Accidental landlording & purposeful librarianship: a dispatch from the busy zone with a reminder to VOTE TUESDAY!

4_Nov_CentHall_Drew

Five years ago, my pal Molly and her husband Richard flew in from New York to visit her parents, “Mel” (z”l) and “Sally.” It was their first visit after M&S moved into “Old People Harvard,” the independent and assisted-living community where Mom had been living for two years.

It was a great gift to Mom (z”l). She’d moved from her community six states away, a place where she had deep roots and was both valued and valuable.  It was a courageous move on several counts: facing that Parkinson’s disease was making it impossible for her to maintain her independence and leaping into an unknown social scene.

Mel & Sally’s move wasn’t as easy as Mom’s had been. They were uncertain about how things would be. Molly had flown out to help reassure them. We met for lunch in the dining room at Old People Harvard. There, Mom was able to be the old hand, telling and kvelling to Mel & Sally about how happy she was there, how much there was to do and the truth about the adjustments she’d had – and been able – to make. It meant a great deal to her to be able to be of service, and the three of them forged a lifelong friendship.

But, back to that first post-move visit. Old People Harvard takes itself seriously when it comes to providing top-notch programming for its residents. I remember on my birthday when I called Mom to let her know I was stopping by to drop off a cupcake. She answered the phone in that whisper I knew meant she was involved in something.

“I’m in the Rubeinstein Room. Russ Feingold is talking about his new book.”

“Okay,” I replied. “I’ll sneak in quietly.”

When I walked in, he was answering a question about the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. I dropped the cupcake into her hands and cruised back to work, where I spent the rest of the day working and passing out cupcakes to people who’d been kind to me over the past year.

Okay, seriously now. Back to that first post-move visit.

Richard is a photographer for the Associated Press. Trish, the programming genius at Old People Harvard, got him to do a “show and tell” with the photos he’s taken over a 50-year span. I could fill up the rest of this post with names of famous people and events he described photographing. His stories about the pictures were as riveting as the photos themselves. I didn’t want the program to end, and I wasn’t alone.

So, cut to two years ago, when I got my dream job as a public librarian and learned that programming was part of my job. Getting Richard to come to the library and share his photos could be part of my job!?

It was, and it is, and this afternoon it is happening. So, that’s the librarianship part of this post.

In accidental landlording adventures, when a known drug dealer looked at the house next door to us seven years ago, I was all “Hell no!”

I had a little extra scratch thanks to a car accident, and used it to buy the house. It’s basically a free-standing one-bedroom apartment in a park – 731 square feet on a 60-foot lot.

I thought Mom could live in it if she wanted to, which she didn’t. One of my offspring lived there for awhile (I joked that we were running a subsidized housing program – don’t ask!). Since she moved, we’d been pretty lucky to rent it to reasonable tenants on a word-of-mouth basis.

Luck ran out when our most recent tenant stopped being sober and skipped out, leaving us with a $715 water bill and all his stuff. Yesterday, someone I’ve known for 10+ years came over to look at it.

Sweetheart and I have a boatload of work to do to get the nasty tobacco smell out of the house (smoking in the house was prohibited by his lease, but drunks aren’t big on rule-following) and get it habitable by December for a mom, a kid and a dog.

I am looking forward to having someone I know and trust and value next door.

I’m looking forward to this afternoon.

I’m especially looking forward to Tuesday, hoping fervently that enough sensible people in this country see right-wing fear tactics for what they are and vote accordingly.  Please be one of them.

 

 

 

‘Honoring Miss Pietsch’ or how a composer helped me get my house in order, featuring 1886 wallpaper

 

House1904AAUW
Composer Edna Frida Pietsch stands in front of her house in 1904, insert is Pietsch at 8, in 1902. The awnings are in the attic, although they’re pretty worn out. (Photo from Wisconsin Women: a gifted heritage©1982, a project of the Wisconsin State Division AAUW

If anyone with a social media presence wants to see their blog stats tank, here’s my advice:

  1. Quit Facebook.

Even though my blog is my gift to me, a place where I write what I want to in order to loosen myself up to write better and more freely and not about how many readers and followers I have, I will freely cop to being a little sad at how dramatically my readership disappeared when I parted ways with Zuckerberg & Co.

But, I’m over it now. (Okay, maybe I am. Or maybe I’m just lying to myself.)

