Tag Archives: Politics

In Search of Meaningful

Gary and I went to the Vermont History Expo last Sunday and had the fortune of listening to University of Vermont’s Professor Harvey Amani Whitfield speak about The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont 1777-1810.

The root of the multi-faceted problem is that although Vermont did outlaw slavery in its constitution – the first state to ever do so – a significant amount of slavery persisted for several years thereafter; moreover, the ostensible freedom delivered by such a radical-for-the-times anti-slavery provision was not meaningful for even the Afro-Vermonters who subsequently acquired it.

That is, according to Dr. Whitfield, they did not have meaningful freedom.

One example he gave of this lack of meaningful is illustrated by the aforementioned law prohibiting slavery only for adults. African-American kids, who were thus not protected, were routinely kidnapped and sold into slavery without repercussions. So a free African-American parent would be forced to work closer to home regardless of whether better wages could be obtained elsewhere, just so they could offer defense against such common occurrence.

In some ways, meaningful here seems to cash out as real or true; as in, if a person is given two choices where one of the choices is not a decent option at all, then that person hasn’t been given a real – or true — choice; that person does not have real or true freedom.

So why use the term meaningful?

Good question and one I might ask the professor if I have a chance. Or one that I might find in his eponymous book published by the Vermont Historical Society. But for now I’ll offer my spin on it, which makes the nuanced phrasing meaningful to me:

Because meaningful carries more subjective weight and is what we use when we are evaluating our circumstances.

Real and True both give off a false air of objectivity, as if the existence of such things as personal freedom can be decided externally. The loaded terms seem to invoke chalkboards and checklists; some kind of tests; an unchanging algorithm of indifference. But meaningful is a human quality only observed through the eyes of personal circumstances, either yours or someone else’s.

If asked whether or not a parent with a child at risk of being kidnapped has true choice, true freedom, we might start weighing risks, sorting out different possibilities, and assigning values. However, when we are asked about it in terms of meaningful, our landscape — our point of view — immediately changes to a more sympathetic one. When it does, what might have been options under another view suddenly dissolve into absurdity.

Indeed, so much so, I want to take his nuanced phrasing – the addition of meaningful – and use it elsewhere, like in talks of decent wages, opportunities, and living conditions, where decent far too often becomes like real and true, subject to a false objectivity that smugly mistakes crumbs for nourishment, walls for doors, and cages for castles.

Or in talks of peace incorrectly viewed as absence of war; or in talks of ethics where good intentions bow to bureaucracy; or in talks of fighting poverty while those with the power to do so only add more rungs.

On and on it goes, with the meaning of our precious nouns meaning less and less. We need meaningful Life, meaningful Liberty, and meaningful Pursuit of Happiness.

Forget finding the meaning of life. What we need are more meaningful lives and an America that contributes to their development.

Council Catastrophe

Okay, so I blew it.

I’m trying to get involved in local government. So I applied to be an alternate for the Development Review Board and towards that end attended last night’s council meeting so council members could meet me in person along with the other applicants.

It had already been a long day. I finished my “day job” of checking 17 academic papers, did laundry, and cooked dinner. I showered, shaved, and put on my nicest set of clothes that really aren’t that nice anymore but so it goes.

I sweltered inside the council chambers, feeling overdressed in my jacket but unsure if I wanted to remove it since I was sweating enough to be designated a floodplain.

A couple of agenda items were completed and then the council members had each (there were only three) of us stand up and say a little about ourselves. Then they left the room for an “executive session” and came back five minutes later to announce their pick of the two that were needed.

I of course wasn’t one of the two. If it were otherwise, I might have started this post with “I did it”. But as it stands, “I blew it” pretty much sums it up.

Now, granted, the other two had more government experience than me. However, I think what really hurt me is that I did not present myself very well. I mean the kind of not very well where I wouldn’t have picked me either, as painful as that is to admit.

Not being used to a microphone, I started off not talking into it. And when I finally did talk into it, I talked way too fast, rambled, and didn’t make eye contact. Part of it was nervousness and overcompensating for my natural introverted tendency. Also, my eyes tend to go all elsewhere when I’m gathering my thoughts, which I was trying to do for all the good it did me.

I was a right train wreck that went on for a brief, yet agonizingly long piece of time. After the derailment, Council Member Alan Weiss asked me what I thought the purpose of the Development Review Board was.

