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Political debates make me anxious. Maybe it’s all the not answering of questions or the off-topic attacks or the tick-tock of the answer clock. Nevertheless, I feel that they’re important to watch. So how, then, shall we all survive the election season?

Four Debate Viewing Tips

  • Watch with friends and community.
    It takes the edge off to be around people you know and love. And it helps remind you that the world is not completely crazy. And maybe your friends, like mine, are snarky and clever, and will make you laugh in the midst of it.
  • Talk to the TV.
    Political debates can be endlessly frustrating and angry making (e.g., “Did he really just say THAT?!”). Sometimes it just helps to talk back.
  • Have a drink.
    Beer, wine, pineapple juice, ginger ale, whatever the drink of your choice. Might loosen the tension that slowly builds over the course of the debate or keep you hydrated, depending on your preferences. Both of which can come in handy.
  • Pay attention.
    Even though they can be crazy making, they give you a clear picture of candidates’ talking points and approach to an election. And they give you a starting point for further research. Be an informed voter. I should have paid more attention when I watched the first Warren-Brown debate, but I wasn’t following my other tips and I just got too stressed out by the whole hullabaloo. Next time I will be prepared!

Why Even Watch the Debates?

The political is personal, and knowledge is power. The decisions that are made every day by lawmakers and people in power affect our lives in a very real way. The Affordable Care Act means people close to me will have access to affordable health care (imagine that!) that they didn’t before. Scary laws being proposed (and unfortunately too often passed) limiting access to reproductive freedom, from abortion to birth control, have very real practical consequences. Yes, the political system in our country is effed up—but we’re not going to change it by disengaging.

The Details

If you’re in Massachusetts, don’t miss the rest of the debates between Elizabeth Warren (love her!) and Scott Brown (really don’t love him):

And the Obama-Romney presidential debates:

On a related note: make sure you’re registered to vote and know what you need at the polls!

I’ll be posting more about Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston soon, but quickly, here’s the letter I just e-mailed to Mayor Menino. Voice your support! You can call him at 617-635-4500, or e-mail him at or via the city’s website.

Dear Mayor Menino,

I’m writing to vocalize my support for Occupy Boston and to strongly urge you to respect the protesters’ constitutional right to peaceful assembly. They are using nonviolent action to call attention to corporate greed, to undue influence of corporations on the political process, and to the sickening gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and the 99 percent that have been disenfranchised by this country’s broken systems. Occupy Boston is what democracy looks like. This is nonviolent collective action at its best.

Thank you,

[Insert your name here]

Democracy Day

Support real democracy this Wednesday!

When I was watching Rachel Maddow’s coverage of California’s gubernatorial (awesome word, by the way) primary several weeks ago, I heard a number that I still haven’t been able to get out of my head: $70 million. Meg Whitman, one of the Republican candidates running for her party’s nomination, had spent  more than $70 million of her own money on her campaign. Let me say it again: more than $70 million of her own money. Add donations to that for a grand total of more than $81 million spent during her primary campaign. I can’t even imagine how much she’s going to spend now that she won the Republican nomination.

What does it say about our country, about our electoral system, about our campaign-finance system that a candidate for governor can spend that much money—a number that defies true comprehension—to get elected? And what kind of chance does that give candidates without seemingly unlimited funds at their disposal?

From what I can tell, progressive people don’t usually have that kind of money. They’re too busy trying to make a real difference in people’s lives to accumulate that kind of bank. What does that mean? I think that, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court decision blocking a ban on corporate spending in elections, the danger of money corrupting the political process and drowning out progressive voices that are calling for real change is greater than ever before.

Here in Massachusetts, Jill Stein—Green-Rainbow candidate for governor—is the progressive voice the big-money candidates are trying to drown out. I know what a lot of you will say: she won’t win; what’s the point? It’s about so much more than winning. It’s about changing the conversation. How are we ever going to get the change that we want to see in our government if our views on the issues that we care about don’t even get a chance to be heard and discussed?

So, it’s time to help change the conversation here in Massachusetts. Add your voice to those calling for real democracy. Democracy Days, an offshoot of Jill Stein’s campaign, is gearing up for their second Democracy Day: Wednesday, June 30. Pledge just $10 to start changing the conversation and taking back our elections from special interests. I’m not even telling you to vote for her in November. Just pack your lunch one day and give the money you would have spent on lunch out to Jill Stein instead—so her voice can be heard, so your voice can be heard.