In the meantime, I have made excellent use of the time between blog posts to do something I have not been able to do since moving into my current house. With a little push from the house’s longest resident, Edna Frida Pietsch, and a lot of help from a couple of neighbors, my house has turned into a place I want to hang out in instead of run away from.

Well, the first floor, at least. Which is a lot, given that the first floor includes a kitchen, living room, parlor, dining room and a couple of porches. All presentable, all beautiful.

MusicRoom
The parlor – and music room

What brought on this miracle?

Two things, actually. One was our neighborhood’s annual home tour. Sweetheart and I live just outside a historic district that has hosted a home tour for the past 28 years. When he lived here with Then-wife, they were asked multiple times to open the house up for the tour, but didn’t.

I’d done the tour before. My previous house was inside the neighborhood boundaries, and there was nothing  wrong with it that a cash infusion of roughly $250,000 wouldn’t have addressed nicely. It was 2005’s “house-in-progress.”

The tour prep process resulted in a lovely, tranquil and neat first floor that stayed lovely, tranquil and neat for six months. Then, a car accident rendered me unable to do much of anything involving cleaning up after people who messed up faster behind me.

Still, it was a valuable lesson. I learned I could create and maintain order – something I had not had the chance to know about myself prior.

In the ensuing years, my decision to live in what could diplomatically be described as a pigsty was informed by my priority list.

When Sweetheart bought his house back after By-Then-Ex-wife put it up for sale, I was working full-time and in graduate school. That overlapped with helping Mom move across six states into an assisted living high-rise and then to a nursing home. Good grades, keeping my job and caring for my mother took precedence over housekeeping.

Still, the process of organizing Mom’s house while she was still there to ensure maximum safety and efficiency while she lived independently, then breaking it apart twice more for her moves showed me I had somehow mastered the art of hanging on to the right stuff without hanging on to all of it – or even too much.

There are people for whom housekeeping and clutter-repelling comes naturally. Sweetheart and I are not among them.

So, for almost 10 years, I lived in this house and whenever I had the time to look around, mostly wanted to cry and run away because there seemed no way to get it under control.

Graduating from library school in 2014 freed up time, but by then Mom was in the nursing home. My free time went there until she died.

Then, it was March of 2018, and all I had was a job. No Mom. No school. Just an upcoming neighborhood home tour focused on the arts.

And Edna Frida Pietsch, the neo-classical composer whose father and grandfather built our house. Pietsch spent either all of her life here or lived here from the time she was five – in 1899 – until she died in 1982.  She taught theory and composition at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for 35 years and composed solo, chamber and symphonic works.

20180511_123022
A cassette recording of Edna Frida Pietch’s “String Quartet in D Major”

Given that, there was no question that her house had to be on the tour. So, thanks to a pair of Sallys – the tour chair and the volunteer chair – we cleaned, and scrubbed, and excavated. (Good people going through rough times –intimate partner violence survivors and people living with brain disorders – will make good use of what we don’t need and won’t miss.)

I took a trip to Madison’s Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin, where Pietch’s manuscripts and recordings are housed. Library Director Jeanette Casey and her staff were wonderfully helpful. After I left, they digitized some of her music so I’d have recordings to play on Tour Day.

 

 

 

Pietsch’s portrait hangs in the Art, Music and Recreation room of The Milwaukee Public Library. Librarians there let me scan reference copies of her music. And an anthology of Wisconsin women published by the American Association of University Women featured a section on Pietsch and photo of the house from 1904.

MPL_PietschPortrait.jpg
Edna Frida Pietsch, painted by Joan Beringer Pripps

Hands in Harmony, a local piano studio, provided three hours of live music from teachers and students, including some works by Pietsch. The house looked fabulous.

The morning of the tour, I was putting the finishing touches on a display board. An empty board was laying on the dining room table.

“Can I use this?”

Sweetheart was cocking his head at the display board, his arms wrapped around a worn-looking cardboard box he’d brought from some cluttery corner of the attic or basement.

He began laying chunks of dusty plaster on the cardboard, arranging them in lines. Some broke apart as he lifted them from the box.

1886WallpaperBoard
Chunks of dusty plaster

“Um….what are these?”

Which is how I found out about the second chimney sprouting a leak, causing a dining room wall to buckle. Sweetheart and Then-wife had to remove the plaster and replace it. Underneath the molding, they found the 1886 wallpaper. He’d boxed and kept it, along with a sample of the old-school jute-lined linoleum that had been under the carpet when they’d redone the floors.

