Beware the American political industrial complex

Opinion | Can We Escape the Political-Industrial Complex? - The New York  Times

“The political industrial complex doesn’t steal elections at the polls. It undermines our democracy long before Election Day.”

After more than three decades of active involvement in government and politics I chose to end that chapter of my life in 2012 when I became the Executive Director of a non-profit.

I have worked with men and women whose opinions, ideas and beliefs were entirely the same as mine, as well as entirely different than mine.

I’ve worked against men and women whose opinions, ideas and beliefs were entirely the same as mine, as well as entirely different than mine.

At every level of government and politics – local, state and national – I have seen the best of America and I have seen the worst of it.

I’ve run or worked on my campaigns than I can remember and won some and lost some.

Winning is better than losing.

I’ve been involved with campaigns which were bitter, nasty and messy things in which the candidates figuratively slugged one another in an attempt to win and election. 

Campaigns where my candidate or cause won big.  Others where we barely won.  And too many where we didn’t even come close. 

I’ve worked on campaigns in which my candidate won by such a small margin that a potential recount seem likely. 

And, I’ve worked on campaigns where my candidate won on Election Day by the narrowest of margins only to lose in a recount by the narrowest of margins.

Still, I cannot recall, ever, in my life having lost a campaign in which I allowed it to consume my life and make me bitter, angry and disillusioned.

In defeat there can most certainly be, and there was and has been, disappointment when faced with losing a campaign in which you poured your entire self into it, the candidate, the cause and its outcome.

Yet, democracy isn’t about always getting your way.

In America’s democracy there’s a 50/50 chance that you won’t get your way.

But, there’s not likely ever a chance that you won’t ever get your way.

In 2016 I found myself faced with an impossible situation.

I could not bear the thought of casting my vote for Donald Trump for President and I simply did not feel that Hillary Clinton had convinced me she had earned my vote.

I chose not to vote for either of them instead casting my vote for another Republican who I trusted and believed in his leadership and vision.

On Election Night and early into the next morning and beyond my then 17-year-old son and I watched the returns in which much of America was finding itself completely shocked by the outcome.

Donald Trump was likely going to be elected the next President of the United States of America.

Not only would Hillary Clinton lose, but so too would my choice for President.

My son, my daughter, and many others who did not care for Trump, many in deeply anguished and bitter ways, began to ask, “What are we to do?”

Others took to the streets with signs declaring “Not my President” and roared their disapproval at the results of the election.

Many, including people I know well, refused to accept the results convinced that something nefarious had happened.

In Congress, Democrats who would control the House of Representatives, would then spend years, and millions of taxpayer dollars, attempting to prove that Trump won because the Russians made us do it.

In the end, they didn’t impeach the President because he committed treason. 

They impeached him because they could.

I had many conversations with friends who are Democrats after Trump was elected.  They were convinced that Trump would start a war.  He would do terrible things to government protections for the poor while making sure the rich got richer. 

He would, in their opinion, become a dictator, of whatever “ism” they felt he would favor, and exact a terrible toll on America.

They would not, ever, consider him their President.

I wasn’t happy that Trump won.  I wasn’t happy that Hillary Clinton hadn’t run a better campaign, or given a more compelling reason for why she should lead American instead of Donald Trump.

I didn’t believe then, nor do I believe now, that Donald Trump wasn’t the legitimately elected President of the United States of America.

I did not agree with those across the country who took to the streets to protest his election and declared he would never earn their respect much less their hope that he would be successful as President.

Their candidate lost.  My candidate lost.  The candidate of millions of other Americans had won.

In 2016 there were millions of Americans who didn’t get their way.

Over the course of the past four years my opinion of Donald Trump hasn’t changed much. 

I have, of course, supported some of the Trump agenda.

I have, as well, opposed some of the Trump agenda.

While I have never warmed to him or how he pursues that agenda I have never, once, not considered him the President of the United States of America. 

I have never said “He’s not my President.”

In 2020 America had another election. 

This election, like many others, did not formally end at the end of Election Day. 

It continued on for days until the math showed, without question, that Joe Biden had won the race for President.

In a world of opinions that are misunderstood, deliberately and otherwise, for facts, there is no set of facts that proves any other outcome of the race for President.

There is no set of facts that prove that there was a Deep State of Democrats or Republicans that conspired to foist Joe Biden on the American people instead of Donald Trump.

Opinions.  Allegations.  Accusations.  Lies. 

None of these are facts. 

None of these provide proof that the election for President was rigged or that Donald Trump was cheated out of the office that he does not own or has some entitlement to beyond that which is provided for in our Constitution.

The outcome, while clearly closer than 2016, has all the same undercurrents of 2020 with a few marked and important differences.

While millions of Americans haven’t taken to the streets to protest the outcome, millions of Americans have taken to social media to do so.

The losing candidate, Hillary Clinton, didn’t take to Twitter, Facebook or the nation’s airwaves or newspapers to declare that the election had been stolen from her and that Republicans had clearly devised a scheme to steal votes from her to give them to Trump.

She conceded.  She asked Americans to give Trump a chance.  She cleared a path forward for Donald Trump to become America’s next President and to do so in a way that underscored this nation’s peaceful transition of power from one President to the next.

The losing candidate for President in 2020, who four years earlier accepted he won the office when the national press projected him the winner, has made it clear that he will not only not accept his defeat he intends to kick down the barn of American government and democracy on the way out.

He and those who represent him have put forward conspiracy theories, opinions, allegations, accusations and outright lies to justify why he will not accept his defeat at the polls.

