Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Recession Proof Idealism

From Wall Street to Main Street to some violent American street named After MLK, you have heard this words " Man, we are in a recession." Everyone's talking about it. Jeezy even wrote an album about it. And frankly, I think that it has been quite the scapegoat lately. It has been to justify/explain lousy customer service, smaller meal portions at restaurants, even back payments in child support. (And that's for people who HAVEN'T lost their jobs). Not that our wallets have not taken a beating since the government dropped the R bomb and fear clinched every fiber of our being, it's true. They have. It's just now, we have an excuse to rest comfortably on.

I'd ask for a moment to think of all of the things that the recession has stolen from us. Our jobs, our "stable" financial institutions. In some cases, our dignity. In a very similar, yet introspective way, think of all of the things that it hasn't. Family, Virtue, Innovation, Nature...somewhere on that list (if you track long enough) you'll find CREATIVITY and IDEALISM. We've allowed fear to stifle our expression of such things. Instead of panicking and stuffing money under a mattress we should be thinking of ways to create the stability that we crave. Fear is a monster that is never satisfied. Unfortunately, it knows that the quickest route to your sanity is through your pocket. Every time we act our of fear, we impair our ability to recover. Further impairing our ability to recover is our failure to prioritize. I know countless people who have made the wrong type of sacrifices in this recession. They sacrifice their donations to churches and local outreach orgs to secure their money for clubbing. They refuse to spend money on summer enrichment for their kids so that they can waste money on the new iPhone 3G. They sacrifice countless hours of potential activism so that they can spend them staked out on their couches, clutching their lucky rabbits foot, watching Lou Dobbs tell you how much worse it's going to get.

I applaud churches, community organizations, non-profits, that have not yielded their outreach efforts because of the perceived and real effects of the recession. I also commend those who have not stopped giving to such organizations in the face of "hard times." For a summer camp coordinator who has learned the millions of uses of colored construction paper, there is a certain personal innovation that is at work in us when we choose to focus not on what we have lost, but what we have gained. In some (few) ways, I am thankful for the recession. It has humbled the whole world. It has forged the hand of creativity in our lives. Not just in our innovative design of spaceships and hybrid cars, but in our everyday interactions with one another. We learn that the face of compassion, goodwill, altruism and perseverance have stayed the same thorough it all. The means by which we accomplish them have changed. The recession has been a reality check to anyone who thinks that throwing money at a problem will solve it. The recession serves as a reminder that whether our paychecks, families, or aspirations are big or small, we are all linked in a string of fate and that only our loyalty to one another and our dedication to creativity and idealism will survive such things.

I guess this all comes on the heels of my recent wave of campaign nostalgia. Back then (year ago), we were in an undeclared recession. People hadn't REALLY started panicking yet. I had tons of volunteers who were between jobs, had just lost jobs or were overworked on the jobs that they had. They still knocked on doors, they still made phone calls. They still won elections. Ordinary people, extraordinary power. I guess it's a double edged sword. The campaign taught me to see the condition of communities and the people who live in them in a new way, but also caused me to have a lower level of tolerance for people who think that the world changes itself for the better and that money is all we need.

I'm not saying that we should not recognize the recession and its effects, I'm saying that maybe we shouldn't reach for it as an excuse for our inability to recognize what makes communities and families and individuals strong to begin with. That realization, that diagnosis, doesn't require a community organizer, a blogger, a rocket scientist or even an economist.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


60 Senate Seats Baby!!

Oh yeah!!In your face!!Oot Oot!! *Victory Dance*

Almost immediately after posting this news story on my Facebook wall, I started thinking. What does this whole 60 seats in the Senate business mean?
(Besides the obvious and what they have told you on TV). And by TV do I mean that, pesky, important information source, the liberal mainstream media?
You betcha! ;-) What do we do now that we have won this game of musical chairs? Sit down and rest on our laurels? Nope. So while I honker down and attempt to digest the meaning of a 60th seat (I'll admit, I haven't blogged about something political in a while)...bear with me.

So, we've still got folks joking about Franken's SNL days (May I remind you that the Terminator is the Governor of California). But we've got more votes and a filibuster proof senate. But the sense for "political power" stays the same. People are still listening to fear-mongers.
Republicans still calling Obama a socialist, terrorist. Poor people are still unjustifiably, concerned about socialism. Young Republicans are electing leaders who are comfortable with the use of racial slurs. Read the Article. Sarah Palin on the cover of TIME.....AGAIN! Yikes! Read the Story.

