Posts Tagged ‘2008’

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Into the Beast of the Belly (Can I Get a Whataburger with That?)

2010.June.24

I love a road trip. It gives me an excuse to tidy up my living space, sleep even more erratically than usual, spend hours at a time alone with the open road, and indulge in some serious primal sing therapy. If I had my druthers, my book would be written entirely from the road, via dispatches on research, conversations, and sights from across the South.

It’s been over a year since I had a decent excuse for a road trip, so I gladly signed on when invited to attend the Texas Democratic Convention in Corpus Christi (home of Texas’ own Whataburger–their burgers are nominal, but their breakfasts are excellent).

The process so far required just about the least I could do. The Dems prorate their delegations at each level based on corresponding primary turnout, but unlike 2008 there were nowhere near enough volunteers. I was nominated by my precinct in absentia, and promoted to the state level by virtue of having shown up at the county convention. I don’t even know whether I’m a full-on delegate or an alternate.

This year’s convention should be fascinating like a social worker checking in on a past case. While only a fraction of the enthusiasm of 2008 remains, that year has sculpted much about this convention. In 2008, I cheered on Obama’s campaign for not only rallying his influx of newly passionate voters, but for educating them along the way. I said even then that if Obama lost, the knowledge his organization injected into previously uninvolved voters would sustain a stronger movement among those who needed it the most.

To get through the Texans for Obama process and have a chance as a delegate to anything, you had to learn about your precincts, your senate district, your county, and how all of these institutions exist in conjunction with or separate from one another. You had to get to know your neighbors, your fellow activists (new and old), your Internet organizing resources, and you were invited to frequent training, volunteer, social, and strategy-planning opportunities. Even in Texas, where Obama was trailing and the campaign invested only minimal resources, those of us who participated got to know candidates, rules, and organizations at every level–information that, for the most part, remains relevant and useful long after inauguration.

From what I’ve seen so far, it is working, though perhaps not as thoroughly as I had hoped. Several supporters I met in 2008 have gone on to run for local office, form neighborhood organizations, or take on issues like activists instead of whining like armchair quarterbacks.

Of course 2008 also casts some shadows over the convention…

At any moment of the SD conventions I attended in March, you would think the Tarrant Democrats were a strong, united front with a healthy respect for polite dissent and the communal goals of serving the greater good and strengthening the Democratic presence in Austin…

Well, at any moment but one, and it’s kind of hard to explain.

The proportional delegations I mentioned above are part of a fun little contrivance the Texas Dems call the “Texas Two-Step”, where the state primary is split into both a primary and a caucus. Voters can participate in both. Those who support this system say it defends the interests of party faithful and/or particularly passionate voters who are willing to go to extra lengths to be heard. The caucus system is the source of most of the state Democratic platform, and everything is voted on at every level. But detractors say it essentially allows for some participants to vote twice.

If you heard about the 2008 primary here in Texas, then you probably heard that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each won and lost–Clinton won the primary, Obama the caucus. Because the caucus counted for slightly more votes, Obama ended up with most of the state’s delegates. Clinton supporters statewide, which included much of the party establishment and only a minority of the wave of newcomers to the process, were not exactly happy about the result, and a huge chunk of platform debate at every stage involved whether to keep or toss the Texas Two-Step.

Back to March of this year, when the issue came up again, I got to see that 2008’s animosities were alive and well. As someone who quixotically believes that liberal values and simplification of politics/government can somehow be compatible, I was the only former Obama-supporter to vote in favor of eliminating the Texas Two-Step. Moreover, I was told that this was really just “all about Hillary again”, and those of us who stood were chastised by friends and strangers alike, even booed. So much for unity.

Our delegation narrowly voted against the resolution to eliminate the Texas Two-Step, but I suspect it will come up again in Corpus Christi. Otherwise, all assurances are that this one will be swift, painless, and inspiring. Gubernatorial candidate Bill White lacks the charisma of either Obama or Clinton, but fortunately most of us are just as antipathetic to his opponent as we were to his predecessor, W.

Maybe I’ll actually have time to attend a party or two this year (conventions are rife with affinity-based trainings, happy-hours, and after-parties; the twelve-hour days in 2008 prevented my or anyone else attending most of them). Maybe there’s a reason they call them political parties after all…

Sorry, I was a real ass for saying that one. ;)

[Tomorrow (or, you know, whenever I get around to it): A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing! Or, How Does an Independent Survive Two Days of Non-stop Partisan Rallying?]

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Everything I Know about Desire I Learned from Politics

2010.February.10

[First in a series of Creating Change follow-ups…]

It’s only natural that the scope of my desires should expand as I am feeling more politically active than at any time since I left D.C. Both inclinations were squelched during my time in college, then redefined as I worked for social justice in Washington. By the time I left that job–that life–it was because I was as sickened by my own acting out against monogamy as by the self-righteous gridlock down on Capitol Hill. I learned “transparency” as a political term before I applied it to my relationships, and I learned “polyamory” from a political mentor long before I had embraced the concept of having multiple (even conflicting) political loyalties.

