Saturday, August 17, 2013

Speech for Mohave County Annual Picnic

I must first say that by now you guys have heard so many of my speeches. I love you guys. That is so wonderful. Though she doesn’t actually live here in Kingman, Felecia Rotellini over there has heard me speak in public more often than my wife this past year and by this point could probably serve as my personal biographer if impressed into service. Just sayin’
Now you know that as I travel, I see so many desert places. I just love it. Do you know what I mean? Like in that HBO series, “Deadwood,” when Swearingen was talking the Indians he called them dirt worshippers. After having driven around Arizona for the past two years, something like 72,000 miles, I am beginning to get an idea of what he was talking about. (Yeah, 70,000 plus. It’s like I retired from teaching to become a truck driver!) But seriously, if loving the land, the rocks and hills, the horizons, the shadows and trees, the splashes of water, if loving the sublime beauty of the land we live in is the equivalent of worshipping dirt, then my mom was right about our Indians heritage (Cherokee & Choctaw as I recall).
But when I talk about our land as a desert, I see it, western Arizona, as a desert in many ways. I also see so many people struggling in these hard times. We already came out to the desert ready to take on the challenges of nature and then found our biggest battles are with a government that doesn’t seem to care about the people and an economy that wants to eat us alive. I also see you guys out here busting your hump for the good of the party everywhere I go. Now, I have gotten to watch the growth and change in Mohave County’s party personally, but everywhere I go I am watching the same thing—citizens, standing up, stretching their comfort zones to try to lend a hand at fixing the many messes we find ourselves in. I have got to tell you that is what inspires me. Everywhere I go I meet dreamers and real DREAMERS devoting their time and their lives to trying the make the change we know America needs.
I want to tell you America has been driven the wrong way for a long time. From the shining beacon of “can-do” we’ve been derailed. We don’t have time for me to go into the details. There are 5 fresh outrages anytime you look at the news. But I am not here to drag you down with that. I tell ya, when you’re preaching to the choir there’s no need for fire & brimstone. Instead I want tell you a story.
As some of you know I am getting ready to begin phase in my campaign that I have long dreamed you. I am planning a trek through the smaller communities of the seven counties in the district bringing music, mirth, a bit of sideshow oddity and Democratic values and ideas to places where many folks are afraid to admit they back the donkeys. You know what that’s like. You have heard of DINOs & RINOs, I’m going to tell you there’s a larger group out there, the DBNPs: “Democrat, But Not in Public.” I feel for you guys. I grew up that way. But I know that we can make the change we want in society if we are really willing to work on it and the time we devote to working for change changes us forever and for the better.
I grew up in a tiny town in Texas, Raymondville, Texas and as many of you have heard I was a teen runaway who wound up back in my hometown & when I was 19 there was a farm workers strike in my town. I joined it and when I tell that story it sounds like that was the beginning of my effort to devote my life to working for the good and we all grew to a glorious future. But that’s not the case. The farmers brought in scabs, the crop got picked. The next year they stopped planting labor intensive truck crops like onions and carrots and tilled the land into cotton & sorghum. The people had to move. There were no jobs.
My late wife & I moved during that time to Illinois, Springfield, Illinois, Land of Lincoln and that’s where I first saw a liberal community. Not to say that Springfield is the Berkley of the Prairie or anything like that, but the city was large enough to where there was an active counter-culture and liberal yuppie intelligentsia who were new-agey, granola crunchy,& quite a bit spendy (just to say) and to this small town podunker, that sort of thing was VERY alluring. It was a society built of all the things our little community back in Texas had held suspect: people who dressed to their own different drummer, questioned the status quo and actually went out into the public arena to speak truth to stupid. People who grew up to go to college and got all these wonderful jobs and had all these wonderful experiences due to the breadth of their knowledge and their global sense of connectedness. I had never seen anything like it. I had to have more.
So, before they’d moved to Texas my wife’s family had been part of the Springfield food co-op culture, a grassroots (in more ways than one) movement committed to whole foods, health foods, activist politics and new age fashion. This was back in the 80s. Before long, I became the co-op manager—
(& I know that sounds like an oxymoron—that you’d need to manage something like a co-operative venture, but I promise ya, even among those w the most noble of intentions, lots of folks remember to sing Kumbaya, but not everyone remembers to make sure someone keeps the floor swept and the shelves stocked just sayin’).
--And to me it was a great adventure and I met so many wonderful people. And then one day this woman came in carrying an oversize bundle and crying, “I feel SO guilty, I just can’t take it anymore!” she cried and slopped her bundle on the counter. It was newspapers. “I hate that I have to be so wasteful with these. Why do we throw stuff like this away? Why can’t we recycle?” It was a good question. Bigger cities were already setting up programs and there were a couple of smaller scrap yards in town that would buy a few things; but she was right. There in that city of 100,000, the model seemed to be about waste, not reuse, about negligent consumption, not the greater good for the public in that spring field or for the actual prairie ground beneath it.
But it was a co-op and soon the topic of recycling was abuzz in the co-op community. Why couldn’t we recycle? What could our group do to make the culture embrace recycling to the point the public would clamber for it? It took us about two years. We first educated our own members about the importance of recycling and then set up a recycling center there in the basement of the co-op. I tell ya it wasn’t easy hauling those bails of paper and buckets of glass out of the basement like that, but the co-op members began to feel better about themselves as consumers and citizens and soon we began to promote the idea on the larger scale. It was a time of a national movement towards recycling. Our little co-op wasn’t inventing the wheel or driving western civilization as we know it, but we were doing our part and, empowered, we began to affect the culture of Springfield.
In addition to our own tonnage of recycling, we wrote letters to the editors, held classes for the public, spoke to our elected officials, we even sent me to the St Patrick’s Day parade one year dragging, like, a zillion milk jugs on ropes down the street as our parade entry to dramatize the way our consumption creates a burden if we are responsible with the waste it creates. Or something like that.
And bit by bit as society in general changed its attitudes on recycling we helped our community move forward. In time, the city created an office for solid waste management and one of our board members was the first hire. Eventually the city instituted a widely used curbside recycling program, reducing the environmental impact the city’s waste produces and offsetting the operating costs for the waste haulers now that they had enough resources to enter the recycling markets. And by the way, we all got a little bit cleaner dirt to worship.
But that’s my personal story of how my life changed of how my community changed because someone cared, because someone had an idea and acted on it. That one idea infected a community and that changed a society and maked things better. And along the way I went to college myself just like all those people I had admired and here we are today. There are tons of stories like that of social change and the wondrous personal growth it can bring. I love those stories. I hope we will all continue to make those kinds of stories happen in our own lives. I hope this tale reminds you you want to work on that today.
Thank you.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Just People, All Colors (Remarks from the Pinal County Annual Fundraiser Dinner)

