Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What can we do? A LOT, so get busy!!

The people who read this blog are a fascinating bunch. They come from all over the world, from a variety of backgrounds. Some have followed me since my alt.conspiracy.jfk newsgroup days. Others stumble upon me fresh every day. One of the things I most treasure about the Internet is that the communication is not just one way. Every day, I have opportunities to enter into dialog with different people, time permitting.

This message came to me as a proposed comment, but I thought it was a really good set of questions, and related to something I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time. Me. :-) Just kidding, sort of. I don’t think history is about me so I don’t usually like to talk about myself. But I’ve found people have some interesting assumptions about me which are pretty far from the truth! And much more importantly, the real question is, what can any of us do, and I have a lot of thoughts on that matter as well. So maybe my story will help give others ideas of what they can do.

i would like to leave what i call a " macro comment" . a view based on macro econmics and yet also based on ones own micro economics. we enjoy your writngs, lisa, but i guess what you dont really get, it seems to me, is: how do people support themselves and pay their bills? when u answer that, u can c their world view. the guy who owns a McDonalds , for instance, fights against a ban on fatty foods. a Bar owner wants to protect his weekly income from the in store lottery powerball stuff, so he fights against a casino in his town, finding more palatable reasons for it, saying " gambling is wrong" or the " traffic will kill us". VP Cheney gets so much $$ ea. yr from halliburton that, well, you know the rest. . . . . every speaker should reveal how he pays his own bills. me for instance, i was a divorce lawyer for 23 yrs. i had to give it up, i hated it, i was like a hate dealer...but within that world, i saw everyone struggling to pay their bills and thats how everyones world view is shaped. . . . . . how do i support my family? how early can i retire and get out of the rat race? ? ? even the guys who work for blackwater, r they bad? well some of them are, some of them are not, but they all have mortgages and kids who want $80 sneakers and ipods, etc.

. . . . .do u have any kids lisa? do u know how FRIKKIN expensive it is just to raise one kid ? ? ? do you have an adjustable rate mortgage ? do u know what a NY electric bill runs ? ? and so on and so forth. . . . . . . so the liberal slant on things and the bush bashing is all understandable. and, i DO agree with 95% of what u say, but when u ponder openly abt " woe our beloved country", well, we peons out here in blog land hafta wonder > > how does this lady pay her own bills? ? ? ? ( i dont want to get personal, but do you go home every night to a nice home and a doctor boyfriend who pays all the bills? or do you support yourself by continually writing and speaking abt all these unsolvable issues ? or what ? ( p.s. feel free to tell me to go F-ck myself, its none of my biz. . . i'm a big boy i can take it ) we ask b/c/ your world view seems to not really consider money, poof !! almost as if money does not matter? ? ? ( alas, if only that was true !!) it ALL stems from that one question, sorry to say. . . . i didnt invent this capitalistic system, im just here to remind people that it is here to stay so better make the most of it and figure out t how to make it work or you, b/c its not gonna change, even if hillary wins . . .

Allow me to add another equally pertinent quote before I answer:

I’m looking at the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and make a change.
That’s my answer, in a nutshell.

YES. Money and the lack thereof drives most of what we do, every day.

YES. Money makes us do things we wouldn’t necessarily do if we had more of it, or better yet, had no need for it.

YES. I know how much it costs to raise a child.

YES. The system will not change much if Hillary wins.

But here’s what I’ve been doing.

Long ago I had a choice to make. I got accepted to law school. I opted not to go, for a variety of reasons. But one of the key reasons was that I was getting into studying real history, and I honestly thought I’d serve the world better by pursuing that path then by becoming a lawyer. Whether that was a right or wrong thought, we’ll never know. But I had it, I trusted it, and here we are, having this discussion.

Twice I’ve stepped out of my normal life, left jobs and even a condo that hadn’t earned its money back yet to work for change. Once was in 1992, when I dropped everything to work for the candidate who ran on a “We the People” platform, who refused to take more than $100 in campaign contributions from any person as a way to protest the influence of money on politics. Jerry Brown made a bold choice. I wanted to make an equally bold choice to help that man. I took a cut in pay and worked my butt off seven days a week to keep that campaign alive. When I quit my job, I told people I felt like I was jumping off a cliff without even being able to see the bottom. And when I hit bottom hard, at the end of the campaign, it was so hard and cold it nearly broke me. I lost my job, my boyfriend, and my hope for this country in the space of a couple of weeks. It’s horrible to be out of work. But try it when you’re out of hope too. Believe me, I’ve been there, done that. I know a lot about the bottom. I could write volumes on it.

I had left a profession I wasn’t sure I wanted to return to and had to start over. Slowly I worked my way up. And up. And up. But in 2003, I felt compelled to do it again. This time, I had to support the guy who stood up in the winter of 2002 and said this:

What I want to know is why in the world the Democratic party leadership is supporting the president's unilateral attack on Iraq.