They are attempting to convince Americans, including the millions of Americans who dutifully and solemnly cast their votes for Trump, that a vast left-wing conspiracy, along with those on the right who have never accepted Trump as their President, gamed the system and stole votes from him and gave them to Biden.

Their co-conspirators on social media, cable news, radio and elsewhere have picked up this mantra, expanding it to give voice to theories, musings and outright falsehoods that there is no way that Donald Trump lost the race for President.

Joe Biden, now, and upon being sworn in as President, will not be considered a legitimate candidate by millions of Americans who did not vote for him.

In the same way that Donald Trump was not considered the legitimate President by millions of Americans who did not vote for him.

Nobody stole the election from Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Nobody stole the election from Donald Trump in 2020.

We, the People, however, are increasingly finding ourselves allowing those who wish to divide us to steal democracy from us now and in the future.

It isn’t just the Russians and our foreign adversaries that have a vested interest in keeping America divided.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his farewell address to the nation, warned the American people of the undue influence of the nation’s military establishment in a newly power American Superpower forged after World War II:

“The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

Today, it is important that Americans guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the political-industrial complex.  The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.

There is a political-industrial complex in America.

It exists because both political parties have a vested interest in holding onto power in whatever way they possibly can no matter how much it costs.

The estimated total cost of campaigns for President, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Congress is estimated to be $14 billion this year.

That doesn’t count the billions more spent on local and state campaigns for public office.

This doesn’t count the money that is spent throughout the year across America, at every level of life, to lobby elected officials, oppose or support local or state initiatives or to drive public opinion to support or oppose policy initiatives at the local, state and federal level.

The immense amount of money that now fuels the political-industrial complex in America is simply immeasurable but the impact on our democracy is becoming clearer and clearer every year.

We are turning on one another more and more in our public debate and democracy because we have allowed ourselves to let it happen.

In 2016 those who opposed the election of Donald Trump made the decision they would spend billions of dollars for as long as it took to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of his election as President.

Four years later those who oppose the election of Joe Biden are making the decision to do the same to him that Democrats did to Trump.

It’s not a new reality.  Republicans did it to Barack Obama.  Democrats did it to George W. Bush.

There’s no question that it has happened before and will keep happening.

The only question is when do we, the People, if ever, make it stop?

As a parent, and a former child I find myself viewing the world we find ourselves in after elections listening to adults, who were former children yet acting like current children, saying “Well they started it first.”

Yet, there’s not a parent hanging over our nation that has the voice of authority to say, “Well, then you end it.”

That responsibility rests with each of us. 

We, the People.

I don’t write this piece to take sides with Democrats that Joe Biden won.  Nor do I write it to ignore the bitterness and disappointment of my friends, and others, who are angry that Donald Trump lost.

I do write this piece because it is important to me to have my children have something when I am gone from this life that explains to them where it was their Dad stood when it came to this moment in America’s History.

The political industrial complex doesn’t steal elections at the polls.

It undermines our democracy long before Election day.

The political industrial complex deliberately divides us.

Not because they can.

But because we let them.

The political industrial complex of the left invested heavily in a divided America during the Trump Administration.

The political industrial complex of the right will do the same during the Biden Administration.

The left-wing version of the right wing in 2016 floated stories of fraud, abuse and outright cheating and refused to accept the outcome of the election for President.

The right-wing version of the left wing is simply doing the same thing in 2020.

Most dangerously for America, and our democracy, is that the losing candidate is fundamentally different than the losing candidate in 2016.

The losing candidate in 2020 isn’t content to utilize his legitimate legal right to ensure that the results of the election accurate.

He is using the immense power, prestige and platform of the Presidency to convince those who voted for him that he was cheated out of what was rightfully his and, in doing so, convince those who voted for him that their vote didn’t matter.

That it isn’t true doesn’t matter. 

What matters to him, and to those in the political industrial complex, is that enough Americans agree with him, or them, to keep us continually divided to keep them relevant and powerful.

Every American is entitled to their opinion.

None of us are entitled to our own set of facts.

The facts are there is no presented proven evidence that Donald Trump was re-elected President of the United States of America.

The facts are there is no presented proven evidence that a powerful force that caused votes to disappear, or appear, to deprive the President of a second term in the White House.

The facts are if there were facts that supported any of the opinions, allegations or accusations of the President they would exist in a court of law somewhere in America today.

That they do not simply means we are left with lies.

A tweet is not a fact. 

A social media post is not a fact. 

A statement by the President, his attorneys, a talk show host, a political activist, a neighbor, friend, co-worker or family member is not a fact.

To the vast well-meaning majority of Americans who find themselves at odds with the outcome of the election for President all of these things are merely opinions, allegations or accusations.

On their own they are a reflection of the right of every American to exercise their 1st Amendment rights.

In the hands of the political industrial complex they have become weaponized and are being used against our democracy.

In being used against our democracy they are being used against us.

The foreign threat to American democracy is real and inescapable but we know the enemy and we see it and we can defend ourselves against it and defeat it.

But when the threat to our democracy comes from within what are we to do?

Will We, the People, allow the political industrial complex to defeat American democracy?

Or will We, the People, defeat the political industrial complex to save American democracy?

It’s not my quote, but it is my question: “If not us, who” If not now, when?” 

Hope on The River: 30 days I leave on a journey to save Spare Key and find Hope

Hope on the River FINAL JPG

Today marks 30 days until I board a raft made from a 50-year old pontoon, a re-engineered wooden shed, and the labor of my brother, his daughter, my son, three Johns and a Ray.

