The Two Way Street

Politics for a New Generation

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Changing Elections, Changing Myself

This is me and my friend Kyle at the local campaign headquarters.

Within the walls of a dingy county Democratic headquarters, about 30 people sat talking on their cell phones. Fortunately, these were not the usual “Really? No she didn’t!!” conversations. Instead, we sat with lists of names and phone numbers in front of us, with an occasional age beside it. I looked down at the sheet I was sharing with my friend Kyle, scanning for a new Virginia voter to call. I read the number and carefully dialed it into my phone, then scanned the information. Linda* was 80-years old. I thought of my grandmother, a hardcore republican as the phone rang.

“Hello?” I hear the raspy voice of an elderly woman answer. This was the first time someone had actually picked up.

“Hi,” I said anxiously. “Is this Linda?”

When I confirmed that I had actually reached a human instead of getting stuck in yet another answering machine, or “voice jail” as my family calls it, I stumbled through the script. “My name is Julia I’m a volunteer leader with the grassroots campaign to reelect President Obama,” I read from the slip of paper, then threw in an awkward “How are you?”

After the curt small talk of two strangers, I asked her election plans. When she told me she was undecided, I figured that I had a chance to actually change something. “If I may, I’d like to explain to you why I support Obama, and why I’m putting in the time to volunteer tonight.”

We spoke for nearly ten minutes about Citizens United, and the financial situation of the elderly. I told her about my Grandma, a 70-something bus driver who cares for her 50-year-old son with down syndrome. Grandma has sleep apnea, false teeth, hip and knee replacements, and drags herself around the house to care for her middle-aged child and clean, all between a work schedule that requires her to get up at 5AM.

Even though Grandma didn’t know it, Obama’s policies had really helped her. She believed the forwarded emails that Obamacare was euthanasia, that the president was a secret Muslim, and even that he wasn’t born in the United States. However, she uses Medicare and Medicaid to get by, tax breaks for those with limited incomes, and a union that negotiates her pay as a public employee. And after several incidents in which her son Bobby injured himself while home alone, she even uses a government-supported daycare program for the mentally disabled.

I told Linda all this, but I didn’t have to: she could relate. She described her withering savings, and the fear that she might outlive the account. At 80 already, the notion of her returning to work seemed ridiculous, and yet, it seemed possible. Though the conventional wisdom is that people in tough economic situations vote out the incumbent, Linda decided not to join that trend. She felt that Romney would put CEOs before carpenters, bankers before bakers, and large dollar donors before the votes of the public. And, in a post-citizens’ united world, I think Linda was right.

And so, before getting off the phone, Linda pledged her vote to Obama, and I felt satisfied, knowing I had changed one mind. But more importantly, I was reminded that politics doesn’t have to be an issue of young versus old, black versus white versus Hispanic versus all the other little groups demographers ignore.  Though we probably disagreed about religion, gay rights, and the hot-button issues that politicize, that we could come together to help those in our society who needed it. Like my grandmother.

While we often attribute Obama’s presidency to young voters, we are unfortunately pretty unreliable making it to the polls. The most consistent age demographic to cast their ballot is the elderly, not the youth. And the younger generation has a duty to care for the elderly. I’m not one to sat that every person over a certain age has automatically earned a special “Wise Elder” status, but as my friend Ema depicted in a sculpture, we’re all afraid of being old, and losing the ability to care for ourselves. I go help my Grandma as often as I can, ignoring her comments about my hair, sexual orientation, and political identification. I just smile and vacuum her carpet, clean out her cabinets, wash her sinks.

