open-mic-on-women’s-bodies election season.
          Rape, like poverty and unemployment and pre-existing conditions, is a real thing that happens to real people.  You don't just get to talk about it to rile us up.  To make some people angry and rally others to your side.  You may not use it for shock value or distraction.  And you are certainly not allowed to bounce it all about the vast landscape of American media, especially if you are endowed with the power to legislate.  Because anyone who would toss this word about so cavalierly, may feel just qualified enough, just entitled enough, to limit the right of rape victims to do whatever it is they must to survive.
          And if Mitt Romney, the apparent leader of the Republican Party, is so interested in being President that he’s not willing to stand up to these ignorance-wielding legislators, then we can’t afford to have him anywhere near The Oval Office.
          Because look what has happened, even as almost everyone gawks at the audacity of Ted Akin and Robert Murdoch, we are letting them succeed in pulling the vertex of the abortion rights conversation to their coordinates.  Because now, instead of standing strong in the 39-year-old right of any woman to control the medical destiny of her own uterus, we are filling up the air waves with incensed arguments about why it’s important to preserve this right for women who have been the victim of rape and incest.  See that?  See how they did that?  How we're all so caught up laughing at them for making such politically unpopular and bogus statements just days before the election that we don't even realize what they've done: taken us off our work of protecting the right of all women to control their medical decisions.  Preserving the right for all women to go to the doctor's office without bringing along the House of Representatives.
          This series of mine is supposed to be about ways the Obama administration has impacted, or will impact, my family.  And of course the truth is that every woman is at risk of being raped.  My partner, my daughter, and I are no exception.  But that’s not really what I’m concerned with here.  I’m concerned for my friends, and the millions of other Americans who already carry that horrible burden.  They deserve a government with the deepest, most sincere respect for their right to privacy.  A legislative body that would never dream of forcing them to prove they’ve been assaulted in order to end a pregnancy.  A majority party that will set the political agenda so far away from the coordinates of pregnancy-resulting-from-rape, that women need not worry the most traumatic moment of their lives will be batted about for public comment and perusal.
          We have the power to offer these women four years of peace.  Let’s do it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 13: Birth control is for boys too!

          I have to admit, I’m a bit of a prude.  Which makes it hard to talk about all these “women’s” issues.  Because they’re so, you know, intimate.  I mean it’s rough enough to talk about the medical parts of all this--about getting to decide what’s allowed to grow inside our uteruses, and what can implant there to begin with.  But really, when Mitt Romney says he’s in favor of the “Birth Begins At Conception” bills some states are trying to pass, what he’s talking about is limiting the right for heterosexuals to have sex without getting pregnant.  And so, of course, yes, yes, yes, this is a women’s issue; women should have the ability to govern their own bodies.  But we have to admit, when a woman uses birth control medication to prevent pregnancy, two people are generally invested in that outcome.
          So yesterday, when I wrote about envisioning my daughter crammed into her doctor’s office with a bunch of banner waving politicians, I was not telling the whole story.  Because I have sons too.  And maybe someday they’ll experiment with heterosexuality, I don’t know.  But if they do, I want them to have the right to make thoughtful empowering decisions with their partners.  Decisions that nurture their health, well-being, and life pursuits.
          Okay *shudders* that’s the last time I’m going to talk about my sons’ future sex lives for a long, long while.  But honestly, if I don’t feel comfortable talking about the someday intimate moments of my children’s lives, why the hell do legislators feel so comfortable doing the same?  The answer of course, is that they don’t.  They don’t want to run a political campaign against heterosexual sex when they can just shame women instead.
          So I guess it’s for me to shout from the mountain top.  Me at my lesbian prudish best.  I will keep it short and on message:
          Dear heterosexual men, like having sex without making babies?  Vote Obama, Biden in 2012!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 12: One Pro-Life President Away

          When I was 16 I carried a marble in my pocket every day for a month.  It was part of my preparation for Confirmation.  Each time I put my hand in my pocket and it bumped up against the forgotten marble, I was supposed to pray for an unborn child.
          I went to our little Catholic church religiously (as they say) every Sunday, and I loved it there.  But I was never very confident about the praying part.  So every time my hand bumped up against that marble I would just think to myself,  “Keep that baby alive!  Keep that baby alive!”  Prayer or not, this part felt good to me. 
          See, I don’t come to the issue of abortion with no understanding of those who would like the law and the courts to protect the unborn.  There are birth mothers in my family.  I have witnessed, from very close up, the experience of carrying a child to term, making a plan for adoption, saying goodbye.  And now, of course, I’m an adoptive parent and am overwhelmed by the extraordinary gift I have been offered.  And my children, whom I adore, are grateful for having been conceived, and given birth to, though the heartache that accompanies their lives sometimes swells relentlessly.
          So even though I’ve been on the front lines of the fight to maintain abortion rights.  And even though I was once a clinic defense organizer, standing arm to arm with my feminist friends shouting “This clinic stays open!  This clinic stays open!”  I don’t come to this issue from a polarized place.  I understand the grave concern so many harbor about abortion.  And though I am taught by my sisters in struggle to refer to our foes as “anti-choice,” I rarely do.  I don’t actually believe that people are against abortion because they don’t want women to have a choice.  They are against abortion because they believe in the preservation of that unborn life.
          Still, I have a nine year old daughter.  And soon she will be 13.  And then 17.  And 21.  And 28.  And I think about all those old white men in Congress, with their wide ties and their shirts coming untucked.  And I think about The Supreme Court Justices in those long goofy robes and starched collars.  And I think about our local legislators with their petty personal passions butting into the intimacies of our lives.  And then I see my daughter at 15, at 17, at 22.  I picture her sitting on an examining table in a cold room somewhere, the paper johnny inadequately covering her back.  And then there they are, all those prying, peeping men galloping in on their pride of high horses, scuffing up the sterile floor, breaking down the door, wielding their laws with ignorant audacity.  And then all of my compassion and open-mindedness is gone.  Gone!  Just like that I’m ready to rap on the door of every Romney-signed house I see and scream, “What do you think you’re doing to my daughter?”
          Because imagine.  Imagine not having the right to control when your body conceives.  Imagine not having the right to decide what does or does not grow inside your uterus.  Imagine our daughters growing up without the medical freedoms we’ve taken for granted our entire lives.  What does that mean for my little girl?  How does it compromise her ability to determine her own life path?
          These are the stakes of this election.  I don’t care whose plan to cut the deficit you think will be better.  I don’t care who you think can create 22 million jobs and who can only create 19.  Because we are exactly one pro-life President and one pro-life Supreme Court Justice away from an overturn of Roe V. Wade.  One pro-life President and one pro-life Supreme Court Justice away from coat hangers and back alleys.  One pro-life President and one pro-life Supreme Court Justice away from that 83 percent male Congress galloping over my daughter’s medical autonomy. 
          I understand the desire to protect the unborn.  I am happy to live peacefully with and among my pro-life neighbors.  But I don’t want any of  them anywhere near my daughter’s examination room.  How about you?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 11: The Price of Progress

