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Occupy! Portland in early November 2011

The way I see it, Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi shaped the U.S. 2012 election in a positive way. Bear with me here, I’ll make the links.

In the 2012 U.S. elections, one of the key topics that candidates are being forced to address is wealth distribution (and income accountability, taxes, etc. etc.). This happened because of the Occupy! movement, which was encouraged by the protests in Wisconsin, which may not have been so powerful and remarkable had the good people of Wisconsin not already been fired up by protests in the burgeoning Arab Spring. And of course, the Arab Spring can owe much of its inception to the death of one young, frustrated man: Mohamed Bouazizi.

On the day the Times named our 2011 Person of the Year, I was disappointed to hear the winner was the vague “protestor.” I had a particular protestor in mind, and had been hoping they would choose Mohamed Bouazizi, the unfortunate fruit stand keeper who had endured one hardship too many and burned himself to death in protest. Not that he was the first person to self-immolate in protest in Tunisia, but December 17, 2010 his was the first story to grab news headlines. The Times talked about the runners up, who included Kate Middleton, Admiral William McCraven, and Gabriel Giffords, among others. Considering all  candidates’ contributions to the planet in 2011, I felt (and still feel) as though there is simply no comparison to the contribution of Bouazizi.

Occupy! Portland at the base of the Wells Fargo tower

Bouazizi’s flames pulled the trigger for much of Tunisia in December of 2010 and launched what probably no one was able to predict: an upheaval of north Africa and the Middle East, and shockwaves that spread across the globe. With the death of Bouazizi made public, Tunisians could no longer keep quiet. They were an entire nation of people who could identify with the last straw breaking the camel’s back. They could no longer endure the system they had been forced to negotiate within. They exploded.

As the news of the resistance of Bouazizi and his countrymen spread next door, the Egyptian trigger was pulled too. On January 25, 2011 Egyptians resisted their own oppression in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. I was riveted by the news of revolt in Egypt, since my daughter and I had been there – right there on that square – only a year previous. January 27, a huge demonstration rocked Yemen’s capital city Sana’a. News of similar revolts continued to roll in. Jordan. Bahrain. Palestine.

And with the thoughts of Arab Spring in my mind, the protests in Wisconsin hit the news February 14. I could not help but immediately make the connection and I suspect they were making it too. Revolution was on the news every day back then. Citizens in the Middle East and Africa were getting shot in the streets but willing to continue to make a stand for the will of the people. So when a wretched attack on collective bargaining rights for public servants was perceived in Wisconsin, it was only natural that they would respond with an aggressive spirit. If others are willing to die to change their government, why wouldn’t Wisconsonians be willing to misbehave and elicit some public scorn in order to block the passing of Governor Walker’s “budget repair bill?”

February 15, Libyans protested, and by the end of February their country was roused into a fury. The world was fired up! In England, unexplained riots of vandalism and theft swept through the streets. It made immediate sense to me, when everyone else was wailing “why? why?” This chaos stems from the despair borne of helplessness. An article in the Guardian suggests that we view those riots in the context of the “division between the entitled and the dispossessed.” Mexicans rose up against the devastating drug cartels. Greeks demanded accountability in the wake of their leaders’ ineptitude.

Americans again got fired up and Occupied! the country. And all the idiots in Washington said “It’ll never last,” and “Those stupid college brats are wasting their time,” and attempted to ignore it. But we remained Occupied! And the unrest that had begun in Tunisia and spread over here, rippled and went back. Hong Kong, Berlin, and Sydneygot Occupied! Politicians in the U.S. never did (and still mostly do not) have any clue how revealing the Occupy! movement is, and they continue to fuss about illegal immigration and same sex marriage, when we are UNEMPLOYED out here, and our homes have been FORECLOSED, and most of us could really give a flying fluck whether men marry other men because right now we have REAL issues to worry about.