In 2 months, I will travel 1,700 miles, through 10 American states in the hopes of saving 1 non-profit organization called Spare Key.

I will travel on a river of hope.

Hope on the River.

Spare Key will lose nearly $750,000 in revenue this year because of cancelled or postponed events, a significant drop-off in corporate and foundation grants and reduced individual giving.

COVID-19 and its effect on our collective personal, economic, societal, and cultural health has been devastating.

Between the lost lives, lost jobs, and lost confidence in the future far too many of us are struggling to survive – literally and figuratively.

Yet, I believe there is hope.

Hope on the River.

We’re a better America than we see too often on social media, the television news, newspapers and hear on the radio.

Yet, we’re not a perfect America.

The loss of John Lewis who inspired generations to go out and cause “Good Trouble” should underscore that one man’s lifetime battle for equity and equality wasn’t ever over.

But there is hope.

Hope on the River.

I travel along the Mississippi River alone for two months because I need to find hope for Spare Key.

I need to find hope that there remain those who want to support Spare Key’s mission to serve families facing a medical crisis.

But I need to find hope that the America I know we are, and know we can be, exists stronger than it seems to be right now.

I will travel to give voice back to my Lula Mische, my Aunt, who inspired me to change the world but to try to see the world through her eyes even if I couldn’t walk it in her shoes.

I get on a raft because of families whose daughter is struggling with a heart condition – a Mom in the fight against breast cancer – a son who was born too soon – a Dad battling to recover from a catastrophic injury.

I will be away from those I love the most for two-months because it matters to me that Americans see other Americans who have the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the future.

I know there is hope.

Hope on the River.

I have been asked if travelling alone on a raft for two months scares me.

It does.

I’ve never been the bravest person in the world.

Sleeping along a riverbank at night with wild animals in the dark sits uncomfortably in the back of my mind, pushed out of the way by the abundance of other things I need to worry about to get ready for this trip.

I’m not the first person in the world to take a raft down the river.

But it is the first time I have ever done anything like this.

Where will I go?  Who will I meet?  What will I do?

I don’t know but I’m getting ready to go.

I hope you will join me on this river by liking our Hope on The River Facebook page:  @hopeontheriver and sharing that link with others.

I hope you will follow my journey on our Website at  www.HopeOnTheRiver.com and consider making a pledge for each mile I travel – and encourage others you know to do so, as well.

I hope you will follow our Twitter feed @HopeOnTheRiver and our Instagram feed at @hope_on_the_river

I hope you will text the word “RIVER” to 52000 and make a $5.00 donation to Spare Key.

I hope you will hope for me.

I hope you will hope for Spare Key.

I hope you will find hope on the river with me.

Hope on The River.

It’s there.

I hope to find it every single day.

Aunt Lula: Nothing in America is good enough to not make it better for all of us

Lula s Obituary-page-001

Born in a Minneapolis hospital, and raised in Burnsville until I was 10 years old, my family moved to Fairmount, North Dakota in 1973.

My worldview was white.

My memories of anybody in my life not being white are vague.

After nearly 7 years of life in Fairmount and a spell in Fergus Falls, Minnesota my family found ourselves living in my Grandmother Mische’s home in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

I decided to enroll at St. Cloud State University.

Which is where my personal journey of discovery of my Aunt Lula, and the real world I would soon live in, began.

She worked in the university placement office and Lula was a presence that was far bigger than her height which was smaller than most but made her larger than life.

Becoming a student at St. Cloud State University transformed the purpose, meaning and trajectory of my life.

My Aunt Lula played a significant role in that transformation.

I was suddenly surrounded by people who weren’t all white.  Taught by teachers who weren’t all white.  Talking to people who weren’t all white.

Not that St. Cloud, or the University, were a bastion of diversity in 1981.

It wasn’t.

But for a kid who grew up in a white suburb and then a white small town and then a white slightly larger town the experience of going from a place surrounded by white people to a place where there was clearly a visible and active presence of black people began to change my view of the world outside of my comfort zone.

Then there was my Aunt Lula.

The first African American person in my life who was more than someone I saw in passing or greeted on my way from one college class to another.

Lula was active in DFL politics.  She was active in union politics.  She was active in university life.

Lula was active in everything that she thought was going to change the world.

The more I got to spend time with Lula, having to go over to the placement office and ask her for advice, and, often just to go visit, the more I got to know about my Aunt Lula.

Yet, where I learned the most about her, and the most from her, was our time together in DFL politics.

It was there I learned the quiet, and not so quiet, passion she carried with her to right the wrongs of American society.  Where she could find a way to build coalitions to seek change that she believed to be needed.

Long before the fierce urgency of now became a rallying cry my Aunt Lula was fiercely urgent about everything.

She did not suffer fools gladly.

At times I could be a fool.

Not out of any ill will but out of ignorance.

And she didn’t allow my ignorance to prevent me from learning something about the world around me.

I won’t tell you that Lula made me a “woke” white American.

But she did force me to think about the world around me that wasn’t the colorblind society we all too often believe it to be.

Or, want it to be.

Lula may have been my Aunt, but I didn’t live in her skin.

I didn’t live in her world.

We were family by marriage but her life experience and the journey that brought her into my life was far different than the journey that brought me into her life.

Side by side, the two of us could work equally hard.  Study equally long hours.  Sacrifice equally for the good of our family.  Contribute equally to our community.

But, no matter what, more often than not, the color of my skin would never get in the way of achieving my piece of the American Dream.

I think often of my Aunt Lula.  Perhaps more so during these challenging and difficult times.

Because family dynamics can often be difficult and complex, out of respect I chose not to attend her funeral upon her passing.

