The Newsletter: Issue #11

Don’t you love how every time I say I’m going to try to get back into writing the newsletter every week, and then I – like – say I’m going to really and truly hold myself accountable “this time,” I then disappear on the newsletter-front for about a month? Or more? Every time?

Well anyway…

Around the World

So how about that monkeypox?

What an absolute shit show this world is. We have Russia continuing to hedge the world closer and closer to World War 3, an ongoing SARS2 pandemic that is just being made worse by incompetent public officials and capitalist governments, Roe is about to be overturned, and now we have monkeypox, aka mini small pox.

So if you aren’t following BNO Newsroom on Twitter yet, I highly recommend you do so. They post about a number of news items, including a tracker on COVID and now, I guess, monkeypox. What’s so scary about monkeypox I think is actually that it’s spread much more widely and rapidly than in previous outbreaks, which implies that something about it, or us, may have changed; and the fact that its closest relative in small pox can spread 9 miles through the air. While they know what to do, how to deal with it that is… I think the trauma response from the last two years of absolute clusterfuck that’s been COVID is just rearing its head.

Know how to deal with it, or not, I just have no interest.

Beyond pandemic disease, the ongoing climate crisis (which I, personally, believe the pandemic disease stuff is a part of), and all the other shit going on (war, economy, gas prices… you know…), it’s election season. If you’re in California, it’s time to get your ballots in. And while I don’t know the schedules of all the other states, I do know you need to vote, even if it’s just writing yourself in because practically everyone else in public office or politics right now is a piece of shit.

(There, I said it. Someone had to. And yes, I wrote myself in on at least one spot of my ballot.)

What’s interesting about the primary election is that it’s happening as COVID is surging, and so – like it or not – I think this is profoundly impacting both people’s votes, and pandemic policy.

As we see cases of COVID in SoCal, and hospitalizations along with them, rise rapidly, officials still hold their trigger fingers on bringing masks back – even in notoriously mask-friendly Los Angeles. Personally, I understand keeping them off in places like movie theaters and restaurants – those are totally optional entertainment venues, risk takers beware.

But now it’s spread (that mask-free life, I mean) to pharmacies, grocery stores, and doctors offices, which is just insane. People don’t have a choice to stay away from them, so of all the places we should have masks it’s there. And yet, we have no policy, which makes me believe that the election is – once again – swaying health policy. In the words (or word) of Donald Trump: SAD!

Apparently at least a few people agree with me; late last night I posted a Twitter poll and almost all respondents believed that the election is at least partially influencing mask policy.

Around My World

Welp, we’ve been looking for a new place to move to. Again. I know, I know. We just moved, but we know how to get out of our lease easily, and legally; and so we’ve been looking for a new spot back home and out of this remarkably bad, potentially dangerous, situation.

The whole experience of finding a rental in California is so strange. On one hand, 45% of Californians rent, and so you would think that there would be some basic understanding that renters are people too. In my county, this constitutes roughly 400,000 people – that’s no small number of people, and they rent for a variety of reasons, including convenience.

Yet still, you come across so many people that consider renters to just be the absolute scum of the Earth, which is rich when you consider the fact that if it weren’t for that so-called scum, landlords would not have so much extra money from which to avail their own lifestyles.

There is then, of course, the whole matter of going to look at places, only to be confronted with the conditions that they present.

Earlier in the week, we visited a house that was literally crumbling apart. I mean the wall was crumbling to the ground during the viewing. The owner had marked the price so ridiculously high for the amount of square footage she was offering, and admitted in the course of the tour that she was simply trying to recoup her expenses from repairs she had to do before renting it out.

That’s not… how it works…

Then yesterday, we visited a home that was being rented out by a property management company. The home was previously being rented by a couple of real estate agents that had moved to the area and rented while purchasing their own home; they said they were moving out in the middle of July.

So we showed up for the open viewing, which meant about 10 other people showed up as well. We all waited and waited, for no one to be there. Someone finally called the property management company and – apparently – the realtor that had been living there had agreed to show the home. Well she wasn’t there, so she lied; so this man from the management company came over to let everyone (that remained) in.

I’m surprised anyone could get in the front door.

This. House. Was. Trashed. We are talking garbage all over the floor, on the counters. A white board piled on top of their kid’s highchair. Counters covered in products; laundry baskets everywhere, Target bags all over the floor. It looked like a literal tornado had come through the room.

While I completely and 100% respect the struggle of a family with young kids, if you’re a realtor yourself and you (a) do not show up when you say you will, and (b) leave the house in a literally unshowable condition, you’re a dick. You’ve treated your peer in the field (the property manager) and his clients with total disrespect. And you’ve made it nearly impossible for prospective renters to actually see the condition of the home (upon further reflection, I really wonder if that was the point).

It’s also a violation of a standard lease in California. I went back and looked at our last two leases: both state quite clearly that in the last 30 days before moving out, you agree to have the home available and in a clean condition for viewing.

Again, I sympathize with being a busy parent, but that’s not what was going on here, and for us it made it difficult to even assess if the home would work. Many people walked in, saw the mess, and just walked out.

We have some furniture that requires space, so we needed to be able to measure a couple of spaces to make sure it would all fit. There were rooms we could not even get in to. The doors would not open. How could we possibly make the call to take that rental under those conditions? Surely someone will accept that kind of shit, just as in the case with the crumbling home from earlier in the week; but just because someone will does not make it right to expect them to. And that fails, on top of everything else, to recognize that you are responsible for the condition of the home, even if you’ve accepted it as is. This is to say that as a renter, if the house is crumbling, you take responsibility for that – including, when it comes time to return your security deposit.

I think this speaks to a bigger issue: of thinking of renters as people that should just take whatever they can get. When I posted about it on Facebook, naturally several people came after me and said that the mess was not an issue, that I should be more sympathetic (I deleted the post shortly after putting it up, because – honestly – I just did not want to hear about how many people in my personal life are cool with professionals disrespecting each other, and treating renters like they don’t deserve to actually inspect a home they are planning to spend a significant chunk of their lives in). What about sympathy for renters that need to check the home though; for the ones that came to that showing today having taken time off work (there were at least two, that I could tell)?

Perhaps a bigger issue: why is it that we have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even when the facts tell us that in this instance we should not?

The only thing that will resolve this is hard and fast legislation and public policy that develops more housing to address both the needs and rights of the middle and working classes. Until then, it’s Target bags, and crumbling walls. If your furniture doesn’t fit, or the trash was covering holes in the floor… well you’re SOL.

You Can’t Unsee This

Today my kids were making collages with this amazing collage book my 14 year old has, and I decided to grab all the election mail trash I received and make my own. It sums up well what I think of most of our local electeds and politicians.

It’s called “Welcome to the Nothing Will Ever Chance Circus: Sorry About the Dilapidated Tent, In This Economy It’s All We Could Afford” The cost of admission to the circus is a $50 campaign contribution, and a blood oath to Big Oil. There are several candidates featured, one has a bright red clown nose, one has a number of supporters that are racist so I made his head pointy and have him saying “My head is as pointy as my supporters’ white hoods.”

In the foreground is our State Assemblywoman. She’s a real thorn in my side, because in 2020 when I ran for city council, she – a Democratic woman – endorsed my opponent – a misogynistic Trump Republican – and even sent out mailers against me – also a Democratic woman. At a candidate’s event she and I were both in attendance, she made perhaps the stupidest comment I have ever heard a candidate make, so I immortalized it in my collage. She says “At the 2020 Islamic Center candidate forum, I was asked what I would do for the Muslim community of Ventura County if re-elected. I didn’t plan to do anything, so I responded “I enjoy your food.””

True story.

STFU Fridays

I don’t have many to say shut the fuck up to this week, but I do still have one in me for a handful of the people that had the audacity over the last couple of days to tell me that candidates should not be judged by their donors.

Only an insipid clown in the show at the Nothing Will Ever Change Circus would think that campaign finance does not have a direct correlation to what a candidate goes on to do, or more often not do, while in office.

To them, I say shut the fuck up. Real hard.

And for the rest of you, if you happen to be local to me, this was in response to a voter guide I posted just outlining some of the highlights from the local races and their campaign finance reports. I don’t usually post these kinds of hyper-local things on this blog, but it seemed an important election to do so. If you fall in that group, you can find that HERE.

Have a good weekend everyone. Rest up, you just don’t know what’s up next in the roller coaster that is 2022.

Please Stop Making Roe About You

Unless you live under a rock, you know that Roe and Casey are about to be overturned.

If you do live under a rock, my apologies. Last night, a leak from within the walls of the Supreme Court was published in a Politico article, which included the opinion of the Supreme Court, which has effectively taken an internal vote to overturn both Roe and Casey. This will throw abortion and other healthcare rights back to the states, which will have an avalanche of consequences, including the return of back-alley abortions, and an elimination of privacy for everyone. It also, effectively, makes travel even through a state with outlawed abortion a non-option for millions of young women, as even travel through will be subject to criminal proceedings should a woman later terminate a pregnancy that was merely conceived in the state, in passing. Here is a link to that article; if you need to go read it, we’ll be here waiting when you’re done: LINK.

There is little less in this world quite as grotesque as the actions and words of many within hours of the publication of that article. I am sure more will come.

If I were to include an incomplete list, it would include:

1. Men, like Congressional Representative Eric Swalwell, making this into being about him:

2. Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and the DNC/Joe Biden fundraising off the issue:

3. People who have been promising to protect women for decades, only to repeatedly fall short of doing so

And the big one:

4. Men who believe they have a right to pontificate on how women are allowed to respond, react, feel, and vote/not vote on this issue

And that is, fundamentally, what I am seeing of the most. Men, and a few women as well, taking to Twitter and Tik Tok, Facebook, Instagram – everywhere really – to pontificate and bluster about how this is the fault of young people who didn’t vote in 2016, or this is the fault of people, especially women, that are critical of Biden and the Democrats now.

The problem with that is that it fails to acknowledge history, and the gift that Democrats have been given over and over again over the last 50 years, only to take that gift for granted, much in the way women are often used and abused and then thrown to the side when no longer needed in every day life.

Even if we just consider the last couple of administrations, since the Supreme Court evidenced itself to be a political body in Bush v Gore, you have to accept that:

-In 2009, Obama had a super majority in the Senate for 5 months. Prior to this, he had campaigned on codifying Roe into law, and yet as soon as elected, his agenda shifted and this no longer became a priority. With that super majority, nothing was done.

-In 2014, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked to retire, and she was either too selfish or senile to oblige. People claim that she wanted to wait until a woman was president, but this foolish viewpoint is a grim statement more (in my view) of why the Supreme Court should not be a lifetime appointment; that an age limit should be enforced.

-In 2019, as highlighted above, Biden campaigned on codifying Roe, much like Obama did. And while he has not been gifted a super majority, his weak leadership has only made the problem worse. When asked to expand the court, he created a commission to study it. After spending our tax dollars to research the issue, the group created a 300+ page document that simply provided a history of the Supreme Court, and issued no recommendation. Since then, the issue has been dropped, mentioned now only in passing when things get bad. Moreover, in fall of 2021, the House passed a bill that would codify Roe into law, and the Senate has remained in gridlock on the issue. Most notable though is that a handful of senators did not even show up to vote on the issue, Biden made no public moves to lead with an iron fist on the issue, and to this day he continues to take zero position in favor of nuking the filibuster – even for a carve out on this singular issue, which they have done before, on military spending.

And these last 24 hours, the people in power have again shown us who they are. Pelosi and Schumer issued perhaps the weakest joint statement they have ever issued; Biden did much of the same today. It was more “let’s wait and see what happens,” as if time is not of the essence in this issue, as if the clock is not about to strike midnight. Fundraising, because women’s rights are a big money maker; and moving on to their agenda for the day of passing more money for Ukraine.

In the end, the military and the economy is really what this is all about anyway. If women continue to stop having babies, the economy cannot grow. Right?

But all of that is neither here nor there, in the final analysis. The damage to this point is done, and now it is only a matter of time before women in this country are subjugated in ways we never even believed could happen. Interestingly, over the decades, abortion statistics have remained static, through illegal and legal times. The only difference, fundamentally, has been whether or not they are safe.

Then again, were we the ones foolish and senile on this issue? The people in power in this country – the elite oligarchy of Democrats and Republicans, and a handful of progressives who still have more cash on hand than the rest of us – have systematically shown women what they think of us for a long time. There is no universal childcare. No equal pay, truly so. No paid family leave. Women’s healthcare has been on the downslide for decades, with abortion being the final nail in the coffin.

And it’s more than that. It’s the rise in toxic masculinity that is pervasive to daily life. It’s people saying they don’t want to wear a mask to protect others because it makes them feel “weak,” and “feminine” to care about others, have compassion and express feelings like kindness. It’s feeling threatened when a strong or intelligent woman enters the chat. It’s being a woman and calling the cable company, only to have them ask if they can speak to your husband. It is exhausting to be a woman in America today, this decision by the Supreme Court is more of the same.

It’s a country of men mansplaining to women how they are allowed to feel and react, and – again – how to vote or not vote in reaction to their fundamental right to choose being taken away.

Please stop making Roe about you. Please stop posting your hot takes, turning it into your own issues, using it as a fundraising tool, and telling women their frustration with their supposed-allies is invalid. Even if you are an older women, consider that this only symbolically affects you. For young women – women under 50 all over this country – the stakes are much more dire; for you it’s posters and cries to resist, for them it’s life, death, and back alley abortions.

