Saturday, May 24, 2008

Moving on from Michigan

"If you are here for money or a signature, let me save you some time," I said preempting the pitch. "I don't do those things at the front door."

"O.K. That kinda covers it," he replied hugging a clipboard to his chest.
"So, how's it going?" I asked.
"Tonight, not so good." The ACLU activist on my front porch was slim and young in tee shirt and jeans. He could have been my son, clear-eyed, ready to change the world one front door at a time.
"What are you working on?" I asked.
"Constitutional stuff mostly," he shrugged with a smile nestled in casual stubble.
"I'd have been more pleased if you had success with the same-sex partner benefits at the Supreme Court," I said, looking past him to the blooming lupines thriving in the unseasonal cool air.
"Me, too."

Turns out, he doesn't live in Michigan, really, this activist for the progressive way forward. He was raised here in the liberal oasis of Ann Arbor, but goes to school out east and his family is relocating there as well. They just sold their house. But still he works for the cause in Michigan. He still wants to help here.

We chatted about the climate -- political, economic, cultural -- in our state, shook our heads and parted, well wishing, smiling, understanding each other a little. This summer, pursuing his ideals might turn into just another job. When it's over, he'll return to school and re-join his family's migration east. He's moving on from Michigan.

It's a creaturely thing, migration. We get attached to place, landscape, claiming our habitat, crying for its preservation and protection, associating safety with roots. But many of us notice when it's time to move on, nothing more to graze, too many predators, drought. We hear of better pasture, opportunity, maybe a place where we can gather and create and can be ourselves.

Maybe Michigan will again be a place people seek to settle. For now, she's exhaling, out with the old...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Edwards endorses Obama, Oh my!

Never mind the delegates, in Michigan John Edwards endorsed Barack Obama today. Michigan, epicenter of American manufacturing decline, heart of the rust belt, and ground zero of the national recession served as poignant setting for labor's candidate to join forces with the Obama campaign.

This is a green light for Reagan democrats to support Obama. All those hardworking, blue-collar democrats can feel a little better about voting for Obama. An Edwards endorsement may diffuse insinuation about Obama's being anti-American. The all-American, self-made man has just endorsed him.

There may be talk of Edwards as Obama's running mate, but just imagine him as Attorney General. Takes your breath away.

Obama's call to Michigan's manufacturing soul

Senator Barak Obama called for a national manufacturing agenda to develop green energy and create up to 5 million jobs in a talk at Macomb Community College today.

"It’s time to recapture the spirit of innovation that has always fueled America’s economic success. It’s time we had an economy that was driven not just by foreign debt, but by the power of America’s imagination. It’s time to tap the ingenuity of engineers and entrepreneurs, policy experts and working folks to meet the challenges of our time," Obama said.

His proposed plan would invest $150 billion over the next ten years in the green energy sector via a Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund, and "create an Advanced Manufacturing Fund that will invest in innovation and job creation in places that have been hard hit by the decline in manufacturing," Obama said.

Obama alluded to unfair trade practices that have undercut American manufacturing, but didn't give specifics as to how he would enforce international agreements, saying he would make sure "that countries like China aren’t breaking the rules and putting American workers at a disadvantage."

The senator also called for a universal health care plan to alleviate economic stress on families, claiming he would implement a plan by the end of his first year in office. "Unlike John McCain, I have a universal health care plan. It’s a plan that will cut health care costs by up to $2500 per family per year and reduce costs for business and their workers by picking up the tab for some of the most expensive illnesses and conditions," Obama said.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Michigan, you can't get there from here

"You can't get there from here" -- a salty bit of logical nonsense attributed to Maine that fits Michigan's current cultural and economic predicament. Over the last few years, Michiganders who want to improve the state have described a way forward, a new economy and a defining moment. They have struggled to articulate a vision that might inspire people to change ideas and actions and habits.

Yet, getting "there from here" can feel as impossible as Lansing Democrats and Republicans collaborating for the sake of the state or the Detroit Three producing cars that actually get good mileage or Dow just cleaning up its shameful dioxin pollution in Saginaw or Kwame Kilpatrick graciously stepping down so Detroit can get some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Thing is, Michigan could get "there" from "here," but it would take generosity, maturity, magnanimity, compassion, warm-heartedness, concern for one's neighbors, humility, creativity and openness to new ideas. Plenty of people who love Michigan are working on it. Lots of others are not.

Openness to new ideas is probably the biggest impediment to reviving Michigan's economy and culture. New ideas can be expensive. For example the executives at Dow Chemical could choose to do the most thorough possible cleanup of the dioxin in the Saginaw River simply because it is the right thing to do. That would be a new idea. It might cost the company a lot of money, but at least they would be acting in good faith. They would be demonstrating a commitment to the environment and public health in communities vulnerable to the pollution Dow creates and spreads.