WallpaperCloseup.jpg
The 1886 wallpaper

We gently wiped the wallpaper with damp cloths. The plaster dust vanished, revealing a floral pattern in deep burgundy, with various shades of pink, almost silver, and gold. I thought – not for the first time – of how lucky I am to have a life partner like Sweetheart.

American ‘Greatness’ in action: Best celebrity gossip site & worst quiz ever

I am a lucky person. On weekday mornings, my alarm clock is Sweetheart coming through the bedroom door and handing me a cup of hot coffee.

The ritual dates back to the early days of our relationship. Since January 20, there’s been a new component.

He hands me coffee. My line after “Thank you” is:  “What fresh hell today?”

Sometimes he knows, because he watched the news. Other days, he tells me about the videos he watched and whether the dog has made her outdoor by-product deposit.

This morning, though, I owe a thanks to a fellow poster on Celebitchy, the high-end mind-candy celebrity gossip site for answering my daily question. Posts about the most banal of topics (the Clooney/Beyonce-JayZ twins, Kardashian-du-jour, etc.) are elevated by the site’s writers, and taken to a completely other level by its commenters.

They are, for the most part, a highly intelligent and thoughtful group. I don’t post as much there as I might because {job/Mom/pet care/other responsibilities} but I am a great lurker and have even made a friend there.

CB has been posting about the Trumps since election season, and is keeping the community updated on a regular basis about what’s happening. Those posts are informative on a lot of levels. Many of the commenters live outside the US, so we get a global perspective on how his antics are being received. I should add here that most posters are not his chosen demographic, so if you are all hyped about how “Great” America is becoming in the wake of the election, what you find on CB will not please you. (Just read the Selena Gomez and Angelina Jolie posts.)

Anyway, on a post titled “Donald Trump tweets that the media is the enemy of the American people,” from yesterday, commenter named justjj posted this:

 

just-jj

This was my response:

cannibellresponse

I copied and pasted the survey below, so no one has to click on the site. And to anyone else who is either totally sick of winning and/or thinking about Germany in 1933, you’re not alone. (Based on some of the questions, it’s been up since before November but note that it has not been taken down or changed. Forgive me for not bothering to remove the extra bullet points in the spaces between questions. Someone has to get to the dog park!)

 

Mainstream Media Accountability Survey

  • Do you trust MSNBC to fairly report on our campaign?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Do you trust CNN to fairly report on our campaign?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Do you trust Fox News to fairly report on our campaign?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)
    • Immigration
    • Economics
    • Pro-life values
    • Religion
    • Individual liberty
    • Conservatism
    • Foreign policy
    • Second Amendment rights
  • Which television source do you primarily get your news from?
    • Fox News
    • CNN
    • MSNBC
    • Local news
    • Other
  • Which online sources do you use? (Select as many that apply.)
    • Drudge Report
    • Breitbart
    • National Review
    • Weekly Standard
    • Free Beacon
    • Daily Caller
    • American Spectator
    • Red Alert Politics
    • Other
  • Do you trust the mainstream media to tell the truth about the Republican Party’s positions and actions?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Hillary Clinton still gets a free pass from the media as she continues to lie about sending classified information on her secret server.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media takes Donald Trump’s statements out of context, but bends over backwards to defend Hillary’s statements.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media failed to cover the fact that Bernie Sanders LEFT the Democrat Party.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media needs to do more to expose the shady donations to the Clinton Foundation.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Political correctness has created biased news coverage of both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The RNC was right to drop CNBC as a partner after they failed to fairly moderate the October debate.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media hardly reported on the fact that our small-dollar fundraising nearly MATCHED Hillary’s Wall Street fundraising machine.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media played a critical role in electing President Obama and is now attempting to do it again for Hillary Clinton.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • People of faith have been unfairly characterized by the media.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • American history is being rewritten by “social justice” activists.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media has not done its due diligence to expose ObamaCare’s many failures.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media wrongly attributes gun violence to Second Amendment rights.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Coverage of the Tea Party movement has been deliberately negative.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media has turned a blind eye to Planned Parenthood’s worst actions.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Americans are not fully aware just how much waste there is in the federal government.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The fact that the man who set up Hillary’s server was granted immunity should be a bigger story in the press.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • More time is spent covering fake “scandals” involving Trump than real scandals involving Hillary and our national security.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • In order to preserve whatever journalistic integrity they have left, the mainstream media must come forward and admit Hillary LIED about her secret server.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media uses slurs rather than facts to attack conservative stances on issues like border control, religious liberties, and ObamaCare.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • If Donald Trump said or did half of the things Hillary Clinton has, the media would effectively end his candidacy.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • We should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion

 

Enter Your Information

Full Name

Email Address

 

 

Zip Code

Police shootings, mob violence and the comfort of strangers: A Dispatch from Milwaukee

While Sweetheart and I were somewhere loud and happy Saturday night (a wedding),  loud and not-so-happy things were happening close to us.