Here’s where the ability to gather one’s thoughts would have come in particularly handy. And they did gather, but unfortunately they clumped together like wet leaves in a compost heap. When I spoke, words sputtered out of my mouth with the grace of a cat coughing up a hairball.

I knew the point I wanted to make but… well, so it goes.

I was more than a little crushed. Not just because of not getting selected, but because I know I am better than how I presented myself; that I have a lot more to offer than what my village idiot performance revealed.

I did stay for the entire council meeting and found it wholly interesting despite my intermittent self-loathing interruptions of internal dialogue: stupid, worthless, failure, and the quintessential, all-encompassing never succeed at anything.

I worked hard at conquering those internal demons so I could gain from the meeting and not lose the forest for all my rotted trees.

I enjoyed hearing about the affairs of the city and noted the issues each member brought forth. Mr. Guerlain discussed concerns of his constituents about actual crimes versus what gets reported in the police log in The Times Argus. Mrs. Walsh fielded questions about a proposal to use Solar Panels to provide Montpelier with electricity.

There were many other issues that were discussed, including parking on State street, arts funding, and a proposal under consideration by the Development Review Board to build a new housing complex on a lot in a historic district, which would first require approval for demolishing the existing condemned property.

What I found most interesting, though, was Mr. Weiss, who had asked me the question during my botched presentation attempt. He in fact asked pointed questions throughout the meeting; the kind of questions that reminded me of my scholar husband.

Not in substance, as his concerns were different, but in the phrasing.

For example, one such concern of his started with “In Section 5.5. it says…”  where he went on to point out the possible implications of that ambiguous wording and questioning what exactly it would mean in real world application if they took up the proposal it referenced.

My husband’s well-informed opinions are always grounded in thorough reading and research done well before uttering first words on the matter under discussion. You’re unlikely to slip anything by him. He will tear any loose wording and faulty arguments apart. I reckon it’s the same with Mr. Weiss.

It’s the next day and I’m trying to think of how to go forward after embarrassing myself so completely. My mind is still reeling with the lingering yet ever useless “should have’s” that have been resonating since last night.

But the bottom line is “I didn’t” and I do still want to get involved.

So I need to get over my self-pitying self and move forward. I’m not sure what the best way is to do so, but I at least know the right question to ask, as it’s the only question that really ever matters:

What now?

The Necessitation of Sexual Orientation Revelation

EMT Timothy McCormick was killed Saturday night.

He was gay, an eagle scout, and on duty. Those three words — gay, scout, and duty — are important ones and should be said loud and clear, in that order, over and over again.  They need to be Klaxon loud until deaf America hears.

To do so is not playing politics, pushing an agenda or showing disrespect. To NOT do so would be more accurately described as possessing such attributes and is exactly the kind of subtle inaction anti-gay factions promote in their fabrication of reality.

We are having discussions of the discriminatory sexual orientation policy of the Boys Scouts of America in the unreal world of there being no gays in the scouts. The real world is where gays are already there and have shown their mettle rising up through the ranks from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout. You’re damn right it is important that Timothy was an Eagle Scout AND gay.

We are having discussions of marriage equality in the unreal Micah Clark world of gays not caring about anyone but themselves. The real world is where gays not only care about others but are actively engaged — on duty — in jobs that serve and protect adults and children alike. You’re damn right it is important that Timothy was an EMT AND gay.

We are having discussions of sex education in the Stacey Campfield unreal world of gays wanting to recruit children. The real world is where self-identified LGBT children are being bullied and it is society as a whole that needs better sex education.

The fact that in the real world Timothy made an It Gets Better video empowering such kids is damn important, too.

A crucial step in disenfranchising a class is rendering that class invisible in the social sphere. This allows malicious artists of the unreal the opportunity to paint broad brushstrokes of generalizations. The best counter to such sweeping statements is specificity.

The kind of specificity that necessitates constant, continuous, and unrelenting revelation of sexual orientation.

Such call for action might be construed as a call for gays being in your face about their –and others — sexual orientation. You’re damn right it is such a call.

For It has to be that way as long as blind America keeps on turning its head and omitting us from obituaries, wedding announcements, and any other normal societal frame of reference that humanizes us and the people whom we love.

Timothy’s death was a tragedy, make no mistake about that. But to not draw attention to his sexual orientation would be a travesty.

Timothy McCormick, may you rest in peace.

And may the world in which you lived keep on getting better.