Consider this: when you tell a young woman who is now faced with the consequences of the world created for them, a woman who has to plan travel around not even going through states that outlaw abortion (unless they want to later on face possible criminal proceedings)… when you tell them that they cannot vote how they want, feel how they want, or react how they deem appropriate, because the Democrats said so and the two party system is just what we have:

You are doing the same thing that the Supreme Court did by voting to overturn Roe and Casey.

You are taking away a young woman’s autonomy. You are deciding for her what she is allowed to think, feel, and do.

Please stop making Roe about you.

The Newsletter: Issue #8

Well anyway, we are getting settled in our new home. I hesitate to call it a home, because when you do that you get attached and if I learned one thing at our old place it’s: do not get attached. Nevertheless, we are settling in at least for now. We aren’t sure how long we’re going to stay here, but we’re making it work in the meantime.

World’s still gone crazy while my move was going on, so let’s get to it.

Around the World

Okay folks, so y’all decided to fuck around with loosening of COVID precautions, and now we are all going to find out.

Cases in other places of the world – in particular Southeast Asia, Europe, England and Scotland, and Canada – with the new sub variant of Omicron BA 2 are exploding, but what is particularly alarming to me (beyond the US again thinking we’ll go by unscathed) is that hospitalizations in some of those countries are at their highest points of the last two years. This is not good. With symptoms more severe than Omi 1, absolutely no prior infection with Omi offering protection, an R0 estimated by some between 22 and 38… and no one – and I mean no one – giving a literal shit whatsoever about any of us… welp friends…

What’s so chilling for me is that corporations and the political elite have completely ripped off the veil. Like really, they have shown all the cards in their hand. They do not give a fuck about any of us. At all. They have the tools, so now fuck all of us. Eat Lord Omi and die, right?

Not this lady, if I can help it. I hope you all are taking adequate protections too.

The other thing going on still, obviously, is the situation with Ukraine and Russia, but there are two things about that I would like to highlight:

First is that the Democratic Party has failed to fund COVID, has failed to secure any social programs – including the continuation of the Child Tax Credit, failed to fulfill campaign promises (in particular that student loan forgiveness one), and has, for the most part, failed to adequately protect us from whatever COVID had to offer… but now they’re all contemptuous of us all for (rightfully) asking just what in the fuck they’re doing for us, while they send literally billions in aid over to Ukraine.

This is and has always been my problem with the Democratic Party: they are elected to do very clear and specific things, and they instead do what they want (which also happens to not be those specific things). They were elected to deal with COVID, provide the working class a better quality of life, and address voting rights and systemic racism. Instead it’s economy, police budgets, and military spending that comprises more than 50% of the entire fiscal year budget.

Think about that for a second. 56% of the budget is for military drones and soldiers to fly around in jet packs. The other day, whatever dumbass is running Biden’s Twitter account tweeted something about how his father always said that to know a man’s priorities, look at his budget. Fucking shooting people and playing big dick around the world as a military superpower appears to be this administration’s priority. The people? Fuck us.

Now I suppose I need to preface this by saying that I totally and completely support helping Ukraine and, by extension, keeping America safe. Putin is a monster, and the war was totally unjustified (in my opinion all war is – for the most part – unjustified); and we are in a pretty scary moment of world history, what with fascism rising all over the world. Nevertheless, it is fair to ask why the American people are being asked to sacrifice, struggle, deal with rising prices brought on by sanctions, and watch billions and billions of our tax dollars being sent overseas, when we can’t even get any fucking healthcare. My daughter needs an MRI on her knees right now, and our share of cost on our insurance (that we pay $1300 a month in premiums for) is 7% of our monthly take home pay. So sure… do all your military spending and big dick drones and jet packs and shit… but can you throw us a fucking bone too? Anyone?

To make matters on this worse: today, a study showed that the sanctions have actually not even done anything to harm the relationships between Russians and Putin. In fact, in his closest circle (the oligarchs)… it strengthened their ties to the country and that fascist fuck. So basically bread and pasta now costs half your paycheck, and you have to wonder how to drive to work tomorrow amidst soaring gas prices from gas and oil company CEOs taking advantage of the situation to make a profit… welp, for nothing.

Well done Dems. Well done. Now, thanks to this incompetence and corruption, the entire world is staring down the barrel of Trump outpolling Biden in 2024 by 6 points. Well. Fucking. Done.

Around My World

Over the years, I have gotten so many requests from people for merch. You guys know what I’m talking about; if you’re reading this, you may even have been one of the people to ask. I’m not talking about merchandise that has something dumb, like my name or my photo; rather has all the dumb shit I say.

So in a couple of weeks I’ll be launching a shop where you can get all of those things on t-shirts and masks and mugs and such. If you have requests, put them in. Here is my favorite one related to the pandemic (but point of clarification: they are not all related to the pandemic):

Other than that, you guys know I turn forty this month. 15 days. I’m staring at it with bags under my eyes and creaks in my bones. Like literally, every year I get more creaky; today I was walking up the stairs and my knees sounded like a bowl of Rice Krispies. TikTok says I look like a teenager, so I guess I have that going for me. Whatever the case may be: it’s coming, and it’s coming fast.

My kids and now my mom keep asking what I want to do for my birthday. Thinking about it is exhausting; but also, all of their ideas kind of don’t sound very fun. Fundamentally, I’ve been a student in higher education for so long that I’ve not really taken any time to identify with my interests beyond that and being a mom for decades. Now that I’m no longer a student, and I’m just a mom, I still need time to figure out what I really am… in to? I just don’t see figuring all of that out in two week’s time.

You Can’t Unsee This

So we live in a duplex. The lady that is attached to ours is a crazy ass bitch; like not a good crazy bitch – like “you crazy bitch get over here and do shots with me.” Like this bitch is so crazy we bought an outdoor security system and named the camera for the front door after her: Christine Watch.

On the other side of our front door, though, is another front door that we share the walkway with. This couple lives in Texas for most of the year, but uses the house when they come to visit their adult daughters. These people are the squarest fucking people I have ever met. The husband’s name is Bert, and I’m pretty sure this guy invented high wasted khaki pants for men. Not even joking.

Bert and Betty’s house had water damage to it, and they’re doing all kinds of mold remediation and renovating as a result. So today the French doors were open and these guys were pulling up the flooring, and I look out my window to see into their courtyard (because the doors are open), and what do I see other than a life-size statue of a fucking samurai.

So Bert in his high wasted khaki flood pants, and Betty with her weekly trips to Applebees with the girls, who live in Texas and only live here (here: a gated community in the town that invented the Karen) when visiting their adult daughters, have a life-sized samurai staring at them from their courtyard in the middle of their duplex. Don’t get me wrong, I think the samurai is really cool. But it doesn’t fit their quilts and mallard duck nicknacks aesthetic, if you know what I mean.

This place gets stranger by the day.

STFU Fridays

Today’s STFU Friday is a little tangential; nevertheless, it’s something that’s been bothering me. People that refer to Trump as “tfg.”

I’m sure many of you are among them. Maybe this is the final straw for you and I, and to that I bid you adieu.

Honestly, though, what is the deal? Is it that you have some sort of PTSD when you hear his name? Is it that you don’t want to give him any more airtime? What is it?

“TFG,” which – for those that didn’t know – is what many people colloquially refer to Trump as, ie “the former guy,” is such a bizarre trend. I get that it’s playing allegiance to Biden, who refers to him as “the former guy,” and so in that sense it’s a cute little Biden fan club thing, but FUCK THAT, you guys.

First of all, I can see that it’s a part of not wanting to give that deranged Cheetoh in a toupee any more airtime, but y’all are failing whether you call him “Trump,” “tfg,” or “Almighty Orange One.” The point is that talking about him but changing what you refer to him as does not change the fact that you are still fucking talking about him, and honestly – really – it’s time to stop. I see all these Biden Stan accounts on Twitter that are fan-girling the President so hard, but at the same time they are bitching and griping about Trump like he’s still in fucking office. He’s not. He lost. I don’t care if he thinks he won; he lost. Focus on the people in power, holding them accountable, and making sure they don’t fuck up (which they are doing while y’all still bitch about Trump).

This is why you are giving Trump exactly what he wants: no matter what you call him, you’re still talking about him. Just. STAHP.

And anyway, it’s not like he’s some super villain with magic powers who grows more powerful the more you say his name. This isn’t Peter Pan where you have to say you believe in fairies for them to be real, and for Tinkerbell to survive. Literally Trump is real whether you say his name or call him The Goya Buttplug Salesman. The more y’all act like calling him tfg will change the very real and certain danger he poses to all of us, the more of a danger he becomes because you are missing the point, and being distracted with stupid, pedantic nonsense.

There’s also this sort of collective trauma I’ve noticed, where we’re all just supposed to be so grateful that he’s not president anymore, that any time anyone points out a failure or flaw in Biden’s policy, or the Democrats at large, a whole slew of “Vote Blue No Matter Who” bros come out of the woodwork, and say dumb shit like “at least he’s not tfg.” Yeah, no shit Debra, we fucking voted for him to not be like Trump, so maybe it’s time to start calling people by their actual names and holding all of them fucking accountable for what they’ve done these last several years.

I don’t know maybe try that.

So to them, the Biden Stans, the hardcore Dems, the people that think saying his name will somehow give him more power… I have to say grow up, and shut the fuck up.

Unhoused

I remember it like it was yesterday. My kids were at a tennis clinic at one of the local clubs. They had played there for years; and while we never joined as members, the club was making a cool $650 a month from us in lessons, clinics, and other fees, spread out between my two, oldest kids. 

Two, older gentlemen walked out of the clubhouse, and found a seat to watch their grandkids play in the clinic. I continued to sit there, reading my book while I waited for my girls; but immediately got distracted when one of them took a phone call, and afterwards said “well, that was one of my renters …his roommate moved out and he needs help finding a new one to cover all the costs. He’s been good to the place, so I’ll help him until then. He’s not like the others.”

“Oh, don’t get me started on renters. We just had to evict an old bitch after learning she had filed for bankruptcy,” the other man said to him. 

“She keep paying?”

“Yeah but you know we don’t want those problems. You know renters. They’re all scum.”

Renter Scum

As of 2019, just over 45% of Californians identified as either renters or homeless. This group – representing nearly half of all Californians in a state of nearly 40 million people – is seen by at least a fair number of the other half as “all scum.”

A renter myself, I’ve seen it – the so-called scum – over the years; the vast majority have been people like us – young, middle class families with not a large enough income, or interest (or, in our case: both) to buy. Others among the lower class: seniors on a fixed income, people that fell down on their luck or who never had luck to begin with. Naturally there are the occasional bad renters  you hear about – that trash the apartment, leaving holes in the walls and meth in the carpets. But for every bad renter story I’ve heard or seen, I’ve come across probably ten times as many who were just average people, trying to get by.

To be honest, in my 20 years as a renter, I can actually only think of one renter I knew of that I would call “bad.” On the contrary, it’s usually the landlords that are the bad ones.

A friend of mine, whose name would be best not to share for fear of retaliation to her, has run the gamut of horrific renter stories over the years. This isn’t to say she, as a landlord, had terrible renters; it’s in her own experiences renting from others that have been the stuff of nightmares. As recently as last Thanksgiving, she told me about her landlord refusing to allow her to use the kitchen in the home in which she rents a room. Today, she tells me it’s been months since she’s been allowed to use the kitchen. Her landlord routinely bullies her, makes fun of her with other family members to her face; and on at least one occasion has had the rent arbitrarily raised mid-term, in spite of an existing and legally enforceable verbal contract.

In my own recent experience as a renter, we’ve had our own fair share of being treated like “renter scum.” Most often, it’s been at the hands of predatory property management companies – like the one we just left; or by slumlord owners that believe they have no obligation to provide a livable environment. Between the last two homes we have lived in (the one we just left, and the one we live in now) we have had untreated rats in the attic, an oven that did not work for a whopping 3&1/2 months, sewage spraying out of the toilet and into my 5 year old’s mouth, faulty electrical wiring leaving us with less than 50% of working electricity in the house for more than a week, and a psychotic neighbor banging on our door in the middle of the day, screaming that my children need to stop playing in their own home.

Of course some will say this comes with the territory of renting, whereas I always thought of renting as being us paying more for the luxury of not having to deal with maintenance and the like. I suppose I was wrong, just as I was incorrect of the old-time idea that you could rent a home and if you treated it well, took care of it as if it was your own, the landlord would let you stay indefinitely – something I learned this year when our lease was terminated so the owner could sell the home while the housing market remained hot. And even under this care and love we treated the home with, we were still treated and considered no better than this colloquially false narrative that all renters are scum.

As you do with so-called scum, the landlord gave us the boot this January, rejecting requests for us to stay through the school year for our kids to remain in the school district; then effectively stole our entire security deposit along nefarious accusations and claims really meant to grift and profit as much as they could from us until the bitter end.

It became clear to me that we were not getting our deposit back when they accused us of stealing our own refrigerator (they had forgotten that the home rented did not come with one). As if this were not enough, we were then expected to repair minor cosmetic issues that fell under standard “wear and tear” clauses of California tenant protection laws. Minor scuffs to the floor boards, and regrouting due to the discoloration that comes with a home over 30 years old, was referred to as “abuse.” They charged us twice for cleaning the same areas. Then, they expected us to pay for major renovations to issues that pre-existed our tenancy, to make the home sellable for a higher price.

