Friday, August 29, 2014

Why I LOVE the James Woods for Congress Campaign

Sometimes people ask me why I spend my time trying to change the world. There are so many people with so many problems. What difference can one person make?
Sometimes it is hard to have a snappy reply. In canvassing in my mostly rural, mostly poor district, I encounter all sorts of suffering. While I have great big ideas on how to fix the future, the reality of so many people’s lives cries for help right now. So many people have already given up on ever finding leaders who are even interested in their personal struggles. These days so many people feel that the guys running for office have no understanding of the people’s lives. And, I must admit, working in this field, I frequently see that’s true.
Which is why I want to tell you this story about James Woods, the Democratic congressional candidate in AZ-05. James is challenging AZ GOP heavyweight Matt Salmon.

 I could tell you all sorts of awful things about Salmon and why he needs to be defeated, but this is a story about James Woods, me, and a blind woman in Kingman.
When I first met James Woods and his campaign team, they asked me if I wanted to have some of my business cards printed in Braille. Thinking it a cool novelty, I said yes and gave them about a dozen. They came back w imprinted w Braille dimples, saying “Vote Weisser” or something like that.  It wasn’t an actual translation of all the material on the card, we but everyone agreed that if I should ever run into a blind person they would probably be amazed anyone even took the time to think of them. Months went by and my special cards got mixed in w others and all the sighted people who received one thought they were neat, but like so many other cards, after the moment of novelty wore off, they were tucked away, probably forgotten. Soon the cards were almost gone. I knew that there was someone who would treasure the card, so I kept the last one in a special place in my wallet to make sure I didn’t accidentally give it away.
That’s how I met Bobby. I am going to call her Bobby, anyway.
It was a Sunday and the neighborhood was alive w activity as we canvassed that day. Kids were playing, people were doing their Sunday fix-er-upper chores. At first we thought the house was abandoned, weeds had taken over the yard, trash was stuck there. I knocked anyway, and was just walking away when I heard the door open. I knew right away she was blind. As Bobby stood in the dark door of her house, she tried to explain how hard her life had become. I listened attentively, and took some notes.
. Bobby was a mother, whose kids were teens when she went blind. She had had a functional life--work, friends, boyfriends, fun, the basics we all want out of life. Then it was gone. Here blindness took over her life in the course of a year, she had lost her job, her home and her roommates. When her kids moved on into their own lives, things got even harder. She moved to Kingman to stretch her disability budget and had lived in the shadows of her dark house for years worrying what the rest of the world thought of the shut-in lady in the rundown house. Bobby held back tears when I came to her door, because she knew the yard needed work and she was ashamed. She had tried hiring neighbors before, only to be ripped off to the point she had given up. She had lived this way now for years.
The truth is, we all knew I only had limited abilities to help her. I asked if there was a local office of Center-for-Independent-Living, a national network of disabilities support organizations. Yes, she exclaimed, amazed that a political figure would even know of such things. We talked another few minutes when I remembered the Braille card in my wallet.
“I have something for you,” I said and placed the card in her hand. At first, she started to say she couldn’t read it, but she stopped suddenly when her fingers found the Braille. “Oh my god, what? V-O-T-E W-E-I-S-S-E-R. Oh my god, this is so great. Where did you get it?”
I told her about James Woods and his campaign. “I love that man,” she laughed. We talked another 20 minutes. She brightened a bit and stepped out into the doorway. We discussed ways to get her help for her yard. We talked about politics and in particular James Woods.  When I left I knew that much of this woman’s life would remain a struggle; but witnessing that day’s transformation reminded me of why I do this and why I appreciate James Woods so much.
This was a story of the difference James made in on person’s life with one type of problem, but the James Woods campaign cares about the struggles of all people, especially those in the shadows hoping someone will someday care enough to look in. It’s the kind of vision we need more of these days.

--Mikel Weisser is the Democratic candidate for US House in AZ’s 4th Congressional District.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galling the GOP (Pinal County Gala Speech)

So, it is great to be back here in Casa Grande. I tell you what I appreciate especially, is that you guys already know me, you know the issues, you know Paul Gosar [holds nose].

SO, that means I don’t have to give you guys a traditional speech. Looky here, there are 12 different candidates here who can give you a traditional speech.  So since I only have a few minutes, I am simply going to talk to you about why I am wearing pants.

