Choose a Side

Sometimes, fire must be met with fire in order to prepare to face whatever gauntlet has been thrown down. On the national political front, one was thrown down a while ago, though many may still spend time parsing out exactly when that was. At this point, the “when” doesn’t matter. The gauntlet is clearly there and now it’s time to face this reality and decide which side of it we each are truly on. That surely occurred in Nazi Germany, when many people in France, for example, joined and became “The Resistance” to fight Hitler’s tyranny. I am struggling still with “resisting,” though I know that who I am and how I live is already considered resistance in certain quarters. I also know this: outside of my job role as psychotherapist, I have little time and energy to try and convince Trump supporters to think, feel, and act differently than they currently do. I am on a certain side of the gauntlet. And to those who are working still on softening hearts and educating minds towards becoming more compassionate and broad-thinking respectively, well good for you and thank you. I’ll do that here and there on the job as a clinical social worker. But, outside of that, in my personal life, I’ve simply committed to protecting my rights and others’, uncivil as that may indeed sometimes be. You ain’t seen nothin’ from me yet.

Further Thoughts on the Film BLACK PANTHER

[***Spoiler warning: Outcome of movie referenced towards the end of this article.***]

I’ve seen the movie BLACK PANTHER twice and feel like I can still watch it again and derive more to think about. I have read a few articles written about the film, including a very critical one, which has also helped me to mull it over further.

Historically, Black Panther’s kingdom of Wakanda is a country that has never been truly known or fully “discovered” by the rest of the world. This makes that nation a completely uncolonized land, truly a safe haven for African born people. From this backdrop, the struggle to return to one’s origins when one has not been born in her/his ancient, ancestral land, but descended from natives still there, is powerfully depicted in the movie. I can only try to fathom the workings of this beautifully complex internal and external struggle to sense ever-deeper into one’s African roots and form a clearer, stronger identity from there.  And all this done as a means to help facilitate a solid inner state of purpose and agency in life, these being basic human needs for thriving, not just surviving.  Such a process is constantly played out both individually and collectively for Blacks in America and everywhere.  This movie struck an inner chord for viewers by distilling and mirroring these aforementioned strivings into a compelling portrayal of one man’s flawed but earnest efforts to connect to his beginnings and a resulting cultural identity he had heretofore found lacking, albeit seemingly just within reach.  All this is juxtaposed against an idyllic vision of people living from a line of unbroken rootedness to their ancestors, cultural traditions, and a subsequent sense of cohesiveness and effectiveness in the world around them.  The virile Black Panther King T’Challa, his brilliant tech-savvy princess sister, and other characters closely associated with the monarch each embody this ideal of a solid, grounded identity in their own appealing ways.  Talk about feel-good fun!  Ultimately, regardless of one’s race(s)/ethnicity(ies), I think it’s a natural impulse to wonder about one’s heritage, those somehow special, unique beginnings of where one came from that inform who one is now, be that biologically, culturally, spiritually. Hence, why I–who appear as being almost as “white” as you can get– was moved by this film and its message of valuing a meaningful, alive-feeling connection to one’s rich background, whatever that happens to be, or at least honoring the longing for such. It’s a longing I myself hold dear and sometimes pursue at fulfilling.

Practically speaking, Wakanda is an anachronism, not to mention an obvious bubble of a utopia, placed outside of the context of linear, “real” time as most, if not all, of consensus reality would dictate. Still, this fictional land with its ancestrally “pure” people and the narratives that unfold from it comprise a pertinent allegory of a “place” from which to derive and better understand generalizable truths or large-scale shared experiences about the human condition, some of them just discussed above.  Given that “universal” has become understandably so associated by many with overly-absolutist, simplistic, monolithic thinking, I am purposefully not using that adjective here before the word “truths.”