          So it's true, we don't actually need to achieve marriage equality to get rid of the you're-not-married tax.  And certainly there is some legislative way to extend Social Security benefits to "domestic partners" if that's what we the people demand.   There have been such attempts.  A bill that would have stopped the government from taxing employer paid domestic partner health insurance premiums died in committee last year.   It's conceivable that with the right leadership such a bill could pass fairly easily if it were allowed to come to vote.
          But here's the problem: there is a price to incremental progress.  Quite literally.  Because if the the federal government were to agree that "domestic partners" should be allowed tax free insurance benefits, then there would need to be some sort of domestic partnership license.  Which would be associated with a pile of paperwork proving our financial, if not legal, union.  And there would be a fee associated with this license of course.  And then, someday when equal marriage prevails (which it will, I assure you) there will be another stack of paperwork and another fee to pay so that my rights can be updated.
          Now this sounds petty.  It even sounds petty to me and I'm the one who's saying it.  But think about it.  Every time the government realizes  they've been discriminating against me all these years, I get to pay to advance my rights.  Sound too ridiculus to be true?  Here's an example:

          Nine years ago this week my partner, Darling Virgo, and I were out of state wrapping our arms around sweet baby Hot Shot for the first time.  We were elated to return home (home was Portland, Maine then) to find that a new legal precedent had been set while we were away.  At the time, only one member of a same-sex partnership could adopt a child in Maine.  But while we were off becoming parents, a State Supreme Court decision ruled that two-mom or two-dad families could file for legal co-guardianship.  It stopped short of two-parent adoption, but extended the same rights if we jumped through the extra hoops.
          And of course we were thrilled to jump through those hoops.  So we hired a lawyer to prepare our adoption paperwork (around $1000).  And then we hired her again to prepare the co-guardianship paperwork (another $1000).  And I'm pretty sure we were the happiest parents alive.
          Then guess what happened.  Four years later the State Supreme Court realized they'd been wrong.  Co-guardianship was not enough.  Crazy as it may seem, it turns out they'd been allowing the State to discriminate against all us gays for all those years.  I'm sure they were very sorry about the misunderstanding so they decided to make things right: two parents of the same sex could finally adopt a child together.
          Again we were elated.  Again we were so proud of our State and our Court.  And again we hired a lawyer to prepare the adoption paperwork.  This time the fee was more like $1500 because it was all new legal precedent and the probate judges would be wanting lots of proof that we were indeed both interested in legally attaching ourselves to the child we'd been parenting for four years.
          And the great news is, now we are Hot Shot's parents without question right?  Well, maybe.  I mean, now we live in Ohio where only one parent in a same sex couple is allowed to adopt.  That doesn't undo our rights, but it does make me nervous.  Because you just never really know how someone will interpret the legality of our family.
          So the point here, as I'm sure you can see, is that each time the State realizes they've been grossly discriminating against us, they don't say what I teach my children to say, "Oh, I'm sorry.  What can I do to help you feel better?"  They don't offer to refund the fees for all the legal protection we padded our family with to protect it from oppressive whims.  They don't offer us a freebee this time around since they are the ones who weren't ready to let us adopt back when we asked to.  No.  We are the ones targeted by the discrimination to begin with, and then, quite literally, we are the ones who pay the price of progress.  In this case, we paid to adopt the same child three times, and even still, are never completely sure if our family will be recognized.

          These kinds of examples are aplenty.  There's the legal paperwork to prove we are each other's powers of attorney.  There are the fees we've paid to register as domestic partners.  And then to have a civil union.  And then, finally, to marry, even though that marriage is not recognized.
         And of course I don't really expect the taxpayers to pick up the tab for this process.  But I do expect us, all of us, to remind this government of ours, there already is a legal status that provides couples all of these securities.  Our government already has a way of recognizing two people who depend on each other financially, make important legal decisions for each other, jointly raise children, allow each other to talk to the phone company about their account without signed consent.  It's called marriage.  We could change a thousand laws.  Or we could change one.  It's not hard to see which would be the most efficient and effective.
          I don't know that a second term President Obama will fight to end the Defense of Marriage Act or require the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages.  But I am encouraged by a Democratic Party fired up about equality.  They are, without doubt, the surest bet for monumental, rather than incremental, change.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 10: The Queer Tax Tally

Okay, it's Day 10 and it's time to get out your pencil and paper.

So yesterday I told you about the $2,400 per year the federal government charges Darling Virgo and me because it refuses to recognize our marriage.  Refresher: this is a tax on the portion of my health insurance premium paid by my DV's employer.  So let's say that for the next ten years I work only part time in order to manage the significant needs of our family, and therefore depend on my partner's employer for health insurance.

That's: $2,400 X 10 years = $24,000.

You can put that at the top of your tally sheet: $24,000.

Now let's talk Social Security.  Have you heard of Social Security?  The political third rail.  The most loved social policy in the history of our country.  Well here's the deal about Social Security: it's a better deal for you than it is for me.  See, we all pay into Social Security at the same rate, but we aren't all buying the same product.  You, if you are straight and married, are buying baseline security from retirement 'til death for yourself and your spouse.  I, for the same price, am buying baseline security from retirement 'til death for me.

What does this mean?  It means that if your spouse outlives you, he or she will receive between 75 to 100 percent of your Social Security benefits until he or she dies.  Still got that pencil?

For comparison's sake, let's say:
  • Your professional career is like mine (you feel grateful to have a salary when you do and usually it has covered most of your basic needs);
  • Your Social Security benefit after retirement will be something like $800 per month;
  • You die (God forbid) ten years before your beloved spouse.  

That's: $800 X 75 % X 12 months X 10 years = $72,000 your husband/wife will get to pay 10 years of heat bills and prescription co-pays.

Now let's say:
  • I continue on the same career trajectory;
  • My Social Security benefit after retirement will be something like $800 per month;
  • I die (God forbid) ten years before my beloved partner.

That's: $800 X 0% X 0 months X 0 years = $0 my partner will get to live in a drafty apartment and take periodic trips over the Canadian border to pick up her scrips. 