(Photo Rita Jo Anthony)

Well, these pants, here tonight. [steps from behind podium to reveal blue slacks].  Yep, you’re right, go ahead and take a picture, tell your friends, you saw me out of uniform. Usually I start my speeches saying I didn’t come here to play dress up, but I guess tonight I did, because I am clearly out of uniform. That’s right, the blue jeans and white shirt I usually wear are the same kind of uniform I wore when I was a plumber. Y’all know I was a plumber till I was 35, right? Didn’t learn to type till I was 27, started back to college at 30. That’s why I’m always dressed like a working man, just like a plumber, because when it comes to the GOP, I am STILL having to spend my days dealing w their crap.

And as I have taken on this battle, stayed at it, learned my lessons, taken a few lumps, but kept at it, more and more the Democrats around the state are giving me huge support, massive love. Not always the kind of support I might be looking for, but support none the less.

Take the folks of the Yavapai Democratic Women’s Club for example. Now, I have been crashing these ladies’ luncheons for over two years now. At first, I couldn’t even get some of them to listen to my words because they were so busy staring at my tennis shoes. But as I have grown and they’ve grown to know me, just like you guys, more and more, they’ve come to love my work. Like two weeks ago, I was their feature speaker and, since it was a women’s group, I was talking about the women in my life who’d shaped my politics and we were all crying. Seriously, I was reading through tears; there were five women in the audience just sobbing away. Which I guess is what you want from a speech: when they start crying, you can tell it’s effective (as long as they don’t start crying while you’re telling jokes).

But, anyway, when it was over, and folks were, like sniffing in their napkins and stuff, the first lady to come up to me was all visibly shaken. [moves over to the emcee and leans on him, pretending to be the woman in the story] She goes, “Mikel, that was a great speech. I was so moved. … Can I buy you a haircut?”
[shows off fresh hair cut] See? Pretty nice, huh? 

A couple of days later I am back in Yavapai for their annual picnic. I sing, I dance, I speechify, I bring sound equipment and even stay and help pack up when it was done, and this other little old lady comes up w a bag and says, “Look, I brought you pants!” [shows off pants] Yeah!

Now, that explains how I got the pants, but now let me explain how the pants got here. Don’t give up out there. Bear with me, while I said this wasn’t a traditional campaign speech, it is an actual speech. There will be a point. I’ve almost figured out what it is.

(But just in case you’re interested, now that I’ve got some pants … folks, my shoe size is 10 ½. That's Chuck Taylor model Converse black high-tops, just saying.)

So, turns out that very next weekend, my loyal, trusty old van broke down and the mechanic who has kept it running for over 205,000 miles said, ‘no more highway driving.’ No highway driving? The congressional district is the size of the state of Pennsylvania, you can’t just walk it. 

(Photo Beth Weisser)

How was I going to get the message to the people? I will tell you how: the people, the Democrats, are making sure it happens. People started offering me rides, folks started working with each other to cart me around the state like a package of donkey-flavored whup-ass to make sure the message gets out. I am currently on my fourth campaign trip since being grounded, but thanks to the help of Democrats like yourselves stepping up, I am here with you tonight. THX to people like ourselves becoming part of my campaign, making it their campaign.

The trip to get these pants here to you tonight, Saturday, actually started Wednesday, when LD5 state house candidate using a borrowed vehicle took me to Seligman. There we met the LD1  state house candidate, Frank Cuccia, and we attended a candidate forum. Then he took me the rest of the way to Prescott and deposited me at the house of the local women’s club chair, Toni Denis. Toni then freighted me around Prescott for two days so I could attend the local Democrats’ monthly meeting. Then a Prescott PC, Bill Gaulsow, took me on a 200 mile round trip across the mountains to Payson. In Payson we met the Gila County party chair, Chris Tilley, in time to decorate their float for their annual parade. She fed me dinner and then deposited me at the home 84 old Democrat, Mavis Denofsky. Mavis showed me the flags of the 38 countries she’s visited and I showed her TED Talks. Everybody Wins! Then this morning, your candidate for Corporation Commission, Jim Holway, joined me at the parade, brought me back to PHX where we gathered up his lovely wife, Ms Rita Jo Anthony, and then came on down here so I could enthrall you guys w tales of my pants.

