Politics: I used to love you, but it’s all over now

Because in 1968, Nixon was a rock star.......
Because in 1968, Nixon was a rock star…….

In the late ’60s, I was an impressionable high school student, fascinated with politics. I learned about caucuses and electoral votes and campaigning during my high school’s presidential year mock convention. I helped elect a “governor” at Girls State, volunteered to make phone calls and sign up voters at the local campaign headquarters for Richard Nixon and embraced the democratic process.

I became a tireless volunteer on the campaign of Larry Fargher, a Republican who was challenging then-powerhouse Don Edwards for the local Congressional seat.

On election night in 1968, I learned what it was like to attend gatherings that marked both victory and defeat. Nixon was the one who won.

Undaunted, I couldn’t wait to vote and worked on the Let Us Vote campaign that resulted in the passage of the 26th Amendment, guaranteeing 18-year-olds the right to vote.

I was only 17, but celebrated accordingly. And in 1972, I cast my first official vote for George McGovern. I have always been one to vote the candidate, not the party.

Eventually, I got into the news business and covering elections became my job. I felt privileged to interview people who were trying to make a national difference on a local scale, working for their candidates much like I had for mine in high school. I admired people who ran for local offices, like school and water boards and City Council, because I saw what thankless jobs those offices could be.

295955_10150460401471057_1845540118_nWhen Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, I remember a particularly festive celebration on election night, where a colorful local character danced a jig around a life-sized cardboard cutout of our new President. That night, I wrote two stories; the first about the Democratic victory, the second about the exuberance of some of its volunteers. It made me think of a young girl I knew 30 years before.

Election night in a newsroom is also pizza night; reporters are rewarded for their indentured servitude with a free meal, as long as their stories are filed on time. I was usually out in the field working the party circuit, turning down proffered wine and appetizers as I interviewed candidates and campaigners who were either over the moon happy or trying desperately to put on a game face.

I actually felt sorry for some of the losers, asking them the $2 million question: Would they put themselves through the wringer again when the next election came around? Many times, my self-editor would figure out a way to make the defeated look undeterred, despite hearing a catch in their breath and momentary hesitation as they mustered a smile and tentatively vowed to play another round.

Barack_Obama_Hope_posterOne of the last elections I worked was the night that our nation elected its first African-American president. When the numbers came in confirming Obama’s win, there were screams of delight, stand-ups with both the victorious Obama supporters and those from his opponent’s camp. There was an infectious high knowing we had all seen history first-hand. My son called me from across the country to share his joy and we agreed that this might bring about some major changes. I saw the night as the best illustration that the democratic process works; that when people actually vote, they might get a candidate that shared their same values.

Was it time for that youthful exuberance again? Nah. I took my memory of that moment, threw it in the “Good Stuff” pile and moved on.

I actually had people ask me if I would ever consider running for office. I surprised myself when my answer – which several years earlier might have been an enthusiastic “yes!” – became “Oh hell no! Are you out of your mind?”

There was an element of celebrity and smug power among local elected officials that I detected during regional contests, causing my skepticism to grow along with my dismay. I saw candidate after candidate fall, victims of hate mail or slander campaigns financed by people who should know better or at least act better. Even worse were the candidates who sold out. What was really awful was that many of these people were friends and neighbors before they ran for office and things got ugly. It was shocking how easily some of them learned to lie or discount the opinions of others.

They said it was good for all of us.

I saw my job as a reporter change from holding people’s feet to the fire and demanding accountability to becoming a mouthpiece for the status quo. I went to the dark side; not only did I not trust anyone, I didn’t really like them for what they had become. It was then that I realized that they got what they wanted, as my collective spirit for true democracy was broken.

And I know I’m not alone.

I’m not foolish enough to think that politics changed just in my lifetime. I know there have been dozens of scandals and bad behavior by people pursuing or holding an office, starting long before I ever looked at a sample ballot. I’m just disgusted with the lack of respect, the condescending attitude, and the party-driven “we know better than you and damn the collateral damage” attitudes that continue to prevail and show no signs of weakening.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe we live in the greatest country and casting a ballot is the least we can do to honor those who fought and died defending that freedom. I will always vote and encourage people to do the same. I strongly believe in the “Don’t vote? Don’t bitch” rule.