The most egregious issue – as if accusing us of stealing our own refrigerator was not bad enough – was the laundry closet. The closet, which was situated between the door from the garage to the home and the half bathroom, needed major renovations to make the house ready to sell. This had nothing to do with us; as I said, it was an issue that pre-existed our tenancy, and which we lived with for all those years. The washer and dryer that the landlord had put in prior to us moving in – back in 2016 – were just too large for the closet. Quickly this was discovered when the gas line broke because of this miscalculation in size, and toxic gas and exhaust leaked into the house – threatening to kill my family of 6 (myself, my husband, my elderly father, and our three children). The immediate response at the time by the landlord was to repair the exhaust pipes and gas line, and to then remove the doors from the closet. We put up a nice curtain, and lived with this situation for more than 5 years, only for the landlord to then expect us to pay to completely re-design the laundry room and plumbing so the doors could be put back on for the sale of the home after we left. 

And what recourse did we have to any of this in the end? Hire an attorney with all that savings we were forced to spend to move? Take them to small claims court, full knowing that the landlord was a retired attorney himself? As most renters do, we cut our losses and figured there’s little we can do.

This class war in California between renters and owners has developed into a crisis of apocalyptic proportions. It is like the Battle for Helm’s deep in Lord of the Rings: on one side are the unrelenting and opportunistic orcs (slumlords); on the other, everything that comprises Middle Earth (renters – the middle and working classes) just living their lives, many there for different reasons, being attacked. The pejorative attitude that anyone not in the position of owning a home is scum is so pervasive to our culture and our leadership, that it’s made its way into public policy, profoundly impacting markets, cost of living, quality of life, and a host of other issues – including homelessness. This is to say that, as I see it, homelessness is not as simple as someone being sick or an addict, rather the unhoused are a nuanced group of people that have little to no control over their living situation, even in the best of circumstances.

The Truly Unhoused

Unhoused is a term now frequently used to describe people that are experiencing homelessness in an effort to be more sensitive to a group of people that find themselves on the streets, in encampments, in shelters, or in their minivans. And yet, it is worth considering, that anyone not owning a home in California (or anywhere, for that matter) is – at least technically – unhoused, or on the verge of being so.

One of those was in the case of a local journalist – local to my community – who, only after he moved across the country, made public the fact that the cost of living, coupled with the stagnant wages and grim conditions of local journalism, led him to choose to live in his Ford Econoline 250 for two years. In this poignant and brutally honest piece, he says: “I’m one of the thousands of people who have responded to the challenge of living in 21st century America by choosing to become houseless;” and this is where the nuance of dealing with homelessness, and the class war between owners and landlords, must recognize that the issue is not solely one of mental illness or addiction, or of all renters being scum.

And in fact, one study out of Los Angeles – the epicenter of California’s homelessness crisis – found that roughly 30% of people living on the streets were suffering from serious mental illness or addiction. And while this figure is striking, and creates a call to action for leaders across the state that is quickly looking to become this year’s hot button election issue, it largely perpetuates a co-narrative to “renters are all scum,” that being that “homeless are all mentally ill.”

But what about that 70%?

Made up of people like the journalist mentioned above, Ian Bradley; hundreds of thousands of seniors couch-surfing while waiting on years-long Section 8 waiting lists, people that simply fell down on their luck over the years, and so on…the list of nuance that makes up that 70% is long. And yet when we see people living out of a tent, or a trailer, we immediately peg them as sick, when the truth is: it is our social structure, dirty politics, and unchecked capitalism, that is the problem.

The Money

Of course everyone knows that California’s cost of living is exponentially higher than most other areas of the country, but – again – the nuance of it is what largely goes unseen.

This is because what makes the cost of living so difficult in the state is that (1) wages have not kept up with increases in cost of living, causing more Californians to fall into poverty now than at any other point in California’s history, (2) supply and demand of housing have been bottlenecked by special interests and paid-off local elected officials, and (3) opportunistic slumlords have been allowed to abuse tenants for far too long, making it virtually impossible for tenants to ever better themselves, always finding themselves stuck in the cycle of moving expenses and lost security deposits.

Cal Matters reported last year that roughly 7.1 million Californians are now living in poverty as a direct result of the cost of living. This is a staggering 18% of the state’s population, and it has certainly only worsened through the course of the ongoing pandemic. To make matters worse, 56% of Californians spend more than half their paychecks on rent, alone; with the average housing price in the state coming in at 7 times what the average resident of the state earns.

Simply put, the cost of living has far outpaced in growth the average incomes in California. The state has the highest level of poverty in the nation, and the second-highest level of homelessness; both of these figures, though, are attenuated to wages as compared to cost of living. This is to say that while incomes are generally higher in California, because living costs disproportionately more, poverty is a condition presented to a far larger group of people simply because everything costs so much. 

Pre-pandemic, roughly one-third of Californians lived at or below the poverty line. Today, more than one-third of Californians make $15 an hour or less – a wage that may seem high to people in other parts of the country, though is abysmal when considering that our cost of living is between 4 and 12% higher than any other state in the nation. In my own county, ranked as one of the least affordable rental markets in California, renting a two bedroom apartment comes in averaging $38/hour, meaning that a minimum of 2.8 jobs is required to just meet that need. The city from which I just moved? The average job makes minimum wage, while the average home price now tops $800,000.

Wages of course haven’t done anything to impact the housing market. The rising cost of living is no problem for people that have the security of a fixed mortgage, or an investment that pays for itself. With 55% of Californians owning at least one home, the rest are owned by private investors, property management companies, and big corporations looking to make money off the misfortunes of others. Home owners and investors, alike, have only made the problem worse by playing games flipping homes for profit, while at the same time influencing public policy to shackle developments from driving down rents by creating a more competitive market for renters.

Just over half the state making life increasingly more difficult for the other half.

And again, the pandemic only accentuated this problem, with the working class suffering catastrophic wage losses, household wage earners dying from COVID, and upper-middle and upper class workers fanning out away from urban areas, gobbling up properties with their newfound ability to work remotely. And yet policy has not effectively caught up with this apocalyptic crisis at the speed with which it needs to fix the problem. 

California’s Housing Apocalypse

As many have astutely pointed out: California is not in a housing crisis, we are in a housing apocalypse. The issue is not as simple as one issue, it is many. While many reporters have argued against conflating them all, I argue that conflation of them is critical to understand how they beget each other, and how it has reached apocalyptic proportions. More than 150,000 unhoused individuals living in tents on sidewalks is in large part due to the general unavailability of adequate housing per capita. Similarly, the cyclical de-evolution of millions of Californians falling into dire straights and eventual poverty is a result of the unmediated cost of living, stagnant wage policy, and a predatory property management and real estate market.

My friend Jordon, over at the 805UncensoredPodcast – a renter himself – is more optimistic than I am on solutions to this catastrophe, which he acknowledges average voters probably are not very well versed on. Among his most promising ideas to at least partially solve the crisis is that California, or its municipalities, universally adopt a UBI, or Universal Basic Income. Some cities in the state have already started pilot programs like this, and it’s worth considering that the Child Tax Credit in 2021 was something of a UBI – all of which irrefutably proved successful in lifting people out of poverty to give them the means to then address their own, personal housing challenges. And yet, special interests and petty politics has all-but destroyed the promises those 2021 programs offered.

Another solution Jordon and I discussed recently was the YIMBY-California group’s advocacy towards a massive influx of new housing being the solution to the crisis. Another couple friends, Max, Jackson, and Rebecca, over at my local branch of YIMBY have been staunch advocates of massive housing builds around our county, and in fact the group endorsed my candidacy for city council. So I was already familiar with their mission when our own tenancy was terminated, at which time I learned first hand just to what extent housing is urgently needed, and yet at the same time criminally being bottlenecked by local politicians and homeowners.

Around the time we started looking, California State Senator Scott Wiener posted a graphic to Twitter citing Ventura County (the county in which I live) as the second worst county in California for seeking a rental, with 1 unit listed for every 1,358 families. Within days of looking, the aspect of competition became evident, as did the fact that many landlords were taking things into their own hands – legal, or not; including encouraging deposit bidding wars and outright discrimination. For some properties, we found ourselves competing against 40 or 50 other families, and people offering 6 times the legal limit in a security deposit. On this, we could not compete.  

Of course my friends over at YIMBY, like Jordon at 805UncensoredPodcast, are far more optimistic than I am on legislative and policy decisions solving the housing unit availability issue.

For my own part, I again boil this down to election reform, including in the area of campaign finance. In my own election, when I broke down my opponent’s largest donors, they were largely made up of property managers, realtors, and landlords. These are the people that are driving public policy at the most local level, which impacts our lives in the immediate term. Of course those entities are going to want local politicians to bottleneck and slow walk developments – it keeps them in the position to subjugate the renter class, and profit off the misfortunes of the 45%. Even when the state steps in with legislation like 2021’s SB8 and 9, unchecked and corrupt local politicians are still able to shackle those statewide policies with local moratoriums – something that happened in the city from which I just moved, and which directly contributed to the personal housing crisis my family is in today.

Whatever the solution, or solutions, ultimately may be in the end, it is a matter of fact that the problem is to the extent of apocalyptic proportions. And what do we know about an apocalypse more than the fact that it is the utter end, the total destruction, the denouement of society as we know it? Some argue that American society is falling apart because of partisanship, terrorism, the pandemic… I believe it’s actually in California’s Housing Apocalypse that the end is nigh. The unhoused in California is a broad group of many people, in many situations and living under many different types of roofs; and the situation for them is unsustainable. When it crumbles, the ripple around the country will be unavoidable.

Part 5: The Infection Was Initially Mild

Welcome to the 5th part of my 5 Part Series: The Infection Was Initially Mild: My Small Town City Council Run, the Toxic American Pandemic Response, and What Both Mean For the Future Of the Country. 

You can also read the entire series now, download it in entirety in PDF format, catch the disclaimers in the Introduction, listen to it on Text to Speech (I have to warn you it’s a little awkward), or watch the Text to Speech on YouTube.

Also, more resources, videos, updates, and Pay What It’s Worth links can be found there too!

CLICK HERE for The Infection Was Initially Mild Landing Page

So this is the thing about politics: the wound started out incredibly small. The infection was initially mild. 

The coronavirus pandemic, and everything that came with it, quickly put on display everything that is wrong with this country. Our politics are too local. Our response is too rooted in money. Personality has become too much a part of policy making. Messaging  – not policy, or simply right or wrong – is a make or break tool, which is absurd when you really get down to it. What begins as something minor can explode into a big problem, a crisis, in a matter of just days. This is exactly what has happened.

Politicians on every level showed themselves to be incapable of handling the crisis before them. On my city council, we had so many people that couldn’t see past years of just saying what sounded best; and they failed to anticipate that this would result in a rapid erosion of trust in the community. 

When COVID first hit the United States, two of the residents of our city were on that first cruise that returned with the illness. The patients – Patients 0 and 1 for our community – were ill for a week or more before they were even tested. When we all finally found out that they had, in fact, come back with SARS-COV2, naturally the public had questions. I asked several of our city council members if we knew the locations the people had been: when I come home from a vacation, I’ll do things like take an Uber, go grocery shopping, if we came down with a cold or flu we’d go to the pharmacy. One city councilmember replied to me “well we should hope that the community helped them get what they needed so they could isolate.” Except they didn’t even know they had COVID yet, and so the trust began to erode in those earliest days for many of us. Unfortunately, and on every level, it didn’t take long before it was all lost. 

My city council race was nothing particularly unique; in fact, it was exactly what every other race in America is like. It is exactly what the future of America may end up being. People that run for water boards and school boards today get into the same type of toxic political wielding that the president does. We would be foolish to believe this is not intentional.

In fact, I know it is; as do many within the upper echelons of the two, major political parties. When I was interning at the end of my undergraduate degree, I went to the California Democratic Party’s annual convention in Sacramento as the denouement of my internship. I still vividly remember meeting with my academic advisor afterwards where I described to him the talk I attended by some group presenting what they called The Red Takeover. This was the Republican Party’s plan to takeover American politics by filling in every non partisan seat they could with party line favorites. It didn’t even matter if the people were qualified or had experience in government or public policy; all that mattered was that they were allegiant to the party and its ideologies, at all costs. My advisor’s face filled with horror as we talked about this, and – as idealistic as every other college student – I giggled and said “but that’ll never happen.” 

At the retirement community’s candidate’s event – the one where the moderator was an ardent supporter of my opponent – one question came up about what our political affiliations were. A non partisan seat in name only, it was still well known that he and I had both taken Party endorsements, and yet he had claimed on his campaign signs to be Independent, so someone was trying to draw out of him the truth. In his answer, he admitted his allegiance to the right-wing faction of the GOP, and then went on in a whisper of a voice, leaning in to the microphone, about how the thing to remember about me – me, remember he was campaigning on not being me, rather than his own merits – was that the Democrats had an insidious plot to install puppets in non partisan seats all over the country. Projecting as many good Republicans do, he slithered this accusation into the microphone, while I realized that he was also probably right. Not that I was some Blue puppet going to takeover the council with the Democrats’ agenda. But the plot he described was quite clearly real overall. It was over 15 years ago that I saw that presentation at the California Democratic Party’s convention, and the truth was that I had left halfway through it. I didn’t even stay to hear the part I should have stayed to hear: that the Democrats were planning to align their strategy with the Republican’s, to fight fire with fire. They both planned to do it, and today it appears that they’ve been successful.