See what I mean? We're now up to:

                                   $24,000 in you-can't-get-married-taxes
                                + $72,000 Social Security benefits my partner or I will never get
                                   $96,000 Queer Tax

Would you like me to go on?  I could.  Really.  There are plenty more examples.  But I think the point is made: marriage discrimination = significant income siphoned from queer families = effective method of using the gays to pad the tax base.

And when you look at these numbers, when you write them down with your pencil, and add up those columns, and carry the one, can't you just see how they have precisely nothing to do with anyone's church?  Or God.  Or the sacred bond between two human companions.  They don't even have anything to do with love.  Because love doesn't fit on a tally sheet anymore than it fits into legislation.  You can't make a law about love!  There's no way to measure it, or certify it, or tax it, or enforce it.  See, when it comes down to it, the condition of legal marriage has absolutely nothing to do with the sanctity of anything.  It is a legal definition that prescribes how two people must handle their property and interact with various government policies and programs.

So to those who oppose legal marriage on the grounds that our love is profane, I suggest you choose another fight because you will never win this one: you can tax us 'til the cows come home, but we won't stop loving.  To those who are appalled by the queer tax tally sheet: I ask that you take this up with every Romney supporter you meet.  Because here's the thing, I can't afford anything less.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 9: I'm done being fringe.

          I don't usually think of my life as very glamorous.  I mean, it's getting better; I'm not elbow deep in diarrhea anymore.  But I am still making daily trips to the compost heap, and wiping up puddles of urine left in the bathroom by boys with bad aim.  And making dietary-need specific meals for each family member.  And sweeping up heaps of quinoa off the dining room floor.  And mowing the lawn.  And vacuuming dehydrated apple cores out the minivan.  And managing a revolving door of emotional collapses (mostly not my own).  So it's not exactly a luxurious lifestyle.
          But if you ask the IRS they will tell you differently.  They will tell you that I, in my ripped jeans and stinky old t-shirt, am luxury personified.  I am the diamond on the ring.  The dark chocolate hot fudge atop the sundae.  The golden cufflinks fastened tidily at the wrist.  I am fringe.
          See, for the last three years we have been "fortunate" enough that Darling Virgo has worked for employers who offer "domestic partnership" benefits.  So while I have been home wringing the diarrhea out of the cloth diapers, I have had health insurance through her employer.  We pay a portion of the insurance premium, and are always thankful to have it around, especially when I used to get those nasty infections in my finger from all that diaper wringing.  Sounds pretty normal, right?
          But here's the kicker: because we are not married, the federal government considers the money DV's employer pays toward my premium: a fringe benefit.  As if I were the English nanny, and the white-capped maid, and the chipper groundswoman all rolled up into one handsome luxury.  Funny.
          It would be funny if it didn't cost us $200 a month.  That's right.  Every month DV's employer pays $600 toward my insurance premium, and then we pay $200 in taxes on that $600.
          How about that?  How about $2,400 a year we could be saving towards our children's college tuition.  Or our retirement.  Or paying off school loans.  Or buying something we don't need and stimulating the economy.  $2,400 a year!
          And if that weren't crazy enough, Darling Virgo works for the government!  The city government pays $7,200 of my health insurance premium every year, and then, even though the federal government claims to have a stake in making sure everyone's insured, I pay them another $2,400 for... for... for... nothing!  Ultimately my health insurance--something the government wants everyone to have--costs us all $2,400 more than it needs to.
          And why?  The government that considers me a fringe benefit because I am not married to DV is the very same government that refuses to recognize my marriage.  That's why!
          It's like the inverse of a loop hole.
          And I'm all for taxes.  I love taxes.  Because my daughter goes to a really fantastic public school.  And because I find it convenient to drive on paved roads when I do my weekly grocery run.  And because I appreciate fair and accessible voting processes.  And because I'm glad public health nurses like DV are out there helping people get control of their diabetes.  There are a million great ways to spend my tax dollars. 
          But to collect more tax dollars from me because you won't allow me to marry my partner?  That's a crime.  The choice is clear: we can vote to perpetuate this crime, or we can vote to end it.  It might not mean that much to your family, but to mine it means $200 a month.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 8: What if my family was yours?

Here’s the Back Story:

          Darling Virgo and I have been married four times.  It’s true.  Well, sort of true.  I guess I should say we’ve been “married” four times (emphasis on the quotation marks).  The first was in the summer of 2000, just a few days after Howard Dean signed Civil Unions into Vermont law.  We hustled over to Brattleboro that weekend and were the fourteenth couple to “I DO” in front of an old man with long eyebrows who was very happy and very nervous to betroth us in civil unity.  Of course it meant absolutely nothing unless you lived in Vermont, which we didn’t. 
          A few weeks later our families gathered on the Maine coast for a homemade ceremony we officiated ourselves, lest anyone walk away with the misinformation that we were afforded any legal rights. 
          The following spring when the City of Portland, Maine approved a domestic partnership law and we hopped out of bed early to be the first at City Hall the morning it went into affect.  News crews interviewed us all day long even though the only thing we’d gained was the right to pick up each other’s children from the public schools (neither of us had children) and the right to visit each other at the city’s convalescent home (we were 26 years old). 
          But then finally in 2004, the Supreme Court of the State of Massachusetts (where I was born and raised) ruled that marriage discrimination was unconstitutional and that on May 17th, city and town clerks across the land must begin issuing applications for marriage licenses to any two people who requested them.  My mother was beside-herself proud and made sure we were at her house in the woods of Central Massachusetts the night before, so we could all--Darling Virgo, me, baby Hot Shot, and my parents--walk up to our little town hall together in the morning.
          But guess who was Governor of Massachusetts that year.  That’s right: Mitt Romney.  Supposedly in one of his more moderate reincarnations.  But not that week.  No, the week of May 17th, 2004, Mitt Romney was scurrying around being all fiery and outraged, trying to make sure the good straight people of Massachusetts didn’t have to worry about their gay neighbors getting married.  Okay, well maybe they did have to worry about their gay neighbors getting married.  It turned out there wasn’t much ol’ Mitt could do about that.  But at the very least he would stop the out-of-state gays from coming to Massachusetts and spending their money on weddings.  Yes, sure he could do that.  And so Mitt looked and looked for a way to prevent the great gay flood of 2004, and he found it in a 1913 law which required clerks to refuse marriage licenses to those whose home state would not recognize their marriage.  This law was of course written to stop the great interracial marriage flood of 1913 and hadn’t been enforced in decades.  But Governor Romney declared it was time to dust off that old racist law, and he required all the clerks in all the towns and cities in the land to enforce that law.  Most of them did, but some of them didn’t.  Some of them went right on issuing licenses to all who applied.  And so later that week, we made our way to Worcester, Massachusetts, and got married.  Legally married.  And it felt really, really good.  Even though we lived in a State where it wasn’t recognized. 