From a political perspective, I appreciated the complex “villain.” Effectively played by the handsome Michael B. Jordan, the anguished character Killmonger has a good primary intention. He plans to balance out mass injustice via powerfully arming (with Wakanda’s unique vibranium-made weaponry) oppressed populations around the world. All downtrodden African descended peoples are his understandable main concern. However, fulfilling his vision would have led to draining Wakanda of resources in fairly short order and putting the country in imminent danger to other, larger superpowers.

I felt ambivalent about the anti-immigrant message conveyed in the film. But, then, Wakanda is not representative of, say, the U.S.A. It is a small country with unique resources to protect, especially from falling into the wrong, corrupt hands. I could imagine how welcoming immigrants into the little nation would lead to endangering Wakanda’s particular integrity. I imagine others have thought this issue through more than I have, however, and am open to hearing/reading other views on this. I did find that King T’Challa’s opening up his country the way he chose to at the end was naive and not well-thought-out, as much as I deeply appreciated his magnanimous intention behind doing so.

In BLACK PANTHER, the protagonists and main antagonist (Killmonger) were neither “all bad” or “all good” in the tired, formulaic, Manichean way of character presentation in a drama. This was both refreshing and a big nod back to the ancient Greek tragedies, where every main player had a tragic flaw that left them vulnerable to downfall while they also possessed humanly relatable and well-meaning intentions.

BLACK PANTHER is undoubtedly one of the most thought-provoking Hollywood blockbuster movies I’ve seen in the longest time, if ever.

Not So Kindly Remembering Billy Graham

I feel mixed about Billy Graham’s passing and his legacy, though mostly negative.  A good handful of my gay Pagan friends have expressed understandable disdain for him and what he leaves behind, given how he spoke hatefully about homosexuality.  Unfortunately, Graham’s son is even worse, another dime-a-dozen, polarizing evangelical hater we can do without.  Thinking realistically, I strongly suspect the son won’t change, much as some are surely naively wishing he will be “inspired” to be more like his father.  I have one friend on Facebook who wrote this as a wish before they then deleted the post after I filled them in about Graham’s stance on gays.

When you are actually a member of a group that is spoken of so hatefully, it’s different than being an ally of that group, no matter how well-meaning you are as that ally.  A gun pointed at one’s own head is different feeling than when it is pointed at your friend’s, much as the latter is painful and enraging to witness.  Allies can only empathize and understand up to a point.  Hence, I would have to be self-hating in the deepest way to block out feeling my own and the collective pain of my gay brothers right now to then somehow “rise above” and speak respectfully of Billy Graham.  For my own self respect and integrity and for that of my fellow gay men, I just can’t.

That all said, speaking from the concept of relativity placed along a spectrum of “bad to absolute worst,” I do wish all evangelicals were more like Rev. Graham, who was “bad” behaving as opposed to “worse” or “the worst” among all the offenders of such social and (un)spiritual conduct.  For he too adhered to the sticky wicket of hating on us gays in the name of being “true” to the Bible and its teachings.  Such extreme, troubled thinking and speaking has been a big part of visible, vocal “spiritual” expression in the U.S.A.– by Graham and his generally even more intolerant ilk.  Billy was accepting of other faiths and races, as I heard liberal Christian apologists say on public radio earlier today, and they are right, of course.  But, yet again, that leaves just us homosexuals as the token pariahs or “filth,” one group among the masses, the rest all to be loved by “good Christians.”  So, Graham was part-way to decency, which still left him short of full arrival there.  Logically, how was he completely a “good Christian” then when Christ himself preached to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” leaving no group of people, including gays, to be left out of that admonition?  Expecting me to praise Graham would be like expecting a black person to think and speak kindly of an inherently racist leader upon that leader’s death, even though said leader had expressed and done goodness in so many other ways.  The white, heterosexist patriarchy holds its haters close and dear, including Graham.  After all, it’s “just gay people” and nobody else.

It’s simply too soon to expect those of us who were direct targets of Graham’s deeply hurtful beliefs and words about us to “get over” this.  Healing takes time.  Maybe someday I will have more positive things to say about this old preacher, maybe, though maybe not– regardless of how healed I and my brethren have become over this spiritual level of toxic shaming Graham participated in doing.  Ultimately, I trust and hope, Graham will have to account for that somehow in the after life now that he’s shed his mortal coil.  Regardless, his relevancy for me and my fellow queers is fast-fading away, and therein lies the healing.

