Happy Halloween

I canvassed again today in Swing State City. (Why be coy? It's Milwaukee.)

I didn't manage to put as many hours in, because I had other things to attend to in the morning. We were doing "lit drop only," i.e. not talking to people, just leaving brochures. It was not as cold and windy as yesterday. There were a lot of Kerry signs. I managed to talk to some passersby, which was gratifying. Walking on the street, nobody is a Republican. I gave one woman a phone number to call to figure out whether she had appropriate ID to register to vote. One girl asked me for a flyer to give to her older sister. I gave some costumed kids flyers to give their parents. I shared some camaraderie with a guy who asked me what candidate I was supporting -- as if there was an option.

Then we went to a supermarket to put flyers on windshields. The first car I went to had people in it, so I tried to give them a flyer.

I: Are you voting on Tuesday?
She: Yes, I'm voting for Bush. He doesn't kill babies.
I: He kills our soldiers!
She: That's OK, because they're fighting a war for our freedom. And for other people's freedom. But that really doesn't matter anyway because I just vote for whoever doesn't kill babies.
I: All right.

Postscript: I realize part of what's kinda exhilarating doing this is talking to people I would never otherwise talk to about politics. Like this woman. It wasn't particularly fun to talk to her, but I had the adrenaline to do it, and I learned something, in a way (that is, I did and will do some thinking about abortion politics as a result). Maybe election time is the time we're given the tacit license to talk to people we don't know about politics. And that's why (per my previous post) the door-to-door stuff can't happen all year round. What do you think, dear reader?


Pounding the Pavement for Kerry/Edwards

I worked canvassing door to door for Kerry yesterday in Postindustrial Swing State City. I walked with KL and another canvasser through parts of two wards of the low-income south side of the city, where bungalows built in the 50s as small single family houses (2.2 kids, the dad working a good factory job at a family wage) have been converted into apartments. Sometimes even the 8x10 garage out back was a separate apartment; often the basement was. Porches were falling apart. Screen doors were ripped. Windows were patched. Most people didn't answer the doorbell. That's because most of the doorbells didn't work. But most people also didn't respond to a knock (despite lights on, the TV going -- well, maybe because of the TV). Probably a majority of the people who did -- or a significant minority -- didn't speak English well and/or weren't citizens. Most people had American flag decals or fading "United We Stand" signs on their doors or houses. This had no correlation with support for Bush.

Most of the people we talked to who were eligible to vote said they were planning to vote -- and most of those said they were planning to vote for Kerry, and that the rest of their households were too. One guy said "I voted for Bush last time. What a mistake." This was the encouraging part. The distressing part was

- the Latina woman who said she was voting for Bush because "he has a plan for jobs and education" (prompting me to wonder who gave her this line?)

- the goth chick you know from high school, now all grown up with five kids, who doesn't believe her vote matters because Bush will just steal the election again (we talked to her for ages)

- the white woman who said "I don't give a damn get the hell off my property." (I did)

The two neighborhoods were different. In the first, security systems consisted of attack dogs. In the second, they were electronic (or at least claimed to be, with stickers on the door). In the first, folks weren't up yet at 11am, they weren't interested in talking to us, they couldn't name issues they cared about. They seemed hopeless. In the second, which was also more racially diverse (white-Hispanic-black-Asian; the first was all white and Hispanic) people didn't seem much better off economically, but they were articulate about their issues, and knew they were going to vote and, usually, that they were going to vote for Kerry. A lot of them had lawn signs and stickers already. Most of them knew WHERE to vote, which suggests to me that they've voted before. Every single African-American adult we talked to was planning to vote for Kerry.

Some other observations:

A lot of people are depressed, apathetic, and disengaged. They don't seem to know what's going on in politics. They don't think it makes much difference who is in the White House. (In some ways, they're right. Kerry will raise the minimum wage, but enough that a household with two minimum wage workers will be able to reasonably feed, clothe and provide healthcare for their kids? I'm not sure.)

We found people unusually willing to give us their name and phone number. I don't know if this was because we seemed official, or because they liked the attention.

This is a world without the internet, but with big screen TVs.