What I want to know is why are Democratic party leaders supporting tax cuts. The question is not how big the tax cut should be, the question should be can we afford a tax cut at all with the largest deficit in the history of this country.

What I want to know is why we're fighting in Congress about the Patient's Bill of Rights when the Democratic party ought to be standing up for health care for every single American man, woman, and child in this country.

What I want to know is why our folks are voting for the president's No Child Left Behind bill that leaves every child behind, every teacher behind, every school board behind, and every property tax payer behind.

I'm Howard Dean and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.
So there I was. I had hoped to move back to Los Angeles from Seattle because I hated the weather and felt compelled to pursue a different path. But when this man stood up and said something so strong, so compelling, I had to go and help, again. (I can’t help noting that the only two times I’ve taken a detour from my life to work on a campaign have both been to defeat a Bush. But I digress.)

I got rid of my nice feather down sofa it had taken me years to purchase. I got rid of that oh-so-comfy bed, the decent dining table set I’d always wanted and finally gotten. I had to get rid of it all, because I couldn’t afford to move it all twice (to Vermont, and then to Los Angeles). I sold a few things, gave the rest to Goodwill, kept a few books, files, music, and some clothes, packed it into a tiny U-Haul trailer attached to my tiny car, and drove myself to Vermont to help the man who stood up to my party and spoke the truth. Again, my pay was about half what I had been making previously. And I wasn’t able to sell my condo before I left – I ran out of time, and had to keep paying even when I was no longer in it. I did sell it, eventually. But I ran up a scary amount of debt.

Just getting to Vermont, having to stay in hotels each night, and having to pay for twice the normal gas because I had the trailer, cost me a few thousand. But it was a price I was willing to pay. Of course, I did not have anyone else depending on me. I did not have to worry about dragging children back and forth. I had confidence that eventually, I’d find a way to work my way back up to the salary level I felt I deserved.

And I knew, as perhaps few on the campaign did, that it would most likely end unhappily. I did not think it likely that Dean would win the nomination. Not because he wasn’t the best candidate, but because the system is what it is. I suppose, knowing that, having already paid my dues once before, I would have been entitled to sit that one out. But the thought that we were attacking a country that had never done any harm to us, killing all those innocent people, propelled me from my own struggles and caused me to dig a little deeper, to find out what I was truly made of. IT WAS HARD. I don’t mean the work. Try picking yourself up, in your mid-forties, and moving to a place where you know absolutely no one, which you also know will be temporary. Try making friends or finding a lover under such circumstances. Try doing it when you’re tired and angry and overweight and full of the knowledge that this is all yet another tilt at a windmill. But every now and then, you beat the windmill. It happens. You have to try. You MUST try, with all your heart, when so much is at stake.

So then, the inevitable. The campaign ended. I think it ended in Iowa, before the scream. It ended when the perceived front-runner came in third, not even second. New Hampshire was simply a confirmation of that. I left after New Hampshire. Those who were serving on their first campaign undoubtedly thought me a traitor. But at that point, I was going to be serving no one by staying, not myself, and not the campaign, feeling the way I did. And I really couldn’t bear to go through all of that pain again. I was in no condition to endure that twice. So I took all the boxes I had never even bothered to unpack, rented another U-Haul trailer, and drove to Los Angeles.

Now I work for “one of the best companies to work for” in America. It’s a 40-55 hour a week job, depending on the week. Is it the career of my dreams? No, and no one I work with imagines that it is. Fortunately, they know of my work on the assassinations of the sixties, my appearance on the Discovery Channel (to be repeated in December, I think?), my screenplay award, and my upcoming appearance on Ugly Betty, and have been tremendously supportive of all my efforts. I definitely give them MY vote as one of the best places to work, hands down.

I can just hear the minds screeching. Did she just say she was going to be on Ugly Betty? Yes. October 18, assuming they adhere to the current schedule. Episode 4. I will say nothing other than if you see three women holding chocolate soufflé, I’ll be the one on the left. Your left, as you watch. If you watch. And why not. We all need our escape from reality momentarily.

That’s the key though, isn’t it. A lot of people spend their whole lives escaping reality. Or escaping the reality I think really matters. Family problems? Finances? Are those really the most important things in the world? They sure seem to be, when you are wrapped up in them. We all lose a lot of time on things that don’t really matter. Fights? Who has the time? Upset? Hurt feelings? How about a sense of perspective? Upset that your dog died? Try losing your entire family in a war of aggression by a foreign power. I’m not saying don’t miss your dog. I’m saying, keep a small amount of perspective.