This, surely, is how in my own city we could have a nurse sitting on the city council, in the middle of a pandemic, doing absolutely nothing for public health and nurses. When the nurse’s union approached me about an endorsement, it was mainly to air grievances about how they did not feel protected while working in our community when a secondcity council member (my opponent) sits or sat on the board of the local healthcare district. After the election, this clear preference to party politics and staying in office superseded what was right – with the pandemic, as well as a host of other measures that came before the city council that would impact the quality of life, health, and safety of our residents. With all of them, and not just in this city council. Once it became so evident to me that all of our non-partisan seats were simply puppets installed with wads of cash and a familiar name, it was easy to identify just who landed on which side, and why so much had gone wrong.

This isn’t to say that there’s anything particularly wrong with people choosing a side – so to speak – and then running for office. It’s what I did. But they have to be allowed to deviate from the Party on certain issues, and there still has to be some core aspect of them that is fundamentally qualified to lead independently. This, I feel, is like antibiotics to an infection that left otherwise alone would become deadly. 

Instead of this though, what has happened, is that Party leaders have taken up the practice of handpicking who will run; they groom their candidates. This happens in big Party leadership – where the Party decides and elevates high profile figures to run for big ticket offices. And it happens, probably more prevalently and dangerously, in local political party-affiliated groups. People in my community have handpicked and installed – either by genuine and well funded elections, or by appointment after someone retires mid-term or dies – a handful of puppets to take seats they are otherwise not qualified for. 

This has only been made worse with the rise of influence of social media, and culture wars stoked by both Parties meant to politicize otherwise non-politically divisive issues. Examples of this would be masks in schools and what textbooks are used to teach middle schoolers sex education or history. Critical Race Theory, Black lives matter, and the concept of systemic racism. False flag and rallying around a cause have always been used as political rhetorical devices, but thanks to class Party politics and growing divisions, stoking the flames of these cultural divisions only stands to make it all the more easy for political parties to hijack these hot button issues to win non partisan elections. Even though none of them truly believe in any of it. 

How this relates to a real crisis – be it the pandemic, or something more long term like homelessness – is that then you have these bodies in place of leaders that are simply ill-equipped to handle what’s been put before them. 

These people, these political drones that run on slogans and pep rallies, are so tuned in to suiting only the interests of their donors and their ideologies, that this is how they approach a crisis that affects everyone. With the pandemic, we saw it on the local county and city level with small businesses. Small businesses make up such a large percentage of campaign contributors in my community that this became the default beneficiary of CAREs funding when it was time to doll that out. In a public health crisis, public health was a mere afterthought; county supervisors were mostly concerned with when weddings would again be allowed, and how soon the malls could be back to full capacity. FEMA-funded programs, like meals for seniors and free hotels for COVID positive isolations, quickly were shut down the first chance they could as well, because while seniors were still hungry and people in multigenerational households still had a hard time isolating from vulnerable family members, the interests of restaurant and hotel owners came first. As things began to open up, community leaders branded those that still stayed home as selfish and hurting small business. This is how far afield we’ve gone in our thinking: that as community members, if we don’t support their donors, as we support them, we are in the wrong. 

Moreover, it’s become even more evident over the years that on some level, many of the people both in elected and appointed office don’t even believe in the principles on which America was founded. 

The GOP so clearly does not believe in representative democracy; while the Democrats have stopped pandering to the idea that there is such a thing as a social contract. Now in office for over a year, some interviews of White House staff and advisors include comments from these people outright saying as such. And in local Democratic groups and more Conservative organizations just the same? Talk to any of them and they don’t even know what a social contract is. If the two political parties do not even believe on some level in the government they are elected to run, what – really – is left? When we entrust them with our lives, as the social contract dictates, and they in turn do not even attempt to keep up their end of the bargain, we know that America’s disease has raged so far beyond a point, it may not be possible to bring it back from the brink. 

Perhaps the evidence of just how deadly our infection in American politics truly is can be found in the politicization of the pandemic response. When I say this though I don’t mean things like “masks are for Democrats,” or “Republicans are antivaxxers.” Beyond the fact that statistically speaking, neither of those is an entirely true statement, rather the issue of each is nuanced and rooted in a variety of issues (some political, while others socio-economic and racial), those are not the real sentiments that have politicized the pandemic. 

It’s been in how decisions at all levels of government have been made.

At some point, it became evident that pandemic policy was going to be dictated not by what was right or wrong, but how people would react. This alone is the very definition of politicization. Mask policies were not a blue state or red state thing, rather an issue of whether or not polls came back stating people would wear them or thought they were useful. Critical voter blocks were polled, rather than scientists and doctors. Mandates for vaccines or vaccine verification were made, or not made, on Party line philosophies, as well – not on the truly empirical evidence that showed the efficacy of vaccines (the shots, not the mandates). 

My problem as a candidate, and an organizer and advocate since, is that I have failed to jump in on that Party line. In return, I’m accused of being everything: a socialist, a communist, a radical, an idiot, an anti-vaxxer, a conspirator, a Trump apologist, a CCP agent, a demon sent from hell to inject people with COVID vaccine. Everything. My status as just as much not a puppet for the Democratic Party as not a puppet for the GOP became clear to many of them when, quite some time after the election, I criticized a decision of Joe Biden’s on Twitter. Suddenly I was seen as a liability to the Democrats, too “progressive” in my thinking. Some thought it was a sign I was a Republican plant (I can assure you all, I am not that interesting). It really doesn’t matter in the end who I was with, though; the point was that I was not blindly allegiant to any of them, which we see now – on both sides – gets you kicked out. And this is the real crux of the argument: the Democrats and the Republicans are just one club of infected political ideologues. Blue MAGA, Red MAGA – both are fundamentally MAGA.

And as Carlin says: “it’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.”

The truth is, I advocate for what I think is right. I really, and truly, believe simply in improving our material conditions and quality of life. I really, and truly, believe this can be done from the standpoint of public health. At the end of the day, almost all things can lead you down that road. Typically, I can argue for this from the perspective of facts and reason; unfortunately, though, those are two things that come as a threat to those unable to easily use them when those very things confront the sycophantic drones of either Party. 

When I was running for city council, early on, another candidate who was deep into the local Democratic Party contacted me to lecture me about FEC laws and my campaign materials. In it she offered to bring another Dem Party “insider” to help me out. Having worked on so many campaigns in my life, as well as for the labor unions, I knew how it all worked already. Should I have been insulted that she didn’t know this? Maybe, but then I didn’t have time to be offended. The truth is, I barely had the time to run the campaign, let alone do that and play extraneous personality politics. I thanked her and politely mentioned that I was aware so wouldn’t need the help. Perhaps that was my mistake; but with the little time I had to run my city council campaign, I didn’t prioritize humoring local political party “insiders” (if you can call them that) on my schedule. 

I rarely heard from any of the local Democrats again after that. So I stopped worrying much about what they thought, stayed true to myself, and in turn got into a lot of trouble with the locals. 

When a local mom blogger, who is in local politics insofar as she’s on committees but is too narcissistic and unhinged for me to pay much attention to, was drunk-posting on Facebook about another mom not tipping enough to her Instacart driver, I commented “maybe she simply didn’t have the money but still needed the service? Could she be COVID positive?” This became her rallying cry to consider me the loose cannon that other Democrats had “warned” her about. She’s had a target on my back since.

But those were more personality politics than they were policy politics. Of course on those I got into trouble too.

When locals that had called on the community to stay home, social distance, and do the right thing all along, were suddenly having parties, going to work sick, and bragging about going into stores mask-less because they had been vaccinated, while children out in the community still were not, I called them out and asked them to please hold the line to protect kids. 

Another rallying cry.

I wrote our city council, asking them why they broke from the state’s mask guidance, making masks optional even as children in our community were being hospitalized from COVID. Later, I wrote them again, begging them to have mobile vaccination clinics at community events. When they didn’t respond to either, I called them out in the local paper.

Another rallying cry.

When Democrats and Republicans alike started to back further into their corners, openly suggesting retaliation towards their political opponents on school boards and neighborhood councils (one even suggesting that a school board member be evicted from her home so she could no longer represent the district, something that has since initially writing this happened to me and my family), I spoke up. 

Another rallying cry. 

Ultimately, I’m just a mom. I write. I post on my blog. I take graduate courses. I advocate for others. I spend a lot of time talking to people that are in the community that want better material conditions. And I spend the bulk of my days just being with my kids. 

On the campaign, and every day since, I have come into contact with so many people just like me. Many volunteered for my campaign, many have continued to contact me to this day. Just average people sick of the disease that is running our community; sick of the infection that runs unabated in city hall and beyond.  

The infection was initially mild. It was a wild plot to takeover America, but that nobody ever thought would happen. It was some infighting in just one, toxic Congressional district. It was one, unqualified Party favorite council member, on a board of otherwise entirely qualified and impartial individuals.  

Today it is all of them. It is all of them, and they are in control of everything. 

As time goes on since my failed bid for city council, I’ve become more worried about both my community, and America on the whole. It would be one thing if this was just isolated. But quite clearly, it is not. Politics has always been cutthroat and nasty, always in the state of nature; but never has it been so toxic that the host body joins the mild infection in destroying everything in its path – friend or foe.

The solution, of course, is that we inject the body politic with massive amounts of medication – antibiotics, steroids, anti-inflammatories; the works. 

We reform elections so that money becomes less of a driving factor, so that lobbyists cannot control so much of our public policy. Who reforms elections is as important as the reforms themselves, though; reform must be done by the voters. Not the mom bloggers, committee members, and each board or council doing it their own way, but the voters. All of them. Universally. 

We take limits a step further than number of terms, and apply them to election spending. We publish campaign contributions for each candidate in the election pamphlets that come with the ballots. Because who you elect is never just the personality you click at the polls, it’s everyone that donated to their campaign too.

We hold leaders accountable for their failings. We have more oversight. In a municipal government, we allow voters to take part in appointments and have hiring hearings that the public can view. In higher levels of government, like Congress and the Presidency, we do the same, only more so. 

Perhaps the boldest move would be that we institute ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting, combined with very systemic election reform created by voters (not politicians) would go far to break up the two party system, and level the playing field so that more qualified candidates may come to the surface. 

Because let’s be honest: both the Democrats and Republicans are equally, in their own ways, the source of the infection to begin with. And representative government does not work if the representatives see who they represent by how much money they’ve donated, or don’t believe in the government they’ve taken an oath to uphold.

Doing this, and more, would go far in changing America. In curing the infection, and in restoring us to a place that can do the work of representing people on every level, these reforms must be had to restore integrity. As high as the Presidency, and as low as a sanitation board, if we do not stop this infestation from plaguing us, it’s hard to see how we will come out the other side of it.  

Remember that we can always go back from whence we came. The infection was initially mild. It may never be completely gone, but it can be controlled to be mild again.

Thank you for tuning in to my 5 part series on running for city council in my small town So Cal community. If you feel so inclined, please click the link to PAY WHAT IT’S WORTH. This is so much better of a way to sell my books than to go through the process of publishing them; and it allows me to offer my writing for free to those that haven’t the means.

Part Four: Outspent

Welcome to the 4th part of my 5 Part Series: The Infection Was Initially Mild: My Small Town City Council Run, the Toxic American Pandemic Response, and What Both Mean For the Future Of the Country. 

You can also read the entire series now, download it in entirety in PDF format, catch the disclaimers in the Introduction, listen to it on Text to Speech (I have to warn you it’s a little awkward), or watch the Text to Speech on YouTube.

Also, more resources, videos, updates, and Pay What It’s Worth links can be found there too!

CLICK HERE for The Infection Was Initially Mild Landing Page

Ultimately, in the end, I was outspent. 

Outspent from a monetary standpoint. 

Outspent in political capitol. 

Outspent in will to even win the damn thing. 

That sounds like I gave up, but what really happened was that I realized I could effect much more change simply by speaking up, rather than by being elected. Too many people get elected and it changes them. The reality of their re-election hits them smack in the face at the moment they take their oath of office, and it fundamentally changes who they are. I didn’t want to be changed. I didn’t want to be politicized as an individual in my principles and beliefs – and I saw it becoming more clear that I would have to do that, to compromise my standards in order to win. I chose not to, and suffered the consequence. 

That consequence? I got outspent. 

Of course I pushed on and campaigned to the bitter end. On the weekend before the election, as voting began all over the district, I did another email campaign, text, and phone bank push to every home in the district. With over 70% of ballots that would ultimately be cast already in at that point, this seems like it was all for naught, but – again – in doing this, I was able to still get my message across. While I had the opportunity to lift people’s ear, I did.

That message? To be safe. To wear a mask. Vaccines were coming, when they did arrive, get one as soon as they became eligible. Call me if they needed resources. Call me if they needed an advocate. The election was just weeks before the pandemic was about to get significantly worse, and with clear indication that I was not going to win, I felt an obligation to reach as many people as I could. My opponent, and the entire city and city council for that matter, could not care less if people got sick and died, if the hospitals were overrun, if people lost their homes and starved. Even the nurse. Running for city council, if anything, reminded me that I did not need to be elected to work, organize, and have an impact on my community. 

In the end, though, the will, the way, and the money made sure that do it as a private citizen was the only way I would. 