And now for 2012:

          I was not surprised to learn, last May, that President Obama believes my family deserves the same rights as his.  I know his official statement is that he “evolved” on this issue and has recently come to understand that Separate But Equal doesn’t work in our case either.  My assumption is that, like many politicians, it’s not so much that he has evolved, but that the political climate around him has evolved.  I assume that until now he, and Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton, and many others before and along side them have run on the premise that they love the gays (and our votes,  thank you very much) but need to stop their support just short of equal marriage (so as not to lose everyone else’s votes, thank you very much).
          Like back in my old state of Maine, in 2009, after being elected twice on the insistence that he believed we deserved every right but marriage, Governor John Baldacci was, in the end, proud and happy to sign the equal marriage bill when the legislature placed it before him.  We were not surprised then either.  Elated, but not surprised.
          I’ve become used to politicians using my life as political bate this way.  Some days it’s maddening.  But you just can’t function if you’re mad every day.  And for a long time it has felt like a reasonable way to make progress.  To allow politicians to play both sides of this issue so they can get into office and hopefully, over time, advance the cause of our rights.
          And I’ll tell you, when it happened this year--when the social climate in this country evolved to the point that the Democratic political meteorologists declared it was time, and the sitting President of the United States announced his support for equal marriage--it felt pretty damn good.  Even though I knew it was entirely calculated.  Even though I knew he was doing it because the strategic equations revealed that supporting my rights would win him more votes than it would lose.  It still felt good.
          And it felt like enough.  I didn’t hear our President making any commitments to overturning the Defense of Marriage Act.  Or to making marriage discrimination unconstitutional.  I heard him saying, sort of quietly and thoughtfully, that his kids made him realize gay families were no different than their own.  I didn’t get a sense this was going to be an issue he would run on.  That it would replace “GM is alive and Bin Laden is dead.”  (Which, by the way, I find to be one of the most repulsive rally cries I’ve ever heard.)  I assumed the President’s support of equal marriage would be a little point of note in his record.    Something in small font on the website.  An official stance that would matter to those who went looking for it, but not to be yelled from the mountain top, in case it landed upon the wrong ears.
          So I never dreamed that speaker after speaker at the Democratic National Convention would garner raucous cheers of approval by hollering their insistence that my family’s rights were worth fighting for.  That the Democratic Party was the party of inclusion.  That a vote to re-elect the President was not just a philosophical nod in the direction of equality, but a commitment to actually working for a socially just end to this epic oppression.  I watched the coverage and I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  Couldn’t believe we had gone from being a scapegoat voting block, to being a courted voting block, in just four years.  It’s crazy really.  The kind of crazy that feels really, really, really good.
          But when it finally happens, gaining equal marriage rights won’t just be about feeling really, really good.  This is not, in the end, a self esteem issue.  There are actual everyday ways that equal marriage will change my life.  I will have more posts on this subject in the coming days.  Posts that outline what exactly will change.  But for today I’m just sticking with the emotional journey of this ride.  Because politics are so damn personal this time around, it’s hard to be anything but emotional, so why try? 
          See, right now, the choice between candidates is a choice between someone who may well grant my family the same rights he enjoys, and someone who has worked and will continue to work to make sure I remain without those rights.  This doesn’t put me in an agree-to-disagree kind of place when it comes to making nice with Romney supporters.  When that little ad appears on the right side of my Facebook screen showing me which of my friends “like” Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan, I don’t look at the list of names and think, “well, I guess we have our differences.”  No.  That list of names feels like a hard kick in the stomach.  Can you hear what I’m saying?  I’m saying, seeing your name on that list takes my breath away.  I’m saying “We don’t always agree on politics but we sure had fun in the sandbox back in the day” just doesn’t cut it this time around.  Because this is not like differing health care plans or tax policies where people might disagree about what the actual outcome will be.  This is fact.  Your vote for Mitt Romney is decisively a vote against the well-being of my family.
          Please.  Please.  Read the posts to come in the next couple of days and think about what you would do if my family was yours.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 7: The gift of sight

So I missed a couple days of posts, but not because I don't have more things to say about how the Obama Presidency has made a difference in my life.  What really happened is I stayed up all night Friday planning a kick-ass birthday party for Hot Shot and then Saturday that party kicked me back.  By the time it was over I was lying in bed, completely knocked out by exhaustion and a head cold.  But now I'm back.  Still a little loopy, but no less convinced of what's at stake on November 6.  Anyway, here's day 7:

         I don't know when we're going to have another Black president.  I suspect it won't be for a while.  So I'm going to show my hand a little more tonight and say that our current president can serve our country differently than any of those who preceded him: because he is Black.  Not just because all the little White kids can now look at the Black kid sitting next to them and think, "Hey, he looks like the President!"  Or because all the little Black boys can touch their fuzzy buzz cuts and know their hair feels like the President's hair.  All that is great.  Fantastic.  Revolutionary really.  But there's even more at stake here than the development of our children's racial identities.  (And believe me, I think our children's racial identities are REALLY important.)  So here it is:
          President Obama can see things no other president has been able to see.
          And no, I don't think he has stopped the rising of the oceans, or closed the hole in the ozone, or any of those other things he was chided for suggesting he might be able to do with a Moses-like wave of the staff.   But I do think he has the gift of sight.  He can see what Black people see.
          Now I know I'm stepping out here a little bit because (a) we White folks don't really like to talk about this very much and (b) I'm a White person, so how do I claim to know what Black folks see.  But I'm just going to step right on out there anyway because what I do know, is how racism works.  And not just racism, but any kind of oppression.  It works, in part, because it is invisible to those who benefit from it.  White people don't experience racism, so we have the privilege of believing it might not really exist.
          Here's an example.  I'm a White person who has lived most of my life in predominantly White communities.  And I have always known about studies that show the disparities in health outcomes between White and Black Americans.  I have known that Black Americans have a shorter lifespan than their White counterparts.  I knew these numbers intellectually.  I knew them hypothetically.  But still part of me was willing to believe these disparities really had to do with class.  Or access to health care.  But not race.  At least not entirely.  I was able to fool myself this way until I moved to a predominantly Black community and began to see just how often Black people die.  I didn't know that almost every week I would meet someone who had recently lost a loved one.  To diabetes.  To sickle cell.  To gun violence.  To pregnancy complications.  Men, women.  Middle class, working class, poor.  With health insurance, without.  Twenty years old.  Thirty.  Forty.  Dead.  Not just numbers on a page, but actual people alive one day and dead the next.
          Remember in 2004 when Gwen Ifill asked John Edwards and Dick Cheney what they would do to remedy the rapidly increasing rate of HIV contraction among African American women?  They both answered, quite unapologetically, "Uh, I don't know anything about that, Gwen."  That's what I'm talking about: you can't serve a community if you can't see them.
          The Black American experience is different than the White American experience.  Sometimes its quantifiable, sometimes it isn't.  But nearly always, it's undetectable to the dominant White world.  To the Beltway.  To the Capitol Building.  To the White House.  Except right now, something's different.
          Right now we have a first lady who knows what it feels like to learn that her great, great, great grandmother was sold away from her family at age six.  A first lady who no doubt hugs her young daughters and imagines that tiny little girl forced to leave her parents, to work, thanklessly, likely beaten, probably raped, decidedly not free.  Undoubtedly she is the first first lady who has lived this part of the American story.
          And now when a prominent Black scholar has been arrested for being annoyed that police questioned him for breaking into his own home, we have a President who reflects openly with the press about what might happen if he were to lock himself out of his home.  We have a President who knows the Black man rules.  He knows it doesn't matter if the house is his house; if he tries to mess with the lock he will likely be presumed a burglar.  A White president just can't know that.  Because when we lock ourselves out, we find a window to climb in.  Case closed.  So when we hear about Henry Louis Gates, and his neighbor who called the police, and the officer who made the arrest even after seeing proof that this was indeed Professor Gates' home, it can feel like a freak occurrence.  Like maybe it was because he's Black, or maybe he's just a little paranoid.  But we don't have to worry about those kinds of blind spots right now; we have a President whose vision is not impaired by such a luxury.
          And now, when a volunteer whose duty it is to keep a neighborhood safe, shoots a fifteen-year-old black boy because he has a hood on his head and a bulge in his pocket, we have a President who tells us that if he had a son, he would have looked a lot like that boy.  We have a President who knows it is but for luck (if that's what you want to call it) that he himself has lived long enough to serve this country.  He knows because he has had to be very careful.  My guess is: our Presdient has never opened a bottle of water without paying for it first; never reached into the glove box for the registration without being asked to do so; never climbed in the window of his house; never carried a bag of Skittles in his pocket.  And so he has survived. 
          For the first time ever, the stories and experiences of our President and his family are African American stories.  And for the first time ever, the stories and experiences of African Americans are immediately accessible to the President and his family.   And that, like so many other aspects of this man's presidency, has had an impact on my family.
          Three fifths of my family is Black.  And I don't claim to know what it feels like to be my children, but I do know what if feels like to be their mother.  To teach my daughter about enslavement, about the middle passage, about children separated from their families.  To tell my sons they must not tackle on the playground, even if other kids are tackling, even if everyone's having fun, it doesn't matter: they are not allowed to tackle.  To know our boys could get shot for standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and that the wrong place and time could be anywhere at anytime.  Having a President who can see all this, who knows all this without explanation, who understands the reality of my children's lives, makes a difference.
          I'm not saying we have to re-elect Barack Obama because he's Black.  We have to re-elect him if we think he's done well and will continue to do so.  But it's also true that every person brings something different to their work--skill set, past experience, personality, etc.--and it's legitimate to note that one of these things that differentiates us is our perspective.  By virtue of living a brown-skinned life, this President's point of view allows him to know our country in a way no other President ever has.


          Want another example of the rules of survival for Black men?  Check out W. Kamau Bell's man on the street interviews about New York's "Stop and Frisk" law

Friday, October 19, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 6: It matters.

"I want to know if my hair is just like yours."
          You know, I've always had this dream that I could teach my kids to feel the Earth rotating.  I thought if we never used words like "sunrise" and "sunset," if we never gave them any of that mythical data, they might actually understand that it's us who move.

          "Almost bedtime," I would tell Hot Shot when she was still in diapers.
          "Why?" she'd ask every night.
          "Because it's getting dark," I'd point out.
          "Why?" She was relentless.
          "Because our spot of the Earth has turned away from the Sun."  So was I.
          I wanted this for our kids because I couldn't possibly imagine what it would be like to look up at the sky and not see the Sun moving across it.  To wake up at dawn, paddle out on a lake and feel the planet spin until that distant orange star came into view.  If you could experience the Earth's rotation and it's relative position to the Sun, then what else could you experience?  What else could their little bodies know that I could only take on faith?

          Thus far, my personal-is-political posts have not required faith, or hope.  They've been about quantifiable change we don't just have to believe in, but change we can countTax credits turned into housesDing-Dongs replaced by red leaf lettuce.  Stimulus money sprouting jobs, health care, better roads, and local cantaloupe.  But Obama's presidency has made a significant subjective impact on our family as well.  It's not a result I can capture on a table, or something I can pin to a particular piece of legislation.  But it's probably bigger than that down payment on our house.  Because here's the thing: when our children hear the word "President," they picture a tall skinny man with dimples, and big ears, and brown skin.  He's the only one they've ever known.
          Now I know during his first campaign everyone worked really hard at pretending this election didn't have anything to do with identity politics.  The candidates didn't want it to be about identity politics because Obama didn't want to get pigeonholed as only appealing to Black voters.  And McCain didn't want to get pigeonholed as an establishment white guy.  And Clinton couldn't win with just women on her side.  So they had to stay quiet about all that.  They had to pretend it was just about the economy, or the wars, or whatever else seemed like it ought to be more important than the color of their skin. And the voters?  Well, we all went along with it because we certainly didn't want to think we were choosing our commander-in-cheif based on who had more melanin.  But the fact is, it was exciting.  Thrilling.  Mind blowing.  And when President-Elect Obama walked out on that stage at Grant Park the night of the election, and when Oprah, and Jesse Jackson, and John Lewis stood there among the crowd, tears just pouring down their faces, it was as if Obama walked out on that stage and said,
          "Guess what... I'm Black!"
           And it was as if we all looked up at him, just so very proud of ourselves, and said,
          "Oh good, we thought so!"
          But I was happy to say it then and happy to say it now, it matters to me that our President is Black.  It does.  It matters!  And it matters because when little Jacob Philadelphia in that picture at the top of this post, when little Jacob got the chance to meet the President he whispered,
          "I want to know if my hair feels just like yours."
          See, if it didn't matter, he wouldn't have asked.  If he didn't somehow have the message that hair like his is unusual, or abnormal, or bad... if he didn't already have that feeling, he wouldn't have needed to know if the President's hair was the same as his own.  So it matters.
          And it matters the President is Black because he knows what it feels like to be that boy.  To be little Jacob Philidelphia and feel like you just won't believe the President has hair like yours until you put your hand right on his head.  It matters because President Obama knew just what he needed to do.  He brought his head right down even to Jacob's face and said, "Why don't you touch it and see for yourself?"