A few compelling articles I’ve come across in the past couple days:

What If the Tea Party Were Black?” by Tim Wise
Don’t think about white privilege? Well, read this article and you will. Tim Wise’s astute questions and role-reversal scenarios spell it out clear as day.

“Free Speech. Hate Speech.” by Shira Tarrant
I’m a big proponent of free speech. Which makes the questions this piece raises especially engaging. Who benefits from the right to free speech in the United States? Where is the line between free speech and hate speech? What about when free speech contributes so much to a culture of hate and violence that it overwhelmingly inhibits marginalized populations’ right to free speech—and consequently the very concept of free speech for everyone?

“The Surprising Reason Why Americans Are So Lonely, and Why Future Prosperity Means Socializing with Your Neighbors,” by Bill McKibben
In this excerpt from his new book, Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, McKibben explores how the price communities have paid for cheap energy goes beyond environmental degradation, depletion, and destruction—it has torn the very fabric of our social relationships. Also, he uses the Farmers Diner in Quechee, Vermont, to illustrate one of his points—never been there? Next time you’re passing through, I highly recommend the chocolate milkshake. I would even recommend a pilgrimage if only that didn’t defeat the purpose of eating and buying local (though I may admit that I did that myself once). P.S. No, the extra “a” in the book title is not a typo; the book blurb explains it: “We’ve created, in very short order, a new planet, still recognizable but fundamentally different. We may as well call it Eaarth.”

    I just got back from an AmeriCorps reunion, during which my friend Angela told me about this fascinating Kotex ad she had seen on TV the week before. Check it out:

    So, my first reaction was: this ad is genius and refreshing in the meta way that it blatantly calls out all of the stock ways that big-time advertisers (in this case, for feminine products) try to sell to women. Rock on for pointing out that advertisers so often use lame mainstream tactics of playing on standard definitions of beauty and trying to convince viewers that this or that product will make you and your life “better” and more like what you see in the commercial—and for pointing out that such appeals are boring and obnoxious.

    But my second reaction: but, wait, they’re still selling something. Only now they’re just marketing themselves as a “cool” and “alternative.” Even though their product, from what I can tell, is pretty standard (and I’m not even going to start thinking about what they’re made of, the environmental impact of their production and use, etc.). So basically they’re just co-opting “subversive” to sell a product? Ugh.

    So, I’m torn. What do you think?

    I’ve been horribly remiss in posting! There’s just so much awesome stuff to do and so many cool people to hang out with in Boston. But, I swear, I have at least 14 draft posts already started. In particular, I’ve been totally soaking up the convenient access to any number of compelling lectures—social justice, human rights, identity, women’s history, and more.

    Bill Fletcher, Jr.

    Bill Fletcher, Jr., advocates strategic collaboration for effective change.

    A few weeks ago, I heard Bill Fletcher, Jr.—a dedicated labor, racial-justice, and international-solidarity activist—speak at an event put on by the Simmons Institute for Leadership and Change in collaboration with the Majority Agenda Project. Described in the introduction as “a clarion voice in the progressive movement for solidarity and movements working together,” he analyzed the current situation progressives find themselves in, pointed up the challenges, and put forth concrete suggestions for how to move forward.

    First, he identified the triple crises of the current situation: (1) There’s an economic crisis, that’s not about mismanagement by certain institutions, but about the system of capitalism itself. (2) There’s an environmental crisis, marked by climate change and the pervasive degradation of our natural world. (3) There’s a crisis of state legitimacy, featuring a declining ability of the state to serve as an adequate force of distributing wealth.

    Fletcher offered an analysis of not only the Obama administration but the progressive reaction to the Obama administration. In his view, the liberal disappointment with Obama is a function of magical, wishful thinking during the election and an unwillingness, in the midst of our excitement for change, to acknowledge his actual politics. Fletcher identifies the Obama administration as marked by corporate influence and representing the center-right, while also acknowledging that Obama offers hope and the possibility of a transformative political process. I think that it’s key that Fletcher believes that we must not fall prey to cynicism and the inaction that often goes with it. In the face of the right-wing populism that Fletcher outlined, it’s essential that we reenergize to make change at this critical time.