I feel very similarly about the current Pope as I do about Graham, except maybe a little softer towards the former because he seems to be wrestling a bit with his beliefs against gays, perhaps.  The Pope in his position is the gentlest of “bad” compared to his “absolute worst” predecessors, and for that I am guardedly thankful.  On other fronts these days, there interweaves a network of far more hardcore, villainous-behaving leaders and followers who we GLBTQ+, other minorities, women, and disenfranchised/vulnerable groups of people are up against.  We need to do all we can to neutralize them from power as peacefully as possible.

Reflecting on Billy Graham’s legacy, I am reminded how organized religion has not done well by me or my gay brethren.  This has been particularly the case for Abrahamic faith institutions– though filled as they are with wonderful, loving individuals.  Hence, this is a big reason why I am not a member of such an organization.  I worship the gods alone and in small groups, making my way on rare occasion to a local Unitarian Universalist Church, where I take the best, leave the rest, and am accepted, at least formally, as I truly am, a gay Pagan.

Manifesto Moment (on Gun Control)

I am done, absolutely done, with debating about the importance of and need for gun control.  This is one of those matters where I take a firm stand and plant my “position” flag out in the wide open: we need gun control across the country.  Period.  I appreciate people who are willing and able to keep educating others and debating with them about this issue– even though it really should no longer be an “issue” but a clear set of enforced laws.  My time and energy are precious.  So, I will take time and energy with folks to discuss how to strategize the bringing about of this whole policy shift I firmly feel and think the U.S.A. so badly needs, our country’s children need.  I will take time and energy to support others who are bravely speaking out about this need for change, like the students who recently called out Trump, people in Congress, the NRA.  I will take time and energy to learn what else I can do to get this particular ball rolling for the safety of the general public.  If that makes me seem somehow overly rigid and close-minded to some, well, so be it, and, honestly, I don’t care.  Those who know me well know how I work at keeping open-minded.  I will continue to strive on remaining thus.  But, this particular topic is one I have absorbed enough data on over the years to come to a clear conclusion and position stance.  There is no “openness” for me around validating or enabling keeping the status quo in place with under-regulated gun possession in this country.  And a way I have clearly participated in enabling/validating this status quo has been my passive silence. No more silence, no more debate.  I am with those dear Parkland kids and teachers, their families, and the people and families directly affected by all the shootings before.  As a caring, tax-paying adult in the U.S.A., I have their back, our collective backs.  I hope you have theirs too, and mine.  Peace.

[I originally posted this over on Facebook.]

Some Brief Thoughts on Polarization

In these times of intense polarization between people and whole categorized groups of people, I enjoy doing my best to not engage in polarizing science vs. religion and any number of other concepts and people that, and who, are viewed by so many in binary ways. My career and life are committed to helping others to de-polarize as best as possible. This means doing ongoing, rigorous work on myself in expanding and shifting my own views of certain concepts and people, and doing so from a place of loving kindness, to the best of my ability moment by moment. Needless to say, this path of action is particularly challenging when uber polarized and polarizing people hold high political office. However, I am not complaining at all about this tall order and intention I have long committed myself to. I am grateful to the many I know who appear to walk a similar-minded– not necessarily the same, to be clear– path.