Recently, I reached out to Lula’s Daughter, Theresa, who I haven’t spoken to in years.

She and I have had different lives even though we come from the same family.

Again, family paths and direction, not often chosen by children, likely played a role in the different routes she and I have taken in our lives.

I asked Theresa for permission to share Lula with others and to find ways to support the “Lula Mische Freshman Scholarship Fund” at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Created my by Uncle Will, the fund is intended to support students who have overcome obstacles such as socioeconomic or educational disadvantages or disabilities,  or are the first generation in their family attending college and members of groups that are underrepresented at the university, such as African Americans.

And, perhaps most importantly, as the documents creating the Lula Mische Freshman Scholarship Fund articulate:

“This scholarship was established by her husband, Wilfred, to inspire freshman students to be good scholars, to pursue their dreams and to interact with others from their heart.”

In the days ahead as I prepare for a journey that will take me to the places near where Lula was born, where she lived and where she worked, I will share more about the remarkable woman that was my Aunt.

In some small way I hope to remind myself, perhaps those of you reading this, and others I meet along the way of the common bond we each have as Americans.

That there is a shared journey each of us have as citizens of this nation.

Some of us have found ourselves traveling against the stream in that journey.

Others downstream.

But, all of us, in some way, have been on the same river of hope in America.

My Dad died in 1997.  Others in his family have departed through the years.  Those that remain, including my Uncle Will, have their own remarkable stories tied to their desire to make America a better place for all of us to live, work and raise our families.

They walked for civil and equal rights.  They worked inside of government, outside of government and against the government. They went to prison to end a war.

They, like my Aunt Lula, never quit trying to make America a better place for all Americans.

Their time, like my Dad’s, will come to an end.  Yet, who they are, what they did, and all they accomplished during their time on this Earth isn’t something I’m willing to let fade away.

On top of the work of others, they, like my Aunt Lula, contributed to a nation that is better than the one they found.

Others, like myself, and those of you reading this, have an obligation to now take that nation and build a better one for those that will come after our ashes are scattered to the wind.

As my journey begins, I will bring in my heart my family, the ones I love the closest and the dearest, along with me.

I will also bring my Aunt Lula and my Uncle Will’s admonition to interact with others from the heart through the heart of America.

All of us are on a river of hope in this boat we call America.

All of us must find a way to travel together.

If you want to support the Lula Mische Freshman Scholarship Fund with a donation go to https://bit.ly/3dwC9li and enter “Lula Mische Scholarship Fund”

I want to give up. I can’t. I won’t. And, neither should anyone else.

download (3)

The past few mornings I admit that the weight of the world’s problems and trauma have worn me down and out.

My capacity to compartmentalize and put on an attitude that “All Crisis Pass” has been beaten and battered since March.  

I cannot watch or listen to news.  Any news.  

The posts on social media have gone beyond toxic.  Well meaning, kind and generous people in private become vicious, mean spirited and intolerant on public platforms.  

One day we’re told not to wear masks.  The next day we’re told to wear masks.  

The mask wearers applaud themselves and criticize those who don’t, won’t or can’t wear masks.

Those not wearing masks applaud themselves and criticize those who do, want, and can wear masks.

A vaccine is weeks away.  Months away. Years away.

I will get the vaccine because it will save my life.  I won’t get the vaccine because it will take away my life.

The life we’re in is the New Normal.  The past was Never Normal.  The future is Not Normal.

People who are white are racist.  Those who are not are unreasonable.  None of us are Americans.

It’s okay to break the law.  It’s not okay to ignore the law. The law is what we each want it to be when we want it to be where we want it to be.

We’ve turned everything and anything in our day-to-day life into a reason to judge somebody else.

All of us have opinions.  

I have opinions.  

And, it occurs to me, more and more, that my opinions are like everyone else’s:  Opinions.

Dispensing them once made me feel empowered.  A kind of therapy that allowed me to share what I believed — sometimes based on facts — sometimes based on fear — sometimes based on ignorance — sometimes based on experience — but always an opinion.

I find myself sharing my opinion less and less with people.  Not because I don’t have them.  

But because I have grown fatigued trying to anticipate the reaction of those with whom I share them with.

Simple acts of kindness and generosity — once the thing we were told in a book were to be random — are now more calculated, more careful, and more and more….random.

I want to give up.

I do.

More and more I just want to throw up my hands and say, “I’m out.”  

I close my eyes at times and drift away to places where none of the rancor, bitterness and hurt occupies any corner of my mind.

Yet, it feels empty and unreal and unfulfilling.

The feeling passes and then I remember the real world I live in.

One where people are hurting and need help. 

Parents are terrified their children will get sick from a virus.  Parents are terrified their children will get sick from isolation.  

Parents are terrified they will get sick from their kids.  Kids are terrified they will get their parents sick.

People are scared their liberty and freedom are being taken away.  People are angry that they have never had full liberty and freedom given to them.

People I don’t know are struggling to find hope in the future with no job, no money, and no options. 

People I do know are struggling to find hope in the future with a good job, plenty of money and lots of options.

It all seems so unbearable.

Yet, the option to give up is not an option I am willing to embrace.  No matter how desperately I want to give up.

I remind myself that I have been on this Earth for 20,805 days and counting. 

The less than 5 months I have had to live in the COVID-19 world represents .007 percent of my life.  

The 5 months of COVID-19 do not define me. 

The roughly 20,655 days before it invaded my safe space are the days that do.

Those days are the ones that saw good days, bad days, and worse days.  Days of joy and happiness and ones of hopelessness and despair.

