September 30, 2008

Emotional Reaction to the Economy

Here we all are, worried about our economic system, worried about the big complicated mess we find ourselves in. Part of me is afraid to even try to write about it, it's so complicated.

But another part of me says it's not really that complicated. We had an economy that was increasingly built on moving money around, and then on creating money out of credit and inflated housing values. Instead of making products, selling them and making a profit, our economy was functioning on money from refinanced homes. I've been uneasy about that for sometime, hoping my husband was wrong with his predictions of financial catastrophe.

To complicate matters, I have these conflicted urges toward frugality. On the one hand, I find the rampant consumerism around me repulsive. On the other hand, I know that this economic catastrophe will be used to try and convince my people to settle for less. And I am definitely not on board with that. We need more not less, more healthcare, more healthy food in our grocery stores at affordable prices, more and better education, more free time, more vacations, more happiness, more jobs that we can be proud of, more community.

I know, I know. These are simplistic sloganistics statements. But I'm just trying to find my voice here, about these issues. As I write, I realize how deep my feelings and fears are, and how little I have tried to put them into words. I have relied upon doing much more that explaining. I soothe my fears with productive activity.

I know that some of you reading this are doing the same, stocking up your freezers, getting your house in order. So I know I'm not alone.

It just seems a small response when I know what pain is being suffered in this horribly inequitable economic situation. (I guess I forgot to mention my anger at those who let their greed run rampant over our lives.) I think that's why I feel compelled to find my voice. If I could speak my heart and mind more clearly, perhaps I could be a part of finding a bigger, more productive response to this situation, this crisis of the human race. I want to be a part of buidling the collective that will move my beloved humanrace forward, for surely that's where were going. At least it seems that way to me.

So let me try to put my small little self in the right place to do some good in the larger picture. Usually that means not being as melodramatic as I just was in this post, I know. Forgive the overblown prose. It's just that most of the time, politically, I have to practice such self control, try to be so practical and so reasonable and so reliable, while all these passions are roiling inside of me. Rarely do I get to soapbox like this.

More practical down-to-earth entries later, I promise.
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September 29, 2008


So sorry for the delay in posting. I wrote a wonderful post yesterday. Honest I did. Well at least it seemed like a wonderful post to me. (Is that something like the huge fish that got away?)
I thought I had saved it while I navigated away to check a fact. That'll teach me to check facts. As it turns out, only 1/4 of the post was saved. (See, it was a good long one.) Unfortunately I had already used the time allotted to write a post. Other tasks were breathing down my neck, screaming for attention.
So I couldn't rewrite it. I had written about door-to-door canvassing, which I've been doing on Saturday mornings out of the local union hall. But I'll be doing it this Sat, so I'll have plenty of opportunity to write about it later.
In the meantime, my substitute for the daycare is due shortly. She comes once a week. I'll have 4 hours to go out and do about a million things. Wow, it's easy to whine on a blog, isn't it?
In other words, in a little while I'll get to go out and take care of some business and live my incredibly full and rewarding life. That's better, huh? I'll have lunch with my husband and decide which errands make the list and which ones get cut. Afterwards I'll try not to get sidetracked too long at the library. And I'll try to resist sneaking off to have a chocolate milkshake. (Loved ones reading this, please pretend you didn't see that last sentence.) Then I'll feel guilty about picking uo some supper instead of cooking it myself, but I'll pick it up anyway.
So, I'm off.
Once again, thanks for reading,
PS I found a great picture for this post but I'm having trouble accessing it. Maybe I'll figure it out, maybe not. If not I'll give a holler for some help.
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September 26, 2008


Regarding the intersection of politics and everyday life, these are some of the things I'm trying do in the next couple of days,