My will to win faded towards the end of the campaign. Even though, as I said, I fought until the polls closed, I increasingly became concerned about what would happen if I actually did win.

For months, my family endured the type of harassment that I had never witnessed in all of the elections I had worked on before. After college, I worked on a lot of campaigns. Big campaigns, small campaigns; campaigns as a volunteer, as an intern. I worked on campaigns as a full time employee with a big title. Never did I see the type of vitriol and hatred spewed at the direction of a candidate as was spewed in mine. Over a city council seat in a small, suburban community of around 70,000 people. But then social media was not as pervasive to daily life back then. 

The type of comments that were made to me on social media were the stuff of nightmares. People called me innocent things that were easy to  ignore, like “Democratic Socialist,” and at the same time things so horrific and personal, it made my skin crawl.

But the name calling wasn’t the extent of it. I got text messages on my campaign phone telling me I was a “dirty whore,” and that people were coming to get me; my entire family was doxed online in the comments sections of our local newspapers. Strangers knew oddly specific details about our daily lives. On an average day, my kids and I would be heading out the front door in the morning to get to whatever we had going on for the day, to find trash had been thrown at our house. On more than one occasion, we had to call the police because my kids were being followed. 

Of course after the election, I thought all this would abate. It did not. My kids being followed only intensified; trash thrown at my front door became a nightly thing for a while. People texted my old campaign line telling me to “kill” myself. Supporters of my opponent hacked my business social media pages, stole my credit card numbers – you name it, they got ahold of it. 

A few months after the election, I got a text from the organizer of the Democratic mom’s group, calling me a racist because I didn’t support one of the city council members taking a turn as mayor. That council member was white (all of them are); nevertheless, I apologized for any misunderstanding. I was still removed unilaterally by this woman from the group, and she and a couple other Democratic moms began smearing my name in every organization I had been a part of. Even sports groups my kids were in that had nothing to do with politics. Later, I found out that this woman was good friends with my opponent; so much so that they had dinner together on Sundays. Her insistence on not being able to display one of my campaign signs on her lawn – which had no less than ten others on it – suddenly made sense. 

Campaign signs, or rather the replacement of them, ended up being my biggest expense. This was because they were regularly destroyed. Ripped out of the ground, vandalized, and disappearing in the night, this ended up becoming a full time endeavor: replacing the signs, repeatedly. Closer to the election, I just gave up replacing them – having run out of money and the will to keep returning to the same spots day after day to find mine, the only one in the group of all the candidate’s signs, gone. 

When I started out, I had 256 signs around town (on top of the yard sings people had on their own private property) that I had gotten permission to display, along with all the other candidate signs out on these corners. The night of the election, when I went to collect what remained, there were only 12 left.

In my opponent’s first election to the city council, he spent somewhere in the ballpark of $40,000 – most of his own money – to be elected. This was an unfeasible sum to me for a city council district seat that pays around $1500 a month. I could understand wanting to do it for your community, but that sum of money seemed not just ridiculous, but wasteful and suspect. 

Nevertheless, I figured this was what I was going to be up against: somewhere around $40,000, which all of my advisors and campaign volunteers agreed would probably be the sum to beat.

I didn’t have any intention of fundraising to such a degree, nor did I plan to spend that much of my own money in such large sum. But I knew I could get close to 25% of that in contribution and in my own donations, and make a considerable showing in the race. 

What I didn’t anticipate was that my opponent would go above and beyond to the tune of $75,000. Between his own personal loan to his campaign of $15,000, contributions from local business owners, law firms, and land developers, and tens of thousands of dollars from the police (who never even returned my call) and fire fighter’s unions, my opponent simply raised, and subsequently spent, well more than I could have even anticipated someone would spend for a city council seat. 

But it was more complicated than simply dollar-by-dollar campaign spending. At least in my view. 

While my volunteers were largely staying home and keeping safe due to the pandemic, the bulk of his supporters didn’t even believe in COVID and were paid to go out and walk precincts. 

While my fundraisers were held virtually and in an effort to social distance, his were in person, in people’s homes, which you knew had happened because the following day the entire street would be lined with his campaign signs. 

And as it turned out, cronyism had truly taken hold of the community in insidious ways. What I left of politics over a decade prior to the campaign was gone, I returned to a wasteland of toxic identity politics and capitalistic city control. I knew that politics locally were something of a black hole before, but at least then I knew who stood by what principals. Quickly, what remained of my political capitol and these notions as to how things stood was clearly very little. People on all sides politically in our city, and in the county at large, were now on the same side: the financial and political exploitation side. Using power and public office or appointment as a position from which they could fund their own personal, financial endeavors, people had either lined up for their cut, or left politics behind. 

Moreover, I was stunned to see how my own emergence in the political sphere clearly threatened so many people. To this day, I still don’t fully understand why. Fundamentally, I’m a nobody in the grand scheme of things. With a limited budget, and even less of a stakeholder position in the financial underpinnings of the community, I was no more a threat to many of these people than perhaps a gnat. And yet somehow, many people and groups made sure that I was outspent in every way I could be.

When it came time to seek endorsements, as I said, I made sure to align my goal to the organizations that were in line with my agenda. I didn’t want to waste time seeking the endorsement of any old group that came along. Endorsements take time, lobbying, and a lot of effort to secure. It’s paperwork, meetings, interviews – as a candidate, you have to devote some time to them, but you can’t devote all of your time to them. 

The reason why you “have” to? Money. Endorsements traditionally come with a check, both from individuals and groups; more so with the groups. The local Planned Parenthood was quick to cut a check after their endorsement of my campaign, and it was equal to all of the other city council candidates that group endorsed. A few days before the election, the local carpenter’s union came through in the same way. However, every other group that I garnered an endorsement from fell short on the funding of my campaign as compared to other candidates. Maybe they didn’t think my district was winnable, and wanted to spare precious funds for future political activity. But if that were the case, why would my opponent not spare in the same way? Why would he and the police and fire fighters spend tens of thousands of dollars?

Stunning, as time went on, were the comparisons on campaign disclosure forms. The local Democrats would throw me a bone, while other candidates less qualified with less likelihood of winning were given maximum dollar amounts. The women’s group that endorsed my campaign, also funding me far less than other candidates, also forgot to mail my check for a whopping month and a half after it was written. It was almost as if these groups were setting me up to fail, and in such a way that seemed innocent or simply due to incompetence, but when it happened over and over again, the reality that it was probably for intentional reasons became clear.

There came a point that I simply gave up on personal endorsements, which concluded with my endorsement from our Congressional representative. While nice to know that my political capitol with her had not soured over the years, I knew that was about as good as it would get. A lot of others I had worked with, or done organizing in the community alongside over the years, ended up going silent when I asked for them to endorse my campaign. 

Or some, like the fire fighters, simply smiled, said they supported me in idea, but wouldn’t give any official endorsements in any city council race; only to turn around the next day and endorse my opponent, along with writing a check to add to his $75,000 pot. 

Still others were brutally honest and in my face about it. A former county supervisor I had encountered over the years I was working as a community organizer for the labor unions bluntly told me that she would not endorse me because my opponent was also a member of her rotary club. Another, a school board member, said she didn’t want to be embarrassed when she ran into my opponent’s wife at book club. Soon, these same types of excuses came in. “Oh our kids did boy scouts together,” or “you know we go to the same church.” The church was my real downfall, just up the hill from my own home and a centerpiece in our community, he was a staple figure from the years; and I was… well who was I? Not knowing me, many of them deferred to the familiar name, whose wife and adult children were always in tow, while my untraditional Catholic family could never seem to be found, all of them being at work, sports, or still staying home because of the pandemic.

This not knowing me seemed to do me in far more than I realized at the time. Often I would call a voter for them to say at the end of the thirty minute conversation “you know I wish I could vote for you now, but I already sent my ballot in.” Or, “oh well [opponent] was here last Saturday and he helped me fill out my ballot, sorry.” 

In the retirement community that constituted roughly one-third of the district, I realized early on that if I could win them over, I could win the election. Keeping in mind turnout, presidential year, and what was needed to win, I could secure them plus a few hundred outside of their community, and my win would flow like gravy. Probably the most foolish thought of my entire campaign, I thus focused on that community more than any of the other neighborhoods in the area; hitting them with mail pieces, phone banking, and getting as many signs on lawns inside the gated community was my primary goal. I thought that, from a strategic standpoint, if I hammered on the pandemic and the danger to their aging population, I could secure their votes. 

What I underestimated was the protection they already felt from behind the gates of their community; and the privilege with which they had already shrouded themselves in that made them largely untouched by the pandemic (at the time of the election). When the election took place, they had yet to see a single case of COVID 19 in their greater than 4,000 person community. They continued to enjoy golf, swimming – all of it; because, as we learned in the months that followed – the wealthiest people, in reality, were the ones that came off the easiest. 

Interestingly, I did garner some support from inside the gilded gates of retirement living. Just not enough, and not the right support. And, I found out only too late, that my opponent, using his connections for having already been on the city council, had arranged to have a regular meet up with the community at large. During his time on the dais, he had advocated for them on some hemp smells that were coming from a neighboring farm. For this, many of these seniors, aging in their retirement village that largely stands apart from the rest of the community, felt indebted. 

If we’re being honest, he also is, when you get down to it, an old man himself. In his 60s and covered in liver spots and aged lines, my toad man of an opponent fit in well with the senior crowd, whose regular complaints about aching joints and hemorrhoid problems were likely met with similar anecdotes on his part. He identified with this crowd much more than a young mom in her 30s ever could. For this reason, it was probably more than foolish to think I could win them over in more of a way than he could. 

But still, I tried. When the organizer of their regular candidate’s night event contacted me, I was thrilled at the opportunity to address the otherwise-closed-off community. The event was simple: my opponent and I would come, they’d record and air it on their closed circuit channel, for all residents to watch on their televisions either live or on a replay, during the event we’d field questions from the community so they could make their choices based on our answers to the issues important to them.

A few things, now, stick out in my mind as suspicious about the entire event. For one, the organizer said to me repeatedly things like “I’m trying to be as fair as possible here.” Innocent enough. But then he would call me about some planning thing – offering a tour of the stage in advance, asking me to come have a photo taken, and so on – and he would always preface with “well [opponent] was just here and he and I thought…” The man and the other organizers were nice enough, but what I later found out has soured the entire thing in my mind: he and his wife contributed to my opponent’s campaign, months before the candidate’s event. Does he have a right to contribute to whatever campaign he wants? Of course. But perhaps have someone not clearly biased act as the moderator of the whole show. 

This, sadly, was the way the entire campaign ended up going. I would come to find that family and friends of ours for years – decades – had donated and supported my opponent’s campaign. Some even participated in the destruction of my campaign signs. Democrats, Republicans, everyone. When imposter syndrome and self-confidence rear their ugly heads, I think to myself: maybe it was just me, my policies. But then how could I have earned the support from all of those that I actually did? Were we all just wrong?

The answer, simply put, was that my message and my motive, my agenda and my plans for our community, were spread through the community at around $3 per vote. My opponents? $12. I got outspent. If you run on a quarter of the campaign funds, you can expect about a quarter of the returns. 

In the end, in support, in endorsements, and in final votes, that’s exactly what I got.

Part 3: The Subterranean Termites Come To the Service

Welcome to the third part of my 5 Part Series: The Infection Was Initially Mild: My Small Town City Council Run, the Toxic American Pandemic Response, and What Both Mean For the Future Of the Country. 

You can also read the entire series now, download it in entirety in PDF format, catch the disclaimers in the Introduction, listen to it on Text to Speech (I have to warn you it’s a little awkward), or watch the Text to Speech on YouTube.

Also, more resources, videos, updates, and Pay What It’s Worth links can be found there too!

CLICK HERE for The Infection Was Initially Mild Landing Page

Every fall or early winter, late in the year, it begins to cool in Southern California, and eventually it rains. Most years it’s been so dry that even the slightest bit of rain becomes an epic event. What I always notice about the first “big” rain (sometimes it is no more than a spit, and that’s all we get for the season) is that immediately after, the subterranean termites come out in a swarm.

Subterranean termites are these little termites that are white and translucent. They don’t do damage like the termites that rot your attic; but they are annoying nevertheless. What I always notice is that there are just so many of them. One day you’ll be enjoying the first rain of the season, and the next you can’t even look outside without seeing clouds of them in swarms, just flying around. 

Flying for the sake of flying. Existing for the sake of existing.

One year, so many of them came up from underground that they also died in droves. They got stuck in window sills, smashed over the front of my black SUV so that it looked grayish white from a distance, and the ground was covered in their translucent wings so you heard a crunch and a squish, turning the wings into a translucent goo stuck on the bottom of your shoes. It was a sight of horror, one forgotten as quickly as they resurface until the next first rain of the season.

People in politics, in every fashion, are like those subterranean termites. They come out only at certain moments of the year. They fly around in swarms, and infest every open space they can. Leaving behind trails of translucent, gooey wings, and the scent of infestation, politicos (from politicians and electeds, to commentators, bloggers, and volunteers) are like annoying gnats on the ass of America. Few have any redeeming qualities, and they appear to exist for no reason but for the sake of themselves. 

Flying for the sake of flying. Existing for the sake of existing. The subterranean termites come to the surface. 

The city council in my city is perhaps synonymous with any other governing body in America: they are clueless, do very little, and understand even less. 