KBOO live on the air in the midst of Occupy! Portland. Note the “people’s republic of portland” bumper sticker and the image of Che Guevara

U.S. officials tried to wait out the protestors, and wait for winter to discourage them, but they wouldn’t go. So in a nationwide coordinated effort, police were sent in to break up the camps, arrest any resisters, pepper spray the rest, and bulldoze the tents. Our own Portland Mayor Sam Adams joined the melee. But it was too late.

unoccupied Portland, with metal fences and locked gates

Too late, because guess what? The whole country has begun using a vernacular that includes phrases like “class warfare” and “income inequality.” We stand around our respective water coolers and mutter to each other that politicians care only about reelection. There is a “deep distrust of government” and “capitalism in crisis.” We’ve had Warren Buffet publicly announce that he thinks it is unfair that his millions are taxed at a lower rate than his secretary’s salary. Mitt Romney succumbed to pressure and produced his tax returns. Polls since Occupy! have included a new segment of the population that demands a focus on reducing the income gap. Just enter keywords “poll wealth inequality” and see the lists of what pops up. A recent poll reveals that Americans across party lines believe that the federal government should prioritize increasing the equality of opportunities. I do not recall Americans demanding this level of transparency in our last election and I certainly do not recall a transparent response.

I learned later that the Times United Kingdom nominated Bouazizi as person of the year. I am puzzled that the discussion of person of the year in the U.S. didn’t even mention the man (though curiously he is immediately identified on their person of the year home page), and then he was the person actually selected in the UK.

one of my fave graffiti shots downtown

When I went for a run Wednesday morning, I passed the sweetest sight. A man was carefully removing falling leaves from a chalk message on the sidewalk. I couldn’t read the name written there (I was too close to the sidewalk to see the giant letters well). It said, “[NAME] I love U!” The word love was actually a heart.

It’s a ritual on this block: people send chalk messages to inmates held in the jail across the street from where I work. Apparently, they must be able to see the message from the jail and pass it on to whomever is named. Messages show up on both sides of my building, kitty corner on the sidewalk intersections, silently sending love up to the people in the towering building.

A couple hours later, I left my desk on the third floor and walked over to the windows to see if I could read the chalk name with a better angle. I looked out the window and felt like I was socked in the gut. All I could see on the sidewalk corner was a wide wet area, where the chalk had been scrubbed off. No, it wasn’t that the whole sidewalk had been sprayed. Just the message. Washed off.

I don’t know why it hit me so hard. I suddenly thought of oppression. I thought of a stifling work environment, and a totalitarian regime. I thought how easy it is for those in power to take tiny steps to squash the people. The people who scrubbed the message off probably weren’t even directed to do it by anyone related to the jail. The slightest details, perfectly, hegemonically aligned, will have devastating effects. And yet, no one can point a finger and legitimately make it stop.

“Take a stand! We must FIGHT the scrubbing of chalk messages!” See? That wouldn’t go anywhere. And yet, think of how devastating it could be to someone who has been waiting for a love message, to keep up hope while waiting for the court date or something. What does it mean to that person, who was assured by a loved one: “It will be there. Wednesday morning. You look out that window. I promise.”

Arno suggests that I could look at it with an entirely different perspective. “It’s a very positive idea, though,” he said, “that there is a means of getting messages to the people in the jail. They have a way to send their love.”

Arrggh. Pandora you wicked one.

Our Bill of Rights. Click the image for a larger version.

I haven’t posted for a while. Sorry about that. It’s been a busy week because our managers set a policy of mandatory overtime on a monthly basis, and I decided to work all of May’s overtime this week to get it out of the way. So I’ve been working like a fiend, but I’ll have the rest of the month to relax.

Tonight I was downtown at an art show (I’ll blog it soon!), and left for awhile to enjoy the glorious evening at the waterfront. I saw this posted on a rock beside the Willamette River. I had a brief thrill of recognizing parts of this simple and articulate document in my daily life. These words turned into laws and customs that have become a way of life for us. These powerful words were created by a few men trying to create a brand new country, and trying to do it “right.” What a profound goal, and what great things have been achieved with these simple beginnings. Our bill of rights. My bill of rights.

My office. I affectionately refer to it as The Cubicle Sea. Inspiring, isn’t it?

A recurring theme in the press these days: Damned federal workers raking in the dough at taxpayer’s expense, while the country staggers beneath mounting debt. I’ve seen politicians ranting about how my pay is drastically higher than the private sector, even double the average American wage. For example, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, said in late 2010 that “The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year.” Another source claims that the average federal salary is $74,300 compared to a private sector salary of $49,777. I found another estimate of $109-$116, and an estimate that is not as condemning at $67,691. If my only source of information was the news, I would be one of the millions who resent people like me. Since I am a federal employee, however, I know better.