We ran into union canvassers. They said they were only going to about one house per block. That says something. 30 years ago they would have been going to every house. They told us a house not to go to because they'd just spent a long time trying to convince a Nader voter, victim of a plant closing, to vote for Kerry, and he'd be annoyed if we knocked as well.

There were also Americans Coming Together canvassers -- students, I think -- doing the same streets. The Kerry campaign and the 527s are not allowed to coordinate their efforts, but I think this was OK. I heard someone say the campaign was trying to contact people an average of 9 times and that the psychology of this was such that they would not be so irritated as to change their vote to Bush. They certainly might just not answer the door. And they didn't.

There are many more undecideds out there than anyone takes into account -- people who are undecided about voting at all, and undecided about who to vote for. They just don't figure in this image of a deeply polarized nation.

There wasn't as much Christian or Catholic paraphernalia on the houses as I would have expected. (There was some.) But I think most of those who were wavering were wavering because of abortion.

When asked what issues were important to them, nobody talked about terrorism. Some people said safety and security. But most said education, jobs, immigration.

I think I could be pretty good at this with a little practice. I think teaching helps. I wish people were out there organizing these folks all the time and not just during election times. The work feels more meaningful, I have to say, than teaching humanities. Then again, I think it would get awfully tiring and awfully discouraging very quickly. So maybe everybody should put in a week a year at it. It might make a difference.

OK, all for now. I'm going to go back one or more times in the next three days...



The hobgobbling of Democratic rhetoric, or what's all this about Islamofascism

OK, so I was going to say the hobbling of Democratic rhetoric, and then I was going to say the hobgoblin of small minds (consistency, especially of the foolish variety, being something I eschew), and then I thought "Halloween is coming" and hobgobbling seemed the thing to say.

Anyway, I heard a rerun (I think) of the Obama-Keyes radio debate last night, and I turned it off feeling sad. I heard Obama flub two simple questions: "Your children go to private school. If you move to Washington, will you put them in public school?" and "You don't support gay marriage. Why not?"

The answers he gave to these questions were all about politics and not at all about principle. It's sad that Obama can't just say "every public school in America should be as good as the Lab School" (not "just like the Lab School" -- heaven forfend). And is he really personally opposed to same-sex marriage, or is this just the politically expedient position to take? He danced around the issue and would not come out (ha, ha) and say that marriage between a man and a woman is privileged because having a mother and a father is the best way for children to be raised (not something I agree with, but at least a principled conservative position). He just kept saying that his faith tells him that marriage is between a man and a woman. Hell, my faith tells me that marriage is between a goldfish and a golf ball. So I think we should have a law that says only goldfish and golf balls can get married, but everybody else can have the legal benefits of marriage.

[Meanwhile, Mr. Alan I-take-my-marching-orders-only-from-Thomas-Aquinas Keyes is up there saying that same-sex couples should not be allowed to have children because said children "won't be able to keep from having sex with their siblings." (Can you say tortured logic? Current disclosure laws, apparently -- is this even true? -- prevent children from learning the identities of their sperm-donor fathers. Thus, legally -- and legalistically -- the kids are not allowed to figure out who their siblings are. And hence would not be able to prevent themselves from having sex with them. This seems to me, incidentally, an argument against anyone having heterosexual sex, ever. First legislation sponsored: stoning adulterers.) Anyway, I've read my John Boswell. I know that the threat of incest was a medieval Catholic argument against child abandonment. My question is, has Alan Keyes been reading John Boswell? I guess he missed the part about how early Christians did in fact practice same-sex marriage. OK, back into my corner.]

In the latest string of endorsements of Kerry I keep seeing people -- conservative Democrats, moderates of one kind or another, people for whom the decision to vote for Kerry was not obvious -- in other words, not hardline right-wingers -- talking about how the one good thing about George Bush is that he "understands the threat of Islamofascism" (or "Islamic radicalism"). This is an example of the kind of powerful symbolism that the Democrats seem to lack. But as with much powerful symbolism, something doesn't add up about it. It's not just that this notion is racist, and it's not just that people are failing to see that conservative (or we might say radical) forms of Islam wants basically the same things conservative (or we might say radical) Christianity does (see above), or that compared to all kinds of other things that cause death worldwide (the US government's irresponsible use of force, the poverty inflicted by global capitalism) it is really not that much of a threat. Saddam Hussein was not an Islamic ruler per se; as has been said over and over again the war has produced many times the number of terrorists it ever got rid of. The Saudis are deeply tied, it goes without saying, to Bush. I feel like there's something more to how deeply irrational this idea of Islam is--something I can't quite put my finger on. I mean, there are all kinds of ways it's wrongheaded. So why do people believe it so fervently?