          So it turns out to be a losing battle with the Sun thing.  "Sunset" is just so much easier than "our part of the Earth is blah, blah, blah."  And I regularly hear my children saying mythical things like "it's time to get out of bed Mommy.  The sun is up!"
         But it turns out I don't really care.  Because imagine what their brains have the capacity to know that mine do not.  Imagine a generation of White children who look at the President and see a man with hair like that kid they sit next to in class.  Imagine a generation of Black children who look at the President of the United States and see their own hair, and nose, and lips, and skin.  Imagine.
         I don't know about you, but I'll trade in that rotating Sun for a dose of  touch-it-and-see-for-yourself any day of the week.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 5: Stimulus looks like a 3 bedroom ranch

          When the real estate market crashed in September 2008, Darling Virgo and I were in the same position as a lot of Americans.  We had placed all the money saved up during our pre-parenting years (working for nickels at rusty little non-profits) in what seemed like a sound investment: a small three unit building in downtown Portland in which we lived and landlorded.  We bought that building about six months before the peak of the (artificially enhanced) real estate boom, so it's safe to say by the time President Obama took office, our building was worth about 75% of what we paid for it.
          And we wanted to move.
          We'd been planning to move out of state for a while (it's a long story, but if you want to read it, by all means do) except it was hard to suck up our pride--and our savings--and sell that building.  
          By September 2009 we were ready to give it a try.  We put it on the market for what turned out to be a very hopeful price and still had nothing to show for it by the summer of 2010 when we were packing our moving van and heading to beautiful Columbus, Ohio.  We were very absent landlords for a year, busy making life for our small crowd of children in a new city with no family or established friends to lean on. By that winter, I came to dread my Facebook feed, full of people back East posting pictures of delicately falling snow and sled covered hills, knowing that soon my phone would ring with news the plowers had not come to clear out the driveway.  Nor had they de-iced the steps.  Or the sidewalks.  
          When we finally sold the building in June of 2011 it wasn't a short sale, thank God.  But I'll tell you, it wasn't very tall either.  Still, we were relieved to be free of the burden, even though it meant we lost most of our investment and would have start saving for a down payment all over again.  And this time with three children to feed on one income, or two incomes and heaps of child care expenses.
          But then (can somebody please cue up Hail to the Chief?) President Obama's administration had the brilliant idea of getting more cash flowing into the economy by making good on a promise to adoptive parents.
          See, there's a thing called the adoption tax credit.  The federal government reimburses families up to about $10,000 in adoption expenses so that the nation's annual adoption bill does not land entirely on adoptive parents.  The only problem is, it used to take a long time to get the money back.  For one thing, you couldn't claim the credit until the adoption was finalized, which often doesn't happen until the tax year after you've paid all those expenses.  So it could be a good 15 to 18 months before you receive that credit.  But the bigger problem was that if you didn't make enough money to pay $10,000 in taxes, then you didn't get that $10,000 back.  At least not in the first year.  You could file for it up to five years after the adoption, but then if you still hadn't gotten back the full $10,000, you were ineligible to claim the remaining balance.  (See how that works?  The more you earn, the less you pay.)  So for a family like ours who had taken out loans to finance three adoptions in five years, it was starting to look like we would never see more than a third of what we were supposed to be able to claim.
          But starting in 2011, the Obama Administration changed the tax code, as a stimulus measure, and allowed adoptive families to claim the entire amount for every adoption previously finalized.  It didn't matter if you'd passed the five year mark.  It didn't matter how much you owed in taxes.  It didn't matter how many adoption credits you had left to claim.  You. Would. Get. It. All.
          Can you imagine?
          This is what stimulus looks like folks.  This is genius economic policy.  Because the people who benefited from this change in tax code are not people who can take that money and shelve it in a 401K.  If they were, they would have collected that tax credit in entirety the first year.  By definition, the families affected by this change are the families who have enough rainy day projects backed up to fill a new Great Lake.
          And here was the proof.  Suddenly my Facebook feed was full of adoptive parents with plans.  Replace the hot water heater!  New carpet in the living room! Insulation in the walls!  Aw hell, we're going to Disney World!  
          For my family, this stimulus measure looked like a down payment on a three bedroom ranch across the street from our favorite public elementary school in Columbus.  It looked like a chance to start over, to rebuild what we had lost.
          And it felt like someone was listening.  Like someone was working pretty damn hard to find every avenue, every tunnel, every means of helping folks like us get back up.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 4: Serving up fresh, local stimulus!

          When Hot Shot, our daughter, started kindergarten in the Portland Public Schools in the fall of 2009, guess what she got: a great teacher, a kick-ass best friend, and a morning snack of fresh fruits and vegetables grown at local farms.
          "Fresh fruits and vegetables grown at local farms?" you ask.  "How is that possible?"
          I'll give you a hint.  It starts with the letter S.
          Yes, that's right!  Can we all say it together boys and girls?  S is for Stimulus.
          Those were your tax dollars, sent directly from The Stimulus Plan to the Portland Public Schools so they could support local farms and feed students healthy morning snacks to get their brains and bodies growing.  It was the stated goal of the Schools not just to feed kids and support farms, but to expose kids to a variety of fruits and vegetables and, in so doing, expand the spectrum of healthy foods those kids are willing to eat.  Studies show that kids need to try a new food 10 to 15 times before their taste buds become acclimated to it.
          Hot Shot came home from school regularly saying, "did you know most kids in my class had never eaten cantaloupe?"  Or honeydew?  Or zucchini?  Or cauliflower?  Compare this to the number of times those same kids have eaten potato chips or Hostess cupcakes, or Mountain Dew.   As I see it, a little government sponsored affirmative action program for veggies is pretty much the only way cauliflower is ever going to gain any ground over cupcakes.
          So, I think I've lost track, but let's see: supporting local farms, filling morning bellies, and broadening the nutritious horizons of our young palettes.  Sounds like another Obama Stimulus win, win, win.  And she learned how to read that year too!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 3: Two bangs for the stimulus buck

Speaking of stimulus...