Will the real salary please stand up?

So let’s have it out right here: I was recently promoted and now earn a base salary of $60,274. I have 18 years of federal service behind me, including my service in the Air Force. I have a Master’s Degree. My job requires extensive medical knowledge and extensive legal knowledge, and I make legal decisions to award or not award compensation. So you make the call: would you expect an employee in the private sector with my background to make a whopping $60K? The average salary of a registered nurse is $38K – $73K, the average salary of a paralegal is $26K – $64K, and the average salary of a judge is $30K – $136K. Since I’ve got years of experience behind me, I think I should be compared to the higher end. In fact, since I have to know all three jobs, it might be more accurate to add them together (73+64+136= $273K).

The above paragraph sounds like I am leading you to say I don’t earn enough. But in my opinion, it’s a fair wage.  I don’t think I’m underpaid, because I have great benefits that close the gap between what I earn and what I would expect someone like me in the private sector would earn. I have a little discounted life insurance, 26 days of paid vacation (which I earned after reaching 15 years of federal service), and sick leave. Federal employees have gradual pay increases over time, which is a common practice in the private sector.

I also have the choice to opt in to supposedly discounted health insurance, but I do not buy it because it’s still ridiculously expensive in my opinion. For an average $138.90 every two weeks, my daughter and me can be insured. That’s $3,611 a year. Not worth it since my out of pocket expenses are not even half that without insurance, not to mention federal insurance does not include eye care or dental care, which has to be purchased in addition. So, imho, the famous federal health benefits are no benefit.

A final benefit is for federal employees who live in a more expensive urban area compared to the rest of the nation. Those people get an additional “locality pay” adjustment added to their base salary. I am lucky enough to benefit from this additional resource because I live in Portland, Oregon.

Who are the workers we are comparing?

What is an average federal worker compared to an average private sector worker? The feds don’t hire many equivalents of burger-flippers or janitors – those types of jobs are contracted out to private workers. The federal workforce is filled with people who had to get a college degree before they were even qualified to apply. Think of the number of jobs that exist in our country, and think of how many of them are paid minimum wage or near that, and it’s instantly obvious why the average private sector wage is lower. The comparison is as false as comparing the average private sector worker to the average Boeing employee. Apples and Oranges, people.

How much do federal employees earn?

What I want to know is: who are these millionaire federal employees who are bumping up the average?

Most of us are paid under the General Schedule (GS), which ranges from GS-1 through GS-15. I’m not able to find a good resource that shows the median GS level in the federal workforce. I think it would be revealing. I am at the high end (GS-12), which I would expect from the skill level of my job. I worked previously for the National Weather Service as a GS-11 weather forecaster. Again it was at the high end, and rightfully so, since the NWS is tasked with “protection of life and property” at the behest of our government. Make all the fun you want, but weather forecasters are front and center in the economics and disaster preparedness and response of any country. (To get that job, you need a degree in atmospheric sciences, with courses including Calculus, Dynamics, and Physics.) My father worked 33 years for the U.S. Forest Service, and didn’t manage to crack GS-10 until after twenty years, and even that came about by chance when a new position was created. From my experience, I have only known GS-14s, and GS-15s to be office directors. Thus, in the federal government, directors (CEOs) can earn up to $99,628 (and if they remain in that position for 18 years, they can earn $129,517 annually). Private sector CEOs are more likely to earn 7 times that amount than half of it.

My guess is that the majority of federal employees are GS-5 through GS-9, and I’ll bet there are more GS-9s than any other level. Those workers get a base salary of $41,563 which increases gradually with time. (ok, ok, the GS-9 is a guess. Provide me with a resource of the actual median GS level of federal employees and I’ll revise. I promise!)