It's not Al Pieda, but...

Oregon publishes a booklet in which individuals and groups can make statements for and against whatever ballot initiatives are on the docket. This year the state has an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Read some of the arguments in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Remember, this is an official state election document. Notice anything odd?



Community Supported Agriculture Saved My Life

Well, that is a bit hyperbolic. "Changed," maybe. Anyone who hasn't gotten on the CSA bandwagon yet is missing out on some REALLY amazing vegetables. Here's how it works (there are variations): you buy a share in a local farm and every week in the summer and fall you pick up a box of organic veggies from some location near you. (Or not so near you. Sometimes you have to go to the farm.) You get whatever's in season, so it's fresh and not made of cardboard. It tastes better and keeps longer than the organic produce you get in the supermarket. I have learned to love parsnips. I make salad all the time (I never used to buy greens because they'd rot before I used them; now I can't bear not to have salad). I've made carrot cake about six times since August. Goatdog is not quite as enthusiastic as I am. But I think he's glad to be forced to eat his vegetables.

I actually live right next door to a community garden and if I wanted I could grow my own stuff there. Sometimes I wonder if it's because I'm a vegetarian that I don't want to get that intimate with plants. As with animals -- could I really harvest them if I grew them myself? Well, probably I could. But I just don't have a green thumb, and I do have a bad back.

Now, those few readers I have left may be wondering why I'm not posting on political topics anymore. Or not much. I just can't bear to think that much about it. It's frightening, and depressing, and awful. Next weekend (not this coming one -- I mean the weekend before the election) I'm going to go to Milwaukee to try to get out the vote, so maybe I'll blog about that experience.




Well, so maybe I am a little oversensitive. Apparently I was not supposed to take "ludicrous" to be a response to me in particular at all. So everything's hunky-dory.

I guess. I think it's hard for me to get used to the liberally irritable communication practices customary among faculty in this department.

Just yesterday I was telling someone to lighten up (OK, I was being much more diplomatic than that) for similar reasons. I.e., a colleague said something hurtful, but clearly didn't mean it to be as hurtful as it was taken. That doesn't stop it from hurting.

Can't we all just get along?


Academic Politics

What was that Kissinger quote about the politics being worse because the stakes are so low?

So I am on this technology committee because of my "expertise," but the only two times that have been proposed for a meeting are during the one class I'm teaching this term. (Actually, another time was set but it was cancelled by the chair.)

When I was asked again if I could meet at a time that's during my class and I instead suggested a list of other possibilities, I was told "This is getting ludicrous" (implication, I assume, that I am being ludicrous) and the meeting was scheduled to take place without me. I have no idea what the two other committee members' time constraints are, because they haven't been discussed with me -- only with each other.

So I just spent half an hour crying. I'm being oversensitive, right?

But honestly, what's the protocol, any academics reading this? Did I miss assistant professor class the day they taught us that if you are the junior member of a committee you are supposed to move your class for a meeting?



The Disillusion Will Not Be Televised

I'm not so sure I want to be a performance artist after all.

As some readers, and readers of Gaia's blog, already know, there was an event last weekend in Chicago called Pilot TV.

This was a "transfeminist" media convergence of energies, talents, bodies, a fantastic warehouse space, and a lot of high-tech equipment, some of which worked.

I was working with the Feel Tank on a mock-talk show called "Feeling Good About Feeling Bad," a show about political depression. This "episode" was on the theme of "election time," With Your Host Noprah. Noprah, who is officially our hero, interviewed Eeyore the Democratic donkey, brought on a shrink to analyze him and talked with various other crazy personages. We interspersed this with video clips with person-on-the-street interviews, a glossolalic talk with the Body Politic, and words from our sponsor (Grave, Splenetic and Glum, P.C.: Emotional Investment Brokers) in the form of a series of Power Point presentations (the best one, if I do say so, was "Great Moments in the History of Melancholy").