So that’s my answer. Things might not get better if you fight. But they will DEFINITELY get worse if you roll over and play dead. We all have to do what we can. Those of us in a position to do more than others really MUST do more than others. But everyone can do more than they think they can. Just watch an episode of “The Biggest Loser” to see that proven every week.

It starts by letting go of some fear.

Debt is bad. But debt is not the end of the world. I refuse to let my fear of debt keep me from achieving my goals.

I’m single. I get lonely at times. But I refuse to let my fear of loneliness dictate my choice of whom to allow into my life.

I treasure some great friends. I am blessed to have made the acquaintance of some of the best minds on the planet. But I would never have met many of them nor had some of the remarkable experiences I have if I had acted from fear.

I have made bold choices. Some of them have been costly, on a personal level. But when I look back, I don’t see any choices I regret making. I see a few choices I regret not making sooner, perhaps, but that is all.

Do you like to hike? Those who do see mountains as challenges. Those who don’t see mountains as annoyances, something to be gotten around.

I’m a hiker. I’ve learned that there’s nothing you can’t do if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Nothing. It took 4,000 years to make slavery illegal. It took over 100 years from “all men are created equal” to giving women the right to vote. Nothing is granted. Everything must be fought for. But everything can ultimately be achieved. I truly believe that.

So don’t whine. Don’t complain that life is hard, that you have to make money, that you can’t change the world. I don’t accept that as legitimate. Rosa Parks had to make a living too. Helen Keller didn’t have your advantages. Robert Parry has given up a chance at mainstream media fortune because he answered to a higher call. There are so many others.

And there are so many small things one can do. Give that $10 bucks to the next environmental organization that asks. Spend the $150 you might be tempted to spend to get your kid an iPod on a political candidate who will be less fascist. Your kid truly will thank you some day, when they realize what you did. Or hate you, when they realize what you didn’t do, that you left for them to try to fix.

So take some small steps. And then, try some larger ones.

At some point, a lot more of us are going to have to take much bigger steps to avoid fascism in this country. And wouldn’t you rather be on the end of preventing it, rather than having to oppose it from within a concentration camp? I don’t mean to be alarmist. But when a national TV network allows people to call those with liberal views “Traitors” we should all be very much alarmed, and alert.

Pick up the phone. It costs you all of five minutes to find and call your Representative in Congress, to make yourself heard, to press for change. It’s a free call, if you need it to be. Start by asking for your Rep to pass HR 811. If your vote is gone, all our battles get so much more difficult. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is a simple act. It’s free. And will do much good.

You can change the world, just by trying. We all can. And we must, if we are to endure.

Our forward progress may seem infinitesimal. But keep at it. It’s worth it. Doing the right thing is truly deeply gratifying, beyond anything money can buy.

I promise.

You’ll see.

Make that change.


Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Btw - I just had to quote the sentiments from artist Susan "Kukana" Toronto, whose fanciful pictures of faceless "everywomen" adorn my walls. They have titles - the ones I possess are "She who Survives," "She who Wears Pink Ribbons," "She who Loves the Beach," and "She who Stands for Something." Each picture has a little saying on the back explaining what the artist envisions. Of all of them, by far, my favorite is "She who Stands for Something." Here is the image I struggle every day to try to live up to:

She choooses the purity
of truth over popularity ... everytime.
Possessing the moral courage
to make her action consistent
with her knowledge of right and wrong, she knows that the choices she makes today will shape her into the woman she will be tomorrow.
This woman's life defines such words as love, forgiveness, charity, service, compassion and godliness. For she knows who she is and what she believes.
Her integrity is founded on unswerving principle. She is beyond reproach, and her courage is unsurpassed. As she carries the banner of truth, everyone knows
She stands for something.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

See the picture here.

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, this was a great entry.I loved it.
Second off, and I hate to sound shallow and superficial but sometimes shallow and superficial is a refuge from this insane world - just don't stay there too long because you have to come back to the real world eventually - you are appearing on Ugly Betty? Really?
Now, I don't watch much teevee cos most of it is crap, but in your case I'm willing to make an exception!
By the way, is it merely coincidence that you are "on the left" in the relevant scene? Just wondered. ;)
Keep up the good fight.

"For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal." -- JFK at the American University's Spring Commencement on June 10, 1963

6:52 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

LOL at the "on the left" reference. Yes, pure coincidence.

Now don't get too excited, because 1) I think I look horrible, 2) I have nothing to say, and 3) the scene might even be cut by the time it airs. You never know. But it was part of a larger sequence that was truly funny, so I think there's a good chance it will be there. CAVEAT: My hair normally never looks like that!

9:48 AM  
Blogger Easemeister said...