In the morning, my friend Walter, a Baptist minister, posted this selfie on his way to his church. He invoked Nehmiah 1.

Walter_Selfie.jpg

By then, we’d heard the news. Riots had broken out hours after a police officer shot and killed a 23-year-old who’d refused to put down the gun he was carrying. Mobs of people gathered, shooting in the air, burning businesses and, according to one video on Facebook that I did not watch, looking for white people to beat up.

There were photos of the businesses that had been burned. A gas station. A bank. A beauty supply store. Before it burned, looters were carrying out bags of weaves.

My house is a mess. We got written up by the city for “weeds” (we have a  prairie in our front yard). I do not spend enough time with my mother or my grandson. But it could be worse. I didn’t lose my business, and I still have a job to go Monday.

It would be great if the world got better by burning things down, but it doesn’t. It just makes more heartbreak and fear which, last I heard, isn’t high on the list of building blocks for neighborhood stability.

I had to go over there and see if I could help clean up something. I’ve driven by that gas station a gatrillion times, and when I go downtown after work, I drive past the bank and the auto supply and beauty supply stores that were burned.

I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I got to the intersection a few hours after Walter had left. He’s black and big, and I am white and not. It didn’t matter. Being afraid isn’t enough of a reason not to do something that matters, and for some reason I couldn’t articulate, this mattered.

What I found were groups of people in the park across from the gas station. I instantly recognized my neighbors, Michael & Carolina. On the grass just off the sidewalk, three people were sitting alongside a pallet-sized stack of bottled water. There were bags of gloves and cartons of garbage bags.

“People are just going out and cleaning up,” Michael said. He and Carolina had been there long enough to fill a couple of bags, and were taking off.

I got a pair of gloves and a bag from a woman, who told me that the effort wasn’t really being organized by anyone. People were just showing up. (Click here for a photo, courtesy of Neighborhood News Service.)

“Kind of like last night, only not” I said. She knew exactly what I meant. I headed out with my garbage bag and a pair of yellow gloves, the kind you use to wash dishes.

I hadn’t taken more than a few steps when a young black man asked me something about where the organizers were. I told him what I knew and pointed to the water stack. Then I asked if he wanted to pair up.

Which is how I met Chad, an electrician who recently bought his first house, some 20 blocks away from where we were (roughly the same distance away as Sweetheart and me, but in a different direction). We headed east toward the beauty supply store. There wasn’t a whole lot to clean up, but we picked up some trash, and some glass. And then I saw the bullet casing outside a storefront. I photographed it, then picked it up and showed it to Chad.

Slug_in_habitatResized.jpg

 

slug_in_hand_Resized.jpg

“Whoa, a slug!” he said.

We chatted between his cell phone ringing intermittently as he told people where he was and what we were seeing, and as we got to the beauty supply store, his phone rang. His cousin had come to help out. He went to meet her. The street had been cleared of glass and the windows were boarded up, but the ground between the board-up and sidewalk was a mass of piled glass. I dug huge chunks out of the dirt, filling up my bag.

Chad returned and introduced me to Tiffany, who’s working on her master’s degree in public health and works in the field already. We walked and talked as we made our way along the street, surveying the damage and talking about upcoming community events we knew about and were involved in. When we got back to my car, I gave Tiffany my gloves, and asked if they’d be willing to be in a picture. We got another passerby to take it.

Chad_Tiffany_MeResized.jpg

I took quiet comfort in the presence like-minded strangers who care as much as I do about the city I love and call home.

The mom and daughter from Whitefish Bay who were picking up garbage, the woman in traffic who called out from her car window to ask where she could drop off donations, and all the other people we saw along the way. Some were cleaning up. Some were just walking along. The front-seat passenger in carload of girls in an SUV announced (with a dash of salt in her tone) that they’d been there the night before.  In the park, groups of people were gathered in prayer circles, including a shirtless guy with a huge snake hanging from his shoulder.