Our city council is pretty typically made up of any handful of your garden variety locals. There is usually at least one self-professed businessman, whose business is a bit nebulous and sounds more like a Ponzi scheme. A lawyer is always smattered in there somewhere, since lawyers notoriously possess the cut-throated narcissism required to be a politician, and because voters tend to assume that someone who knows how to manipulate the law will also be good at running the city. 

Our city has a hard on for small business, as many cities do; so there are two businessmen and one businesswoman on our council presently. The men are like pieces of Wonderbread, sort of blending into the chamber walls with their weak-willed comments, and hangers-on status. One was up for re-election the same year that I ran, only in a different district, and he acted surprised when my daughter gave him a Halloween treat bag at the Farmer’s Market. “Even for an opponent?” – he asked, to which she had to remind him that he wasn’t even in the same district as me. The other, he seems harmless (and I don’t mean that in a good way). The woman – whom my youngest called “Grandma” whenever he saw her on the screen during a meeting – has been there since the 80s. She’s taken turns being mayor just shy of 10 times (8, to be precise); and, as with the men, most of us remain unclear what business she’s actually in besides grifting the taxpayer dollar. 

There are also the occasional politicos that come and go on the council. These are the people that parrot party lines, like “Black lives matter,” and “Vote Blue no matter who.” Of course neither of those phrases – in the typical election year – would even remotely be tolerated in this community; and yet somehow, some way, one of them managed to get on the council. She’s up for re-election this year, and if I’m reading the pulse of the city right now, she will be a one hit wonder in terms on the dais. The shocking part about her is that in a pandemic, as a nurse, I cannot think or find evidence of a single thing she’s actually done for the public health aspect of it. Even today, into the third year of this collective nightmare we are all living through, I watched recently a video of a council meeting in which she was wearing a loose-fitting, inappropriately layered, mask at the meeting. A nurse. A person who is supposed to know things like ‘how to wear a mask,’ and ‘what type of a mask to wear.’ Someone who was touted as exactly who we wanted to be there during the pandemic, she effectively did nothing for public health education, vaccination or testing efforts, and everything in between. 

I believe – and this is just my own personal belief – that this comes more from the cronyism that is pervasive to our community, and as it turns out in the bigger political picture. Hand picked successors are everywhere. When a council member either terms out or retires, there is always someone that has a familiar name and face that’s been waiting in the wings to pick up the position. This can be done traditionally, with an actual vote of the people (that comes from hefty funding and a lot of local name recognition); or – more often – when someone leaves in the middle of the term, and the council or board or whatever convinces the public that it is more financially responsible to shun the voices of voters, and let the all-knowing remaining electeds select their new colleague.  

My community has no shortage of either. Decades ago, one of the area’s Congressmen died suddenly and tragically, and in the special election his wife ran for and won the seat. The funny part of that was that when you polled most of the voters in the district, they were both unaware it was her (and not the dead husband), and didn’t even have a grip on when regular elections were supposed to be held, and just voted when told to. 

On the more local level, we had a county supervisor on the board for decades, before the county finally gave in to the will of the voters and instituted term limits; and someone totally and completely ideologically opposed – though sharing the last name – got enough money from local oil and natural gas companies to plaster enough name recognition pieces around the community that she was elected in a landslide. This county representative – now on a re-election – has no more than bananas for brains, and will blow whichever way her biggest donors sway her (I can only assume the air between her ears helps with the flight). Often she harms the community with her total cluelessness, and subsequent harmful (at times dangerous) policies. 

Most people in the community, though, still think they’re voting for the last lady.

On the flip side are the institutional cronies that are in just enough local groups, and have been around the political scene long enough, to simply step onto the stage the moment an opportunity presents itself for them to do so. Often times, it is so glaring when it happens you can’t help but be insulted that these people, this pack of cronies deciding everything from what roads are repaved, to which books our children in the public schools learn from, think we are both blind and dumb. 

Perhaps, since we go along with it, we are.

In the last couple of years, the real offenders were the ones who knew they wouldn’t serve their term. One school board member had already contracted a move, but notified the public only after she was re-elected. This allowed the school board to handpick her successor, again after reminding the public that this was the fiscally responsible thing to do. Nothing gets your average community member like the idea that their tax dollars are being wasted, even if it comes at the expense of the authoritarianism. Make no mistake about it – handpicking successors is exactly that. 

Another school board member in recent years died of a terminal cancer she knew she had and kept secret through her re-election; again she was replaced by installment. Two city council members that same year met the same exalted status locally, when seats opened only after other council members won higher office. 

Of course we could have municipal laws that prohibit a candidate from running for office while holding another that would require them to resign, leaving the path open for this kind of malfeasance at schools boards and city halls all over the country. This would at least eliminate some. We could also end the ability for installment, and require special elections under all circumstances. But this brand of local authoritarianism is kind of what the whole game is about: making sure that only the people in office can decide who else is there with them. 

All the Parts in the Machine

What makes all of this possible – at every level (water board, city council, county supervisor, state legislature, Congress, and so on) are the insiders. Paradoxically, this is a group of people that believe they are inside and influencing decisions, when the reality is they exert about as much weight as that of their pinkie fingers. Not much. 

Sure, political influencers and some employees play a part, and can make or break a candidate or an elected official with their own actions or part in the dance. Like the city clerk who handles the elections – she could simply not return the phone call of a candidate until the time has passed for the candidate to file, and that’s about that. In the year of my own election, a man that ran for mayor in a neighboring city became victim of the malicious incompetence of the county clerk, who just happened to “accidentally” leave the man’s name and candidate information out of the election handbook mailed to all voters. 

Beyond all these tertiary elected and appointed subterranean termites, there is also the mega-bureaucracy at the city and county levels, who portray and highlight those elected to office with their own particular brand of incompetence. If I am constantly having a problem dealing with the people in the property tax office at the county, it’s unlikely I will continue to vote for the incumbent on the county supervisorial board that is supposedly meant to oversee these clowns. Right? The same could go for almost any department the average citizen encounters, or so you would think. 

Except when everyone is incompetent, including their replacements, what else can we come to expect over the years? Now, in 21st century suburban America, this standard of incompetence is matched only by the amount of gaslighting done in the public view. Community members accept this low standard of public service thanks to messaging and social media posts that have glossed over an otherwise abysmal electoral track record. 

This was especially highlighted in the pandemic, when the inner-workings of the local government showed itself to the public to be inefficient, idiotic, and – in this case – deadly. But at the same time, they messaged the hell out of the story with social media posts and pretty pictures, and now the collective perception of how things have been handled is divided between those that watched from the protection of their homes and Internet, and those that suffered the greatest hardships. 

Even our public health is made up of installed puppets, bureaucratic cronies with interests beyond their scope and practice. In the earliest days, our county took the strategy of protecting businesses at all costs. Those costs were, naturally, human lives – mostly of the elderly, low wage workers, illegal immigrants and guest workers, and members of multigenerational, low income homes. Still, the vast majority of CAREs funding the county received went to business grants, and to cities which then distributed further business grants. Very little went to public health (beyond testing, which they rapidly phased out the first chance they could). To make matters worse, the public health professionals made recommendations and guidance at the pace of snails, not wanting to hurt small business through this difficult time. As community member fatalities began to stack up, our public health director ignored the call by the public to publish what businesses had experienced employee outbreaks as well. They do it for other public health violations, but an outbreak of COVID among employees was seen to them as too politically controversial, and would harm local business. The list of these, and other, transgressions over the years of the pandemic has stacked up, rivaled only by the list of people that have died of the disease and their gross negligence. But again, the messaging is at peak gaslit, and the public has been profoundly removed from the gross negligence that has gone on. 

This raises a very serious issue in American politics: what the general public doesn’t always seem to realize when they vote is that they aren’t just voting for the person or identity of the candidate, themselves, but for everyone they bring with them. 

This extends beyond just who they install when a seat on their own council opens. With the president, it’s judges and administration officials. With counties, it’s everyone running the show – from your jails to your elections to your child support services. In cities, it’s the manager and the city planner. You have to ask yourself, in a city like mine, why the council hasn’t been able to find residents of our actual city to hire as city managers and planners; or why when a once in a lifetime pandemic hits, there’s no one of all the people working at city hall capable of being moved into a position to better coordinate a more well-rounded local response to save lives.

All of these people are a part of the same whole: flying for the sake of flying. Existing for the sake of existing. In essence, accomplishing and contributing very little to society as a whole.

Finally, you have all the rest of the swarm that can be seen everywhere. Like the subterranean termites, they gaggle into groups, serving only themselves.

They are the local media, who cow tow to local elected officials because it is local governments that fund their struggling newspapers. 

They are the special interest groups, that average people believe only exist in the highest levels of government, when in reality they exist at all levels and are most insidious in their influence at the bottom. 

They are the two bit activist groups, who have some nebulous and general cause that is used as an excuse to get together, drink wine, and gossip. 

One of our city council members has a somewhat influential mother in one of these groups. A gaggle of old women and one, gay man, they get together multiple times per week to gossip about everything going on in the world that pisses them off, write checks to personalities they like, and get sauced on a local Chardonnay in the process. On one occasion they invited me and the other woman running in the city (in the other district) – a pink-haired Democratic activist that talked down to me, and routinely interrupted to ramble into oblivion on topics no one could understand. The event was 80% her talking, 19% the group complaining about Trump, and I was given about 2 minutes to state my name.   

Most malignant are the local political groups, whom are usually more cliquish than they are substantive in their activism. Like a cancerous sore on the body politic locally, these groups in my community are why the leaders of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Caucus (also known as the D-Triple-C) once told me at a union junket in Sacramento that because of the toxicity that is pervasive to these local political groups in this district, the caucus typically considered it a political black hole. 

Especially in my own experience, with the Democratic groups, they are the grassroots embodiment of the party at large: overpromising and underdelivering. For our own election, the local Democrats sent emails upon emails to candidates promising volunteers, phone banking, mailers, and the like. In the end, we got a couple hundred text messages sent, and a stack of door hangers with a long list of names on it (mine was towards the bottom). No manpower to distribute them except the Young Democrats who gave us a few hours one Saturday. And, of course, that couple hundred bucks from just one of their many groups. 

Of course with social media, the groups expanded into things like political mom groups, and everything that comes with them. If Facebook Mom Groups are the state of nature, my own experience with them has been quite Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, and short. The political moms groups of course divide into the ideological camps, and I managed to piss off both of them. 

For the conservative moms of the community, it was quite obvious. Most of them believed I had that conspiratorial “agenda,” of which they themselves could not even articulate. On social media they would claim they saw me being “nasty” to fellow moms, and contemptuous of our community members. None of this was true, and when asked for the proof they could not produce it. That started the next conspiracy, that I had spent years of my life gleaning my presence on the Internet, something any mom of three knows I have absolutely no time for. A lot of them were hyper-religious and took offense to my positions on public health as well (it remains to be seen how wearing a mask has anything to do with Jesus).  

Naturally, the defund the police rumor, was at the front of their sentiment against me. In the end there was going to be no winning them over for this reason. True or not, they had heard too much. 

The Democratic moms, though – them I did not see coming. Considering myself a very issue-based voter, organizer, and politician (if I even called myself the latter), there are a lot of things that I wasn’t particularly in agreement on with the Democrats. Perhaps that was a part of the problem, but if I understand it more clearly now, it was my own identity and demeanor that was a problem to some of them. For some in particular, that I ran in the first place.

I’m not an insider to them. For over a decade, I didn’t go to local Party events, I didn’t attend the rallies or the fundraisers or the Democratic Labor Day picnics. I stopped being on the inside of all of those things years ago, so to resurface today was jarring, I can only assume, to many of them. Especially when so many were new.

I probably didn’t help myself with occasional gaffes stating the obvious. Comments like “it’s so nice to see new faces!” are not welcome by people that consider themselves establishment figures in that particular community (whether it’s rooted in reality, or not). 

I also didn’t tone down speaking up about things I saw that I believed were wrong. When the Democratic moms Facebook group decided to host an online candidate meet and greet for a man running for the community college district school board, and a mom running herself asked to be given the courtesy of the same opportunity, she was ignored. I spoke up. 

When they defended people going out and breaking their COVID quarantine, including – many of them including many elected officials that should have been setting an example, I spoke up. 

When they left several endorsed candidates off their list of locals that had been endorsed by the Democratic Party, I spoke up. 

When my kids were followed around at the public park by supporters of my opponent, and filled cups from McDonald’s were thrown at my front door, and one of the organizers of the group said we should all forgive my opponent for staying silent on this issue “because he’s a nice man,” I spoke up.

Later, I learned, that the speaking up, and running for city council to begin with, was what I did wrong in that group. In reality, it was what I did wrong in front of all of them. It made the community (the moms, the conservatives, the cogs in the bureaucracy machine) feel threatened. It was where Blue MAGA and Red MAGA found a common enemy.

Me. 

My Opponent the Toad

My opponent was as bland as water, and as in-actionable as a toad. 

Remember the old story about the two toads on a log? There are two toads on a log and one decides to jump. How many toads are still on the log? Two. Toads think about doing things, but rarely have the energy, drive, or will to actually do them. This sums up my opponent, and everyone that surrounded him for that matter, in a nutshell. 

To make matters worse, he looked like one too. 