          My partner, Darling Virgo, started off 2009 with a shiny new Bachelor of Science in Nursing.  Sending her back to school for that degree was probably the most strategic financial investment our little hippie brains ever made.  Surely she would earn more as a nurse than as a social worker, and nursing jobs are everywhere, right?  That's what they say: If you're a nurse you'll never have to worry about work again.  Except--it turned out--in 2009.
          Can you picture it?  Snow frozen on bare-branched silver trees, a new President's breath frozen in prophetic clouds that float out over the heads of two million optimists, meanwhile every CFO of every university, every foundation, every hospital in the land is peering into their endowment portfolios thinking, I know there used to be something in here, I just know it.
          You might think  hospitals are recession proof--people never stop getting sick after all--but it turns out they're not. And in 2009 they were suffering as much as everyone else.  And cutting costs.  And one of the costs they cut was the expense of training newly graduated nurses.  It made short-term fiscal sense to hire more expensive, experienced nurses, than to invest in broadening the pool and mentoring new grads.  And there wasn't really a need to broaden the pool anyway, because there was a recession on, you know?  People were doing what they could to keep afloat.  Part-time nurses went back to working full-time; older nurses postponed retirement, and new grads searched and searched for openings that weren't there.
          So there was Darling Virgo, ready to start wrapping wounds, birthing babies, inserting catheters, ready to pay off those student loans... and there wasn't a job in sight.  Did I mention she graduated Summa Cum Laude?  Did I mention she was not just a new nurse, but a new nurse with 10 years experience as a social worker?  Did I mention she is the most competent, efficient, friendly, eager, reliable person I've ever met?  Maybe I forgot that part.  Probably because it didn't matter; there were still no jobs.
          But we were optimistic.  We were thinking about relocating to a new city anyway, so we started researching all over the country.  Boston, DC, the Medical Triangle, the Bay Area, everywhere.  But everywhere we looked we found the same thing: listservs of newly graduated nurses who couldn't get hired.
          Months passed and there was no change.  Well no change except that May was coming, and with it another pool of new nurses to compete for the zero available positions.
          And then one Sunday I saw an ad in the paper.  (Yes, the actual physical newspaper.  I love that the government still advertises in the newspaper.  It's so cute.)  The City of Portland had received money from The Stimulus Package to open a new public health center.  They were recruiting all positions: receptionists through MDs.  Darling Virgo was, of course, the perfect candidate for a position at the center given her experience, and by the beginning of that summer she was part of their start up team. 
          The Portland Community Health Center opened its doors in fall of 2009, and even better than providing a job for our family, that Center offered (and continues to offer) a sliding scale payment structure in addition to accepting private and public insurance.  The Portland Community Health Center makes it possible for people to seek primary care instead of expensive and ill-used emergency care.  And ultimately, the Portland Community Health Center is another two bangs for the price of one stimulus buck: spending tax dollars to keep people employed, and then using those people to keep everyone else healthy.
          Thanks President O. for another win win in the smart government column.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 2: Traffic

          Lest you think this series is going to be a long list of sob stories about my children's runny diapers, today I'm going with something short and trite.  But no less important, mind you.  Here goes:
          Thanks to the Obama administration I was late picking up my daughter from camp just about every day during the summer of 2009.  Seriously.  No matter what time I started trying to harangle Moon Boy and Ankle Biter into their car seats, no matter how early we got on the road, we were always late.  Because of traffic jams.  Now, if you've never lived in Portland, Maine you can't know how weird that is.  Because Portland doesn't really have traffic worth noting.  Literally.  As in, there are no traffic reports.  There are maybe three stop lights you might have to wait at through a couple of cycles depending on the time of day.  But other than that, if someone is late, everyone just assumes  either the draw bridge is up or the train's passing through.  That's pretty much it.  Except the summer of 2009 the traffic moved like glaciers before global warming. Why?
          The Stimulus Package (please read in a low ominous voice over).
          That's right.  There was construction everywhere.  Suddenly potholes that had been around so long they'd been named after former governors, were tip top priority.  Gone.  Just like that.  Without any time to say goodbye.  No matter which route I took, lanes were reduced.  Flashing orange lights told me to merge, and I sat still in 20, 30, 60 mile/hour zones, looking at construction workers sweating in the afternoon sun.  And usually most of them were working really hard.  But not always.  Sometimes they were just smoking and yucking it up on the side of the road there.  But I didn't mind.  I mean, I take breaks sometimes at work, it's just that my work place isn't the side of a road, so nobody knows but me.
          And at the end of the summer, after our collective tax dollars had spent all that money keeping those smokers off of unemployment, you know what we had in Portland?  Really good roads.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 1: Gas Station Greens

          It’s no surprise I take politics personally, I’m a feminist.  That’s one of the things we chant when we meet in the darkness of the new moon and welcome the crisp autumnal breeze as it blows through the hair on our legs: The personal is political, the personal is political, the personal is political.
         And I don’t think I’m alone here.  I imagine everyone who believes government actually plays a role in shaping our lives, takes politics at least a little personally.  If we expect the outcome of an election to have a direct impact on our ability to find or keep a job, to sustain our mortgage, to rob us of our wealth, to be able to see a doctor, then of course we’re going to take it a little personally.  Of course we’re going to pay careful attention to the words candidates use to court our vote or someone else’s.  Of course we’re going to notice when we’re being taken for granted or taken for an idiot.  Of course we are going to care when we’re being used as a tool, or a scapegoat, or a villain.  Of course.
          That’s why we don’t talk about politics with people who might disagree with us, right?  Not because we agree to disagree.  Or because we want to allow people privacy.  It’s because we take it personally.  When I learn that a friend is supporting Romney, it feels as if that friend has just looked into my eyes and said, “I like you and all, but it’s okay with me if you go on being a second class citizen for the rest of your life.”  That’s not a conversation I’m eager to have.  I’d just as soon we stay in our own corners: you, go back to your cubicle and futz about interest rates for the next three weeks; I’ll just be over hear quietly driving voters to the polls.
          But here’s the thing, I have actually felt President Obama’s impact on my life, in real day to day ways.  And if I don’t tell you about them, you won’t be able to take my life with you when you go to the polls.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  Every day between now and the election I’m going to post one way the Obama administration has impacted my life.  I invite you to do the same--to share a view that parallels mine, or one that tells a different story.  How has the politics of the last four years--or the politics you anticipate unfolding in the next four years--impacted you personally?  How is the political personal for you?

