Tuesday, July 27, 2004

I Was A Card Carrying Democrat -

Part 1 - The Making of a Liberal

This is the truth.  Since the first election I was able to participate in, I voted Democrat.  There were some local elections that I did some independent voting (ie, somebody other than a Democrat if I liked them), but in terms of national politics, I voted Democrat.  President, Senators, Congressional Representatives.  You name it.  Democrat.

My parents were card carrying Democrats.   Some of my earliest memories were riding around in a panel van with my Dad, handing out flyers, with big signs on the sides of the van, urging people to vote for the Democrat running for Sheriff of the county we lived in and my Dad worked in.  My father is now a retired Deputy Sheriff, by the way.  I remember the big PA system he had rigged in the van and the pre-recorded message he played as we drove around the neighborhoods.

It was almost like religion.  You know, where your parents enjoy a certain denomination and that's the denomination you are raised in, so, when you grow up, you usually continue in that denomination?  Unless you marry outside of it and, either by choice or necessity, convert to your spouse's particular religion or denomination.  That's not me.  I'm not married so I can't claim to be influenced by such an outside source when it comes to politics.

Rather, it was a slow change that eventually came to a head with an epiphany. 

Now, like an alcoholic attending my first AA meeting, I will admit that I was a Democrat and voted for Dukakis, Clinton, Clinton, Gore.  Just saying it does not make me feel better, so much as I feel slightly ill.  No weight off the shoulders.  Just the realization that I didn't know squat about politics.  Foreign policy.  Economics.  Taxes.  You name it, I didn't know it.  I didn't know about pork barrel spending.  Congressional and Senatorial committees.  Lobbyists.  So much I didn't know.

Let me be clear on the subject.  I am not bashing the Democrat party for pork barrel spending or special interests money, lobbyist, etc.  I am very well aware of how both parties work and how much money they get and from whom.   As far as I am concerned, both parties could do with some righteous clean up of the campaign funding issues as well as some personal policing of their activities.  I am also very well aware that "policing" themselves is like asking the fox to watch the hen house.  Further, that politics is a very ugly world sometimes and, if one of the parties decided to play "fair" by my standards, it is very likely that party would lose the next election.

So, special interest lobbying barely makes it on my scope unless the candidate espouses some policy directly related to it that gets my attention: positive or negative attention. 

I digress.  Where did I come from?  Aside from my parents obvious party affiliation, we were best described as "lower middle class".  Just above the poverty line.  Law enforcement officers and other emergency workers have never been paid what they are worth, in my opinion.  We did ok, but my Dad worked three jobs, security largely.  His regular job and then different security jobs that he took in the evenings or on the weekends.  My Mom finally went back to work when I was about 15. 

I remember buying clothes for school every year.  I think back now and realize that I was a brat.  Ungrateful.  I didn't realize my parents struggle to feed and clothe three kids on a policeman's salary.  I recall that my major angst back then was that I was unable to have a pair of Jordache jeans.  Do you recall how popular they were?  They cost over $30 a pair back then and that was a lot of money on a policeman's salary.  I wanted some and my parents wouldn't buy them for me.  Instead, I got some knock off designer jeans and fake Nike tennis shoes from K-Mart.  You know the shoes I'm talking about?  They looked like Nikes but the Nike wing was upside down.  I was embarrassed, back then.  I wanted to be "in" and those clothes were not going to make me "in". 

Christ, I was a twerp!  That was the first realization that we were not "elite".  Not like some of the other kids at school.  As I grew older, I think I held a grudge against them, those "elites", for that.   When I came of age to vote, I associated them with "those Republicans" who had more money than they knew what to do with and were "holding us down."  Immature, I know.  But that's how you start your political association.  First your parents and then your  financial stature.  Back then, I would have bought into the "two Americas" routine for sure.

One thing that I had going for me.  My parents wanted something better for me and my brothers, so they constantly pushed us on education.  One time I brought home a "C" and you would have thought that the world had come to an end.  But, I studied and made plans to go to college.  That didn't happen.  But that's another story.

About two years after high school, I moved to Philadelphia where I lived for 10 years.  You may not be aware of this, but Philadelphia has a very large Democrat population.  All of my friends from Philadelphia are Democrats.  Very liberal as a matter of fact.  When I moved there, I had come from a moderate sized city, but the BIG city was a shocker.  I remember the first time I walked around Philadelphia on a historical tour.  I insisted that my friends take me.  They weren't really into it as they had lived there all of their lives, but I wanted to see Independence Hall, Valley Forge, the Liberty Bell.  I am a history buff to say the least.

