Saturday, January 24, 2009

Conversations with a Four-Year-Old: The Presidency

CHILD: Maybe when I grow up, I will be President.

MOTHER: Well, maybe you're right. Hey, if you become President when you grow up, can I live with you in the White House?

CHILD: You could watch me on TV.

Mother laughs.

CHILD: You should put that on your blog.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Yes We Did

Tomorrow, the United States will have a new president.

On that chilly day in Illinois in February, 2007, when he officially announced his presidential campaign, Barack Obama looked like such an unlikely candidate. A young man, an African-American man, with a funny name, running for a presidential nomination against a former vice presidential candidate and a former First Lady? No way he could ever get elected, right?

And yet, when I turned off the cynical voices in my head, and listened to my heart, I believed he could. So many people, even then, believed he could.

My belief in Barack Obama's ability to do the once impossible sent me to the Missouri State Democratic Convention as an Obama delegate, where I proudly represented the primary votes of members in my community who also believed he could win.

My belief sent me to the Democratic National Convention with a press pass, where I sat in the stands at Invesco Field with 84,000 other people who also believed that tomorrow's events could come. And it was there that I finally, fully realized just how much the power of the movement to elect Obama lay, not in the man himself, but in the hands, hearts and minds and walking feet of the ordinary people behind it.

That realization kept me focused during my hours as a volunteer Neighborhood Team Leader at my local Obama office.

And whenever I felt my newfound conviction in the ability of ordinary people do to extraordinary things start to waver when faced with the forces of apathy, disillusionment, and stubborn opposition to the forces of change, I would meet an Obama supporter or volunteer whose personal committment so impressed me that I felt compelled to continue believing our work to change our country could succeed.

People like my fellow Neighborhood Team Leader, Sara, who approached canvassing with the same determination she mustered to run marathons; people like a field organizer named Alex, just out of college, working his first "real" job as a community leader, who came in to a struggling neighborhood office in a working class town, and turned into an organized Get-Out-the-Vote machine in a matter of days. People like the man with two prosthetic legs who joined my canvass team, and walked more streets than half of my other canvassers. People like the former die-hard Hillary Clinton supporter who volunteered to take charge of canvassers and voter-protection crews in one of the least-staffed, most challenging neighborhoods in the St. Louis metro on Election Day.

It was these people who really won on November 4th.

And I trust them, all of them, to continue working, in ways large and small, to make the country they love a better place, no matter what happens after tomorrow.

Congratulations to tomorrow's President, Barack Obama, and to all of the ordinary people who paved his way to the White House by being willing to dream an impossible dream.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Learn to" List: Flintknap, Read Classical Sanskrit, Tango, Make Wine, Play Dulcimer, Knit

I am a deeply curious person, and therefore I am always interested in acquiring new skills. The list of things I'd like to learn how to do is essentially endless, because nearly every time I hear about an interesting and useful skill I've never heard of before (assuming it doesn't somehow involve certain few things I prefer to avoid familiarizing myself intimately with at all costs, such as scorpions, or raw sewage) I find myself wishing I had it.

If I had infinite free time, infinite boldness, and a large chunk of cash, I am certain I'd spend my entire life traveling the globe learning things like how to make artisanal cheese, perform brain surgery, and and swim the English Channel.*

Unfortunately for me, I have limited free time, I am nervous by nature (scratch that brain surgery thing), and I seem to have, ahem, misplaced my money tree.**

These facts together conspire to keep my lengthy "Learn to" List from shrinking.

But here's at least one thing I can cross off:

The first thing I ever knit. It did not unravel. And it actually does something!

* As opposed to what I can do in deep water now, which is essentially take a longer time to drown.

** I did receive an anonymously mailed photo of my money tree festooned in toilet paper garlands and looking rather tipsy, at what was clearly a fairly racy party, with certain Wall Street executives playfully tossing one another into what appeared to be a champagne fountain in the background. I was not amused.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Bag Attitude

A few days ago, I went to a Dierbergs grocery store. It was not my local Dierbergs store. I try to avoid my local Dierbergs store when I can, because my local Dierbergs store, though filled with friendly people, stocks a ridiculously limited selection of bruised and moldy produce.