There are 2,750,00 total federal employees, 7000 of which are in Senior Executive Service positions, the highest paychecks available to us. SES make up less than 1% of the federal workforce, with average salaries of $120K – $165K. The rest of us are paid under the General Schedule (GS) (plus a scattering of different plans I won’t get into here).  All of these 2¾ million federal employees earn more the longer they hold their current position, as is common in the private sector. For example, if I continue to do my job well (i.e. have no reason for my supervisor to limit my promotion, which can happen), then in another 18 years my base salary will be $78K. Thus by extrapolating, one can assume that some of the GS employees and all of the SES employees are earning six figures. I am missing a lot of data to do an accurate average wage, but the numbers just don’t average out to $120,000 no matter how you slice it. Let’s say the six-figure earners total 27,500 employees (1%); is that enough to pull everyone’s wage up to six figures? Of course not. What if they made up 2%? 5%? 10% Still not enough.

Where do the high numbers come from?

After a little research, it turns out that the “average wage” touted by those who believe we are earning too much, includes things that are not wages at all. Benefits equated to salary include our so-called discounted medical insurance (regardless of whether or not I choose to opt in), the small life insurance policy I mentioned, as well as benefits received by employees who qualify under an old system that is not available to any of us hired in the mid 1980s or later.

Our salary average also includes the retirement benefits paid to past federal workers!

It is misrepresentation of the truth to say that since I work for an employer that provides great benefits, then my wages are really n+1 when the amount that shows up in my credit union account is n. If you want to do that with federal workers, then do that with the private sector too. How valuable are the things we don’t have that some private companies offer, such as fitness club memberships and on-site child care? Smucker’s 100% tuition reimbursement (I’m still paying on my $80K student loan)? How about the 20% free time at Google? And seriously, did I just find out my detractors want to penalize me for choosing one employer over another based on benefits? I call it smart, not criminal.

An example of a stereotypical federal employee

You want one? It’s me. I’m a divorced, single-mom raising a teenager. I’m buried in student loans and mortgage debt, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that my 14-year old vehicle can continue to serve us for a few more years. If not, I’ll have an auto loan too.  We do ok, here, though. We are able to pay for ballet classes for my daughter and school expenses like a new dress for 8th grade graduation, yearbooks, annual photos, new shoes, glasses (she keeps losing them!), and braces. I expect that these daily expenses will mount as she gets older and makes her way through high school. I can pay all the bills and add a few dollars each month toward paying off credit card debt created when I bought airline tickets for my brother’s family so he could visit Mom for Thanksgiving. I donate to a string of charities — not a lot, but I donate. We wear our clothes till they aren’t nice enough to give to Salvation Army, and we wait till movies hit the Academy because tickets are only $4. I wash and re-use plastic baggies. Yes, I do! We have everything we need, but only because we are careful.

So when you need a face to represent the outrageous wage abuses by spoiled federal workers, you can use mine.

please click image for source

I came across this classroom assignment I wrote in 2006 for an International Mediation course I was taking at Brandeis University. The first third of the paper is a tidy re-cap of the traumatic battle surrounding the discovery of a 9,300 year old human skeleton beside the Columbia River. The remainder is obviously student-speak designed to answer the many questions put to us by our professor, and designed to prove that we had read all the texts assigned.

Pursuing any current and relevant news, I found an article in the Tri-City Herald noting that ancient human remains were again found in the area. Startled, I read on to discover that the bones, estimated to be 300 to 350 years old, were handed over to the Tribes claiming them by the US Army Corps of Engineers. No fuss, no scandal, no lawsuits.

Painful as it is, the truth looks ugly. Scientists, arguably among the most intelligent of us, appear to be using only their empirical data in these two cases. Inciting war in the first, and granting peace in the second. They apparently have decided that Indians have the right to claim 300 year old remains but not 9000 year old remains. Yes, I see the difference on the surface. But ideologically, what is the difference? Why does one group get to draw the line, and where exactly is it drawn, and why?

My apologies if I lost you, because this stuff is so central to my core that I find it hard to express to someone else. But let me try: Indians claim that ancient human remains in North America are their ancestors because their oral traditions (i.e. their religions) tell them so. Scientists track ancestry through DNA samples, and many believe that there are multiple lineages that populated North America. Thus, any kinship ties could only be proven through meticulous scientific study.