1.Put primer on my kitchen cabinets so the time spent cleaning them up won't be wasted.
2.Feed, change, read to, hug, and help the daycare children.
3.Search online & order rugs for my hallway so my poor old dog won't suffer the slippy slidies anymore.
4.Prime and paint said hallway so I can send the rugs back within the 7 day grace period after they arrive.
5. Print labels for and compile a mailing for about 150 regarding the dinner and a movie event my local Progressive Dems chapter is planning. Oh, and recruit some help for this work.
6. Personally contact as many of my people by phone as I can to generate attendance for said event.
7. Get up early tomorrow and go door-to-door for Obama and local Dems in conjunction with AFL-CIO Get Out the Vote campaign.
8.Work with hubby on finishing the baseboard work in living room/dining room.
9. Eat, sleep, bathe & other normal stuff.
10. Clean bathroom, sweep floors & other normal stuff.
11. Oops, almost forgot, can't sweep bedroom till vacuum cleaner goes for repair. Do that.
12. Take yard sign for local Dem candidate over to my neighbor and ask them to display it.
13. Try not to worry about the pears that need picked & taken to ripen in the basement, or the apples still on the tree.
14. Cut basil & leave it in baskets to dry.
15. Laugh & have some fun with friends (yes really).
16. Maybe do some of above at the debate party at the union hall tonight.

I'm sure there are things I've forgotten, but I'm starting to freak myself out. Suffice it to say this is one way I experience the interface of politics and everyday life, as an almost impossible mishmash of demands on my time.

But what do I let go of? I enjoy everything I do. Some of it I have to do to make a living. Some of it I have to do to make a life. Some of it I have to do to get out into the world of grownups. All of it is very satisfying.

So, I turned my excuse of being too busy to post today into a post. How clever am I? Won't work everytime, I know.

At any rate, gotta go, things to do.

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September 25, 2008


If you watch the NBC News segment below, you'll see Jack Lessenberry, a political analyst, wondering what's going to happen to us here in the Rustbelt. He says that we want to stay here, that we have lives here.

Well, yeah. We're trying to, at least.

So I've been thinking about that. Here I am, living in the so-called rustbelt. It's a densly populated area. The climate is moderate. We have few natural disasters, few poisionous animals. We have lots of rivers for transporting goods, a well developed highway system (though it could use a little work). All in all it's a great part of the country. It seems a natural location for industry. So why the heck don't we have any jobs?

We used to have jobs. We used to have big mills, where a man could make enough money so that his wife could stay home, and actually make a home. We were just getting around to making it so a woman could also get a job in the mill and make enough money to have a good life.

We had those good paying jobs because we had unions. That's right, unions. We knew the company was not our "partner". Before there were unions in this neck of the woods, things were pretty bad for us here (look it up or read Upton Sinclair). Basically, my people came to realize that they wanted a share of the pie. And they also came to realize that they wanted a pretty good-sized share, big enough to make them prosperous, not just getting by. Heck, mill workers were sending their kids to college.

So we had good lives around here. You know, small-town, kids-running-through-the-yards good lives, like you see on telivision commercials. People had 2 cars, went on vacations, had boats to put in the river.

And now? Well the steel mills went overseas so they could make a greater profit by exploiting some other peoples' misery. And now we don't make anything much here. Certainly not steel. Because our expectations for our lives are too high? Because we know how to organize a union here? Because we have an idea about how much of that proverbial pie is our fair share?

Well that idea and that expectation are my heritage. And I don't plan on walking away from that anytime soon. That's why I do political work. Read more!

September 24, 2008

I Make the NBC Nightly News!

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We Made the New York Times!

Photo: Rick Kimbrough, retired Aliquippa Steelworker

Our Beaver County:
A Rural Slice
of a Big State
Tests Obama

[I'm the Tina Shannon quoted in this article. All of us gave the writer a little help finding people to talk to, but he was a great door-knocker all on his own.]

New York Times
August 21, 2008

RACCOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Wander up a gravel road and ask George Timko about Barack Obama and John McCain and he wrinkles his nose. Neither of those guys strikes him as a prize.

Mr. Timko is a burly fellow, with close-cropped white hair and a Fu Manchu mustache, and a gold necklace that rests on his bare chest. “Barack Obama makes me nervous,” said Mr. Timko, a 65-year-old retiree with a garden hose in hand. “Who is he? Where’d he come from? ”

As for Senator McCain? He shook his head. “He keeps talking about being a prisoner of war back in Vietnam: Great. The economy stinks; tell me his plan?”