(My local Schnucks has a terrible produce section too, actually. I am convinced, in fact, that both area chains send their worst produce to my neighborhood on purpose, so as to reserve the shiniest apples and least-green potatoes for their stores in places like Chesterfield and Ladue. But that's a topic for another post.)

Anyway, this was not my neighborhood Downscale Dierbergs for the Hoi Polloi, but a fancy schmancy We Have Non-Wilty Onions sort of Dierbergs store out in West County.

Outside this store, plastered neatly to the glass between the automatic doors, there is a little sign that reads: DID YOU REMEMBER TO BRING YOUR REUSABLE BAGS? On this sign is a picture of the Dierbergs brand resuable grocery bags that are available for purchase for one dollar apiece inside the store.

When I first noticed it, several weeks ago, I thought this was a kind and clever little sign. My husband and I always remember to bring our reusable shopping bags in to the grocery store now that carrying them has become a habit, but in our early days of using them, we would often forget and leave them in the car.

It's the sort of thing that makes you think that the Dierbergs grocery chain might really be taking this whole reusable bag trend seriously. And why shouldn't they? I mean, not only are reusable shopping bags vastly better for the environment than either the paper or plastic disposable kind, but they also save stores money.

Well, tell that to the checkers and baggers at Fancy Dierbergs.

I've already become accustomed to dramatic sighs and rolled eyes from disaffected checkers when I respond to "Paper or plastic?" with "Neither, thanks! I brought my own."

And baggers! Well. Nearly every time I pull the reusable bags out of the cart, it's like I'm telling a world-class pianist to play a concerto on my son's toy xylophone, or asking a master architect to design a house for me with crayons. I'd swear the slight once caused a particularly affronted bagger to put a bunch of bananas in with two cans of tomato sauce on purpose.

And the last time I went to Fancy Dierbergs was the worst time there so far. Not only did the checker roll her eyes and sigh when my husband cheerfully replied, "Neither!" Not only did the bagger look askance at us, and then cast a rather wicked glare toward our bananas before dolefully shaking out the first of our eco-friendly bags.

No, this was not the end of our punishment for showing off as environmental goody two-shoes. Once the checker finished scanning our groceries, she completely, purposefully ignored the pile of still-unused resusable bags that the bagger had not filled yet, and put all of the rest of our groceries in disposable plastic bags, leaving half our reusables empty on the counter.

Lest my gentle reader think this anti-eco-bag attitude is unique to the workers at one local grocery chain, only two days later, when we were at that Target of St. Louis Targets, The Mecca-Target — Target of South City — where, incidentally, they also sell their own brand of reusable shopping bags — our checker, upon realizing that we had brought reusable bags, refused to bag our items entirely, and demanded that my husband bag them himself.

Seriously, people. Is it that hard to put things in a slightly different kind of bag? Of a sort your own store sells in a deliberate attempt to get more people to use them?

Clearly some sort of campaign is needed to get cashiers and baggers outside of Trader Joe's and Whole Paycheck on track with this whole saving-the-planet-and-your-store's-bottom-line business.

I imagine the surest way to fix this problem is to make reusable shopping bags so entirely commonplace, so totally unremarkable, that not even the surliest teen temp store employee would bat an eye upon seeing a customer pull them out. If everyone starts using reusables, then checkers and baggers everywhere will be forced to stop silently accusing me of being a pain-in-the-ass hippie with their eyes when I whip my eco-totes out at the register.

Therefore, I am issuing this public call: if you haven't jumped on the reusable grocery bag bandwagon yet, I urge you, for my sake, please, to purchase a set immediately and use them on your very next shopping trip.

The ego you could help save may well be mine.

(But the planet you will help save will be your own. )