The fact that no ownership war began over the 300 year old remains says to me that scientists are willing to agree on kinship ties in that case. But NOT because they respect Indian religious traditions, but because it happens to be in line with their own religion of science. This stuff makes me furious. 1) If your scientific point is that DNA is required, then why not battle with equal ferocity over the 300 year old remains? 2) Why do the scientists get to set the terms? 3) If 9000 years old is clearly not an ancestor, and 300 years is clearly an ancestor, can we please have the exact year that delineates? (ok, yes, that was sarcasm)

Multiple parties were (and are still) passionate about those particular human remains called both Ancient One and Kennewick Man. Opinions vary on how they should or should not be handled, stored, examined, discussed, or buried. Millions of dollars and millions of hours were spent to make a decision on whether American Indians who claimed ancestral ties had the right to dispose of the human remains as the Tribes saw fit; or, whether anthropologists should be allowed to study the remains for the benefit of adding to our human knowledge base of early versions of our species.

My take was that, had the situation been handled properly, there may have been a way to satisfy some of the needs of both of these parties (as well as the needs of other parties also involved, to include the US Army Corps of Engineers and the intriguing Asatru Folk Assembly).

Again I fear that this is evidence that minority parties rarely get respect or validation. It is depressing and heartbreaking, not to mention frustrating when groups of stereotypically “intelligent” people such as scientists are the ones furthering ignorance, discrimination, and destructive hegemony.

On the optimistic side… there is a chance that I just witnessed an evolution of another kind. Can it be that we have learned lessons over here in the Pacific Northwest, and applied them successfully?

Chief Smith and me

I met Cherokee Chief Chad Smith last night. What an honor. It seems to me like a pretty big deal to have the Chief out here in Portland, all the way from Oklahoma. It IS a big deal. But the gathering was rather small, perhaps 150 people. Mark, Tara, and I went together, and Tara made a berry dessert to contribute to the potluck feast. It makes me feel pretty good that they were quick to agree to go with me and support my interests.

The potluck was amazing. Piles of food of all kinds. There was no way to sample it all, but we did our best, returning to the table periodically. I was pleased to find plenty of salmon to try. Mark liked the buffalo and hominy. Tara was excited about the desserts, and went back for more sugar a couple of times.

The Mt. Hood Cherokees, who are eager to build a stronger local community, invited Chief Smith. He began his talk by reminding us that the Cherokee Nation is a government, and he believes it should be run like a business. In his talk he included several examples of how to build a strong community, and he repeatedly explained that it couldn’t be built on handouts. Being Cherokee does not mean entitlement, but rather results in an obligation to give to the community.

Cherokee Chief Chad Smith shares his vision of the Nation

All the resources, strength, and opportunity will indeed become available to members of the Cherokee Nation, he told us, if only we commit ourselves to investing into it. If our goal is to “give” and not to “get,” then the end result will be the benefits we seek.

He took questions afterward. There was some talk about how to expand and improve the Nation’s healthcare system and in particular to have more native doctors at the facilities, and Chief Smith reminded us to help our children excell in math and science. A man shook his head and waved his hand as though to dismiss the idea as beside the point. “I am serious,” retorted Smith. “You want Cherokee doctors, but we are happy to find ANY doctor willing to work for us, there just aren’t many Cherokee doctors. The only way to get more is to encourage your kids to go to medical school. The only way they can consider that is to graduate high school with a strong academic background. And in order to get there, your children need to study math and science in the younger grades.” It was an excellent example of how members cannot expect the handouts (Cherokee doctors) without the investment (committing themselves to helping their children succeed in school).

dancer at the close of ceremonies

Questions covered the saving of White Eagle corn (so named because of a white lip on the kernel that is in the shape of a bird in flight) which had been nearly extinct, what opportunities are available to students, and how to improve contact between local and national communities. Chief Smith said that he felt the more important question was how to build the local community, not how to connect to the one in Oklahoma. A woman stood and made a plug for the local group NAYA, that is a great resource here. I’ve worked with them a little bit, through the VA.

Gifts were presented to our honored visitor, and the gathering concluded with a Navajo dancer. Mark, Tara and I had to leave in a hurry to get our girl to her afternoon volleyball game. We were all glad we had made the time to go to this meeting.

I heard a news story this morning about how cattle rustling is a big problem in the rural areas of Oregon. Cattle thieves continue a centuries-old tradition, even in 2010. Oregon’s laws require branding of cows to keep track of ownership. Nearby states do not. On the radio program, Malheur County sheriff and rancher said, “One guy on horseback with a good dog can fill a trailer.” Across the border, possession is the law.