There was a lot of work to be done before last night, and a lot of good people already doing it.

I hope it’s enough.

 

Reductio ad Essentialis:Diet time at The Landfill I Call Home

This holiday season, my sister got me a pair of socks that sprung a hole the first time I wore them and a pen my brother-in-law brought back from a trip to China whose individual components waged a civil war in my coat pocket. (The pieces are still in there.)

Good_Luck_Socks2-2-16-at-7.jpg
They say “Good Luck Socks.” I wore them once and used up the luck.

She also got me a pair of Roots sweatpants that fit perfectly, and an envelope with Sweetheart’s and my name on it. Inside was a note and a check for $200. The note instructed me to use it to hire someone to help us with cleaning and organizing The Landfill We Call Home.

It was a lovely gesture. Debby is well acquainted with my travails around cleaning and organization. I definitely have too much stuff. But Sweetheart is in a league by himself, and I’ve lost control of the situation.

Once upon a brief time, I lived in a house where everything was in order. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced, a mini heaven-on-earth. It was the first time in my life I remember waking up and not thinking “I have to clean the house today,” because the house was already clean and I was able, with minimal effort, to keep it that way.

Heaven
This is not my house. It belongs to friends of mine, and when I go there, it feels like heaven. That period when I was able to get and keep things in order was, too. (Posted because I couldn’t find a photo of my house from back then.)

 

Then, I was in a car accident, Youngest Daughter moved in and, shortly after that, Sweetheart and his stuff.

Landfill1
This is the chaos that followed my order. It was pretty demoralizing.

I want to live in my own heaven again, with Sweetheart. Which is, itself, a good enough reason to clean and organize. But there’s another reason, and it is that I love my children.

Moving my mother across six states five years ago was a really eye-opening experience. I was the one who packed and boxed and helped her to figure out what to take and what to leave.

She had pills that were older than my adult children and issues of Good Housekeeping that dated back to my high school years. There were bed sheets from when I was a kid, and bank receipts that pre-dated the Kennedy assassination.

Moms_MoveResized
Mom’s Great Migration, a snapshot.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a lot of cool stuff, too.

FonduePot_FromMom
Cool things from  Mom’s (above & below)

But this baby packrat did not fall far from the mother tree when it comes to accumulating stuff. Whether I get old enough that my children have to help me move or I expire in my own digs, the last thing I want to leave them is a mess.

Which leaves only one alternative. (Well, two if you count burning the house down, but that would create a whole new set of problems.)

The house needs to go on a diet. I’d say it needs to lose approximately 2/3 of its internal mass.

Which is why Debby’s gift threw me into a bit of an existential crisis. Given the scope of what needs to happen, I wasn’t sure $200 would be enough to effectively begin to address it.

“It’s enough to rent a dumpster!” Sweetheart said.

A wholesale toss-fest sounded too much like a possessionary version of the {insert name of favorite} Diet. First Ex was a big crash/fad dieter. He’d lose a bunch of weight on whatever diet du jour was in vogue at that point, then gain even more back. A wholesale purge with the possibility of ending in storage locker rental was too big a risk.

Also, it didn’t feel right. This, to quote Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, was a “delicate” situation.

Margaret_Hamilton
“These things must be done delicately, you know.”

So, for the past few months, I’d risked losing that check somewhere in The Landfill I Call Home (our house eats things) while I pondered and waited for the right thing to do with it.

Which turned out to be my friend Annie. She was closing the vintage clothing shop she’d run for years to start an estate sale and organizing business.

Annie
Annie, behind the counter at her fabulous vintage clothing store. (Photo Credit: One of Annie’s other friends.)

I got in touch within five minutes of hearing the news. She came over for dinner and a tour of the house on Thursday. We scheduled two three-hour sessions – one for each of us.

Mine was yesterday. But in the runup, I decided to start clearing out dresser drawers so Sweetheart could have an entire dresser to himself. In the process, I began winnowing. Sweetheart saw what was happening and joined in. By the time Sunday was in the rear-view mirror, I’d thrown away three pair of shoes, a pillow and piled up a few new rags.

TakeItAwayAnnie
Annie, hauling away what I parted with after our work session. The porch and front hall look much lighter!

I also packed a huge suitcase. It’s full of clothing that still fits, but that I don’t need or haven’t worn for years. I’m off to Canada this week to see my sister.

I have a round-trip ticket. But for the clothes in that suitcase, it’s a one-way ride.

