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 Man, His Son, and the Democrat

Of his many works, the fable of the man, his son, and the donkey, has to be among Aesop’s finest. It goes like this:

A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?” So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way.
But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.” So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.” Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey.
By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey with you and your hulking son?” The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders.
They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.
“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them: “Please all, and you will please none.”

The moral is, at the moment, good advice for the democrats to heed when making decisions about what to and what not to put in the health care legislation Obama is working so hard to put through. Everyone in the nation is saying something different on what ought and ought not to be in the bill. But I, and like-minded Americans have confidence in the intelligence and perceptive nature of the Democrats in our legislature, and believe, that no matter who is shouting, to them to tweak the bill this way or that, they should stick with it.

A teacher said once, when addressing his class, myself among them, that as a parent, if one is to do anything, most of all make a mistake, he or she must “believe in the mistake he or she is making; make it whole heatedly,” or else risk “confusing the child.” Such is the same for the Democrats on Capitol Hill. Even if this latest legislation doesn’t succeed, even if the public option dissolves, and we are left where we are now, at least they will have made an effort. And the metaphorical children, the voters, will know that they embraced something, which will stand up better in primaries and elections. So, closing with Aesop’s eternal words, please all, and you will please none.