I believe that Obama really is there for the elderly, and we should be too. We need to care for the older people in our lives, and insist that they be treated with basic respect and dignity. I love my Grandma, and Linda reminded me of how much help she needs, and how much she gets from a president she doesn’t support. Only in America…

*Name changed for privacy


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The World is Starving and You Don’t Care

A Boy in Haiti

A friend of mine took this while participating in relief work in Haiti this summer

Between our $4 carmel macchiatos, $100-a-month cell phone plans, and McMansions behind our bourgeois white-picket fences and pristine, kelly green lawns, we occasionally stop our days and look at the 24-hour news cycle that serves as the soundtrack to our lives to see a story about floods in Pakistan, earthquakes in Haiti, wildfires in Russia, and say, “Oh, that’s Awful!” or, “How Sad!” and then continue on with our day. Sometimes, we even open our wallet and drop a dollar in the jar, or send a text to donate, or buy a product for which “a quarter of the proceeds goes to ____________ victims”. But we see hunger, disease, cruelty, and are unfazed by it. We complain about loosing “one of our homes in Nantucket”, when there are people living in cardboard boxes on the streets a few miles away, without a single home to stay in. Because they aren’t us.

Another picture out of Haiti. You may be in the midst of financial strain, but you have a roof over your head. These people don't.

I know the excuses. That’s not you I described, you were comfy before the recession, but your investments went under, you lost your job, and you’re nearing foreclosure. Even if you resort on a soup kitchen to feed you, you still have food to eat, clean drinking water, and a place to sleep, which is something that can’t be said for the millions of victims of disaster, poverty, and tyranny in the world. almost a third of the world’s population is chronically hungry. You and I were lucky enough to be born in a part of the world where mothers can feed their children, where children get a free education, where most of the population can read. You’re lucky, even if you’re in hot water, your spouse is leaving you, you got laid off, et cetera, you’re alive, and you can count on that better than people in Haiti, Pakistan, Russia, Darfur, Burma, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, North Korea, Kazakhstan, Georgia (the former USSR state), Venezuela, Jamaica, Mexico, Indonesia, and the list goes on. We may have troubles in our lives but the troubles of others living elsewhere make our troubles seem tiny and insignificant.

“I worked hard for my money, and its mine, so why should I give it to someone else!” you may spew, with a spirited stomp or table slap (and perhaps a few expletives I’ve chosen to leave out). But Which do you think is harder? Long hours at an office, in a law firm, treating patients, or even in the factory, or  the constant hunger in the stomachs of people in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East as they work in sweat shops, attempt to farm infertile land, or even work as prostitutes, all for insignificant pay, with no laws for workers’ protection, just trying to comfort the hunger, to no avail. The majority of people in third world countries work harder every day than the most hardworking Americans may work in their entire lives. So why do you get a fair pay and they don’t?

I’m not spewing communism, or saying that you should go out and give all your worldly possessions to the poor, but I do think that it’s a moral imperative to do something. Of all the things there are to do, three come to mind:

  1. Give what you can. It may not be much, as you are allowed to indulge yourself in some comforts, but, next time you’re at Starbucks, simply turn around, go back out the door, and donate the money you would have spent on an over-priced latte to the World Food Programme.
  2. Do your best to imagine life in abject poverty. You hear stories about it on the news, see the graphic photos, and only pause for a moment in pity before continuing on your way. I want you to actually close your eyes and put yourself in the body of a child with worms in his stomach or a sudanese girl being raped. Feel the stabbing pain and choke of fear they feel. If that doesn’t make you care about them, nothing will.
  3. Spread the word. Your latte money may only feed one child, but if you can get your friends to tell their friends and so on, schools could be built, wells could be drilled, and you could actually improve the quality of life for a whole village.

I’ll admit that I too have fallen victim to the allure of $4 lattes and expensive smartphone plans. But I vow to pull myself free from things like that along with you. I’m a student, the very definition of broke, but, I had a tradition, where, every time I reached a big milestone of hits on my blog (200, 500, 1000, etc.) I would celebrate by buying myself an expensive chai latte with soy milk from Starbucks, but, now, I will donate the price of that tea ($5 something for a large) to the World Food Programme, or if there’s a major crisis occurring, to a disaster-specific organization. So now, every time you visit, (or click on an in-site link or refresh your browser) you’re helping stop world hunger.

I’m not asking for much, in the way of you changing your life. All I ask is that you not remain unfazed by tragedy, and just do something small for people in need. Take off the blinders. You’re not a horse, you’re a human.