“We the People” attend a Listening Session: Polite Rage in Action

Two days ago, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. The woman on the other end had a story idea for a paper for which I’ve done a lot of work. Her son, a local orthodontist, was recently back from a medical trip to Guatemala, where he and several other dentists had spent 10 days treating anyone who needed care, at no charge.

We had a pleasant chat before ringing off.

Afterward, I thought about the numbers of people here who need and can’t afford medical and dental care. And I wondered what a medical trip from Milwaukee’s nicer, stable neighborhoods to the ones where boarded-up houses, absentee landlords and gunplay are rampant would look like.

Listening_Session_1.jpg
People lined up to speak at the Community Listening Session about the Milwaukee Police Department (Photo Credit: Martha Pincus)

Part of the reason could be where I’d been the previous Thursday. I went to a Community Town Hall Listening Session hosted by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), a branch of the US Justice Department. The session was part of its Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance with the Milwaukee Police Department. It’s basically a giant audit. A group of outside professionals examines every component of your operation and does focus groups with your customers. Then, they ride off into the sunset and come back with a report that includes a naughty & nice list –what you’re doing right, and what you might want to do differently.

More than 700 people packed the public auditorium. Demographically speaking, it was a very heterogeneous house. At least two different groups were dressed in matching T-shirts with printed messages.

There were political types,  incumbents and candidates both, mostly schmoozing with each other and the occasional constituent/voter. The exception was a guy I think of as Alderman Rage-a-holic, because every time he’s on TV – which is pretty often compared to other alderpeople – he’s spitting mad about something. He sure didn’t look approachable, sitting in a seat surrounded by empty seats toward the back of the room. His eyes were narrowed, and he looked as if he had just finished sucking the juice out of every lemon in the city.

Speaking truth

The program began. A sign language interpreter stood to the side of the stage, translating the speaker’s words into ASL. After lining up in front of two microphones posted at the edges of the aisles, everyone would have two minutes to speak. There was also a portable mic for people with mobility issues, and a Spanish-language interpreter. Note-takers were posted throughout the room to capture the information. The moderator invited people to approach the microphones.

A polite stampede ensued. People rose up from everywhere and aimed themselves at the aisles bordering the center section. In less than a minute, two orderly lines stretched back past the doors at the entrance.

I did what I always do when I’m not sure what to do and I have a computer in front of me. I took notes. Nine pages of notes, from 33 people. To a one, the speakers were respectful, even when they were angry, and many had a right to be angry. There were some terrible stories.

There was the woman who’d moved to Milwaukee at 18, and while visiting friends in a different neighborhood, was arrested for prostitution. When it kept happening, she asked one of the officers why, and he told her that then-chief Harold Breier said that if they saw a woman in a neighborhood more than twice, she was a prostitute. She had been ticketed 16 times.

Craig Stingley’s son, Corey, 16, died at a convenience store when three customers and a store clerk restrained him after seeing him shoplift. His death was ruled a homicide. Corey was black. The customers and clerk were white. No one was charged with a crime.

“My son was murdered by four individuals – choked to death … My son made an initial act that was out of order, but four adult individuals took it upon themselves to be the judge, the jury and the executioner.”

The mother of a six-year-old described how police had chased her son down, hit and arrested him after someone attacked him and his friends while they were playing basketball. Her son had begun running when he saw the officers. “He was scared,” she said, adding that “I speak for all the African-American boys who are stereotyped.”

The white woman who began by sharing that she’d “lived in a black neighborhood for 30 years,” elicited a collective gasp, followed by rumbles of disapproval. Someone shouted, “What’s a black neighborhood?”

Craig Stingley, who hadn’t yet spoken but was in front of the other mic, hushed the crowd.

“I have seen terrible, terrible things. Terrible things have been done to my neighbors. A man was kicked in the head by three black women. People have been dragged out of their cars. My tenant, a black doctor, was made to lie on the street in November while his car was carjacked. Our city has been overcome by violent black youth.”

The crowd was roaring, booing, shouting over her. She stood there.

Again, Craig Stingley intervened.

“It’s her truth,” Stingley said. “We’ve all got to get our shit together. Let her talk.”

When it was Maria Hamilton’s turn, she didn’t mince words.

“My truth is that of all these moms across the US whose kids have been taken from us through senseless violence by police departments.”

Her son, Dontre, was 31 when he was shot and killed by a police officer in a nearby park. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, he was homeless, and not on medication. His family cared about him and was struggling to advocate effectively for him. The officer was fired, but not charged.

