Be the Change #50: Patriotism part one

Most children are afraid of ghosts, or big dogs, or the monster under the bed.  Not I.  When I was a little girl, I was afraid of Communists. 

Growing up in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, I don’t think I knew about nuclear weapons.  I wasn’t exactly sure what Communists were, and I wasn’t clear on what they might do to me.  But, I must have known something about the Holocaust, because I vaguely remember thinking they would take me out of my home, take my clothes and make me march to a horrible camp where I would be beaten, starved and killed.

Sometimes I woke in the middle of the night with these fears.  My dad would be sitting on his scratchy red chair drinking a last beer before bed, just home from a church softball game or an Elks meeting.  He took me onto his bony lap, listened to my fears, and reassured me that he and my mother would always take care of me.  And reminded me that my country would protect me.  America was the richest, strongest country in the world, always on the side of what was right.

School reinforced that message. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance daily, hands over hearts.  In Social Studies class, we learned about our wise Founding Fathers and the Constitution they wrote.  We were taught that America was the land of opportunity, where people from other places could come to find freedom and better lives.  In Music Class, we sang “God Bless America” and “This is My Country” and “America the Beautiful” in our piping voices, accompanied by grim-faced Mrs. Riffle banging on the piano. 

But a woman in late middle-age knows things that a little girl is rightly protected from. I now know that we stole this land from the natives who were living here before Columbus “discovered” the New World.  I know that our brawny economy was built partly on the whip-driven backs of slave laborers, and that the descendants of those slaves still can’t get a fair shake in our justice system.  I know that we have meddled in other countries’ elections to install leaders who were sympathetic to us and often brutal to their own people.  I know that our foreign policy has sometimes been driven less by idealism than by avarice. 

And yet I still love America.  We’ve been hanging our flag less lately, but we used to hang it every sunny day from April through November.  I vote in every election.  I tear up at the words to “America the Beautiful” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  I’m proud of the innovation and prosperity that the U.S. brought to the world, of the sacrifices that my parents’ generation made to rid the world of Nazis and hold out against Communism in the Cold War.  I’m proud that our Constitution is a model for the world, and that people want to come here from every corner of the globe – even now, when the Trump presidency has me pondering what it even means to be patriotic.

And so I ask myself: Why, with all that I know now, do I still love my country?

I’ve been struggling with that since November 8, 2016, and the answer starts with another question:  What IS a country anyway?

To be continued in my next post…


Be the Change #49: Schwarzenegger on Gerrymandering

If you don’t believe me on gerrymandering, listen to what The Terminator has to say about it.  Arnold Schwarzenegger has released a series of videos on this topic.  The videos ate both informative and entertaining, Some include humor such as when he says that Congres is less popular than hemorrhoids, herpes, cockroaches and Nickelback.

As governor, Schwarzenegger helped push through Proposition 11.  Prop 11 gave California a Citizens Redistricting Commissions, similar to what Fair Districts PA is promoting for Pennsylvania.  Only 5 other state use independent commissions to set district boundaries.  An independent commission should be the standard.  No individual drawing district lines should be a legislator or public official.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Watch what Ah-nold has to say about it….

90-second summary (this is the best one, the one where he says Congress is less popular than herpes):

2-minute summary (this one is a little more serious, but with touches of humor; it explains how gerrymandering drives gridlock in congress)

5-minute detail (includes a clip of President Reagan objecting to gerrymandering way back in the 80s.  also includes an explanation of how gerrymandering works)


Be the Change #48: Gerrymandering Again

Are you sick of partisan politics and political gridlock?  Do you wish the Pennsylvania state legislature could ever pass a budget without a last-minute fire drill?  Then you should care a lot about gerrymandering. 

For those of you who have forgotten 9th-grade Civics, gerrymandering in the practice of drawing district lines for state and federal legislatures such that incumbents and protected and/or that one party or another is heavily favored in each district. 

Click HERE for an example of what a congressional district looks like when the state legislature is allowed to run amok designing districts to protect the party currently in power.  Does that look fair to you?  Does it even look logical? 

Gerrymandered districts are designed to be “safe” for either a Democrat or a Republican.  This practice drives partisanship because the incumbent almost never has to worry about a challenge in the general election.  They only have to worry about a primary challenge.  In the primaries, the challenger in a safe Republican district will almost always be to the right of the incumbent.  In a safe Democratic district, the challenger will almost always be the left.  To protect themselves against extremist primary challenges, the incumbents move towards the extremes themselves.  It can be political death to reach across the aisle and cooperate with the other party. 

Result:  gridlock, including constant threats of governments shutdowns at both the state and federal levels. 

Further result:  Communities who used to have a representative who had their best interests are heart are now split, so that nobody in Harrisburg is really looking out for them.  Do you live in Ross Township, PA?  You used to have a legislator in the State House who represented the interests of your community.  Now Ross is divided among 4 different legislative districts.  Do you think that was done in your best interests?

“Your” representatives in gerrymandered districts actually have no incentive at all to serve you.  Their seats are safe as long as they please the party leadership and the big donors. 

Result:  government by power elites, not by the people.

Further result:  trust in our form of government erodes. 