Moments of loss and some of gain but all of a life in which every bump and bruise and wrinkle and missing hair has been a reminder that giving up is not an option.

We are in this together.  Not all equally.  Some are in worse places than others.  Others in better places than most.  

But, we’re captive on a planet not of our choosing.

We might move on the planet but we aren’t soon to move from the planet. 

There’s a world to be saved.  People to help.    A planet to heal.  A country to fix. 

All that doesn’t just happen.

None of it goes away by closing my eyes, or my mind, to my responsibility and obligation to be a member of the human race.

So, I can’t give up.  I won’t give up.  

And, neither should you. 

 

 

 

My America may not be your America, but I want it to be

MyFlags

The America I live in is one where my life has been filled with opportunity achieved through hard work, sacrifice, and persistence.

My America may not be your America, but I want it to be.

The America I celebrate today is one where brave men and women, and scared men and women, and unknown men and women fought and died for my right to write these words.

My America may not be your America, but I want it to be.

The America that holds my children in its hands is one where they can walk, run and bike alone in the day and the night and not fear that the color of their skin or the hood of their jacket may cost them their life.

My America may not be your America, but I want it to be.

The America I know is filled with exceptional people, of all colors, from all walks of life, who look at the community around them and ask, “What can I do to make it better” and they go and do it.

My America may not be your America, but I want it to be.

The America that taught me in its schools did so with all the books I needed, the food to feed me between classes and cared enough to see that I got to school in the morning and home at night.

My America may not be your America, but I want it to be.

The America that protects and serves me is surrounded by dedicated men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line when they put on their badge, who run to danger, comfort the frightened, save the endangered and die on sidewalks because they did their job.

My America may not be your America, but I want it to be.

The America that has been at the core of my existence for 57 years sees the world hungry and feeds it, sees the world sick and cures it,  sees the world oppressed and frees it.

My America may not be your America, but I want it to be.

The America I participate in gave me the right to vote, to protest, to rebel, to organized, to elect and be elected and never give up trying to change it.

The America that sustains me is one where nothing changes quickly but when change comes it comes quickly and with purpose and passion and on the common ground of men and women of goodwill.

My America may not be your America, but I want it to be.

Today, July 4th, my America is all these things and more.

It is the place I choose to live, choose to love, choose to change and I do so because I believe in its future because I celebrate its past.

It is a complex, difficult, and uneven past built on a path of promises too often blocked by some but not by all.

A path in which there was a clear promise of freedom of liberty for all blocked for some but not for all.

My celebration of this day is not done without clear eyes and at times a broken heart.

I see George Floyd dying on a sidewalk.  I hear Philando Castile gasping for breath.

Around me are the tents filled with the poor and the sick, the streets filled with the angry and the outraged, the stomachs filled with anything but food.

My America may not be your America, but I want it to be.

The Dream I have lived for 57 years with the hopes and opportunity and the promise to see a better life ahead of me is nowhere granted to me as a right of birth anywhere in the world other than here.

This is my America.

The America I know.

The America I love.

The America I celebrate.

My America may not be your America.

But I want it to be.

Walk ahead of me: A Father’s Day wish for a better future for my kids and yours.

1918198_1021813362288_1060294_n

 

My favorite day of the year is Father’s Day.

Since the entry into this world by my son, Owen, followed a mere two years later by my daughter, Maisie, there is no day that more fully captures my reason for being.

Or, to be fancy, my raison d’etre.

Throughout their young lives both my children have transfixed and transformed me.

They have challenged me, compelled me and completed me.

The simple essence of their being enumerates my humanity far more than anything I could have ever considered before they came into my life and became my life.

Over the past several months as the world has swirled in chaos with a global pandemic we have found ourselves in a place we could never have imagined.

And as though the Universe didn’t feel as though that was enough it double-downed with the tragic killing of a black man in our community followed by the maelstrom of violent riots fueled by nothing more than vandals, criminals and miscreants.

We watched, listened and read “news” and information which reasonably could have made us believe that everything is coming apart at the seam.

Each time we thought peace and understanding was ascending the world found itself descending even further.

It has not been the world I thought I was bringing my children into nearly 20 years ago.

Yet, my children, and their generation, are better prepared to make the world a better one than any generation in a generation.

America had “The Greatest Generation” and every generation since has failed to match the bravura of their imprint on our world.

Perhaps it was too much to ask of us to match Americans who survived a global depression, won a global war and created global prosperity.

Each generation since then has faltered a little more and a little more and a little more.

It’s nobody’s fault and it’s all of our fault.

As bits and pieces of the fabric of society began to fray we saw gaping holes in the cloth and did nothing to fix it.

We have found all sorts of people responsible for the colored tapestry of our nation turning to gray and none of them seem to be ourselves.

I have begun the slow journey back to standing up for the things I once fought passionately to change.

My voice is beginning to get a little louder and my feet less tentative underneath me as I try to re-enter a world I once found so easy to exist in.

However, I find myself to be little more than a holding force.

Caught in between partisans and ideologues and nihilists there seem to be far too little I can do turn things back in the right direction.

There was a time when my children walked behind me to keep them safe from what lay ahead of us.

It’s now time for them to walk ahead of me to allow them to see what is ahead for themselves.

It’s no longer my job to describe the world through my eyes to my kids.

It’s now their job to see the world through their own eyes and understand it for what it is and most importantly for what they want it to be.

Their Dad did what he could do and finds himself wanting.

I will do what I can do so that my kids don’t find my faith in their future lacking.