Lisa, I just LOVE you. I just read this post, and I'm glad you diverged from "history" to stand up for yourself. (I don't know how you resisted the temptation to come back at the "rich doctor" question.) The comment about the Blackwater employees, that “they all have mortgages and kids who want $80 sneakers and iPods" just pissed me off. I was born with a big compassion gene and a big grieving gene and a little anger gene, and though I can't claim that that combination is necessarily the best one for facing today's world, I just make the point to say I really don't get pissed off that often. It's just part of my makeup. But I don't know, I read those words on the heels of two other articles in today's NYT, one about the unprecedented and rampant sexual brutality against women in the Congo, and the other about how New York is about to hurt the poor on yet another level with automated water meters and aggressive water shutoffs (link below***).

I get the point that "life is expensive," and I make a similar point when I stand up for Mr. and Mrs. Public who do less than they might when I point out how much simple physical and emotional exhaustion is out there. I feel for folks. And I do less than I might, mostly out of pure selfishness, so this isn’t meant as a self-righteous rant. But I just want to download a little IMAGINATION into the brains of people like the guy you quoted, and help them know there are choices, and it's possible to avoid getting sucked into crippling mortgages and the materialism of your children (those apples-not-far-from-the-tree). For every $6/hr job at McDonalds there is a $6/hr job with a nonprofit doing great things in the world. For every 100 parents who are struggling to make the money for those $80 shoes and iPods there is 1 parent out there successfully teaching their 4-, 10-, or 16-year old about resisting the seduction and mind control of advertising**, and 10 kids out there waking up (see founded by a wonderful young man I just met at a conference, Joshua Gorman). (And, I might add---it’s not the $80 pair of shoes that’s the problem—we live in a world of privilege and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying that privilege to a degree. It’s that too many people have five or more pair of $80 shoes, and a new gadget upgrade every time they are available, and four kinds of coffee makers, and a bazillion plastic toys.) Not everybody votes their wallet. I, and those I try to emulate, often vote against things that would be of personal benefit if I clearly see the greater good behind it. It's called sacrifice, and I have had to do blessed little of it compared to a lot of people I know, some who sacrifice a lot daily, voluntarily or not.

There is tilting at windmills and there is marching off cliffs. If there really is no in-between (and I think there is), then I'd rather go out with that sword in hand.

“How do people do it?" is something I can only answer for myself. By following my conscience step-by-step, I chose an approach to working and career that does not lock me into anything. I chose not to have children (I’m 50 now) because I knew my career choices were not conducive to raising children well (it would either be a thin financial margin or a thin emotional margin---not a good choice). I chose not to buy a house, but to rent instead for my whole life, giving me maximum flexibility. I chose to learn how to endure and manage the anxieties of financial insecurity. I prioritized family and community and inner relationship over earning potential. I choose good-enough clothing over fashion. I choose a different kind of wealth, a different kind of security, and a different kind of American dream, one not based on material excess but based on greater-good-thinking and adaptability. I do my best to stay vibrant and healthy, but I don’t dye my hair or get surgical tucks or stay in fancy places or enjoy nice gym memberships. I enjoy life a great deal, but I choose my luxuries carefully and am moderate in those choices. Sometimes I grieve the things I can't enjoy, but more often I realize how much "richer" I feel than my hard-working friends who slaves to their lifestyles.

I’m not special in any way; there are many creative people out there making cogent arguments to the points this man raises. I recommend Bill McKibben's Deep Economy to your critic, or Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest.

I could go on but I have someone coming over in about 10 minutes and I'm still in my PJs. (One of my simple luxuries, as a hardworking but comfy freelance editor.)

Anyway, thanks for your integrity.

***Filmmaker Shalani Kantayya is on a mission to bring about more awareness about the corporate control of water with a full feature fom. See her short film A Drop of Life--- and mention it to anyone you think cares (I'll mail you my copy if you want to borrow it, or you can get your own copy for $17) and see her fears coming to life under our noses, as evidenced by today's article New York Urged to Get Tough With Its Water Bill Deadbeats.

It's terrifying.

**See for an amazing piece on subliminal advertising.

This is a simple inspiring quotes I come back to time and again. By Joseph Campbell:

'It takes courage to do what you want./ Other people have a lot of plans for you./ Nobody wants you to do what you want to do. / They want you to go on their trip, but you can do what you want. I did./ I went into the woods and read for five years.'

I know everyone can’t retreat into the woods. But this reminds me---I have more choice than I usually admit.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Wow! Thanks for the thoughtful, passionate, well-formed response! And thank you for your choices, and sacrifices. I talk to so many people who think you can and should live lives without sacrifice. I think that's hooey! Our life on this planet is such a gift. And for every gift we are given, be it health, the spot where we were born, the family and wealth we were born into, the local school system, a special talent, a sane mind, we should be willing to make a few sacrifices to help others who may have received less gifts at birth.

Thanks again. I really appreciate your comments.

5:37 PM  

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