By the day of the show I was completely exhausted. We had fantastic brainstorming sessions and promised ourselves much more than we could actually accomplish -- with one member having left town for a job, another recovering from surgery (though she did a great Body Politic) and one returning from abroad just in time to feel not-quite-caught-up on the plans. I spent about 40 hours preparing stuff the week before the show -- shooting and editing video clips, downloading images for the power points, pulling together things we'd brainstormed for the script, trying to corral potential guests. We lost our scheduled rehearsal time in the mainstage because events were running late the night before, so we really had to wing it, and it showed. A lot of people stepped into the breach and did amazing work on very short notice. But the unrehearsed tech was a really big problem (we were trying to project from VHS, mini DV, and computer). I ended up feeling let down by a bunch of people, too, and had a big fight with a friend over her participation. Someone for whom I felt somewhat responsible (though I shouldn't, because she's a grownup!) had her video camera stolen.

[That's another thing. Something in the air. Lots of people I know have (or know people who have) been mugged, robbed, hit by cars -- fortunately without major injuries -- etc., lately. I was really freaked out when I walked into my office one day last week to find my door had been left wide open (presumably by a new cleaning person; nothing was missing).]

Mainly, I had a big misunderstanding with the other Feel Tank member who was doing a lot of the work. She intervened at various times in the show, playing the role of chagrined "director." It turned out we had, sort of, discussed it -- but I thought when she said she'd play director that she meant she'd be staying literally behind the scenes. What she really meant was that she'd be acting out this interruptive role. I can see the appeal of doing something like that, but I wished I could have prepped the "actors" (and found a way to theatrically let the audience in on the joke). So in the event itself, I really felt waylaid. I think we'll have a lot of material we can edit into an interesting show (as long as the video footage that was shot comes out OK).

Some audience members said they weren't sure whether they were supposed to be real audience members or playing audience members. We had jokey segments but we also had serious ones. I think that put a lot of people (me included) off guard -- even feeling a bit vulnerable (as well as bored, annoyed, etc.). We ended on the discussion about protest that Gaia described. I was playing a devil's advocate kind of naive character trying to cheer up seasoned political activists who were frustrated and depressed about their experience at the RNC protests. I think this is a serious discussion, one I've written about before and will write more about another time. But what I find interesting about it is the weird mix of seriousness, boredom, and unseriousness that we produced...so people weren't sure whether anyone was being sincere when they sounded sincere, or what they were really laughing at when they were laughing.

So I'm not sure I want to be a performance artist. But I think I'm glad I did this.



In Memoriam Jacques Derrida

If you have ever had the slightest interest in Jacques Derrida, or just don't think obituaries should be designed to trash someone's career, sign here.

I admit I once had a dream that Derrida was dating my mother, and gave me a birthday card! Now what does that mean!?



Too Much To Blog About

I haven't posted in 10 days because there's been too much going on in my life -- crazy stuff. I'd be writing right now if my wallet hadn't been pickpocketed last night...leaving me piecing my official identity back together...



How do you epater les bourgeois when they aren't the bourgeois anymore?

This post will have as its companion piece the forthcoming "I should be able to
have what I want."

That one is about American consumerism. Watch for it! This one is about activism.

I've been thinking a bit about the disappointment many activists felt about the
RNC protests. I didn't feel disappointed, because I was so impressed with the
creativity of so many people who came together, ignored the fear-mongering, and
marched with handmade signs. There are so few arenas in American society these
days in which ordinary people can employ their creativity to make rather than
buy things. I was filled with optimism. I found myself less concerned with the
prospect of a Bush victory. Sure, that prospect depresses me. So does, frankly,
the prospect of a Kerry victory. For different reasons: a Bush victory would
make me very depressed about the American people's inability to see through the
screen of messages pushed by the vast rightwing conspiracy and the media
monopoly that props it up. A Kerry victory would make me depressed about what
the best we can hope for really looks like. But the march made me think there's
more we can hope for; that with those kinds of numbers we can come together to
create a different kind of culture.