On this Father’s Day, as has been every Father’s Day since the first one that made me a Dad, I have never been more confident in my children’s future.

I’ve never doubted that for so many miles and so many years it was my job to walk ahead and blunt the impact of a world determined to take them down.

Now, more than ever before, I know it is their time to walk ahead of me and embrace that world and take it on.

 

 

“Do Something” to make a difference right now! Contact your State Legislator and ask them to support these commonsense reform proposals now!

DoSomething

Recently, a number of individuals I respect, admire and look up to, gathered for over 3 hours to talk about what we could do to be a part of the solution in the debate over needed reforms in law enforcement in Minnesota.

We looked at other’s proposals and discussed them.  We agreed there were many good ideas and that we didn’t need to invent new ones, but to find ones that we believed had the best chance of passing the current Minnesota Special Session.

At the end of our meeting, and after several days of work we agreed to the following document that we have been sharing with State Legislator in our area, as well as those in leadership positions in the Minnesota Legislature.

Are you struggling to find a concrete thing you can do to make a difference?

Here’s your chance.  Feel free to copy and paste this document and email it to your State Legislator and ask him or her to act now to support important reform initiatives before the Special Session is done.

If you don’t know your legislator, go find him or her at:  https://www.gis.leg.mn/iMaps/districts/

An historic opportunity exists to increase transparency, accountability, and professional development for our peace and police officers in Minnesota and by doing so increase public trust in law enforcement for all Minnesotans.

Minnesota has an historic opportunity to elevate and enhance the confidence of all Minnesotans in their public safety professionals

In doing so it can recognize that the actions of law enforcement professionals who violate their Oath of Office do not only bring dishonor to their profession, but diminishes the confidence communities of color and immigrant communities have in law enforcement agencies.

The vast majority of law enforcement officers are dedicated public servants who are asked to do an increasingly complex and emotionally challenging job and most do their daily work with integrity and compassion.

We believe there are many important reforms that must be considered and acted upon.

We also believe that any reform proposals cannot be unfunded mandates but have the financial commitment from local, state, and federal entities to be successful.

Our personal commitment is to work with anyone focused on getting reform legislation passed in the Minnesota State Legislature and signed into law by the Governor.

Doing nothing is not acceptable.  Future generations of Minnesotans will hold us accountable for the choices we make in this moment.

Both political parties have an obligation to work in a spirit of compromise and pass meaningful and systemic reforms during the current Special Session.

Both political parties have an obligation to continue this work into the next regular session and beyond.

All Minnesotans have an obligation and responsibility to hold their elected officials accountable for what they do to be a part of the solution as well as what they do to continue to be a part of the problem.

The work we do today will make a difference in the lives of all Minnesotans tomorrow.

The first step to bringing Minnesota together is for Minnesota to work together.

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

Encourage all police agencies to adopt use-of-force policies that make sanctity of life a core organizational value.

  • Require law enforcement agencies to implement an Early Intervention Program (EIP) for officers and dispatchers that is designed to identify problem behaviors at the earliest possible stage so that intervention and support can be offered in an appropriate manner.
  • Expand resources and increase statewide awareness of existing resources, to improve the mental health and wellness of first responders and dispatchers.
  • Require law enforcement agencies to adopt data practices that promote transparency, openness, and accountability. This includes collecting, analyzing, and publishing data about the nature of police-community interactions, use of force, and police-involved deadly force encounters
  • Create an independent and specialized investigation unit within the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) with the authority to investigate all officer-involved shootings and uses of force that result in death or severe bodily injury.
  • Work with the Attorney General and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association to enable the Attorney General’s Office to be supportive and engaged around deadly-force encounters in terms of expertise, resources, conflicts, jurisdiction, or other issues.
  • Direct the Department of Public Safety to work with law enforcement associations, police unions, local officials, and community leaders to promote more effective models of community policing.
  • Increase state-provided law enforcement training funding where appropriate. • Increase police training on interactions with African Americans and people of color and immigrant communities who arrived in America from all over the world.
  • Increase police training on interactions with people with disabilities, and people experiencing a mental-health crisis during interactions with law enforcement.
  • Explore the non-disciplinary use of body camera video and simulator scenarios to identify training to improve officer performance through proactive coaching/mentoring and training in de-escalation tactics.
  • Encourage local law enforcement agencies to work with community partners to engage them in the standards, expectations and recruitment of officers that know their local communities and increase the diversity of their workforce.
  • Ensure that all law enforcement agencies are trained in de-escalation tactics and skills in order to reduce use-of-force, especially when responding to persons in crisis.
  • Repeal the state law that mandates binding arbitration for law enforcement officers accused of misconduct.
  • Change laws governing collective bargaining agreements that impede discipline of officers who seriously betray the public trust.
  • Enhance screening to prevent unacceptable applicants for positions in law enforcement from being hired and ensure clear and enforced guidelines that define acceptable and unacceptable behavior and policing tactics.
  • Require the POST Board to adopt a Duty to Intercede model policy to be distributed to all Chief Law Enforcement Officers, and to empower them to ensure compliance with a model policy.
  • Provide necessary funding to ensure that 100% of all Minnesota law enforcement officers are equipped with body cameras
  • Strengthen the power and authority and responsibility of the Minnesota POST Board to strip officers of their license when they commit acts in violation of their Oath of Office.

 

20,805 mornings later I am still restless

IMG_4393

Today is my 57th birthday.

I woke up at 3:48 a.m. and have been staring at a wall since then wondering what to say to mark this personally historic day in my life.

It’s not that I don’t have a great deal to be thankful in my life.

I am alive.