Laws on Love: Why Prohibiting Gay Marriage is Unconstitutional

There are only two reasons to outlaw gay marriage. The first is homophobia. People are irrationally afraid that allowing same sex marriage would somehow force them to get one, or  that they will somehow be forced to tell their kids that their LGTBQ peers are equal, an idea most people over  30 are unwilling to acknowledge. Not only that, but they’re afraid that they will come out on the wrong side of history, but, rather than admit their wrongs, they are covering them further, to end up on the right side of civil rights. Preachers are worried that they will be forced to perform gay marriages, which are “against their religion,” which, even though they have legal rights to disallow anything within their institution. Widespread fear of people who are different is an epidemic in this nation. Homophobia is not a legal reason to block gay marriage.

The only other reason given for interdicting same-sex marriage is the religious belief that being gay is wrong. However, this is not a legal reason either. The first amendment of our constitution says that, “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Passing a ban because of religion is itself “respecting an establishment of religion,” ergo, that reason is unconstitutional.

Did you know that three times as many states allow marriage between first cousins as allow gay marriage? Not only are gay couples not allowed to marry, but in states without same-sex marriage protections, nor are lovers with a transgender in the pair, even those with gender-reassignment surgery. Imagine not being allowed to marry someone, ever. Imagine being turned away at a hospital when the person you love is dying, just because you were not allowed to marry. While civil unions take away some of this pain, the idea is the equivalent of separate but equal, and the concept of re-naming marriage is invalidating and degrading to all those gay couples out there, basically telling them that their love isn’t real. Poets from Shakespeare to Dickinson have proclaimed that love knows no law. So then, how can we excuse attempts to regulate it?


The Truth About Insurance Reform: Why the Current Bill Isn’t Enough

People on both sides of the aisle are raving about health insurance reform. They’re bragging about the end to the anti-trust exemptions and the regulations preventing companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, or dropping people who get sick. But the big fat hole in the center of patients’ safety net is this: there is no clause in the bill preventing an insurance company from charging one person  four times what they charge  his neighbor with the same plan. Without a pricing cap, patients can still lose their coverage when they are unable to pay their premiums.

The reason the system is so disheveled  is because insurance companies are insistent on maintaining even profit margins for each person, rather than having a high profit margin for healthy people, and then mild profits or even mild losses on those with medical emergencies. Companies would still make a healthy profit, but the exact numbers would be unpredictable until the bills come in at the end of each month.

Insurance companies, as well as the entire medical system have such a glut for money, that the priority is cash flow, not patient health. Doctors are ordering extra tests, prescribing overly costly treatments, and attempting to increase the number of hospital admissions, not for the benefit of the patient, but rather for the benefit of their wallets. Our health care system is wired such that doctors profit for each treatment they give a patient rather than for the recovery of said patient. In simpler terms, our health care system is motivated by spending on patients rather than healing them. With that motivation to spend, doctors are charging more to insurance companies than ever. Insurance companies, in turn, are raising premiums to unaffordable levels.

But the public option could combat unreasonable prices and the inability to afford care. It would provide constant and rational competition, forcing insurance companies to be rational, for fear of loosing customers. and if a customer couldn’t pay, he or she would be able to join the public plan, and not be left uninsured.

Our current health care bill, stripped of the public option, holds little potency in the long run. While no one can be denied coverage, if a person cannot afford to pay what the insurance company is asking, insurance is no more available than if it was outright denied to her. Essentially, without a public option, health reform is a failure. Only a few more people will actually be able to afford coverage under the new regulations than under the previous ones. Therefore, congress must pass a bill that includes a public option. If passage requires using the budget reconciliation method in order to preempt filibuster, then so be it. In the last eight years, no  one let a lack of bipartisan support stop an agenda. The Republicans are trying to use a desire for bipartisan support against the Democrats. Back in September, several senators suggested that a bill would only be successful if it got between seventy-five and eighty-five votes. such a margin is nearly impossible, even for quite popular and overarching legislation. We who support healthy Americans over insurance corporations, we who would like to see that every american has access to health care, we who think patients should come before profits, mustn’t let senators in the pockets of big business get in the way of claiming what is rightfully ours: reform.