If there’s anything that’s nurtured the demon in politics, I believe it is social media. I can’t think of any other vehicle that spews hate, dishonesty, misinformation and discord in overwhelming amounts directly into the homes and pockets of Americans 24/7. It provides the perfect opportunity for engaging in name-calling and hate speech without consequences. And sadly, it’s one of the vehicles influencing voters every day.

photo (35)In the Newseum in Washington D.C., there is a Pogo cartoon that sums it up. I think it might be time to listen to the funny old possum…..

It’s time to reintroduce respect, accountability and honesty into politics. It’s not too late. I may not have the energy to walk precincts, but I am ready to encourage the next generation of hopeful 16-year-olds. It’s time to disband the government of white guys in ties for some diversity, hope and change.

And that’s what’s good for all of us.

Teachers, mentors and investing in the future with somebody else’s money

College is expensive. Doing my best to help...
College is expensive. Doing my best to help…

I gave away thousands of dollars in the last two nights. Felt real good, too.

Gonna give away a little more next week. This could become a habit.
Of course, it’s not my money. I’m just doing my part with the local scholarship foundation. I help them evaluate applications and they found out I liked to talk in front of people, so Bazinga! – I became a presenter.
Having sent three kids through the school system and trying to help a couple of them find money to go to college, I remember the uphill struggle. College is expensive – make that EXPENSIVE.
Back in the day when I started my higher education, I was lucky enough to earn a scholarship that paid for classes, books and some of my housing. I went to a state college (now a university), got a whopping $1,800 per year that covered my tuition and books and had money left over.
These days, California state colleges are no longer the cheap alternative. The average undergrad pays more than $6,500 a year, not counting books or auxiliary class charges. Graduate school is even more. Ivy League schools are over the top; parents of students at these schools are basically buying the equivalent of a new car every year, just to keep their child on track for higher education.
So every little bit helps.
Part of the backstory to the scholarship granting process is reading applications. They both inspire you and break your heart. It also brought out my multiple personalities. The writer in me looked for style. The skeptic in me looked for holes in their stories. The supervisor in me looked for reasons to promote each student. The teacher in me looked for lessons they had learned. The mother in me looked for ways to help every single one.

The writer herself back in, well, the Nixon Administration
The writer herself back in, well, the Nixon Administration

And as someone who went through the college experience twice – once when I left high school during the Nixon Administration and again a couple of years age after raising my three children and deciding I really wanted to take “finish college” off my bucket list – I wanted to help each and every applicant have that experience.
The money we gave away came from fundraisers, appeals, memorial contributions; all donations from a supportive community. We wanted to give as many students we could a little bit of help, and those who needed a little more, enough to get them on the path to changing their lives and reaching at least some of their dreams. Not everyone who applied earned a reward, but I hope they learned from the attempt and will be determined to keep asking the world around them not for a handout, but for guidance and support to keep them going.
I got involved with the scholarship group because one of my mentors asked me if I would. Scholarships may be scarce, but mentors are all around us. Mentors can help us no matter where we are in our lifelong education process. I shared my feelings about mentors with the students, asking them to not only find them, but respect them and become mentors themselves.
Mentor is another word for teacher. When kids are small, it’s easy to point to the people who give them knowledge and skills as teachers. When you’re older and out of school, the process changes slightly and fate drops in people here and there to give you more tools and help you mold the way you approach things like working, parenting, growing and succeeding.

But when we’re older, working, removed from school and just keeping up with the band called Life, they become “mentors.” And when we become mentors, we gain the satisfaction that we’re paying back some cosmic debt. I wished I had a chance to tell the students how many times mentors have changed my life for the better. Look for them, I should have advised. They’re kind of like angels, you don’t always know they’re there to guide you until it’s too late.

My alma mater, Washington High School, circa 2011. It's been around since 1891; the facade was rebuilt to mimic the style of the original after it was severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo by  Whitelily519(AmeliaChu)
My alma mater, Washington High School, circa 2011. It’s been around since 1891; the facade was rebuilt to mimic the style of the original after it was severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo by
Whitelily519(AmeliaChu)