My beloved Meadows Valley

…and images of my childhood in a ranching valley in northern Idaho came to mind.

Growing up in a tiny ranching/logging town, we were self-sufficient and didn’t trust government or outsiders. Credit it to hundreds of years of being off the radar of the nation. Out there in the Wild West, people create their own solutions; they help each other as insurance against future need, and place great value on non-conventional tools such as a good dog.

Theft of 150 cows over a few years could be devastating, through the unrecovered expenses it entails. Rural westerners seem to be always on the edge of broke, and each new season provides the opportunity (or not) to pay off last years’ bills. But even beyond that, theft is an unforgivable act among people who must pool their resources to keep the community intact. Theft damages the integrity of the whole system, by removing the resources. It removes a provider and creates one additional needy family.

The perspective of the news program was to suggest microchipping cattle. It may surprise city-dwellers to know that cattle ranchers aren’t warm to the idea. Why aren’t they? It’s because true westerners have a core understanding that self-reliance is the only aspect of life to count on. Aside from The Almighty, of course.

  • 1) any problem is solvable at home
  • 2) no one in Washington, D.C. has a clue
  • 3) only you and your neighbors understand the situation accurately
  • 4) the less control an organization or government has over your livelihood, the better

One does not thrive in the wilderness without developing convictions similar to these. And, when it has served a population for thousands of years, it becomes instinctual to cling to proven measures of safety. In this light, it’s much easier to understand fierce resistance by large segments of our national population to national programs. Healthcare, anyone?

Many intelligent people champion brilliant arguments to support social programs. They can make the mistake of discounting people who don’t buy it. In their confusion about why the case for a social program wasn’t accepted, the champions can make the mistake of assuming the resistors are not intelligent. They consider that perhaps the worldview of rural citizens isn’t large enough to understand the greater issues at stake.

The biggest mistake of all is not to try to understand the core of the resistance. Say, for example, that rural people are quite intelligent, especially in the aspects of survival. If this is true, then what is responsible for the resistance? If microchips could provide an opportunity to track every last cow and calf in a national database, what could possibly explain resistance? What arguments would address their interests?

Let’s take it beyond ranchers. Beyond rural experts vs. national experts. Extend to indigenous populations vs. colonizers, individuals vs. corporations, small poor countries vs. large rich ones. How about the experienced workforce vs. the employees fresh out of college?

Not the brainland - the Heartland of Idaho.

I catch myself sometimes assuming a breakdown in communication is due to one side being simple-minded. The cattle rustling story was a simple example to help me see a bigger, more accurate story of world peace and conflict.

Though I’m many years and many experiences away from my rural Idaho home, I retain a bit of that old instinct. I can tell you from an insider’s perspective that while they are often judged as ignorant, entire rural populations are convinced that THEY are the only bastion of clear-thinking intelligence to be found.

Steps under construction

Steps under construction

My exciting news is that our newly poured concrete steps can be walked upon today. Yes, it takes little to make me giddy.

Little? Actually concrete for construction is a big freaking deal to some people. Like in the Gaza Strip. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Over the past week, I hired a crew from Patrick Masonry & Concrete here in Portland to build me some new front steps. The previous steps had been poorly constructed and were falling apart. The metal railing had nearly broken off, and I was growing increasingly concerned that the mail carrier or an elderly neighbor would slip on the crumbling steps and crack their skull.

Sidewalk alongside the house

Sidewalk

Steps

support for new slab

plastic

protection from rain

Patrick showed up within 30 minutes of my cold call. The very next day the old concrete was gone and the wooden forms were in place. By Thursday it was done. Friday morning they removed all their gear except for the orange cones and the temporary mailbox down at street level. Since it had been pouring rain most of the week, the concrete was drying slowly, and he suggested that we stay off until Sunday – today!

Ready for walking!

All week I thought of Palestine. Enduring warring civil factions, Israeli blockades, bombings and terrorism from multiple sources, increasing Egyptian border control, joblessness and the looming thoughts of despair always hovering and waiting for the chance to swoop in and devastate a family…  my steps are an example of the wealth and opportunity in the United States of America.