I woke up, after all.  That’s a remarkable feat and one for roughly 20,805 mornings I have been fortunate to be able to do.

I have a roof over my head.  Food in the pantry.  Surrounded by people I love and ones who tolerate me.

A snoring dog has her butt up against me as I write this, the sound of the rocket propelled air conditioning unit in our townhome has kicked in and I can hear the sounds of my fingers against the keyboard of my computer.

I have a job and work to do.  My colleagues are genuinely good people who I miss working with in person and a meeting yesterday with genuinely good people at LendSmart mortgage to plan a fundraising event for Spare Key filled with genuinely good people reminded me of all the genuinely good people in my life.

Roughly three months of quarantine have thickened my belly and I know I need to do something about that.  The number of miles I have run since quarantine is stuck at 107 miles and I know I need to do something about that.

Still, I am restless.

And, I know I need to do something about that.

Contentedness is something I crave and fear at the same time.

Stability is an important word in my life.

I grew up in a household in which stability was erratic, uneven, elusive, and never taken for granted.

I’ve tried hard as a parent to give to my kids that which was fleeting in my childhood.

It’s no secret to anybody who pays attention that I spoil my kids.  I always have.  I have no regrets.

Despite their father’s adoration they have both grown into kind, generous, humble, giving adults who have never taken anything good in their life for granted.

They root for the underdog.  They reach out to the broken.  They stand up for the beaten down.

No greater epitaph to my life will ever be written than “He so loved his children that he gave them anything they wanted, and they helped everyone they could.”

If I could add after the word “wanted” the words “…and didn’t know they wanted…” without running off the side of the headstone I would.

So, I am content with my life.

The complaints I have are of my own making, and any of them are the kind of problems that billions of my fellow human beings on the planet would shame me for even bringing up in conversation.

Still, I am restless.

I can feel a stirring, though, an emerging pattern of taking that restlessness and lining up the parts that bring me to a place where I feel like I am doing something about it.

It’s the ordering of things that so often marks when I go to get things done.

It is the only routine I have ever had in my life.

It’s a mental checklist of what has to be done, how it has to be done, when it has to be done.

It’s taken me until the middle ages of my life to know that it is who and how I am.

There’s the compartmentalizing inside my head where I store things until I know where to put them and I’ve seemingly stored some things in there that have been dormant for far too long.

It is as though inside my is the kind of creaking sound of old machinery being brought back to life with the yawning stretch of morning to prove to me that I’m ready to begin again.

I am grateful that at 57 I haven’t forgotten how to do the things I knew so well how to do at 27, 37 and 47.

That despite how I went about doing those things at 27, 37 and 47 there are still friends, colleagues and peers who honor me with their willingness to work with me at 57 to get new things done.

The checklist that is my life is not yet done.

In the next 43 years that I am confident God has allotted to me, there will be more tasks to check-off on that list.

More problems to solve.  More opportunities to grasp.  More promises to make.  More promises to keep.

Today is my 57th birthday.

Still, I am restless.

My Inner Pollyanna: The Legislature can get it done right now. All of it done. Now.

pollyanna

The Minnesota State Legislature has “returned” to the Capitol for what must be its 1,000th Special Session in our 162-year history as state.

Ostensibly the original reason for the special session was too address a massive bonding bill that neither party could agree upon during the regular session.

It used to be that the threat of a Special Session was so significant that lawmakers would, in the final hours of the regular session, literally cover the clock to try to shove bills to passage “on-time” so legislators could get back home.

Today, a Special Session has no longer found itself a unique species and the political ramifications of having one not nearly as dire in the mind of politicians who used to fear the outrage of constitutions demanding to know why they had to pay more to get the work done they elected their leaders to do in the time originally allotted to them.

This week’s Special Session has become more complicated, however, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis Police Officers who have been fired and now face significant criminal prosecution for his death.

The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated Minnesota’s economy.  Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are out of work.  Thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, as well as non-profits, face financial uncertainty, some already having been ruined, by the responses of local, state, and federal policymakers to battle the virus.

The murder of George Floyd led to massive peaceful protests that were usurped for days by violent riots, mayhem, and destruction of public and private property.

The aftermath of the looting and pillaging and fiery conflagration were thousands more Minnesotans left without jobs, thousands of buildings where they worked and were served by business and non-profits damaged, and the Governor mobilizing the state’s National Guard to stop the violence.

A Special Session which was to deal primarily with a bonding bill has now become one in which Republicans argue needs to focus on fixing the financial devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Democrats argue needs to focus on fixing the human devastation of racial injustice and inequality on communities of color.

Politically divided as we are these days, and predictably, neither side intends to work with one another to get any of these things done.

Which begs the question:  Why not do all of it?

After all, the stigma of a Special Session in Minnesota is no longer going to cost any member of the Legislature his or her seat.

To be honest, in the decades I have been involved in politics and government in Minnesota I can’t recall a single member of the Legislature losing an election because they were held “responsible” for a Special Session being called.

It’s already baked into the cake for most Minnesotans that a Special Session has become Summer School for Legislators who don’t satisfactorily complete the coursework they were assigned during the regular session.

So, let’s stop with the faux outrage and objections from both political parties and simply do all the things that we can and should do in this Special Session.

  • Pass a Bonding Bill
  • Embrace reforms intended to increase public confidence in law enforcement for communities of color and provide police greater training, resources and clarification to do the jobs we ask them to do
  • Provide Minnesota employers and employees the economic assistance they need to regain their footing from the trauma of COVID-19 and its impact on our economy

Minnesota used to pride itself on a state where we got things done.  Where Minnesota Commonsense trumped (pleased don’t be like that!) partisan haggling to let the greater good serve the common good.