71% of Americans – across the political spectrum – agree that gerrymandering should be against the law.  And the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agrees.  Early this year, they threw out the 2011 map and put a new, fairer one in place.  But guess what?  Without reform, in 2021 the legislators will be free to gerrymander again.  And there will be another lawsuit. 

Result:  Your tax dollars and mine are spent defending against lawsuits that should never have to be filed in the first place. 

Fair Districts PA is working to change Pennsylvania from one of the worst gerrymandered states to a model of fairness.   Today state and federal districts are designed by the party in power in Harrisburg.  Even the minority party isn’t blameless.  They usually go along with the map designed by the majority party as long as it also protects a few of their favored incumbents.  Fair Districts PA is working to replace that self-serving system with a citizens’ commission. 

Please write to your state representative and senator NOW and demand that fair districting bills be brought to the floor for a vote.  Find the name of your representative and your senator HERE.   And write a letter to the editor.  Fair Districts PA provides resources for letter-writing, more information about the proposed citizens commission, and other information on their website.

If you care about democracy, you should care about gerrymandering.  Join our fight now!


Be the Change #47: Have a funeral like Mark’s

Be honest:  you hope your funeral will be well-attended.  You want people to have to drive around the funeral-home parking lot searching for a space, while inside at least 100 friends and relatives speak in low voices about what a wonderful person you were, what great memories they have of you.

That’s the kind of funeral my cousin Mark Walsh had. 

Mark died on April 14 of lung cancer.  He was a lifelong smoker, but I don’t want to focus here on that tragic mistake.  I want to explore what Mark did right.   I want to explore why you couldn’t find a parking space for his funeral. 

Mark was an example of Pope Francis calls “artisans of the common good.” (See this LINK to an earlier blog post)  He was a devoted husband of 43 years to his wife Kathy.  Together, they raised four fine sons in a deteriorating neighborhood where the odds were against them.  They were rewarded with 7 grandchildren.  He was a loving son and brother.  Mark and his brothers don’t always agree on everything, but they grew up hard and had a rock-solid devotion to each other and to their mother. 

My cousin never went to college.  He worked as a laborer.  Staying employed was a struggle, but Mark never succumbed to the “white working-class despair” that we’re suddenly hearing so much about.  He was often unemployed, but never for very long.  He always managed to find work, to support his wife and children. 

Mark did something else that is unusual in our modern era:  he lived his whole life in one community.  He was born in McKees Rocks, grew up in McKees Rocks, raised his own family there, and died there.  He coached Little League in the Rocks for 30 years. 

My cousin never did anything big and splashy.  He didn’t attend black-tie fundraisers, never played Major League baseball, never travelled much outside Western Pennsylvania.  Mark was just a good and simple man who was loyal to his family, his friends and his struggling community.  You could do worse, if you want a well-attended funeral.

NOTE:  The picture is of me and Mark as babies.  We were born 4 weeks apart, and he and his brothers were among the most treasured playmates of my childhood. 


Be the Change #46: Working the Polls

If you live in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, I was one of the people who WOULDN’T STOP BOTHERING YOU.  My husband and I worked the phones and knocked on doors on behalf of Conor Lamb in the weeks leading up to the March 13 special election. 

But we were working the polls on election day on behalf of something even more important to us: the anti-gerrymandering effort.  We were outside a polling place trying to get signatures on a petition to change the way state and federal congressional district lines are drawn in Pennsylvania (see details HERE). 

You will be happy to hear that  I was punished for annoying you with phone calls all winter.  That day was really, really cold, and we had to stand outside the polling place, not inside where it was nice and warm and people had donuts.  We were well-prepared.  We wore gloves, hats, thick socks, and heavy coats over heavy sweaters.  And the nice people from Fair Districts had provided us with hand and foot warmers in addition to petitions and pens.  But it was still cold, and we were out there from the minute the polls opened until about noon, when our relief arrived .  Our faces were numb, our fingers  were popsicles and our feet were blocks of ice.

But it was SO worth it – and not just because we got 144 signatures on our Fair Districts petition.  144 signatures was a fantastic result:  more than 1/3 of the voters that morning signed.  But, the best part of that frigid morning was that we were reminded that Americans are more than the angry, divided, partisans portrayed on the news and in social media.  We are definitely divided, and definitely partisan.  And many of us are angry. 

But, at the personal level, we are also really, really nice.  Not a single person was rude to us, even the ones who made it clear that they disagreed with our cause.  Most disagreements were expressed like this: “No, thank you, I like things the way they are.”  One young guy even got into a jokey argument with us.  “Come on,” he said, “I’m a Republican. We have it set up so we always win.  Why would I want to change that?” 

Almost everyone expressed concern about how cold we must be.  One person offered to bring us coffee.  Many people stopped to talk to us, either to learn more about Fair Districts, or to share their concerns about the direction the country is heading.  For the first two hours, a local councilman stood outside with us, just to greet his constituents.  He knew almost everyone who came to vote, asking questions, listening, sharing personal anecdotes.  When he left us, he was on his way to another polling place in the community he represents.  This young guy, has a job and a family, but he had taken on the relatively thankless job of being on a community’s council, and he took the responsibility very seriously.

That councilman, and all the people who were worried about how cold Al and I must be, are the real America.  We could hear them, if we could only stop yelling at each other.


« Previous Entries

Copyright 2014 Kathryn Bashaar | Design by | Adapted from PureType