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  • Loren Niemi

The Season of Transformation


Fall is upon us (arriving at 8:30 AM Central time on Tuesday, September 22nd). Or at least astronomical fall as metrological fall has already arrived. The two weeks difference means little as the days are undecided warm or cool with a nervous Jet stream trying to remember if it should stay or go. What is sure is that here in the Northern hemisphere the days are getting shorter. When it seemed that just yesterday a walk at eight o’clock was still neigh of twilight, now that same walk at the same time is in the din of dark.

Of course, in this pandemic year for so many of us, what difference if it is one day or the other? They are all masked and anonymous, working from home, Zoom calls and meetings, digital entertainment, and the question in the back of our minds: how long has it been since I went to the theater or dancing? When was the last time I hugged someone who was not sheltering in place with me?

Have I lost you already? Did you turn away at “mask” or “shelter in place” with the thought that Covid-19 is a “liberal hoax” or that masks are an infringement on your rights to… what? Freedom? Freedom from what? Facts? Care for the health and safety of yourself or others? If so, you can stop reading this missive because here in the land of culture wars, BLM and political campaigns frothing at the mouth with invective, rumor and bullshit, this missive will have a decidedly political tone.

Tis the season. We are five weeks out from an election in a pandemic year. Voting has never been more important and has begun in many states. I am not going to tell you how to vote though my bias is easily discerned. What I am going to say is if you are registered, check to make sure it is up to date. If you are not and can still register, do. If you can vote early, do. I intend to vote by Oct 2nd and then do everything I can to turn out other voters. If you can vote by mail or absentee, do. If your best option is to stand in line masked and socially distanced on Tuesday, November 3rd, do. Every vote counts and this election needs to be decided decisively.

As an incentive to remind you to vote or perhaps as an aside, I am publishing a limited edition (100 copies) of “Vote Coyote” - a collection of political (and mostly satirical) poems about campaigns and politics. It will be available with an autograph for 30 days starting the same day I vote for $20 of which $5 goes to a national “get out the vote” organization.

If you want one, email me: niemistory@gmail.com and we can do a purchase via Square or by check.

I do not think it is overstating the situation to say that this election is the most important one we’ve had since Reagan. That contest was a turning point when as a reaction to defeat in Vietnam, civil rights and the excess of disco, the outcome ushered in the modern Conservative movement. It was marked by three things: The Republican party’s embrace of Evangelical Christianity via a “pro-life” (anti-abortion / anti-women’s equality) banner, the trojan horse for racism via the Southern Strategy and class war via “trickle down” policy. Tax cuts for the rich have made the rich richer but have not lifted all boats. Instead the middle class has shrunk and the poor have gotten poorer. 30 years of Rush Limbaugh and Fox Broadcasting propaganda have championed the movement of the Grand Old Party of Lincoln steadily towards, what looks to me, to be a soft Fascism that will harden into full blown authoritarianism with the Current Occupant’s re-election.

That is not hyperbole, that is taking the man at his word even if every other one is a lie.

What is at stake is the not only the Presidency, but the Senate, the House, the judicial system, environmental regulation, women’s right to choose, LGBTQ marriage, health care, Social Security and in many people’s view, Democracy itself. If it were not the case the Republic party would not be trying so hard in state after state to restrict voting, purge the rolls of minorities, and disenfranchise the very notion of mail-in ballots. They do not believe a free and fair election serves their interests as their policies are not supported by a majority of Americans. They do believe that they will do whatever is necessary to retain power at all costs.

Do not think for a moment that I do not have my issues with the Democrats who bought into the “third way” “Corporate Centrist” bullshit with Bill Clinton and forgot that historically they were first and foremost a labor party working to improve the lives of working men and women. They still are in some places but given the needs of the many, less timidity and more progressive grit is called for. Biden is both an improvement, in as much as he recognizes and articulates working people’s status and issues, and a half-way measure to the kind of systemic transformation that is necessary for people over profit.

I am and have been for many years now a “Democratic Socialist” (or “Social Democrat”) in the style and spirit of that term as it is found in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, etc. What the Republicans and the right-wing noise machine call Socialism – universal health coverage, free or subsidized education and child-care, generous family and vacation leave - the rest of the industrialized world calls basic services. There is no shame in a Capitalism in service to the common good. As Senator Paul Wellstone said, Politics is not just about power and money games, politics can be about the improvement of people's lives, about lessening human suffering in our world and bringing about more peace and more justice."

The fact is the American Dream, and the country for which it stands is out of balance. That is not wholly accurate, for the American Dream is not the dream of country but the dream of the people in that country looking to make good on those ideals of “Liberty and justice for all”. All meaning – all who reside here, regardless of age, race, religious affiliation or gender identity. It is the dream that makes BLM unnecessary as equity and the redress of the legacy of slavery becomes the fact. It is the dream that acknowledges our living on stolen lands and the redress for the genocide of Indigenous People becomes the fact. It is the dream of every immigrant, regardless of place of origin, to have the opportunity to make their lives and their children’s lives better becomes the fact.

In many of these quarterly missives I talk about the natural world and my memories of times and places connected with the season. Not so much in this one for like many of you I am struck with the enormity of the crisis. A crisis that will not be resolved by this election but will determine which side of the argument as to who we are and where we are going will set the agenda.

We are a polarized country and are increasingly so. It is not simply a red state / blue state divide, or an unlimited second amendment vs. gun control divide, or whether to mask or not divide. It is not a rural vs. urban divide though that is often how it is characterized. The fundamental divide is about the value of education, the efficacy of science, the role of religion and at the core, the meaning of our lives.

On each side, folks are wanting their worth to be acknowledged and their power – personal, economic and cultural – to be preserved or expanded. The problem resides in whether or not it is a zero-sum reality in which your gain is my loss. That sense of loss is reinforced by the economic realities of late stage (cancerous) Capitalism in which the 1% have seen a multi-billion dollar increase in their wealth while 40 million of their countrymen have been put out of work in the pandemic recession. That is a fact but what can be done about it when you don’t have work or food on the table? It is reinforced by the notion that immigrants and minorities will outnumber and wrest control from the White Christian majority. That is a simple demographic fact. There are many uncomfortable facts that reinforce fear of loss and an unacknowledged grief as the world changes around us.

From my perspective, the embrace of authoritarianism will not resolve these divides or make America great again. What can resolve these divides is a possibly painful individual and national change of heart. A truthful acknowledgement of the history that brought us here and a willingness to create the structures of equity and opportunity. It will be neither easy nor quick. Yes, it will mean some of us giving up some privilege. Yes, it will mean having to wait as some of us so hide bound in prejudice die off. Yes, it will mean restructuring work and wealth in the age of robots.

Winter is coming. The fall is a season of loss though we often focus on the gathering of the bounty of summer. This pandemic summer has been hard. This pandemic fall will be hard. No vaccine will arrive in time to make life what it was. If we were truthful, we will move well past 200,000 dead and 7 million infected before an effective vaccine or herd immunity bring the virus to an end. It might never happen. The fact is we may never, nor should we really want to, return to what was before. As Joe Biden says, we can be better than that.

I am using this time to consider my change of heart and what or how I can tell stories that support the America I want and we deserve. Stories of hope in the face of adversity. Stories that make us laugh. Stories that give form to grief and joy to living. This is a small part of that. I invite you to do what you can, when and where you are able

As a last word of this Equinox missive I will return to something Senator Paul Wellstone often said, “We all do better when we all do better.” Be well. Do Better.