It was maintaining the politics and sex I already had that took me to D.C., but it was searching for the politics and sex I wanted that brought me back to Texas. In the four years since, I have found the sex I want, found the words I need, found the love I deserve, mostly while acting like politics was not pivotal to my being. When I was hired on by a campaign, I did not tell my employers that I was poly or sex-positive or a former condom-slinger, even though they were openly gay and (rumor has it) had at one time run a “novelty” shop themselves.

Campaigning helped me feel connected to politics again–to the extent that I could considering how annoyed I get by political parties, even (especially?) while working within one–but this time sex became secondary. Politics became a convenient excuse to resign myself (yet again) from confronting tough questions about my fulfillment (what would those sweet little old ladies for Obama think?). Only in 2009, after the elections were out of my purview, could I once again take up dating in earnest. I had many prospects in mind, but I kept politics out of my sex and vice versa.

After attempting a political hiatus for the year, fate drew me back in as an old friend got bitten by the activist bug himself and started calling on me for fledgling advice while organizing for LGBT equality. I was honored at the chance to be useful and to strengthen my role as an ally, but I consciously remained in the shadows. I was straight, and this was clearly a place where I should have as little input as possible–it had to be community-led, I told myself. I helped my friend get on his feet as an organizer, attended a few marches, and accepted (without being told) that I had to be a silent partner because I didn’t sleep with men.

2009 was the Year of Queer, though, because even as I was scaling back involvement with my friend’s organizing, I was trying to be more active in preparing the upcoming Creating Change conference, to be held in Dallas. Creating Change had been pivotal to my time in D.C.: I had made some of my first contacts around the conference, did some of my best outreach, and forged important friendships–without having ever attended. Concurrently, the mentor who had first taught me about poly fell in love at Creating Change and expanded my fly-on-the-wall education by sharing tidbits of the courtship.

By 2009, four years after I had last seen her, that mentor was working and facilitating for the conference, so I had to get involved if only for the chance to catch up. I joined the host committee and helped them build an outreach database, but I forswore sending any communications myself. “I’m straight, so it wouldn’t be authentic.”

If there’s a third leg on which my desire now stands, it is community. I joined the DFW Poly group early last year and have always found it to be supportive, but my later encounters with the Austin Poly group were nothing short of empowering. There were large, multi-layered poly families with integrated childcare and unashamed sex parties and political awareness–and not from divergent corners, but overlapping, integrated, enthatched, with roots throughout a broad and active community. Lovers old and new gave me the strength to go places I wasn’t sure I belonged and seek out my own niche. I was safely and patiently invited into a relationship that blurred those clearly defined boundaries of straightness further. I had by this time started calling myself “heteroflexible”, but it seemed woefully understated. Who knew that I was so dependent on labels? Standing in so many gray areas had me at a complete loss for self-identification.

As 2010 began, with Creating Change and other political opportunities dominating the horizon, I was struggling with relationship structures and–more importantly–with my tendency to create them unnecessarily. I recognized in myself a fear of freedom that had been squelched by focusing on more formal relationships rather than untethered connections (even as I knew I craved both). I stopped worrying about how others would see me (including my political employers and even my own partners) and resolved not to try to turn every connection into something that is deep and emotional in a mono(gamy)-normative way.  Most of my ongoing relationships thrived, and more time became available to explore. My eyes were wide to all the new possibilities, and I celebrated many of them over a timely weekend in Austin.

Back home, I was invited to work another campaign, solidifying the role of politics in this year once again–but first I was going to Creating Change. You’d think with all these affirmations flying left and right, I would have been relaxed and open to anything, but when I entered the Sexual Liberation Institute on the conference’s second day, I was a wreck. I was set off by mere questions of identifying desire and almost cried when another terror-struck attendee spoke on the malleability of words. The mentor mentioned above was facilitating, but I forced myself to focus inward, sit through everything patiently, and to deal with it alone or with the strangers around me rather than count on her for shortcuts.

Halfway through the morning, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to lunch, but by the end of the day I didn’t want to leave. I liken the experience to being a hard-boiled egg whose shell was cracked, cleared away, and then reconstructed. It was the cracking that was most terrifying, the clearing that was most nourishing, and the reconstruction that was least inhibiting. It still took a few days for me to feel comfortable being myself at the conference, but it was always about how I saw myself, not how I saw others or how they saw me. It was one of the safest spaces I have ever known, which only encouraged me to further confront my own ambivalences.

Embracing the term “Questioning” as not only encapsulating the moment but perhaps also identifying the path ahead, I discovered a lot about my desires each day. I look forward to writing more about them somewhere down the line, but for now, I need only add this:

The more comfortable I felt with my own sexuality/orientation/expression (however ill-defined), the more open I was to the political moment happening all around me. My desires, embraced, translated into clearer thinking, better planning, and exponential rejuvenation of my writing, my relationships, and my dedication to understanding, inside and outside the political sphere.

Talk about transformative…

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What Is Fair Tax?