On this walking tour, we were in George Washington Square near Independence Hall.  There were sky scrapers the size of which I had never seen before.  It was a blustery October day.  We were all in our coats.   I know they were cold, but I had to see it.  Philadelphia.  Where the Declaration of Independence was signed.   As we walked through Independence Mall to George Washington Square, the first interesting thing happened.  I could hear a man shouting at the top of his lungs:  "Nicky Scarfo is a liar!  Nicky Scarfo is a murderer!" and a few other things about "Nicky Scarfo" that were highly uncomplimentary.

For some historical perspective, Nicky Scarfo was a mob boss in Philadelphia during the early '90s.  He was alledgedly behind an upswing in mob related violence.  I knew very little about this as I had barely been in city for a month, but, like all rubbernecking gawkers, I wanted to see what was going on.  Before I could turn, my friends on either side of me, grabbed my arms and told me "not to look" and "keep walking".  About which time we came abreast of the fellow shouting.  He was appx 6'2" with long scraggly hair and a beard and mustache to match.  He was dirty.  His clothes did not fit.  The arms of his shirt only reached about 3 inches above his wrist and his pants were about 3 inches above his ankles, white socks with some very beat up shoes.

Two park rangers came up about then and started leading the man away.  I was still rubber necking.  I remember my friends distinctly, "Somebody should do something about those  people.  They should be put away somewhere.  When they cut the budgets for the state institution, they had to turn those people out.  Now they are just walking around, not taking their medicine.  They need to be taken care of."

Those people.  These are my liberal friends people.  Those people.  Of course, I thought it was terrible that those people couldn't get treatment like they needed.  Why weren't we taking care of those people?

A little later we had walked into George Washington Square where the sky scrapers were.  I was marveling at the statue of George Washington and the monument to the unknown soldier of the Revolutionary War, when I noticed something strange.  On the steps of these sky scrapers, where the door entries were, there were refrigerator boxes.  Lots of them.  At least 30 or more.  Lined up on the steps.  I asked my friends what that was about.  They explained that these were homeless people.  They would bundle up in rags and blankets and such and use the refrigerator boxes like small homes.  The indention of the sky scraper entries and the boxes kept some of the cold wind off.

Just like in the movies.  Except this was real.

Can you imagine what I felt?  I mean, we had some homeless people in my town, but they were certainly not out in front like that.  In your face.  Holy shit, I thought.  We should do something about that.  How can we have so many homeless people?  There was something wrong.  We needed to fix it.  How could we just let these people be homeless?  I thought the government should do more.  We have a social obligation.  We should help people, dammit!  What was going on with these budget cuts that wouldn't help people with obvious psychological issues?  How come we couldn't help these homeless people get into programs to get them cleaned up and a job and a place to live?  What was wrong with us?

It never seemed to end, either.  There is something traumatic about leaving your small world and going into the big one.  You are exposed to many things very quickly. 

I remember living in Drexel Hill.  It was a nice, older, middle class neighborhood.  I drove over the Ben Franklin Bridge every morning to go over to the New Jersey side of the Delaware.  I would hop on Hwy 30 and then 38 to take me over to Moorestown on the other side of Cherry Hill.  You have to know the area.  Moorestown and Cherry Hill, New Jersey are relatively "upscale" areas.  But, to get there, once the bridge let's you on to the NJ side of the river, you are driving through the Camden and then Pennsauken.   Camden is not somewhere you want to drive in the dark.  You stay on the main roads.  Unless you are looking for something "extra" or are unfortunate enough to live there or are going to the amphitheatre they built a few years ago.

When you drive down Hwy 30 in Camden, you will see the things that you only see on "Cops".  Drug dealers on the corners.  Hookers walking the streets.  Liquor stores every other block.  Dilapidated "no-tell motels" that were built in the '50s and have signs "Adult Movies, queen size beds, hourly rates".  And strip clubs.  Not "gentleman's clubs" as they are called here.  Raunchy, dirty buildings with "adult bookstores" attached.

You may have heard that Newark is the arm pit of America?  Camden is the left arm pit and Newark is the right one.

One day, I was driving back home from work and the traffic came to a halt.  Apparently there was an accident on the bridge.  Accidents on the bridge meant that you were going to set there for awhile.  So, there I was in a seedy part of the world with nothing to do.  I looked to the right and there, standing under the pedestrian over pass, was a group of prostitutes.  One of them still sticks in my mind.  She was a tall, thin black woman wearing a red sequined halter top and matching little skirt that was barely wide enough to cover her ass.  She wore red stiletto heels and a short, white rabbit's fur coat that was open, even though it was cold.  The only thing that is a blur is her face.  I can't remember that very well.  Just the outfit and the shoes.