          Here's my first installment:

Gas Station Greens

          Two weeks after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States our youngest son joined our family.  At the time my partner, Darling Virgo, was in nursing school and taking care of our babies (at that point we had five-year-old Hot Shot, one-year-old Moon Boy, and newborn Ankle Biter).  Even though I was an executive director of a non-profit, we were eligible--as a family of five living off my income--to participate in WIC.  I wasn’t crazy about the idea, but we were doing our best to cut expenses.  We had just moved to save money on rent, had no cell phones, or internet access, or cable, or even call waiting.  Our vehicles were a used Prius, a bike, and a double stroller.  We were wrapping both our babies’ bottoms in cloth diapers, and washing them ourselves.  Buying food, rent, and utilities, we were barely breaking even.  And winter was upon us.  So there I would stand in line at the grocery store, assembling my WIC items with the correct WIC checks and reminding myself that by harnessing the federal governments’ money (which is to say, our collective tax dollars) and spending them on groceries at my local grocery store, I was both helping keep grocery baggers employed, and making it possible for us to heat that drafty apartment full of babies.
          The only problem was, the purpose of enrolling in WIC was to help feed our two little boys, but as luck would have it, they were either allergic to, or could not digest, most of the foods that WIC paid for.  Peanut butter, eggs, milk, cheese, bread, cereal, fruit juice… without getting too dramatic I will say that each of these items produced one or more of the following reactions in one or more of our children: diapers full of undigested food (a.k.a. diarrhea) four or five times a day per child, projectile vomiting after each bottle, huge red hives covering face, neck, chest, belly, and back, constant runny nose, chronic gas and wakefulness… it was a pretty gross year.
          It took a while to figure out what was going on with our kids’ bodies because there were so many different foods confounding their systems.  But one thing was clear, they were getting very little nutrition out of anything they ate.  After a year of WIC sponsored iron-fortified formula and cereals, our youngest son had a severe iron-deficiency.  The food just wasn’t going in.  I’m sorry to say it, but there were all your tax dollars collecting in my son’s diapers, not in his muscles and bones.  Not a dime digested.  Not a nickel helping him grow and develop as we might hope.  But then, as we identified each problematic food (first milk, then peanuts, then eggs, then wheat, then gluten, then juice) the WIC workers responded either according to regulations (which meant withholding the WIC checks for foods the boys weren’t able to digest) or according to their conscience (which meant a wink and a smile and a "I’m sure a dozen eggs won’t go bad in your fridge, right?").
          And then (cue the rising sun) in October of 2009, after President Obama had been in office for ten months, WIC changed its guidelines.  Our kids could have soy milk instead of cow milk.  Black beans instead of peanut butter.  Brown rice instead of bread.  Tofu instead of eggs and cheese.  And the federal government stopped spending your tax dollars on full-fat milk and fruit juice (which even at 100% juice is still just like drinking a lollipop), and gave us vouchers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.  Fresh fruits and vegetables!  Can you believe it?  There were your tax dollars, buying my kids actual food grown in the earth.  And there were my kids devouring bowls of kale, and spinach, and green beans, and pears.  And their skin cleared.  And the diarrhea stopped.  And the vomiting too.  And okay, it’s true Moon Boy’s nose is still runny.  But let me tell you, runny on just one end of the body is a beautiful thing.
          And did WIC change all that?  Was it really WIC that removed the welts from my son’s neck?  No.  Of course it was not WIC alone.  President Obama did not swoop in with a basket of fresh vegetables and say, “try feeding them some Swiss chard instead of all that cheese!”  I was feeding them fresh fruits and vegetables anyway.  I wasn’t forcing them to eat eggs just because we could buy them on the tax payer’s dime.  But the point is, figuring out how to help those boys get the nutrition they needed to thrive was a long and exhausting process.  And having help getting access to the foods they needed rather than the foods that were making them sick, made a world of difference.
          I’m sure it goes without saying that the WIC changes helped a lot more people than just us and our two little boys.  In 2009 your tax dollars stopped buying full fat milk and fruit juice, and started putting fresh apples, and carrots, and lettuce into the refrigerators of America’s under-nourished babies and children.  But your tax dollars did more than that; those same dollars that were feeding runny nosed toddlers, were also bringing fresh fruits and vegetables into corner stores in poor neighborhoods all over the country, because in order to accept WIC checks, those stores were now required to stock at least two fresh fruits or vegetables at all times.  Now that might not seem like much if you’re used to shopping in the supermarket produce department.  But there aren’t supermarkets in every neighborhood.  And specifically, there aren’t supermarkets in the poorest neighborhoods.  Those are the neighborhoods where people depend on the mom and pop shops for their nutrition.  Where the best you can do for breakfast is a pop tart and a diet Sprite.  But now, in addition to cigarettes, and liquor, and Cheetos, you will find a basket of oranges and bananas in those corner stores.  And some places you’ll find more.  I know.  I lived in one of those neighborhoods as recently as last year, and I am not kidding you, there is a gas station there that boasts a prominent produce section where there used to be shelves of Ding Dongs.  The people in that neighborhood can now walk across the street and choose which kind of lettuce to buy.  That gas station is not required to supply three kinds of lettuce, they’re stocking it because people are buying it.  In my book, that’s not big government force feeding us bureaucratic broccoli, that’s smart government affecting real life, day to day progress in the corners of the country that need it most.

          These days it’s hard for me to even remember what our little boys were like back then.  It wasn’t particularly striking to me at the time, but neither of them learned to walk with any real consistency until somewhere around the seventeen month mark.  It didn’t bother me then because I don’t need my kids to be the fastest and best at everything.  But the years since, have taught us something about our boys: they are extraordinarily coordinated and strong.  Moon Boy couldn’t walk until he was a year and a half, but he perfected a cartwheel at three.  He hasn’t turned five yet, but has been executing complicated break dance moves for more than two years, just by watching and practicing.  And he’s already outgrown playgrounds; now, instead of playing on them, he scales the outsides of them--eight feet off the ground he moves hand over hand, foot over foot from one end to the other, not satisfied if his sneaker rests on something that was actually made for standing on.  And Ankle Biter is right along beside.  Learning everything from his brother.  Performing diving forward rolls off of the furniture.  Scampering up rock walls higher than I can reach to spot him.  Not that he needs it.  And he is still three.
          I’m not saying all this to brag.  (Though I’m happy to brag… just say the word and I’ll begin.)  I’m saying this because its now clear that if those two had been eating food their bodies could transform into muscle, they probably would have been running at eight months.  I’m so glad we found the right balance for them, and so grateful that the government was making wise nutritional choices on behalf of our nation’s children when I needed it to be.  When I pay my taxes this spring, I hope it will be to an administration working this forwardly and practically to solve our country’s most basic and personal challenges.