An example of how I apply practice to this path is my choosing not to ever re-post images of our current U.S. President, who I experience as an impostor in that high office, on my personal page over on Facebook. That feels like adding fuel to the already-active polarization of someone who has sadly chosen to step into the role of becoming a dictator.  In a more extreme, though sadly accurate, term, a bad guy is what he is acting like.  And this even though his own core Self, buried under burdens of old pain, is surely otherwise.  However, I actively engage in discussing Mr. Trump and the issues he exploits and inflames to divide us more as a people.  And while I vent about him and others holding political posts, I do so with the understanding that it’s all a single step within the bigger process of facilitating healthy, expansive change and stopping harmful, constraining change as much as possible.  Observing context and trying to shift it for the good of oneself and all over hyper-focusing (and, in doing so, often polarizing) on any single personality is what I try to remember here.  So many of these so-called “leaders” are not in their true Selves/right minds at all, as their words and actions repeatedly show.  I have no problem thinking and saying this while doing what I can to neutralize such individuals and groups from causing further harm and then wishing them well in their own private, free-from-power-over-others lives, which might include imprisonment where that is legally indicated.  Containing ongoing, polarizing causes of harm is often necessary.

Yeah, Me Too

The recent “Me Too” campaign, which started on Twitter and quickly spread to Facebook, threw me for a bit of a loop.  I do not have a Twitter account, but I am very active on Facebook.  At first, I simply read my friends’ “me too” posts and any elaborations they cared to add, feeling both admiring (for their brave disclosure), sad (for their pain and suffering), and angry (at all the perpetrating men) over so many stories of sexual harassment and/or abuse that largely women posted.  A few men here and there shared “me too,” and I felt their pain as well.  Some of my women friends invited men to post too, changing one word in the meme on their profile pages from “women” to “people.”  Interesting and very moving, I thought, not to mention generous.  I considered posting my “me too,” but decided to sleep on it and sense how I felt about doing so in the morning.  The next day, I posted “Yeah, me too,” though nothing else.  I didn’t want to take up too much space drawing a lot of attention to myself, a man, on this matter.  And, frankly, that felt like plenty for me to say on such a public forum.  Also, I thought how my own childhood experience (I was nine at the time) of sexual coercion by a teenaged boy in which I managed to run away before actually performing fellatio on him barely counted. But, then there were also numerous verbal insults and threats against my sexuality and person that I lived through during middle school, high school, and adulthood, given my somewhat femme demeanor as a gay man.  (Now and then, my husband and I occasionally get yelled at obscenely by men speeding by in their cars while we walk down the street together.)  Still, those all combined didn’t feel to me like they added up to much compared to others’– especially women’s– living through horrendous incidents of rape, molestation, and/or pressure to perform sexually to keep one’s job, among any number of scenarios of abuse of power by men over (largely) women via hostile sexual behavior and/or talk.  The pandemic is real, just as I’d always thought and known.  Yet, out of solidarity, I added my small truth.  I had been invited, by women.  Women who I know and deeply respect.  I had honored their lead and followed.  I had also dared to stop the self-minimizing of my own “me too” experiences by publicly acknowledging them as significant and painful, however briefly on Facebook, but then by writing about them openly in this blog.

What shook a part of me deeply were posts by a few others, all gay men (granted, a great many of my Facebook friends are gay), interestingly, coming down hard on any men posting their “me too”‘s.  Some men stated they had deleted their “me too,” not wanting to co-opt or overshadow women, yet again.  After all, this campaign was for a day, started by women, and was for and about women, a means of educating the public at large about a very real problem a vast majority of females have lived through but largely kept secret and way underreported.  All very true, of course.  Those of us men who posted “me too,” were acting from male privilege, sidelining women yet again, diluting the message about this largely female plight.  We were being part of the problem.  Shame on us.  I tried to explain to one man, who I admired for his educational, activist-minded posts over the years, how I was not at all coming from such a thoughtless, selfish place, but from one of joining, commiseration, and empathy.  After all, women had invited me, themselves having changed the meme of “women” to “people.”  I pointed out how the campaign was in flux, had multiple narratives happening now.  He would hear none of this, though, interestingly, he didn’t argue against these particular points of mine, but basically repeated himself and took on a tone of endurance, saying how others had “thrown shade” at him but he was going to keep telling it like it is, stand up for the truth no matter what.  He also shared how he thought the world was going to shit, or something very close to that.  I thought to myself during this difficult exchange, It feels like he’s mansplaining to me here.  Shouldn’t each woman be able to decide and speak for herself how she wants to engage with this campaign and in what words to pass it along, for women only or for others too?  Oh, the irony.  A day later, I unfriended him, concluding that I did not need to take on his negativity and make it somehow about me.  For one thing, he and I had never met in person, he had no clear understanding of my well-meaning intentions, and did not seem interested in learning about them.  He seemed to mainly want to grand stand.  I unfollowed another friend who also just kept reiterating how this was a day for women only, but not before I explained to him how a posting “campaign” on Facebook is different than one stemming forth from out of solid clarity and infrastructure, such as Black Lives Matter or any number of extant organizations that sponsor educational and legislative strategies and programs for crucial women’s causes.  Those are backed up by physical headquarters, people on the ground, and clearly-defined “campaigns.”  They don’t simply depend on postings in cyberspace that could easily change from participant to participant who could each tweak the message a bit or a lot.  I told another fellow, who I have begun developing a friendship with in real life, that I was going to have to agree to disagree with him.  That was in his response to him telling me I was acting from my male privilege.  All of these judging, shaming statements from a few of my gay brethren hurt a part of me deeply, and I made that known up front.  It’s like they felt a need to speak from their tone deaf moral high horse. Typical of a good share of men, I thought to myself, regardless of their sexual orientation.