2008.November.9

If there was any battle that was doomed from the start in 2008, it was Mike Gravel‘s bid for the presidency. He stole attention in the Democratic debates by raising questions that Democrats aren’t supposed to ask, but showed less than 1% in every poll and primary that bothered to include him. Then he said that was just a springboard for his big goal: the nomination of the Libertarian Party, where Gravel came in fourth in a field of eight. The Libs ended up with Republican Bob Barr; apparently even Libertarians have to side with name recognition once in a while.

I don’t know enough about Gravel to say whether he would have been a good candidate, but he definitely had some interesting ideas. How many Libertarians do you know who want single-payer healthcare? One that has gotten my attention is FairTax, an initiative that would eliminate the IRS and address funding needs with a simple sales tax on new goods and services. It is largely supported by Republicans, but Gravel saw it as an important piece of his larger interest in direct democracy – returning government to the people.

Fair Tax also rebutts the shared Democrat and Republican mythos: Democrats tax more! Repulicans spend less! There’s this notion that if you might ever need government assistance for anything, you should support Dems because they’ll pay for it, but if you ever wanted to be rich (and who hasn’t at some point?), you should support Republicans because they’ll let you keep more of it. Americans for Fair Taxation mention the contradiction on their website: “Indeed, the tax code is manipulated by both parties in Congress alike with reckless abandon to punish enemies and reward supporters…”

The Fair Tax would tie taxation directly to consumption, holding more of us accountable to our own spending habits and making sure that wealthy Americans pay their share (but are not saddled with more). Visitors to our country would also pay the consumption tax, so one’s visitation or immigration status would no longer exempt them from paying taxes.

There are drawbacks, mostly tied to any transition from the existing system. There would appear to be a price hike of 30%, since proponents insist that the sales tax should be included in all quoted prices, but the bigger concern would be the entire segment of industry that would be completely eliminated. Accounting as we know it would be decimated, and an entire skill set that applies to every single sector would become obsolete. No small issues, these.

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Learnin’ Something New…

2008.October.15

As an amateur wonk and activist, I’ve heard the basics of the Obama and McCain stories a thousand times, and could probably tell them as well as any journalist on the cable news (though that’s not saying much). Yet, I couldn’t resist the lure of yet another bio as I sat down with leftover saag tonight, despite my intention to seek out some new drama to rot my brain for an hour. PBS’ award-winning Frontline was running a two-hour documentary on both presidential candidates, filling in the gaps for those who haven’t yet memorized Obama’s 2004 speech to the DNC or which years McCain was a P.O.W.

And I managed to learn something.

For instance, I knew that Obama had a relatively short political career, with a coreographed succession of moderate outreach and subtle idealism. What I had not realized, however, was that Obama has yet to win a serious contest in his political career. His greatest struggle up to this point was probably running for President of the Harvard Law Review back in law school. His first office was won after each of his opponents had their candidacies dismissed for invalid petitions (not my favorite way to win an election, and another quiet little hint that Obama might be worse than the Arab-Muslim-Terrorist-Black-Nationalist-Late-Book-Returner his opponent’s supporters believe him to be–he might be one of those god-damned politicians. You know, the kind Barack Obama wants to take Washington away from. Anyway, once he was the incumbent, re-election came easily. In 2000, Obama ran for Congress and lost 2-1 in the primaries against a popular incumbent. Obama’s 2004 election to the U.S. Senate came easily after his original opponent was embarassed out of politics by sex-club allegations from his ex-wife, Seven-of-Nine. Improvised opponent Alan Keyes was flown in from Maryland to establish residency and be black, but was laughed all the way home by 73% of the electorate.

As for McCain, I learned that I’m not the only person who thinks he has changed since his 2000 primary run (I want to call it “maverick”, but no… just… no…). Frontline laid it out there, how McCain stumped for W’s re-election in 2004 and came to support policies he had once opposed. Apparently, every presidential nominee since Reagan (and possibly before) has been an establishment statesmen who stands in party-line and waits his turn for the party’s nod. For McCain to get that nod, he had to get publicly close to W. And even as W’s poll numbers had bottomed out since the 2006 mid-term elections, the president still had the power to make McCain the party’s next statesman or denounce him to eternal maverickdom. Whether because he feels he needs the power to do some good (let’s hope this is Obama’s rationale for playing politics so well), or because he’s grown tired and wants to retire in four years, or because he has a Clinton-esque sense of entitlement, John McCain sucked it up and kissed a lot of ass to get where he is today. It’s too bad, really. I liked that 2000 guy. Moreover, I respected him.

Fortunately, there is still some hope that this election won’t be like the last few… dozen. That two decent, upstanding men will carry on a respectful, meaningful discussion of our country’s direction by focusing on those elusive issues and not on character assassinations, even when their own supporters call for blood. Is it so dumb to think maybe the guy who loses could wake up on November 5th and just say, “Well, we did our best and we did justice to our values, it just wasn’t our time…”?

Of course there’s always 2012…

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