Other people, though, were not so happy. I think, though I'm not entirely sure,
that a lot of activists are disdainful of the suburban New Jersey families who
came to march in the big Sunday march but who don't think of themselves as
especially radical. If you don't think of those people as part of what you're
doing, you're not going to be very impressed about the size of the march. I'm
perfectly sympathetic to the frustrations involved in the march's organization
-- the city's outmaneuvering of the Central Park rally, etc. But I think it's a
big mistake not to recognize that huge numbers of people did come out to march

Another aspect of this is that many of direct action-style interventions were
frustrating and disappointing. They didn't feel very effective. I'm not
surprised, actually; this kind of political engagement seemed foreclosed from
the start by the Republicans' skill in turning such things to their own
advantage. I think we should be thinking in terms of long-term, not short-term,
effectiveness, but even on that scale I'm not sure these actions will turn out
to have been effective.

The question I want to pose is what seems like a paradox of an "epater les
bourgeois"-style strategy in the current political moment. In the big WTO
protests, my sense (I wasn't there, and would appreciate feedback from anyone
who knows more about it) is that direct action succeeded because of sheer
numbers and clever coordination, and that it did have powerful effects (if not
always the desired ones). Coming from Seattle people had a sense of power in
direct action tactics. And, as our civil liberties continue to be eroded, as
public space is lost both physically and conceptually, as we find ourselves
increasingly living in a police state (in which police cameras click on, in
Chicago, if we pass the same patch of sidewalk twice -- and that's not much of
an exaggeration), there's an impulse to react against conformity with radical
gestures likely to get us arrested. Gestures intended to make symbolically
effective demands about the rights we ought to have, the justice that should be
practiced -- and also to make visible the obscenity of power.

The problem is that the ways in which activists try to make such gestures seem
(at least to me) to feed into the ideology of the left as either criminal or
privileged or both. I don't mean to minimize the courage it takes to subject
yourself to police violence, but at times it seems there's something selfish
about it. Selfish not in a shallow thrill-seeking or self-important sense --
though these are arguments that some might make -- but in the non-trivial sense
of giving one's own life meaning, which is not to be sneezed at. But is it
enough? What if these kinds of actions, when they show up on TV at all, simply
look like the stuff of idle-rich-kid-reality TV shows? What if the bourgeois we
succeed in epater-ing are not really the bourgeois at all, but the working
class? The reason the bourgeois needed to be scandalized was that it had
bourgeois values -- socially conservative, hidebound, stodgy values. But they
also, actually, had power. Now we really have an aristocracy, and it seems to me
that most of the people who actually hold those bourgeois values are not middle
class, despite the conspiracy (of right and left) to call it that, but what
should properly be called the working class.

Though I had quibbles (significant disagreements, even) with Tom Frank's book, I
think we shouldn't underestimate the extent to which a lot of working-class
folks across the US identify the Democratic party with both economic privilege
and cultural license (what they might call decadence, or a lack of
self-control). And the people who really have the money couldn't care less
whether we dress funny or act rebelliously or get arrested, because we're just
doing the kind of things their kids do in their own exclusive clubs.

Here's what I liked about the big march -- that if you watched it on TV, you
couldn't help but see people who look like your grandmother next to people who
looked like freaks.

Now, it would be a lot harder, and more time-consuming, and maybe even more
dangerous, for these same activists to go out and do grass-roots organizing in
rural and suburban areas, and I can't imagine this is likely to happen. A friend
suggested that one of Frank's most significant points (one he doesn't really
flesh out) is that with the loss of manufacturing jobs and with de-unionization
of the work force, the role unions played in forming working-class consciousness
has not been replaced with anything. Certainly, there are groups making an
effort to fill this gap. (I think of the International Socialist Organization, a
fairly big presence here in Chicago, which does have a big-tent approach to
working-class identity -- but sounds a little too utopian in its promises for my
tastes.) I wonder what an anarchist effort in this direction would look like?
Maybe somebody knows and can make suggestions in comments. Personally, I feel
like there's an awful lot of galvanizing of the more or less radical left going
on right now, which is great, but also a lot of preaching to the converted. How
do we learn to organize in new ways and preach to the non-converted?

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