Remarks from Pinal County Fundraiser 8/10/13
I was the “MC” at the Pinal County Democratic Party’s annual fundraiser event, and a really beautiful event was built into the program. A local strong Dem member, Roberto Reveles, was picked to select a recipient for an award to go to a DREAMER (an undocumented immigrant trying to go to college and be an immigration activist at the same time.) He picked a wonderful young woman named Jimenez whom he met working at the Wells Fargo, as American as apple pie. Reveles, a national leader in the ACLU, gave a fiery speech on the injustice of existing immigration policy. It was one of my personal issues. When they were done, I launched into this:

I grew w the issue of immigration all around me, on the very southern tip of the US, of Texas, the Lower Rio Grande. Puro Chicano. 85% Hispanic, that is why I moved to AZ, actually, to get back to a land that was predominantly Hispanic. I missed the culture after living for years in central Illinois. And as I live out here in the desert in this land where there is so much hatred, so much racism used in the society to hold each other down, I think back to what it was like where I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley. The land reminds me of this land here, very flat, farmland. Lots of brown skinned people. When I was very little I played w the braceros who picked cotton at the end of my street.
At the very tip of the state where the river, the Rio Grande meets the Gulf of Mexico, is a beach called Boca Chica, the little mouth. The nearest border patrol check-point is about four miles away and you have to go through it to get to or from the beach, but there where the river meets the sea there is no worry about law enforcement and border and what-not. Back in the cities, on the multiple bridges that span the river people travel back and forth by the thousands each day, but here at Boca Chica, at the very tip of America, the river is so small, the mouth is so little, people can wade across it. Here where the river meets the sea folks swim and frolic back and forth w total abandon, just for the fun of it. Just for the fun of not having to worry about borders for a change. And you know what? On both sides the people are all different shades of color and they are all doing the same thing: playing w their kids, listening to music and cooking and eating food--just playing w their kids, listening to music, sharing food. Being people.
Now that, that is my dream. I dream of an America where all people are treated like people. I dream of an America that doesn’t depend on exploiting poor economic refugees. I dream of an America that doesn't confuse freedom of speech with "Freedom of English," that wants people to be all sorts of colors and live all sorts of ways and doesn’t treat others badly just because they are different, just because we can get away w it.
I believe it’s more than a dream. I believe we can change this. I believe it can change in the blick of an eye. I know, because it happened to me.
 Here’s a story of how I know things can change. The town where I grew up, Raymondville, TX, was and is one of the poorest places in America. It was a farming town, a small number of owners exploiting a large number of poor and migrant workers. At a time when I was working for a minimum wage of $2.50 per hour, these folks in my hometown were out in the fields picking onions for about 25 cents an hour. Of course they went on strike. Of course, anyone reasonable or sane, would have supported them, but not our small minority of white people in my hometown. All they talked about was how the farm workers were cheats and liars, trying to rip off the struggling farmers who represented the heritage of the community. That the farm workers, the Mexicans, outside agitators, they were trouble, they were criminals, communists and more.

And then one Saturday when I was hitchhiking out of town, to a date I had about 30 miles away … Oh & I should tell you, I had been a teen runaway, and so hitchhiking was something I was used to, it was something I understood, the poor guy walking on the side of the road because there was no other way to get where you’re going. So I was walking out of town when I saw this cloud of people walking in, a parade strung a quarter mile. It was the striking farm workers marching into town for a rally. At first I was worried, I thought back to all I had heard, then, as they got closer, I saw they were people I knew from the community. They were the kids I had liked and trusted in school. There were the pillars of the community marching in solidarity w them, except not the ones names Smith & Jones. It was the ones names Garcia & Gomez. And right there I walked over to the other side of the street and walked right in and joined their march. I knew I had found what truth was and there was no further reason to work for anything else.
And here we are, still marching.
See, I turned myself around just like that. (& btw, later that evening I still made it to my date on time), but I just turned around in that instant, when I finally saw what the truth was I could change in an instant. And so can America. Tonight, I am just glad now to be part of the Democratic Party & join in the work to make my dreams come true and to join in the work to spread the good news that we don’t have to be slaves to the lies that try to tell us we aren’t all brothers, to the people who would want us to fight against each other, instead of simply being all colors of people on the beach, playing w our children, listening to music, sharing food, happy. Free.

Thank you for helping me work to make this dream come true. Thank you.