She and the others were calling out to the cars as they drove past.  Ducking down and looking inside to see if anyone was interested.

I looked away quickly, because these folks didn't care who they got into a car with and I didn't want them to have the impression I was "looking for a date".  But, I couldn't help myself.  I kept looking.  It was a train wreck and I had to see.  Just then, a little black Toyota pulled up and she started talking to the driver.  I can't remember what he looked like either.  Just remember that bizarre feeling of watching something horrible about to happen.  Right then the traffic started moving.  I don't know if she got in the car.

I just remember driving on, feeling a little sick.  There was something wrong with the world when a woman had to sell her self.   

A few weeks later, my car broke down and I attempted to take the bus to work.  I had never taken public transportation before.  In order to get where I needed to go, I had to take the bus to the transfer center in Camden.  That's right.  You have to get off in the arm pit of the world and catch another bus out of there.  That was an eye opener, too.  It was cool out still and I was wearing business clothes and a raincoat, carrying my umbrella and brief case.  I was standing at the designated area along with other people from all walks of life.  Business men, school kids, cleaning people (yes, you could tell by their jumpsuits and accoutrements). 

A woman was walking up and down the line of people asking for money.  She was black and very pregnant.  Her hair stood out in all directions.  Looked like a manic version of the Statue of Liberty's head.  She had on a brown, horizontally striped shirt that was not big enough to cover her stomach.  Very popular these days, but believe me, this was not a fashion statement so much as a lack of clothing.  Black stretch pants that didn't come up over her belly.  No coat.  It was about 45* and rainy.   She was wearing flip-flops.

I remember her face.  She wasn't heavy, but her face was puffy.  The puffiness of over indulgence in drugs and alcohol.  She had a few pock marks.  Her eyes.  That's what I remember the most.  They were wide and unblinking.  You could see a lot of the white around the iris.  Her pupils were so small, you could barely see them in the brown of her eye.  She stopped and asked me for some money.  Her speech had that odd, disjointed pattern of people that had to think really hard to put the words together.  I had to tell her "no".  I didn't. I barely had the $2 on me to pay for my bus fare.  I had planned it that way because I knew I had to transfer in Camden and I didn't want to take the chance of carrying more money on me.

She kept asking.  She said she needed to take the bus so she could make her baby's doctor appointment.  I knew that she was high.  I new that she just wanted the money to get high some more.  And she was pregnant.  I don't know which feelings were stronger:  pity, guilt or disgust.

I remember riding along later, looking out the bus windows and thinking what a fucked up world it was.  Wondering how people came to that point.  Why we couldn't do something about it.

It just seemed to re-enforce my feelings that we needed to DO SOMETHING!  How come the government couldn't get these people into programs?  How come she wasn't in a hospital getting cleaned up?  Why couldn't we make her stop abusing her child?  That's what it was.  Child abuse.  I knew.  I was working for a neonatal nursing company at the time and we had plenty of children on our rolls that were crack babies.  Lots of foster parents taking care of these children.  Medicaid programs to pay for their treatment.

There was something wrong in the world and I wanted to fix it.

2 comments:

Nas said...

I may have caught you in the middle of this post, but I have to tell you that I've really messed up now... I emailed Dennis Prager and said that he has to read your site and/or track you down for an interview.

Don't know if you know of him. He hosts a national radio show, so I'm sure he's available somewhere in your area. Or, you can always listen at his home station 24 hours per day on "Today's show" or live beginning at 9am pacific.

Anyway, he's currently hosting at the Dem's convention and one of his main themes today was his belief that many just don't take the time to think things through - telling themselves "I feel we should do [fill in the blank]," without following through with, "but if we do that, then what?" Your post today was a perfect parallel, so I had to send something to him.

BTW, I think he'd say that missing college may have been your saving grace. Also - I sometimes can't remember women's faces, though I must admit for different reasons!

Kat said...

Well...thanks for the vote of confidence. I think that there are a lot of people blogging these days who have some very good points and may write better than I. At least in terms of grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure.

However, I thank you for the praise. I am listening to Dennis Prager now. I think he is on my local radio station. I am looking it up. He just had one of the few Democrats on that I could almost relate too. Except this guy was insisting that we could have brought France along and I agree with Dennis that France has a whole other agenda that is directly and diametrically opposed to our interests. On purpose. I think they are looking to be a world power by joining with those that oppose us. Sort of a grafting action. They put themselves out in front of the opposition to make themselves look bigger on the world stage.

The reality is, they have a small military and little economic capabilities. What they can offer and have offered, are nuclear materials. They are becoming the USSR. supporting countries with these materials and making backdoor deals. And they have stated that they think we need to be opposed. That's an ally?