On the flip side, we've got Sotomayor in the hot seat: Read Article (hopefully moving toward a confirmation *fingers crossed*) and a new Surgeon general who credentials celebrate the values of the common man.:-) Read Article So, beyond long withheld senate victories and a Surgeon general appointment, what do demcrats do to turn the "warm bodies in the seats theory and in the cabinet" into something real? (The simple strength in numbers argument doesn't quite hold up when you need true activism. It's more like strength in effectiveness). Democrats must do what we have always done. Find ways to distinguish ourselves from people who spout their political beliefs from a high horse. Yes, therein lies the all important art of....DOING SOMETHING. Knocking on doors, calling voters in Nebraska (one of the battlefields in healthcare reform). Organizing local events. These things are STILL important. It is, as so often quoted, how we sustain a movement. I think of all of my friends who have continued to organize for change even past the election. Daily they strive to convince voters all over the country that the cause of ensuring that folks like their uninsured friend Jonae has access to healthcare. I am as grateful to them as I am to Al Franken for taking that 60th seat. I'm not saying that we shouldn't celebrate our political gains. I too did a little dance around the room when I heard the news on Franken. I'm saying that WE are the real heroes in this thing. An election, an appointment is merely an outward expression of what is stirring inside the melting pot of our society. What we see now is the day for which many people have prayed and struggled. A day when highly qualified latinos and blacks are no longer overlooked for such high honors. 60 seats or not, change is coming.

Summary. What are we still up against, in the aftermath of our 60 seat celebration? I suppose, the same, countless, NOW WHAT questions that we had after Obama won the general election. We must realize that changing the world is not something that happens, but continues to happen when people are willing to shoulder the responsibility. We've eaten numerous slices of the change pie (If you are a republican, you are still digesting that last piece), but it has, and continues to have new ingredients. It is my sincere hope that we still have a hearty appetite.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


The passing of Michael Jackson has been called the death of a musical Messiah. It rattled and upset basically every person on earth, according to CNN. But even amidst the controversy of his life and the "sudden" and "shocking" nature of his death, one thing is for sure, his memory will live FOREVER. Literally. And the question is not how, I'm sure there are way too many people listening to the Off the Wall CD on repeat for that question to come up, but rather (not to be insensitive) WHY? What's in the making of a legend?

Most people are at least in their 20's before they even BEGIN to contemplate a legacy. But with the slew of unreasonably famous young people on the scene, it occurred to me that most of us are already behind on the process of beginning a legacy. MJ was already a big deal before he could spell big deal. I'm unsure that he was ever really chasing legacy. He probably just wanted to play his music and wear his shiny gloves. I suppose that the easiest route to a memorable life is doing what you love and letting the world adore you. So what is there to CHASE really? Fame, I suppose. People talking about you in ever living room in America. Covers of magazines, a spot on the top 5 Google searches. So you get there, then what? It's all devastatingly elusive. None of this alone immortalizes your image. Just ask Sarah Palin. :-)So then, legacy is not really about being cute, it's not even about being controversial. It's about being dedicated and purposed. Like Mike.

Some folks make legacies by investing in businesses, houses, families. Some make a name for themselves, center stage. Whatever we do, the intentionality and dedication behind it speaks volumes. What kind of legacy are we leaving? Some folks will be more remembered for being great parents and private humanitarians, than others will be for having graced the covers of every print publication there is. For some, the persistent social climbing will pay off. Some of us will be caught in the cross hairs of controversy, unable to escape the undesirable glare of wrongdoing. Fame will be forever tarnished. Our lives, in turn, fade into the background. But if we continue to do what we are called to do, legacy can survive it . Mike's did. Few will ever be as famous, but who cares. For us who seek to build a legacy out of a seemingly mundane existence and the painful grind of a 9-5, use every season of "insignificance" to walk out those things which will become your legacy, be it love, faith or the generosity shown by your humanitarian effort. Don't cop out on your legacy for a bit of fame.

So when I die, I probably won't be featured on major cable networks. Al Sharpton probably won't deliver a sermon and declare a national day of morning in my honor (I'd actually prefer that NOT happen). Russia will never erect a monument bearing my image. Perhaps my work in ministry, Summer camp coordination skills, and community organizing, will all blur together in the end, not a single thing clearly distinguishable. But you'd better believe that the fact that I lived, that I breathed air for decades, that I inhabited a human body WILL matter. Not because I'll force it, but because it will be a natural result of a drive beyond photo opps, trophys and tell-all memoirs.

So I'd like to say a brief thank you to Michael Jackson. While millions will remember and praise him as the man whose music told the story their lives, whose moonwalk made them believe that anything is possible; I thank him for showing me the difference between a life of fame and notariety, and a legacy.