Being fair, I only met him in person on one occasion. It was at a carefully curated debate-style event for the senior community in our district. I call it “carefully curated” because it was crafted so as to protect him as much as possible. At the time, I had no idea I was walking into a room full of his supporters running the event; finding out later only after reading over his campaign contribution list, and recognizing all of their names. And to be clear: this was a cohort of toads, obsequious to their leader, and mostly condescending towards me. 

The queen toad – his wife – accompanied him and upon walking in, she talked to me like I was one of her gal pals at Bunko. “Oh, you’ll get used to these events,” was the first thing she belched at me, while clutching her handbag and evidencing for me that she clearly had not read my bio, nor had even the slightest inkling that I – a young woman in her late 30s – could have possibly been to any of these events before in her life (I’ve been to plenty).  

The moderator. The cameraman. The producer. All toads, all with that same leathery and blotchy, reptilian skin; at least a few with a bullfrog’s neck goiter. 

Through out the entire campaign, this toad man – the token lawyer on the city council – painted me not just as a radical liberal, but as an idiot. In certain crowds on Zoom events and candidate forums, he would answer questions by first stating that I didn’t know what I was talking about – this was why he should be re-elected. When he wasn’t running on this, he was doing so on his totally unfounded defund the police claims. He never actually campaigned on what he would do with four more years. He simply highlighted that he wasn’t me. (And it worked.)

Of course if he had highlighted what he had done with four years in office, he would have had nothing to talk about. Besides contributing to hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer waste by getting the city sued several times, this supposed-lawyer didn’t have much else to account for. The material conditions of residents were no better (arguably worse), the city was bleeding jobs even before the pandemic as well. I can’t blame this toad of a man for making me his solo talking point. If I were as much of a lame duck, I would have done the same. 

Of course I always managed to overcome his incessant and condescending bullfrog noises – his gurgles and belches, that said less in substance than I even thought was possible of someone speaking words as fully formed sentences. After all his man-spraining and treating everyone like a village of idiots, I kept my cool, stated facts, and always ended events with more supporters than I came in with. Yet either a fault of the pandemic, or more just the way things are in local politics, the general public was by and large not present for these candidate forums and face-to-face  (or Zoom-to-Zoom) events. There were 10, maybe 20, at each. Add all the candidates from the combined events, and you had an online total of maybe 40. Not enough to sway the vote, because in the end what it came down to was who had the most money. 

This was when I simply got outspent.

Part Two: An Agenda

Welcome to the second part of my 5 Part Series: The Infection Was Initially Mild: My Small Town City Council Run, the Toxic American Pandemic Response, and What Both Mean For the Future Of the Country. 

You can also read the entire series now, download it in entirety in PDF format, catch the disclaimers in the Introduction, listen to it on Text to Speech (I have to warn you it’s a little awkward), or watch the Text to Speech on YouTube.

Also, more resources, videos, updates, and Pay What It’s Worth links can be found there too!

CLICK HERE for The Infection Was Initially Mild Landing Page

To say that I didn’t have an agenda of any kind going into the city council run would be a lie. But then, everyone that runs for public office has – or, at least should have – one. What are you being voted in for if not to do things? This was the first completely nonsensical turn the campaign took: when people accused me of having an agenda, as if this was a bad thing.

“She has an agenda” became the local QAnon turn of phrase that was code for “bad lady, we shouldn’t vote for her.” I’m not sure to what extent all of the pizza-sex-dungeon-Democrats-are-spawn-of-Satan stuff has permeated the local QAnon folks, but with roughly 30% of the community involved (in some fashion and consistent with the national participation rate), I imagine at least a few of them legitimately believed my agenda was to inject the community with the blood of aborted babies. Or something like that. 

My agenda was simple: I saw a city council that was doing absolutely nothing to support our community in an unprecedented time. Most notably, the pandemic had shuttered businesses, and infected and killed community members. And, front line workers like nurses and lower wage workers were approaching me and begging for help with their working conditions in our city. Our city council was largely silent on the matters – all of them. Except, of course, throwing pittance small business grants at local businesses which – in the end – took so long to get out, many businesses that originally applied had closed by the time the couple thousand bucks were distributed. This endeavor also cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in general funds just to put together (not counting the money for the grants, themselves). To say the pandemic response from the city council, and entire city, was a failure would be a gross understatement. 

And the problem is that – as of writing this – we just keep failing more. 

The average job in our city pays $15-$18 per hour, while the cost of living is $38 per hour for a two bedroom apartment. My agenda in reality, was in everyone’s best interest: it was rooted in fiscal responsibility coupled with a focus on public health. I wanted our community to become a Blue Zone – one where every design and planning decision was made with health in mind. Blue Zone planning is rooted in public health and policy facts, and results in an overall increased quality of life and longevity – for everyone. This meant more biking, less sprawl, more housing options, reduced cost of living, and raising the standard of living and employment in the community. On the surface, our city looks somewhat affluent: median housing price is around $750K, but more than 90% of residents have to commute 15 minutes or more out of the city to be able to afford it. What we don’t talk about is that just over 7% of people in the city live below the poverty line – some within a mile of my district and its houses that start at $3M. My support base was largely in, and just above, that 7%, not necessarily in the people I was asking for for votes.

Moreover, I wanted the city to stop bleeding money. My opponent and his colleagues’ incompetence over the years have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits, mistakes, excessive administrative fees for their friends, and bungled CYA PR campaigns.  

Managing the pandemic and its recovery from a more holistic and proactive approach was what my campaign focused on; and creating a safety net for our healthcare and front line workers, even the ones that only worked here. Fundamentally, I had zero plans to stay in office for the long term. I wanted to win the election, do my part to manage COVID on the most local level, make some other health, safety, organizational, and quality of life changes along the way, and – likely – stick to one term, and done. 

Because the city’s elections are in districts, I was stuck in the most affluent district, while coming from – generally speaking – just your average middle class. To win my district, I would have only need 4,800 votes plus 1 – a feat I only was able to obtain 39% of (earning only 22% of all ballots cast). In the end I failed to turn out votes that would have brought me closer to a win in the election. 

When you look at the votes I did end up gathering, they were largely centered not even in my own neighborhood, but in the single, lower-income neighborhood in the district; the only one with rentals accepting Section 8 housing vouchers, where the vast majority of people I spoke to were so busy risking their lives working multiple, low-wage, public-facing jobs, that many would not have even voted had it not been for the ability to vote by mail. A renter myself, though in the single family homes more aligned with the median housing in the city at large, I still understood the struggles many in the community faced. These were the community members that needed someone who would actually take action. 

Being on the city council is a part time job, for everyone that’s on it. To me, I saw mismanagement and a lack of responding to the needs of the constituents by my opponent. My own experience in politics, political science, public policy, community organizing, and in public facing jobs, especially healthcare (pharmacy) management, was (in my mind) exactly what the city needed to do better than we had since the pandemic hit. 

And to my credit, it was my ideas and experience – my agenda – that earned me more  endorsements than any of our city’s council candidates in recent years. Accordingly to my agenda, I sought endorsements from every organization that I believed shared my mission in improved health and quality of life. I didn’t waste my time with anyone whose mission did not align with mine; not out for just every endorsement I could grab, I went for the ones that had value to me. 

The local chapter of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund were the first to announce their endorsement of my campaign, with the nurse’s union representing our city hospital coming closely after. While Planned Parenthood endorses many, if not most, women (in addition to many pro-choice men), I was the only candidate in a down ballot election in my entire county to receive the endorsement of the nurses. At our only in person debate, for a neighborhood of roughly 4,000 seniors, I asked my opponent why after 4 years of him being on the city council, and even longer on the board of the local healthcare district, the nurses – in the middle of a pandemic – chose to endorse me. He had no answer. 

As it turned out, nurses and healthcare workers in general made up the bulk of my support – endorsed, financed, and otherwise. Of the 280 individuals that endorsed the campaign by its completion, 67% were nurses, doctors, pharmacists, or other healthcare workers. Another 23% came from public safety, specifically the Neighborhood Watch Group I founded in 2015. 

Likely a result of my background in public health and safety, and my strong position on COVID and worker safety, the nurse’s union’s endorsement then led to the endorsement from the local Carpenter’s Council, the union that advocated for workplace safety. Shortly after them, the local chapter of Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) housing advocacy group gave me the thumbs up. The final big group that aligned my mission closely was the women’s council in my community, which resulted in a sizable influx in funds for the campaign. 

Of course my last endorsement was the best: our Congresswoman endorsed my campaign in the final weeks before the election. And while people were noticeably stunned that I was able to garner the support, in my district it ended up alienating many voters who saw her as a liberal carpetbagger from Los Angeles (they weren’t, at least entirely, wrong). 

In life and politics, endorsements of you as a person don’t always turn into results at the end of the game. Some of my endorsements (especially the ones closely aligned with the Democratic Party) were controversial to otherwise centrist voters. And, in the end, my own priorities were not consistent with the voters in my district, and also unable to overcome the slander and smear that my opponent waged so effectively against me. 

A sleepy, suburban, affluent bedroom community, with the majority of voters working and living their social lives largely out of town, didn’t particularly want change. They wanted another candidate that would sit on the council and simply pass through what was already passed through before. Keep quiet, don’t do too much. My opponent had already exhibited for 4 years that he would do little enough to not cause a ruckus, and just enough to keep people happy.

Though what came after my loss was the eventual worsening of the pandemic and health and safety of our community, many of them continue to appear largely unaffected (to the detriment of the rest of the city). 

As it turned out, since my loss, the mismanagement of health, housing, COVID, and everything in between, has been a complete disaster. Less than two years later, we have more than double the community members dead of the virus, and a paltry vaccination rate by zip code compared to other areas of California. We also have a moratorium now meant to stifle any building of newer, affordable, housing, which has resulted in both crime and homelessness rising exponentially since the election. The real kicker is that the moratorium is meant to stop the very type of housing my opponent spoke in favor of – both times he ran. 

When the CDC changed their masking guidance in May 2021, and the state of California aligned alongside it in June, our city took it a step further and made masks optional for everyone. Aghast, and in horror, I contacted everyone on the city council – one of whom claims to be a nurse – asking why? How? What justification could there be when the rules clearly stated *only the vaccinated* could remove their masks? Our city claims to be family friendly, and this would only increase disease spread and hurt our lower wage and front line healthcare workers. How could a nurse, and her colleagues, sign on to this?

No one ever responded.

As the Delta variant, and later Omicron, ripped through the community, they continued to ignore my calls, emails, and requests. I drove by city-sponsored events to see that no mobile vaccine clinic had been called to come from the county. I watched in horror as city after city shut down when Omicron hit, only for our city to insist on staying open, and to outright lie when they had outbreaks. (How many times does the senior center need to change the carpeting in a year’s time?)

It’s this type of do-nothing, ignore-everyone, attitude that is pervasive to the city council, and why I say that in spite of voter registration data or general presence of support, our community is – by and large – conservative. Conservative values are more than a party or an ideology, they are a way of life. You could have voted for Joe Biden or Hilary Clinton, but still clicked the ticker on every ideologically Republican-valued candidate down the line. And we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t admit the aforementioned aren’t pretty right of center politicians anyway. 

This is what voters in this district believe in, and are like. I realize that now. A progressive appearance slathered over a regressive and conservative reality; this is the community I was running for city council in, and exactly why my radical ideas of taking care of each other, and lifting the entire community into a higher quality of life, was a losing strategy. Many homes have those catchy signs on their yards that say In This House We Believe, while the people within them respond to an incident of outright racism at the high school with the old line “kids will be kids.” They vote for leaders that do anything but lead, deferring to council members that effectively show they’ll take a seat and button their mouths. That’ll do nothing and point the finger at the county or state or “personal responsibility” when it’s time to hold someone accountable for a major problem in the community, of which there are many. Those that came out to vote in my district in particular seems by and large perfectly content to bury their heads in the ground of their finely manicured lawns, ignoring the struggles of the other tens of thousands of residents that live in this city. So long as it doesn’t affect them, and they don’t have to hear about it. At the same time, you almost have to understand – at least in some sense – because with such a high cost of living, and the need to commute to afford living in the city, they’re fundamentally too busy to care.  Maybe that’s the point.

As it turns out, even the most progressive public health advocates at the beginning of the pandemic were more than excited to take off their masks in stores when little kids were around. When the Delta variant began to rip through our unvaccinated populations, and everyone realized that even the vaccinated could still transmit COVID to others – well after the election was over – middle aged suburban women, and men in Oakleys with big trucks and a clear compensatory tendency, proudly talked online about being the “only ones” in the stores that had taken off their masks just yet. That number of unmasked grew, as did COVID cases, and these people whose profile pictures were still of them getting their vaccine, wearing a shirt that said something like “I believe in science,” with the Biden-Harris logo still over-laid on the photo, coined the phrase “I did my part, if you’re unvaccinated that’s on you.” 

My city is like the apex where Blue MAGA and Red MAGA meet. Where every street is a mix of hard to the right voters that still have their Trump and “Let’s Go Brandon” flags up in their lawns, and soft to the right Democrats that voted for Biden but still watch Fox News and worship at the alter of First Responder culture.  And yet caught in the middle of it all, holding the entire community up and making it run, are the working class, swelling our low paying jobs and privileged attitudes with a smile, while working so many jobs just to put food on the table and pay rent they don’t have the time to vote, let alone do anything else. 