I’m sure a number of outraged women posted similarly to these handful of my men friends, but I did not run across such angry women’s sharings on my own Facebook newsfeed.   I did see some women express agreement with my gay male friends’ chastising statements, however.  Clearly, they appreciated their male allies’ show of well-meaning support and I understood that.  But, I did not at all appreciate the few of my (male) friends’ shaming of me, one of their own, or so I thought, who is also completely for women’s full empowerment and rights.  And, for me, somehow a woman posting her anger over her perceived selfishness of men, the typical sidelining and co-opting of women– yet again– by choosing to post “me too,” doesn’t quite feel the same, even if some or all of these women may also have been coming from a tone deaf place.  They were simply speaking from directly knowing and feeling oppression, from an old place of pain.  On the other hand, men coming down on me and not wanting to try and understand where I was coming from, felt like some unduly competitive-oriented beating down that I have experienced from other men (albeit more frequently heterosexual ones) so often in my life, starting with my father (though, to his credit, he has long since softened, and generally evolved out of this) and then soon with peers in grammar and middle school.  Fascinating, tiresome, and so old hat.   I realize as I write this now, this was likely some men’s way of speaking from an old place of pain, which I am admittedly grappling to better understand.  If men always supported each other in every sense, including in our genuine, varied efforts to be vulnerable, and, from there, be more caring, respectful, and empowering of women, just think of the positive differences that would make, both among men and for women around us.  If we men, from a place of openness/vulnerability, can more often acknowledge when we are wrong, or even partially so, and see when we have hurt someone else, even inadvertently, just think of the social progress to be made.  Acknowledging mistakes does not equal weakness, the ultimate shame for men in general, being viewed as weak, but I’m certain a lot of men still believe that it is.  I know I have come from that way of thinking in the past.  And I am heartened by the men I witness or hear about taking chances with being vulnerable and letting go of the rigidity of needing to always be seen as right, strong, super smart, masterful, generally powerful, or some combination of these.

Less than two hours after posting my own “me too,” for which a lot of friends– most of them women– “liked” it, often either with a “sad face” or “heart” emoji, I posted this:

“Hello, dear women friends: If only just one of you is offended by me posting ‘me too’ because I am somehow taking away from the original intent of this campaign to underscore the surviving of sexual harassment and/or abuse as a women’s issue and yet another way how women are oppressed, etc., please let me know. Then, I will delete my original post. I only posted because a few of you women invited ‘people’ to post. (And thank you for your shared support around this pandemic area of awful experience.)
In advance, please accept my deepest apology for inadvertently disrespecting you for also posting. That was not at all my intention. My intention was to commiserate and empathize, that is all. Truly. May you be well, everyone.”