After tonight’s event, the Holways will hand me over to your very own Barb and Maynard Njos, who will get me back to Apache Junction and I’ve worked out a ride from there back to PHX and I will just keep campaigning from there. And that doesn’t even address the way your county officers worked together to make I could get in once I got here, but that’s how this is done. That’s what this takes. So I know by now you can see this isn’t just the story of a pair of pants and this really isn’t even my story. This is the story of all the Democrats along the way who made sure they did their part to get this message out: Tell the Right They’re Wrong. End the GOP tyranny before they destroy us all. Go Team!

This is the story of us all working together on our ideas, our ideals-the people, the demos, working together to make it happen. I can assure you this is not the story of my own self-aggrandizement. There is nothing grand about trying to campaign without a working vehicle, other than the immense love and support I receive. Ask Felecia Rotellini when she's traipsing around the state if she feels grand when she’s about 300 miles into a 500 mile travel day. Ask Terry Goddard, sitting there. His campaign isn’t for his aggrandizement--former PHX mayor, former attorney general, gubernatorial candidate. His career has already pretty darn grand. He’s doing it because he believes in the Democratic cause, because he believes in you. Terry believes in the Democrats that collected his petition signatures across the state and contributed to his clean elections campaign, because he believes in the idea of us, just like I do, just you do, my fellow Democrats.

That’s really what this speech is about: the way your ideals and your efforts are actively, clearly making the difference in this state, whether it’s saving education, conserving water, or protecting Arizonans from the bigotry and BS of the GOP, or whether it is merely moving a pair of pants across state so I could come here and tell jokes about them. Yes, this is a Democratic story, the people, the demos, working together, working to get the message out, fighting to make sure we have a government that works for all the people.
Thank you, Democrats, for making sure I got this chance to tell it.

PS: I am still trying to figure out the trip from PHX to Kingman, if anyone has any suggestions? 

--Mikel Weisser writes from the left coast of AZ  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The "Telling the Right They're Wrong!" Speech for the Meadview Candidate Forum

After two years of telling people I believed in "Telling the Right They're Wrong!" I realized that despite all the sound and fury and the many scenes I have caused trying to do exactly that, that I had never actually written a speech for a mixed or Republican audience. In twelve hours I will be at a GOP dominated candidate forum in extreme rural AZ: Meadview. Here is the speech I hope to give:

My name is Mikel Weisser.
I am the Democratic candidate for US House in AZ’s 4th Congressional District. I’m a native Texan, a former teen runaway. Grew up in a small town near the border of Mexico,  about 15 yrs ago I moved to AZ from Illinois por que yo hablo poquito espanol. I share my humble beginnings because I believe the beauty of the American Dream is that a man can remake himself and make a better world if he tries.

I grew up a working man, 3rd generation construction worker. I didn’t learn to type till I was 27, didn’t really go to college till I was 30, worked as a plumber till I was 35, put myself through college and then grad school working as a carnie, then a homeless shelter administrator. I did freelance journalism part-time and had a political column going for about 25 years. I retired as a social studies teacher a year ago to do this full time. I have two masters degrees, one in English from the University of Illinois and one in secondary Ed from NAU.
Currently, I serve as the executive director and legislative liaison of Safer AZ, the state’s cannabis reform PAC and as a vice chair in the progressive caucus of the Democratic Party. I also sing, play guitar & perform poetry around the southwest.  I love my wife and kids and grandkids and dogs and cats and the beauty and the challenge of living in rural Arizona.
Now that’s a whole lot of biography for a little bitty speech like this, and I want you to understand I understand for many of you, nothing else mattered after I said Democrat. But I been a Democrat since I was en utero and I am especially proud to be a Democrat here in Western AZ.
Some of you may know my campaign slogan is, “Tell the Right They’re Wrong!” I mean that. You don’t have to take that personally, but if you just blindly hate anything Dem, then none of the rest of this will matter anyway.
But yes, that is my belief: I run as a Democrat because I believe the Republican Party has dominated our society, our laws and government since the 60s and their rule has come at a terrible price. The conservative values agenda has wrecked our social life, imperiled us globally and gutted our economy to serve the rich. I don’t care which hometown patriotic values the Right claim to care about, bottom line, they are only serving the corporate interests of their campaign donors. Like the way their economic plans first dismantled Wall Street’s security system, stole everybody’s piggybank and six million people’s homes, stuck you w the bill and then blamed the poor and the struggling to hide their tracks. That’s the GOP, that’s your Republicans.