We don’t have to devolve any further than we have in the bitter partisanship that has infected our daily life long before COVID-19 got inside our economy and wrecked it.

There’s nothing that says Minnesota can’t lead the nation in returning to a political and policy value system that is focused not on achieving the middle-ground but finding common ground.

Democrats want everything.  They won’t get it.

Republicans want everything.  They won’t get it.

There’s a word in the English language that we have all seemingly forgotten in this twisted world of social media where everyone believes their opinion is the ONLY opinion that counts.

Compromise.

The Governor’s raison d’etre for this Special Session should be simply to be an honest power broker and bringing Democrats and Republicans to the table to get these things – all these things – done.

He should resist the urge to be the additional partisan in the room.  There will be time enough for him to exact his pound of flesh in the next election.

Regardless of currently booming poll numbers the Governor’s political strength is not enough to vanquish the loyal opposition.

He can, however, use those poll numbers and his influence to call upon Minnesotans to call all their legislators – Democrats and Republicans – and tell them to get it done.

All of it.

Get it all done.

Now.

Hide the statue, hide the injustice: The failure of leadership to teach us a lesson

now-you-seethem

A statue is toppled.  A law is broken.  A Governor and Lt. Governor do nothing to stop it or seek punishment for those who did it.

Not because it wasn’t wrong.

But because they agreed with the actions that resulted in it being taken down.

They supported people breaking the law.

I want you to think about that for a long second.

The same Governor who called out the National Guard, putting men and women in harm’s way, to uphold the law has now capitulated to those who, with his advanced knowledge, broke the law.

They, along with hundreds of law enforcement officers, put their very lives on the line to protect public and private property from being destroyed by those who claimed they had the right to do so, and those who simply destroyed it because they could and did.

Within days the Governor and Lt. Governor and their Administration dishonored every desperate hour they spent protecting people and neighborhoods – every hour and day they were away from their families – away from their jobs – away from their life to protect someone else’s life.

The Lt. Governor’s smug condescension that most people who follow the law should accept that she feels better that the statue is gone is a level of elitism that is simply breathtaking.

That the Governor now lacks the courage of whatever personal convictions he has to enforce the law by allowing that condescension to go unchallenged is an indictment on him and his Administration.

I don’t care whether the Christopher Columbus statue is or isn’t on the capitol grounds.

If enough people want to go through the legal means and effort to remove it, more power to them.

The same should be true of any statue on public grounds whether it is Christopher Columbus or Hubert Humphrey or Charles Lindbergh.

Yet, I want to be clear: I think the idea that you can eliminate history – the good or the bad – by tearing down statues is meaningless.

If you want people to know of oppression, repression, and tyranny you don’t hide it – you make sure people know of it – and that they never forget it.

Do I believe we should remove the celebration of the Confederacy from public and private life?

Absolutely.  I consider every Confederate leader who led troops during the Civil War to be a traitor.

Those who willingly followed them into battle as nothing more than traitorous accomplices.

There is no glorious time of the Confederacy.

Nor should we ever celebrate it as though there was some laconic and genteel time when slave owners selling and torturing and murdering black people was the good old days.

The stain of slavery and our unresolved reckoning with it in America haunts us today.

I am weary of those who suggest that the Civil War solved the problem of slavery.  That when the war was done slavery was done.

It wasn’t.

And its impact on our life today isn’t.

The murder and lynching of black men and women.  The deprivation of their rights to vote.  To access public facilities.  Eat a restaurant.  Fight and die for America.

All these realities didn’t end in 1863.

In 1981 a 19-year-old African American man named Michael Donald was beaten and hung from a tree in Alabama by the Ku Klux Klan.

In 2020, a 46-year-old African American man and George Floyd was choked to death on the pavement of Minneapolis by a Police Officer.

But confusing our obligation to address racism and the historical sins of slavery and oppression with tearing down statues and hiding our history isn’t a solution.

What better solution for those who want to continue to celebrate it than to be able to hide it in the darkness, away from the disinfecting sunshine of public display.

What if instead of tearing down the Christopher Columbus statue, illegally and with the full consent and acquiescence,  of the Governor and Lt. Governor, we had provided information at the statue sharing the story Columbus in the historical context that we now know to be true?

What if instead of removing the idolatry of Civil Rights statues and parks and memorials we gather them together in a museum, and allow Americans current and future to understand better the horror that tore our country apart, resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Americas, the murder of a President, destroyed the lives of untold black families, and has kept America from achieving its hallowed promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all?

How is that the millions of men and women who fought and died on beaches, jungles, hedgerows, cliffs, seas, the skies and in farm fields and pastures throughout our land and in distant lands from the beginning of our existence should sleep well in their graves knowing that our commitment to their sacrifice consists of burning our cities and tearing down statues?

Or allowing our state’s laws to be broken without consequence because the highest elected officials in Minnesota endorse the breaking of laws with their complicit silence because it has become fashionable in this moment of tragedy and despair?

The Communists of China, and the Soviet Union and every dictator and tyrant of past and current history have used the loss of memory through the destruction of history as a powerful tool to control their people.

When one forgets, or never knew, of the oppression, violation of civil and human rights, or the outright genocide of people because we removed their statues and memorials because we want to hide what they did then all they did continues without a reckoning that America is owed.

And those who suffered from the things that today we condemn are further denied their opportunity to ensure that the stories of their oppression and repression are never forgotten.

Shame on us.

Shame on us.