Nine women out of thirteen friends “liked” or “loved” (“heart” emoji) this message.  Not one woman posted feeling upset or offended.  Thirteen women and two men wrote supportive statements in reply, many of them very thought-out and thought-provoking in their own right.  Some women said how it’s a “people” issue.  A very savvy woman who runs a domestic violence shelter program, wrote this:  “Interesting.  I was told the same thing when I opened our (domestic violence shelter) services to men/trans/gay folk. Speaking for myself, I am neither surprised nor offended.  And I am very sorry that happened to you.”  Another woman, herself a seasoned social worker and former coworker of mine, posted: “Sean, it was just on tv that Alyssa Milano was the one to start the campaign and did not mean to leave men out.”  I haven’t verified this statement of my friend’s as fact, but I do find it interesting.  What I can say is that she tends to post information that has been fact-checked somehow– for what that’s worth.  A kind, gay male friend of mine replied with this to me:  “The text of ‘me too’ depends on the generation of the post.  Some say just women, some say women and men, some include gay and transgendered.”  I agreed with him, and, after taking a twenty hour or so break from Facebook to regroup myself and regain perspective, I elaborated on this point in a future post, which is also the next paragraph below.  It is my message to everyone who engages in social media platforms such as Facebook, which is, well, a whole damn lot of people.

Please consider, folks, that a single narrative or message on an active, ever-changing (in real-time) medium of communication, such as Facebook, can quickly morph and split off into several narratives or messages, different from the original message and its intention. Personally, I don’t think it makes anyone somehow “wrong” for changing and/or following whichever message comes their way first, which may very well no longer be the original message/narrative. This simply makes things quite varied and interesting(!). What I look for and try to maintain with any posting on Facebook that I want to somehow engage with and even re-post is a good intention. I think of the game “Telephone” I used to play with other kids in grade school. The message inevitably got changed along the way from ear to ear– except we’re talking exponential amounts of circles of “kids” in the case of Facebook.  Multiple messages, multiple narratives.  There’s room for them all. We can weed out the ones with bad intentions, individually and collectively, and all while doing our best to avoid assuming the worst, or assuming at all. And we can do so without shaming those with good intentions. One message/narrative need not supersede the other. And that’s okay.  Please think on this, friends, including over the recent “Me Too” campaign.

And there is my summed up, “two cents” on this unique, initially painful learning experience on social media, in this case Facebook.  As I have done many times before, I find myself remembering with deep appreciation Nietzche’s words: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  And I do indeed feel stronger inside than how I felt earlier in the week shortly after sharing my “me too.”  My hope and wish are for everyone to feel stronger for sharing their own truths and, from there, be able to live more truthfully.

 

Canvassing for Democracy

I walked up and down flat and hilly streets near my home yesterday, canvassing for an at-large city council candidate.  I thoroughly enjoyed this, especially stopping to talk with people.  Here and there, I managed to convince a few individuals to vote for her, a local church minister who, like me, cares deeply about the city where she and I both live and work.

At one house, I struck up a conversation with a retired, widowed social worker.  She identified herself as a complete supporter and I duly noted down her wish to have a sign for the candidate placed in front of her house.  Her squinting right eye behind glasses and yellow-white hair conveyed for me the sense that she had seen a lot in life.  Her strong, clear voice kept my attention on everything she said– that and our mutual concerns and interests from training and working in the same field.  I learned some history about social services in my newly-adopted hometown, things President L. B. Johnson had said concerning Civil Rights, and a lot of this woman’s personal background.  Her father had also been a social worker and was involved with a settlement house somehow.  (Already, details elude me here.)

I was tangibly reminded how I am part of an ever-shifting, but persisting historical movement of similarly concerned people.  This sagely yet lively woman shared names of other engaged citizens with whom she had been closely networked one way or another, such as through church or past work.  She had known this city council candidate’s family well–“before she was born,” she declared, her voice going up a few notes.  Her right hand shot upward for emphasis.  She smiled for what seemed like the thousandth time.  This candidate is now a minister at the church she has attended for decades, the widow stated happily.  This brand-new friend (to be) of mine– for I really could not help but like and respect her– had sat on the local school committee for about ten years or so.  She has three grand children, “my only grandchildren,” she said, “But I have to fly down South to see them.”