    How do we do it? We strategically organize. Fletcher talked about what he called the “Tecumseh paradigm”—assuming a new identity in confederation with others in order to stave off invaders. In other words, different social movements need to look for overlap and band together strategically in order to move this country in a just direction. Here are some of the things that Fletcher put out there:

    • We need an anti-capitalist political party.
    • We need to learn how to talk about what we believe in a way that uses vision and narrative to greatest effect.
    • We need to talk through the truth of U.S. history, which many people don’t want to hear or accept, and articulate the collective struggle for justice.
    • We need to end our reluctance to criticize the Obama administration.
    • We need to pose these questions in person, not just on Facebook and e-mail (ummm, or on our blogs); effective organizing is made up of direct, individual personal encounters reinforced by electronic communications.
    • We need to identify what we want to change, how we want it to change, and demand that the change. (“Power concedes nothing without a demand.”)
    • We need to actively challenge the right (when they mobilize, we must also mobilize).
    • We need to actively mobilize right now.

    To close, in the spirit of building effective social movements, I offer you this video inspiration a friend sent to me:

    Air America

    Air America, the progressive talk-radio station that launched Rachel Maddow’s national career and featured the voices of other liberal personalities like Al Franken, has folded. Filing for bankrupty, Air America will cease its programming and go off the air at 9:00 pm EST on Monday, January 25.

    Air America was a great and hopeful alternative to all the conservative talk radio out there (again, I think I mentioned that it aired the Rachel Maddow radio show? I still miss the “Ask Doctor Maddow” segments.) So I actually take back the whole rest-in-peace thing. I am actually hoping for some unrest―more progressive voices fighting for a place to be heard, in local and national media, in independent and mainstream media.

    The beginning of Air America’s official statement:

    “It is with the greatest regret, on behalf of our Board, that we must announce that Air America Media is ceasing its live programming operations as of this afternoon, and that the Company will file soon under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code to carry out an orderly winding-down of the business.

    “The very difficult economic environment has had a significant impact on Air America’s business. This past year has seen a “perfect storm” in the media industry generally. National and local advertising revenues have fallen drastically, causing many media companies nationwide to fold or seek bankruptcy protection. From large to small, recent bankruptcies like Citadel Broadcasting and closures like that of the industry’s long-time trade publication Radio and Records have signaled that these are very difficult and rapidly changing times.”

    Read the rest over at the Air America website.

    Reverend Billy and the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir

    Reverend Billy and the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir

    Do you feel like the addiction to stuff—buying stuff, owning stuff, wanting stuff—is too much? Sick of being a customer, a consumer, and want to just connect like a simple human being? Feel like ever-creeping consumerism is going to bring on the shopocalypse? Well, Reverend Billy and the Life After Shopping gospel choir—a group of creative and enthusiastic performance artist-activists—are right there with you. Back in December, a friend and I attended a Shopocalypse Revival performance at the always awesome Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, New York. Check out two video pieces from the service: Shopocalypse and Beatitudes of Buylessness. These people are fun, they’re talented, they’re hilarious, and they’ve got a really serious point or two. If you can’t catch them live, you can find out more about them and what they’ve got to say in the documentary What Would Jesus Buy?—one of my favorite lines: “Are you people or are you sheeple?” In the words of Reverend Billy, “Peaceallujah!”

    Vote January 19

    US Senate Special Election

    For any Massachusetts resident readers, Tuesday (January 19) is the special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. Strangely enough, the race between Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown seems to be really close (oh, you unpredictable Massachusetts), so it’s incredibly important for us to get out there to the polls on Tuesday to vote for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and health-care reform (read: vote for Martha Coakley).

    Want to know more about Martha? Check out her stances on the issues.

    Need to know where to vote? Find out.

    Polls are open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm, so there’s lots of time to squeeze this really important vote in.

    The news from Haiti in the wake of Tuesday’s massive earthquake is horrific. Current estimates of the death toll are ranging from 30,000 to 100,000. Following is a list of reputable organizations to which you donate to help (you can even donate via text—it can’t get much easier than that):

    Info on where to find up-to-date information on the situation in Haiti can be found at Talking Points Memo.

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