Now, their advocacy work is focused on social and racial justice, with a focus on supporting mothers whose children were shot by police or vigilantes.

Some speakers had specific recommendations.

“We in Milwaukee need a good police department, and we have some good officers but also we have some bad ones. There are always a couple of rotten apples in any barrel, but when these apples have been able to survive, thrive and grow in numbers, there’s something wrong with the barrel,” said a 70-year-old Milwaukee lifer.

“We need to look at use of force as to how we train, how we weaponize and how we humanize.

Chris Ahmuty, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, asked that the review not disappoint the people who live here.

“Don’t just look at what the police want to talk about. It’s an affront to human dignity when people treat people in a third-class fashion.”

At 8 p.m., the session was supposed to end. At least 30 people were still in line. The moderator asked that no one else line up. Then he said the session would continue until those people spoke.

My Write-in Candidate is Dead and Reductive Disrespecters Want Your Brain: An Election Season Guide for the Perplexed

There are a lot of reasons I miss having a dog. Election season is one. Tuki used to come with me when I voted.

votingpair4web.jpg

She was also my candidate of choice on more than one occasion. I voted for Tuki when it was clear that, compared to the humans on a ballot, she would represent my interests more competently.

I wrote in Tuki for County Supervisor the whole time Lee Holloway was in office. The only time I ever saw him at my door was after a pension scandal (he and his fellow supervisors voted themselves and county employees fat pensions at the expense of the county’s well-being). When I asked him about it, he got owly. His opponent had no political experience and misspellings on her campaign literature. Tuki was the clear winner.

Even before she died in November, I knew there was a viable human candidate for County Supervisor this coming April. When my friend Mike found out I’d been laid off last July, he told me he was running and asked if I’d be willing to help with his campaign.

Lke me, Mike is a progressive communitarian. Of course I’d be willing to help!

Also, I quite adore him. I also adore his wife Trudy, their kids Jon and Carolyn and their special needs dog, Turbo. (Turbo is an epileptic – but courtly – German Shepherd.)

I asked about specific things he could affect as Supervisor.

“Three things,” he answered. “Transportation, parks and jobs.”

“Four,” I said. “Mental health services.”

“Absolutely!” he said.

So, since fall, Mike’s been walking the district, knocking on doors and introducing himself to voters. By the time it was time to collect the 200 signatures he needed to get on the ballot, he’d gotten a lot of exercise. He’d also gotten a lot of information from his prospective constituents.

It used to be that simple. Candidates declared their intentions by going directly to We the People to talk about who they were and what they’d do, and We the People listened, used our brains to make an informed decision, and voted.

But most people are busy. Or lazy. Some are so turned off by having seen nothing change for so long that they’ve abandoned the process entirely and don’t even bother with elections or voting any more.

All that is a big mistake. Because people – on the left and the right – have figured out how to turn that cynicism and laziness to their advantage, and they’re doing just that. They’ve given up on changing the system. They’re just trying to milk it in order to get more for themselves or keep what they have by maintaining the status quo. And they’re using your brain – with your cooperation – to get the job done.

You can see it working right now in the run-up to next year’s presidential election. Who will Hispanics want? What about women? How do we get the Black vote? What about the Jews? How do we reach White Men?

Local party/organization bosses are exactly the same. They go out and find people they think the Hispanics/Women/Blacks/Jews/White Men will vote for and recruit them to run. Then, they pour money and publicity into their campaigns and send out press releases touting their credentials “S/He went to a rally for {insert cause here} and is an activist in his/her {insert demographic-catnip-sounding group name here}!”

It’s all designed to appeal to your emotions.

Which is reductive and disrespectful. Almost as disrespectful as the fact that these decisions are, by and large, made by people who don’t even live in the districts they’re working to influence.

So, yeah. Qualifications aside, I’m a little cranky that Mike, who is in his 50s and white, is being told by the people who don’t live here that they have to support the black woman in her 20s because she’s a black woman in her 20s.

Anyway, all this to say that during this election season, don’t take anyone’s word for what the person who wants to represent you stands for. When those glossy things start showing up in your mailbox, or if candidates show up on your doorstep, find out how long they’ve lived in your district, what drove them to run, what they want to accomplish in office and how they plan to do it.

Then, stick it to the reductive disrespecters. Use your pre-frontal cortex  instead of your limbic system when you decide who’s getting your vote.