Meeting an elder colleague who had been in local electoral politics felt invigorating and affirming.  My mind raced along to make all the connections she was describing, work-wise, family-wise, community-wise.  Intermittently, I felt like I was back in graduate school, listening to a seasoned professor excitedly share some anecdotes before returning to her lecture notes.

I had to pull myself away from our conversation, there being so many more doors to knock on and people to kindly persuade.  While I walked away, this woman declared for about the third time, “I think you’d be great on our ward’s Democratic committee!  We’ve only got six members and there’s supposed to be thirty-five.  We need to get you on there.”

I said I’d seriously think about it and we agreed to keep in touch.

This is what being part of a neighborhood feels like, I find myself thinking as I write this.

A short while later, I struck up a conversation with a ginger bearded, mustached man who was probably in his early thirties.  Bluntly, he stated right away that he doesn’t vote, but has concerns about the environment, such as “getting recycling right.”  I explained how my candidate J.F. is concerned as well about this issue, the environment overall, and is open to ideas around streamlining and improving local recycling, in addition to having some possible solutions for it.  The guy softened and engaged further, expressing a wish that small businesses could be given tax breaks somehow to make it easier to start up here, particularly for his friends who are into micro-brewing.

“Yes, S. [neighboring city] shouldn’t have all the microbreweries around like it seems to,” I remarked.  I agreed with him whole-heartedly about the diversity of products and individuals small businesses can bring to a city, not to mention such places of commerce being far more interesting and personable than corporate, big box stores.

He expressed an openness to consider actually voting next month and most likely for J.F.

My third and final conversation of substance was with a man walking his dog, a white, curly-haired creature with deep brown eyes.  In between puffs on his cigarette, this forty-something man spoke animatedly from a long, thin face with bright blue eyes. “Don’t get me started….This street here is set far in from [C. and R. Streets, the downtown’s two main thoroughfares].  They do a lot over by C. and R., but the road here hasn’t been repaired in years…There needs to be a stop sign down at that corner…I don’t think they’re thinking about the congestion we’ll have from all the big condo. developments going up on R….There’s a lot that needs to be done.”  The man rattled off a few ideas.

The dialogue eased along into sharing about our personal backgrounds.  I remarked on his last name Cushing being rare and how he looked a lot like the late British film actor Peter Cushing.  “The resemblance is uncanny actually, with your eyes and long face like Peter’s.  I’m sure you’re related.”

He knew of this thespian and explained that he probably is some distant cousin of his. “There’s the Cushing’s in Ireland and then there was the English side.”

“Peter was clearly on your English side,” I added.

“Yes.”

I asked if he was descended from Justice Cushing, one of the very first judge’s to sit on the U.S. Supreme court.

“Yes, Caleb Cushing.  I’m descended from him.”  He explained how, but I’ve already forgotten.  “My family goes a pretty long ways back here.”

I encouraged this Mr. Cushing to contact J.F. and tell her all of his concerns.  I stressed how she is open to hearing from residents.  Handing him a slip of paper with our own Ward 3 councilor’s name on it, I stated how the official– our own neighborhood representative– really needs to hear from him, given all his valid concerns and ideas for solutions.  He expressed interest in calling the council member and agreed to find out more about J.F. and her platform before possibly voting for her.  I thanked the man for all his time and walked on ahead while he moseyed along with his slow-moving white dog.

Sweating from the warm day and brisk walking, my heart pumping with enthusiasm to connect with my neighbors and spread the good word about a local office candidate, I engaged in our representative democracy on the ground, literally.  This felt like being truly American, at the grassroots level, the base of it all: house by house, street by street. I was breathing, thinking, walking, speaking– living– democracy.  Democracy is me, my friends, my neighbors.  Democracy is us.