To roam the rural reaches of western Pennsylvania, through white working-class counties, is to understand the breadth of the challenge facing the two presidential candidates. But this economically ravaged region, once so solidly Democratic, poses a particular hurdle for Senator Obama.

Type rest of the post hereFrom the desolation of Aliquippa — where the Jones & Laughlin steel mill loomed at the foot of the main boulevard — to the fading beauty of Beaver Falls to the neatly tended homes of retired steel workers in Hopewell, one hears much hesitating talk about Mr. Obama, some simply quizzical or skeptically political, and some not-so-subtly racial.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York ran ahead 40 percentage points over Mr. Obama here during the Democratic primary. With its enclaves of white working-class laborers and retirees and fraying party loyalties, it has become a most uncertain political terrain and an inviting target for Mr. McCain — and one that could tip the electoral balance in Pennsylvania, a place packed with electoral votes.

Labor operatives line up behind Mr. Obama, and about a third of the 35 white voters who were interviewed leaned toward him. But no one feels confident predicting how many white Clinton voters will transfer their affections to Mr. Obama.

Raccoon Township sprawls atop a hill in Beaver County, a 92 percent white and deeply blue-collar province. For a century it formed a stud in the Steel Necklace, a stretch of Pennsylvania and Ohio defined by belching steel mills and robust union wages. But as the mills shuttered, voters tipped Democratic by ever- narrower margins: Al Gore bested George W. Bush by eight percentage points in 2000; John Kerry took Mr. Bush by less than three percentage points in 2004.

Political scientists tend to paint Pennsylvania in broad swathes: There’s Philadelphia and its liberal-to-centrist suburbs; the middle of the state, which is rural, gun-loving and rightward leaning; and the western third, which, except for Pittsburgh, tends to hold ever-so-tenuously to Democratic loyalties.

The Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., in a poll conducted last week, found Mr. Obama piling up big margins in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but lagging in these working-class counties.

“This is not an easy land for any candidate, and you might say a black one has more trouble than most,” said G. Terry Madonna, the center’s director.

To what extent white voter concern has become a surrogate for racial anxiety is unclear..

Many voters talk of reading a stream of false and shadowy rumors purveyed by e-mail: Mr. Obama does not put his hand on his heart during the national anthem, he is a Muslim, he did not say hello to enlisted men in Afghanistan. Some disregard these rumors; some do not.

Mr. Obama is an Ivy League-educated lawyer campaigning in towns where an eighth-grade education and a sturdy back once purchased a good life. And he talks of soaring hope to people mistrustful of the same.

“People around here want pragmatic, practical language,” said Tina Shannon, the 49-year-old daughter of a steel-mill worker and a liberal activist. “They don’t want high-flown talk.”

This said, Mr. McCain quickens few pulses. Vietnam, where he served in the military and was held captive for more than five years, seems distant. And not all laugh at his commercials poking fun at Mr. Obama’s “celebrity” status.

Fifty yards down the gravel road from Mr. Timko’s home, Brenda Goff, 55, a pharmacy worker who describes herself as a “Hillary girl” but is fine with Mr. Obama. As for Mr. McCain?

“I don’t like his commercials — it’s like he thinks we’re stupid,” Ms. Goff said.

Issues might seem to break toward Mr. Obama. Only two of 38 people interviewed — most in random door-knocking — favored remaining in Iraq. (Mr. Obama advocates a 16-month withdrawal timetable; Mr. McCain vows to stay until the war is won but suggests that he would have troops out by 2013.)

Few want a handout, but fewer want government to abandon them. A simmering hurt suffuses their words, a sense that neither hard work nor their unions could save them.

James Stanford, a retired and still heavily muscled steel worker, stood behind his screen door and spoke of a pension that evaporated. “Obama got one thing right,” Mr. Stanford said. “We are bitter here.”

John Sylvester, 76, remembers when you could not find a parking space in Beaver Falls. You danced Saturday night at the Sons of Italy Club and drank with Dutch Town and River Rat neighborhood boys.

Mr. Sylvester labored in a steel mill for 42 years. Then the mill owner declared bankruptcy. Now he was bent over a chipped fire hydrant, putting down a coat of yellow paint for $7 an hour.