Gazans don’t have access to concrete, nor access to many construction opportunities. With the opportunity to pour this amount of concrete, they would certainly use it for something more critical. I am almost ashamed at my frivolousness in comparison.

We all seek our personal joys and life goals in the setting we are dealt. It is conflicting to think too hard on my achievements when others don’t even have the chance to try it. However, I think my job is to be the most I can be with what I have. Thus, I’ll continue to be thrilled at my new concrete steps, I’ll wallow in the joy of rebuilding my gardens on either side of it, since they were damaged during construction. I’ll savor the security of knowing my little girl, the neighbors, the mail carriers and everyone else will now have safe passage on my property.

slab and curved walk

Slab and curved walk

I will continue my awareness of the struggles of others, and be grateful when I am afforded opportunities. I will try not to squander my precious gifts.

T in patriotic garb

When worry takes its toll, and I’m again buried beneath fears of being out of control, I need only touch the earth to restore some peace inside.

How fortunate then, that our earth is so beautiful and accessible! Wednesday was my scheduled day off. My man suggested trails in the Columbia River Gorge because I wouldn’t have to drive too far. He expressed disappointment about the rain though. I told him I didn’t care about the rain. (Sometimes a wounded psyche even likes the rain…)

I packed a lunch for myself when I finished packing one for the girlie. She was beside herself about the results of the Presidential election. Don’t blame me! I tried to keep myself out of it around her, because I don’t feel it is appropriate for parents to enforce their own ideology on their children when it comes to things like politics and religion. She decided to wear red, white, and blue to celebrate the day. She said there was one person in her class who would be very upset. I’m a mom and couldn’t help but caution her, “I hope that you are kind to that person.” She said, “Of course! She’s my best friend!” Oh. Ha ha. I forget how wonderful children can be.

below the Oxbow Park amphitheater

After girlie was off, I grabbed a sweater and kissed my man goodbye, and off I went. From I-84 east, I took the exit I wanted, but got immediately distracted by a sign to Oxbow State Park. I thought that since I kept seeing signs for that place, it must be worth finding. I had a hard time finding it, and none of my maps showed the park because it’s just off the edge of the city maps, and too small to show up on the state maps. I took my time, and lollygagged, and stopped for pictures and finally, after an hour and half, found the park! It’s in a gorgeous area, packed with autumn forest trees on a peninsula surrounded by the Sandy River, just on the edge of Troutdale.

streetlight adorned with concrete pine cones

I drove through the spanking new playgrounds and polished group campsites and little subdivision of numbered slots to squish in a car and a tent. It didn’t take long to ascertain that Oxbow Park is not at all what would heal this Earth spirit. Why would I leave my home in the city to seek out the exact same thing an hour out of the city? At home I am packed in on every side by people and houses and highways and dogs barking and kids squealing all clamoring for a part of my consciousness so that each day I am deafened by their never ending white noise shrieking CITY! CITY! CITY!

Autumn colours

So, I pulled my Saturn dragon wagon slowly around the one-way paved circle and moved on. What a fun radio day it was! I have two NPR pre-sets, and between them I can get talk radio almost anytime. This day the pervading mood was euphoria. I did not end up hiking much. It poured rain. And poured rain. And it was fiercely windy, and so cold. I did take to the trails here and there, but was grateful to scuttle back to the car and kick on the heat again. Then I listened to voices from all over the world commenting on the U.S. election. I was astonished to hear that people in Kenya think this election will change their country. People in Australia, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, England, and Germany were calling into the BBC to express their joy. The lines were open to everyone, and so some other perspectives were on the air as well, but the worldwide reaction to our election blew me away. People really think that America has shown the world how to behave. I’m glad for that; our country could use some good publicity for a change.

descending highway

View of Vista House on a cliff in the Gorge

They called in from China, celebrating the Obama win. They called in from Spain. Why do these people care about us? I really must be in a Prima Donna country that the whole rest of the planet cares who my President is. I have not been properly grateful for this cherished lottery ticket – being born here, I mean. Africans called in practically crying with joy over the example we have set that they believe should also be set in their continent.