This is just one example. I could rant all day and not cover all the highlights and I could also not convince you. Just like folks didn’t want to believe that Nixon was a crook, or that Reagan let Iran-Contra happen, or that Bush lied to us about weapons of mass destruction, and millions were killed, and billions squandered and trillions more stolen and much of the world has now turned against us in your name. I know no one wants to believe it; but when it comes to domestic policy, foreign policy and especially economic policy the conservative values agenda have been wrong, dead wrong.
And many those folks will tell you I am the enemy, even call me an enemy to America just for thinking such things. Of course they are the same people who will tell you that I am an enemy because I let my hair grow out sometimes, because I wear jeans and Chuck Taylors, instead of pin stripes and wing tips. Because I don’t think that gays or immigrants are subhuman, because I like to smoke and drink and occasionally cuss.
And so I know that they’re wrong about that, because those things just make me a lot like a lot of the rest of you. So, I would like to talk about the things we could agree on. I know some of you would like to hear some new ideas beyond the same old same old GOP BS.
Like, I believe in educating our children, in roads and solar power. I tell you people, this is Arizona in August, you step outside and you cannot help but believe in the power of solar, just saying.
I believe that my government is NOT supposed to treat me like an enemy, or stick its nose into people’s personal lives. I want the government to stay off of my back and out of my bedroom and as long as I am not trampling on the rights of my fellow man, I want to be free to pursue my own life, my own happiness.
I believe we need to be conservative w our precious natural resources and protect the lives of innocent children, especially after they’re born. I believe in Arizona’s dream of rugged independence, carving out your own vision and honoring your land and your country. I believe in encouraging innovation, I believe we owe something to our children.
 And I very much believe that we live in an extremely dangerous time. Yet with all the problems we face on a global scale, the GOP want to be sure we spend most of our time fighting each other. I believe that America is worth fighting and, when necessary, dying for. But I also believe that it is worth living for. I wish everybody believed that way, then, we really could have a country of, for, and by the people.
Now here are some things many of you will disagree on. Like first that a lot of the messes we face were made by Republicans and they lie and wave a flag in front of us expecting everyone to go along. Look at the last 40yrs of American history, especially in this state. Who’s been in power? So who’re the folks to blame?
Look at the way Carter, Clinton and Obama were treated, even though greatly different presidents, they all get attacked the same way, relentlessly, insanely. I think they waste our time w this nonsense, I think they squander our money, I think they don’t solve the problems we hired them to fix because they’re too busy slinging mud and begging for money. When Obama got elected, Mitch McConnell, famously said his goal for the next four yrs was to obstruct Obama’s efforts and tell me what else have they really done lately, except become very good at wasting our time and money?
I also don’t believe that the immigrants are the cause of America’s problems anymore than they were when my grandparents were immigrants 100 yrs ago. They were also poor, uneducated and didn’t speak English.
I don’t believe that someone’s right to be a religious fundamentalist extremist trumps women’s right to make their own reproductive choices.
I don’t believe that government services make us weaker; that tax cuts create jobs; that every Democrat is after your guns; or, that the 80 yr prohibition on marijuana has ever been anything but a fraud and a crime against the American people, people like yourself and your children.
And I tell you what I do believe in: I believe in jobs: in education, in construction, in innovation, and in tourism and rural development. I believe we need to address the refugee crisis on our border, but we have to treat immigrants as people and children as children. I believe corporations are not people and their rights are not superior to the rights of actually humans and that we need a Constitutional Amendment to solve that problem once and for all.
 I also have proposals on issues like rural solar electrification and water reclamation. I am one of the shapers of the state’s marijuana laws and have proposals to stop the federal prohibition the same way we are dismantling AZ’s private prison pipeline.
There are so many things we could agree on. There are so many issues the right will never work on for you and there is only so little time to act before they drive the country over the cliff again. I know that many of you have been true believers in the GOP for a long time. But am I asking the honorable people in the audience to think about what they’re doing, the way they act, who the Republican Party has become and ask yourself, does the GOP really represent you these days?

I hope you’ll say, “No!” I hope you’ll join my fight.  
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of az.