His blue eyes were piercing beneath a white sun visor. “I got a little money in the end but nothing to speak of,” he said.

Decades of job losses have created a youthful diaspora — you can knock on many doors without finding anyone under age 45. Declining enrollments forced Raccoon Township to close its elementary and middle schools. Political wisdom holds that such fractures favor the Democrats.

But Mr. Obama does not sound like a sure bet.

“Obama’s very charismatic but if you listen closely, he hasn’t said a whole lot,” Mr. Sylvester said.

In Raccoon, Kelly Dobbins, a middle-aged factory worker, offered the same. “I’m like a duck in the water — I float there but underneath I’m paddling hard as I can go,” Mr. Dobbins said. “What’s pushing me toward McCain is Obama. Who is he? Where does he stand?”

Such questions hint at a cultural disconnect. Mr. Obama would invest tens of billions of dollars in retooling mills and factories to fashion windmills and solar panels. He notes that Denmark and the Netherlands have grown fat off the new energy economy.

But environmentalism holds little attraction in a county where soot-covered stoops and dirty rivers were accepted as an unfortunate tradeoff of a prosperous industrial age.

“Until people see a factory transformed, they really don’t put much store by this talk,” said the Rev. Henry Knapp of First Presbyterian Church in Beaver.

Still, two-thirds of Pennsylvanians surveyed in the Franklin & Marshall poll ranked the economy as their No. 1 concern.

Hookstown sits surrounded by emerald fields near the West Virginia border. White-haired Art Seckman stepped gingerly off his porch.

Mr. Seckman puts no faith in Mr. McCain. “He looks tired, and he’s gung-ho about war,” Mr. Seckman said. “I was a Hillary guy, but Obama sounds honest and he’s young and he understands the modern economy.”

He paused, and laughed, “Maybe, funny as it sounds, it’s time for a black man to fix this mess.”

For a century, Aliquippa formed the primal heart of Beaver County. There was the mill, the company store and the Italian Renaissance library built by the daughter of the mill founder.

Ethnic communities occupied each hill. Croats, Slavs, Italians, Irish and blacks worked, fought, and drank together. Now the downtown offers swaybacked homes and boarded storefronts, and rubble. Aliquippa is 35 percent black, the highest percentage in the county. Glenn Kimbrough, 65, with a silver-tipped goatee and a neat Afro, came out of the mills after 37 years.

Mr. Kimbrough is an Obama supporter but he would not hazard a guess as to how his white buddies will vote. He said economic disaster had exacerbated racial tensions. With the mills closed, the work force is resegregating.

Carl Davidson, a white friend and an Obama supporter, sat in Mr. Kimbrough’s living room. “My father voted for Edwards in the primary and now he wants McCain,” said Mr. Davidson, whose father and grandfather labored in the mills. “Without realizing it, he’s wrapped up in white-identity politics.”

Sorting out white-voter discomfort with Mr. Obama is tricky business. Most speak of unease with his newness. But one in five primary voters surveyed in the Edison/Mitofsky exit poll in Pennsylvania said race was a factor.

Ivan Stickles, a carpenter, worked on his motorcycle in his driveway in Hopewell. Mr. Stickles, 57, is not taking what he sees as a gamble on Obama.

“There’s this e-mail that he didn’t shake hands with the troops,” Mr. Stickles said of a false rumor. “I don’t have the time to check out if it’s true, but if it is, it’s very offensive.”

In Hookstown, Kristine Lakovich, 48, works the counter at Kiner’s Superette. She likes Mr. Obama, a preference she keeps to herself. “If you ask people around here, he’s not exactly the right answer,” Ms. Lakovich said. “People are split between their politics and their prejudice.”

Nationally, the Obama campaign shies from talk of race, preferring to argue that the poor economy will dominate this election. Such delicacy holds no purchase here. An organizer with the United Steelworkers met with 30 workers in Beaver. He could not have been blunter. Mr. Obama, he told them, stands for national health care, strong unions and preserving Social Security.

“Some of you won’t vote for him because he’s black,” the organizer concluded. “Well, he’s a Democrat. Get over it.”

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