inside Vista House

Vista House

I was out winding through the most exquisite countryside for five hours. Up steep grades, down into canyons, across high bridges and through tunnels and around curves and curves of the old Columbia River Highway. I found a sign with a quote from one of the highway builders, who gave thanks for the opportunity to build such a frame for the beauty created by Himself. That is the kind of religion that I think we need to always strive for: assume humility, and if we must change our world through the building of human structures, find a way to change it while preserving as much of the original as possible.

mossy stonework

steel forest dragon

The Columbia River Highway is still bound by hand built stone walls, concrete light posts with pine cones worked into the ionic columns, and lovely small touches such as stone benches built right into the walls. I stopped at the Vista House, which was closed, perched on the edge of a cliff; the pinnacle of a spiraling highway which drops to the majestic Columbia River itself.

basalt formations

inspiring arches

The views were astonishing, even between shreds of stratofractus. I hiked to waterfalls, I collected leaves, I got wet in the rain. It was getting dark when I finally headed for home, and felt like I had managed to get away from the edge of the abyss and distract my focus long enough to see all the beauty and potential joy that always surrounds me, just waiting patiently for my attention.

Maybe it makes me as racist as anyone, but I didn’t think America was ready to elect a member of a minority group to that office. I should have known, Americans have chosen a minority candidate in the past. Kennedy was elected even though he was Catholic, for example. That used to be a big deal to voters.

I’ve just been feeling so completely disempowered. As an earlier post shows, I had come to the opinion that it doesn’t matter at all what the people think, because rich and powerful old school cronies will buy the election. I might as well stay home and eat popcorn.

Maybe it’s because I completely misunderstood the appeal of President G W Bush. I just couldn’t imagine that any person who thought it through wisely could really believe he’d be the best man for the job. After the first four years, I had full confidence that he would lose based purely on past performance, and I was ASTONISHED to see his second election. I don’t know who my fellow Americans are, I guess. I certainly don’t understand what their priorities are.

So… it was with bewilderment that I heard McCain’s concession speech.

(by the by, the man garnered more of my respect during that beautiful speech than during any other election action he had taken. His status as a veteran and POW has me feeling deep respect and gratitude, but that concession speech made me actually connect to him as a man who could lead others.)

I felt hope last night. It was a crazy feeling – to have an election give me hope.

Don’t misunderstand me… I’m as frighteningly bitter and disillusioned about my country’s government as ever. I don’t believe that this election heralds the kind of change that everyone’s talking about.

But something earth-shatteringly important did change. A black family in the White House. Oh my god. Maybe there is hope for peace in the world after all.

I can just hear my father’s panicked cries already: the new President is a Marxist, his wife hates white people, there will be laws about the superiority of people of color, our national language will change to Spanish, we’ll open our borders and invite everyone else in the world to live here free of charge… while he foots the bill and lives in perpetual fear of losing the right to own his hunting rifle. If we could only drill in Alaska, he says, if only we could get a crack at that liquid gold before the cheatin Russians and Japanese suck it all up from the other side of the oil field. Yup, my father is terrified of Obama – or, more accurately, of what Obama represents to him – and I am suspicious that many other Republicans are. But maybe after a few years, he’ll find out that his fears of the man do not come to pass, and maybe he’ll relax. Or then again, maybe he’ll spin it however he needs to spin it to keep the world the same in his own perceptions.

In any case, despite my bitterness about my lack of power against the government machine, I do have great faith that change is in the air. How many kids will grow up now without noticing a correlation between membership in a minority group and politics? I’m already poisoned in my mind, because I can’t help but see differences. But putting a wide variety of Americans into political roles at the very highest levels will subtly destroy our country’s white hegemony. When a new generation no longer goes through the motions that keep people in their places; then people can move about with fewer restrictions. In other words, as we are all fully aware of, when we don’t notice minority status, we will be able to see the person.

I feel as though I am unwell inside, that I can’t help but look at Obama and feel particular joy because my President is a black man. I’m excited for the other victories, such as being a little more reassured that Roe v. Wade will remain in effect for a couple more years, or that we won’t drill in Alaska for a couple more years. I wish I didn’t think of him as my first black President.

But like I said, I am already poisoned by society. My great hope is that the legacy of the United States of America can build off this momentous occasion toward a future woman who sits in her living room blogging about a President and doesn’t consider the color of her skin to be a relevant point.

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