And this is how my opponent, a hard right Republican, masterfully manipulated the public into thinking I was some cop-hating liberal that would take their guns and bastardize the community. While I was talking about the pandemic and masks over Zoom, this guy was going door to door telling people I wanted to defund the police and soon thereafter turn our city into one where people were shackled by socialism, forced to wear burlap sacks and live in a communal shanty while paying allegiance daily to a dark Stalin-esque overlord. While I did take the endorsement from the local Democrats, this plus a check for a couple hundred bucks and my name on a list of candidates they had endorsed, was the length of support I received from them. And I always made clear that their ‘defund the police’ jargon was a losing policy – in both politics, and practice.

In truth, my own political philosophy can be best described as nuanced. I don’t believe in defunding the police, but I do believe that Black lives matter. I’m not a fan of groups or clubs. And as I said, I stand by the working class and the struggles of others more with empathy and understanding and a commitment to public health and quality of life, above anything else. In many ways, I agree with the Democratic Party’s positions, but in many ways I also do not. Certainly, what I disagree with them on is the idea that an individual within the Party cannot have varied views on things; that everyone must fall in line, as if they cannot win elections without total and utter allegiance to the official talking points. 

Years ago, when I first graduated college, I worked for the Democratic Party, as well as on several campaigns (as local as water board and as national as Presidential primary).  Stupidly, I forgot just how much like their nemesis they truly are. Backbiting and embroiled in identity politics, the Democrats on the largest and equally smallest scales tend to shun anyone that is not completely in line with their philosophies. 

To be clear: this is just as authoritarian as the MAGA GOP. Where Blue MAGA meets Red MAGA. 

They aren’t even philosophies espoused in a political party, though, so much as they are a body of non-thinking ideologues. It’s no wonder they get into office and are unable to ever actually accomplish anything; to remain in with the in crowd they have to tow the party line, or face the consequences. Festering in the back of my mind for the entire campaign was the memory of the last job I did for the local Democrats, before going back to college and then graduate school, then moving on to be a private citizen – as a stay at home mom and writer. It was a pre-candidacy hit piece on a local Democrat, pulling up personal anecdotes of sketchy behavior, old cable bills, and basically anything I could get my hands on to convince this guy not to run for office in a primary against a more well-known, well-liked, candidate. All because he was not 100% in line withe the Party’s views. After spending weeks putting this piece together, I never called the committee back when they tried to contract me for another job. I couldn’t live with the idea that I was going to be a part of this type of underhanded, backbiting operation. 

So upon taking their support in my own campaign, I knew I would have to keep it at an arm’s length. More than anything, when old faces and familiar names began to crop up, I knew it was in my own best interest to remain somewhat neutral. At least with the locals. I wanted to impact change in my community, and do a service to the people.  This was my agenda. Not get sucked into petty Party politics and infighting.

COVID allowed me to largely get away with doing that, at least for a time. I was able to stay above the fray until just after the election.Of course this didn’t prevent me from losing.

And once the election had passed, all the toxic, nuclear waste bubbled to the surface anyway. What came only after I lost, I never could have foreseen. 

Stop Calling This A War

The global pandemic we currently find ourselves in is, without a doubt, not a war. It is not. Analogizing it to one is both incorrect, and irresponsible.

Let’s walk through this.

Credit: Classic Art Memes @Facebook

Donald Trump Is Not A War Time President

Early on, after finally admitting that the virus causing COVID-19 infections and deaths around the world was actually a problem (and not just a hoax brought on by the fake news and Democratic party), Donald Trump switched gears and decided this was “the unseen enemy.” He was to be our honorable Commander in Battle.

While it is tempting to label this virus an enemy, as we do with a lot of medical maladies, really it’s just a talking point. A talking point for the victims who fall ill with it to feel empowered; a talking point for those who swoop in with remedies to claim victory.

But Donald Trump is not a war time president, and this is not a war. It’s is a global pandemic of a highly communicable virus, that in rare instances causes mortality. Unfortunately, at the present, enough instances are proving to occur on the whole that the mortality rate is quite high for us, in a healthcare system that was taxed going in.

Allowing Donald Trump to overshadow the egregious and flagrant wrong-doings in the prior days, weeks, months, and years of his Presidency – including, but certainly not limited to, the fact that only months ago he, a sitting President, was Impeached on counts of Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress – to overshadow all of that, and come out of this spinning the inevitable success of modern medical science into his position as a war hero (conveniently in time for the 2020 Presidential election) would make every person that ever likened this to a war complicit in the necessary election win that would come with that honor.

Donald Trump is not a war time President. This is not a war.

Credit: Chris Murphy CT @Twitter

Frontline Workers Are Not Soldiers In Battle

This is probably my point that will flare the most feathers, but before jumping to conclusions, hear me out.

The sacrifices and risks associated with working in any quote-unquote essential line of work right now are, unmistakably, great. In particular, those that work in medicine, pharmacy, even janitors in the hospital setting; and especially in light of the on-again off-again relationship they have with adequate and complete personal protective equipment – well, those people are by and large in hot water from now until the time a vaccine is readily available.

So are the grocery workers, who have every cough, sniffle, and sneeze effectively sprayed all over them several times a day. So are a lot of people that continue to work to allow the rest of us to afford such luxuries as food, water, and electricity.

But they ain’t soldiers. We will not be erecting a monument to them that looks like doctors, nurses, and janitors Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. They may receive additional compensation and pay for risk assessment and to incentivize them to work, but it is not hazard pay.

This isn’t a measure to disrespect or discredit the work they are doing, and the sacrifices they are making. Do not mistake me: they are heroes.

Infectious diseases happen, and while COVID-19 is new and a lot about it is unknown, it is a part of the job. It is a part of the call to duty that came well before that person in the wet market in China even thought about eating the undercooked bat. Every time you step foot in a medical facility, there is always the element of the unknown. Sure, this time it is higher of a probability that you could catch it. But even I wonder to myself whenever I’ve had to take my kids to the emergency room for a sports injury or high fever: you know, I wonder if the person in the room next to us has bacterial meningitis and here I am exposed to it. Because it is a very real possibility, and that possibility is always there.

And there are two things most dangerous about likening the “frontliners” as we now like to call them with warriors in the trenches of something like WWI, or possibly worse: it sets a dangerous precedent for their own personal actions that could, in effect, result in even more death.

For one, in continues on this dangerous “take one for the team” mantra we Americans like to espouse. Arguably, this mantra is one of the things that got us here in the first place. We don’t feel well. We have chills, body aches, maybe a cough. But your [insert workplace] needs you. You are so essential that if you call in sick, the ship will go down. So you go to work, and infect several more people, putting more stress on the system than what would have come of you just staying home for a few days until you got the all clear from your immune system.

A more dangerous one:

Early on in the worst of Italy’s days, a nurse committed suicide because she started feeling a little punky, and decided to swab herself. She tested positive for COVID-19, and rather than just recover as 98% of other people do, she committed suicide to prevent spreading the disease to anyone else. Dangerous does not even begin to describe the precedent that we set when we then venerate this poor, clearly unwell, woman as something like a kamikaze doing the right thing by her country.

Tangential to this as well is the fact that the vast majority of people working in these essential jobs deserve a recognition of their own. Like the firefighters and many police after 9/11, or actual soldiers that have fought and won wars for centuries, their position in this is unique and should be treated accordingly. (Perhaps a monument would be appropriate, somewhere and at some point… but to replicate Iwo Jima would be a discredit to both today’s and yesterday’s heroes.)

Credit: Classic Art Memes @Facebook

The Messaging Is Blinding Us With Fear

In World War II, the messaging and propaganda was so profound, particularly in European countries in opposition to the allies (mainly, Germany) that people were so blinded by fear of the war, that they largely did not see what was going on right in front of their faces. The same went for Americans: blinded by the fear of another costly and deadly battle, Americans resisted involving themselves in the war – in spite of the humanitarian crisis that had unfolded in the Jewish and “undesirable” communities in Europe.

This is what happens in a war: diplomatic and political messaging is so critical for the community to get on board with whatever the agenda of the leadership of the time happens to be. Everyone does it. Now, in treating this like a war, our community leaders and politicians are doing it again.

Every week seems to have some sort of a theme to it. The first was all about the exponential growth charts, and statistical analyses, and the Johns Hopkins interactive website. The second were 45 paragraph letters from Emergency Room physicians who are really so busy they aren’t sleeping much, but also have the time to write lengthy explanations of exactly why we should be concerned about COVID-19. The third week was the rash of viral posts from Italy. Warnings to Americans. Rising death tolls. And that horrible video of the woman leafing through the obituary pages that went on and on and on, as if we weren’t sad enough about this already. The fourth week started the stay at home campaign, which continues today; coupled with a lot of mixed messaging coming from all sides of the political spectrum. Take the hydrochloroquine, but don’t. It works, but Trump touted it so probably skip it. Listen to your doctor, question him. Bill Gates is a hero, I don’t trust what he says. Open the economy, no don’t. Go for a walk to get exercise, just kidding that’s a bad idea. Dip your groceries in bleach, wait just kidding soap and water is fine bleach will kill you.

It is exhausting just listening to all of this: the analysis and the arguing and the incessant viral postings about what this politician did wrong and what that politician said, and who is complicit in this and who is a hero, and PPE and bats and … and … and …

This is the point of propaganda, and while I’m not likening what Trump, his “task force,” and more local governments are doing right now to what the Germans did in WWII, there is definite messaging going on here. If there weren’t, we wouldn’t have new buzz phrases, like “in these unprecedented times,” and “we are navigating through unchartered waters,” and – my newest favorite, “we are here to meet this moment.” You also wouldn’t have gotten probably 600 emails from every place you have ever shopped or spent money at, in an effort to let you know what increased measures they were doing to keep things safe and clean – all the same copy and pasted letter full of buzz words and messaging that was meant to calm your nerves, but only – instead – piqued your fears.

What happens when we are afraid in times of war and stress is we act irrationally. We fight with our community members, we shutter our hearts to those in need. A nursing home in my community got flack a week ago for telling a patient he could not return because he had suffered from COVID-19, even though he had recovered and tested negative two subsequent times before being released from the hospital. A homeless man a town over was unable to get a propane bottle for his camping stove, that allows him to cook his food and keep himself warm, because it is now considered a “non-essential good.” One woman in a Mom’s Facebook group I am in locally sparred it out with me about this, when I commented on a post about it asking how we could help him. The defining moment of our argument was when she said that because we live in California – “no one is going to freeze to death!”

Credit: Cracked @Facebook

The Social Contract In Times Of War

Few people realize that what is going on right now in our own communities from a public policy perspective is a matter of the social contract that we all live in as American citizens. The basic premise of our structure in society and government is that in exchange for the protection of our overarching body of government and government leaders (and all the services that come with it, including public hospitals, police, and fire), we are willing to in effect sacrifice certain freedoms and liberties in exchange for that protection. The idea comes from the great political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, whose writings inspired our revolutionary forefathers when he said:

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (see: The Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes)

It’s a bit wordy, so I’ll break it down for you: if left to our own devices at certain times in society, life would be unnecessarily awful and painful; and would end quickly, whether we liked it or not. Sometimes, let us help you. You just have to give up a little for us to be able to do that – in times of war, mainly. But pandemics are also times that it could be argued we have to retain less to be able to live more.

As soon as Trump started declaring National Emergencies, Major Natural Disasters, and referring to himself as a wartime president, the road was paved for every Tom, Dick, and Harry politician, from big time national leadership, all the way down to Mo, your local City Councilman who shows up for the council meeting drunk and in his swim trunks every week, the diplomatic and political power to chip away at those freedoms and liberties we hold so dear to us, in the name of the social contract and protection in times of turmoil.

Do I think that there are a lot of measures that do – absolutely – need to be taken to curb the spread of the novel virus that causes COVID-19? Absolutely. Shutting down bars, movie theaters, churches… that all makes sense. Social distancing and increased hygiene and safety measures – absolutely.

But locally, at least where I am, we have gone far afield from just shuttering non-essential businesses and asking people to stay home as much as possible. Now, here in California, cities are requiring by law that people wear face coverings, even when just driving down the street to get their mail. Alone. They’ve shut down sections of stores that disconnected and privileged city officials think can wait a while, like the clearance clothing racks at a local Wal Mart – in a community that houses thousands of migrant workers who are low income and do not have access to computers to simply order online.

Overreach doesn’t really describe what is going on here. And while I get it: we need to stay in, we need to physically distance, we also have to live our lives.

In recent days, I have talked to several seniors that are either family, or friends of family. They all sounded the same, exact resounding chord: they appreciate the community trying to protect them, the most vulnerable; but at this point, quality of life is an issue, and this is not a life worth living. One where you cannot go for a walk in the warm sun, or have the smallest of gatherings with less than 10 people seems cruel.

Perhaps the most striking thing told to me, which I then heard a physician – a medical doctor – echo on television about his own 87 year old mother’s sentiment: what if I die in isolation here, and I have never had the opportunity to hug my grandchildren one more time?

Certainly, the social contract is a necessary part of what keeps us alive. But only in war should it be evoked to such the degree that it is being evoked in communities through out America right now. And this is not a war.

It is tempting to liken this global pandemic to a battle. It requires strength, perseverance, and fight within all of us to get through whatever effects we feel from it – be they physical illness, economic hardship, or mental health belaboring as a result of the physical and social restrictions placed on us. But it is not a war. And we are not warriors.

Credit: Heather Christena Schmidt @HeatherChristenaSchmidt.com