New ideas can mean forsaking short-term gain for the sake of long-term benefit. The Detroit Three could have chosen to embrace high gas mileage as a core value for everyone's sake. But over the last few years, public appetite for gas guzzlers has meant big profits for the domestic industry. Turns out, that short-term strategy is biting the industry but good as foreign-owned companies prepare to sell lots of small, efficient cars that consumers need. You can't commute if you can't afford the gas it takes to get to work.

New ideas make people uncomfortable, defensive, and unwelcoming to people who are different. We saw that last week with the State Supreme Court's decision prohibiting employee health benefits to people not in "man/woman" marriages. The idea of same-sex marriage (to some an obvious oxymoron) makes people uncomfortable and defensive in a knee-jerk, gut-based way. And so, Michigan is now unequivocally inhospitable to same-sex couples in long-term relationships a.k.a. marriages. Here is an issue that could help Michiganders stretch themselves and practice openmindedness and compassion and generosity and hospitality.

So what'll it be, Michigan? Narrow-minded, short-sighted,greed-driven, socially intolerant policy or a new way -- progressive, community-oriented, inclusive, locally sustainable innovation?

Friday, May 9, 2008

What a week for the gays in Michigan!

Just when you were ready to put the dismal Supreme Court decision on same-sex partner benefits temporarily behind you, news that protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church will make an appearance at Eastern Michigan University today at noon. If you don't know what to do for lunch, stop by and share in the counter protest!

From the Triangle Foundation press release:
"Known for his "God Hates Fags" websites and propaganda, Fred Phelps is coming to protest against a student organization that allegedly promotes 'the sodomite agenda.'"

"If you would like to join Triangle Foundation and other LGBT and allied organizations on EMU’s campus, we would appreciate your support. Those of us who attend, please do not engage in violent ways or angry reactions. Be mindful he engages in spiritual abuse against LGBT people and our allies. After their protest we encourage our community to assist us in symbolically and physically washing the area of hate, bigotry, and exclusion with mops and brooms."

It's really difficult to see this event as unrelated to the Supreme Court decision earlier this week. The temptation is to say that the Westboro people are a fringe group and the Supreme Court is not. But the result for LGBT people is the same: public denouncement of who we are. Is that connection really such a stretch for straight people to comprehend?

It is doubtful the Westboro group is attempting to create synergy with the court decision, but you never know. They may be hateful, but they're not stupid.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Getting personal about life in Michigan

This is not a personal blog. But as the adage goes, the personal is political.

Michigan's Supreme Court has interpreted the marriage amendment to the state constitution as prohibiting employee health benefits being extended to same-sex partners. Fine.

The papers this morning are touting arrangements made by state universities with a work around that involves terms like "other qualified adult" and "other eligible individual." Gays and lesbians in Michigan are supposed to be grateful for the creativity of university legal teams. Statistically, there won't be a lot of people directly affected, so what does it matter?

Here's how it matters. Our state, this state, has unabashedly enshrined in law heterosexual privilege. Some readers may think that I just used a bit of radical jargon. Too bad.

What Michigan now has is a system that assures special rights for heterosexual married people by denying employment benefits to another group. In effect, the state constitution says that if you are in a heterosexual marriage you are more worthy of health insurance and other benefits that accrue to the partners of employees.

A large number of Michigan citizens are fine with this, because they benefit, because it fits with their world view, because they believe in their heart of hearts that marriage is the cornerstone of civilized society, because they believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, because it affirms them. It works for them.

But this won't work for a forward-looking Michigan. Neither will high teen drop-out rates, high unemployment, outsourcing, falling income, weak pollution laws, a structural deficit in the state budget, a paternalistic employment culture, lack of appreciation for higher education, and legal immunity for big pharma.

For those of you committed to a progressive Michigan, there is no discernible end point.

While some have tried to advocate for a progressive Michigan through writing,words will not be sufficient to bring forth a progressive Michigan.

It will take action. Boots on the ground.

For you progressives committed to the long battle, I have the deepest respect, appreciation and awe.

Saturday, many will gather for the Progressive Policy Summit in Lansing. That event couldn't come at a better time for the state and the progressive community.

Time to regroup, reconnect, refresh and ready for the work ahead.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Jon Stewart gives Detroit overdue comic relief

Thank you so much for covering the "Rustbelt Midwest Swing State F@#kfest." Lest we take any of this too seriously...

Same-sex partner benefits illegal in Michigan

Welcome to the backwater called Michigan.

The Supreme Court has spoken. The state constitution as amended by voters defines marriage in Michigan as only possible between one man and one woman. Public employers may not extend benefits to same-sex partners of employees.

If you are gay or lesbian and in a committed relationship, you cannot be construed as married in Michigan. While the court's decision only applies to public employers, it will be a green light for further discrimination against LGBT persons in Michigan.

Now you can be sure that Michigan is an inhospitable place for gay and lesbian people.

The straight majority asserted its will in 2004. Married heterosexual people really are privileged in Michigan. Heterosexual privilege is enshrined in the state constitution.

If you are in a gay or lesbian relationship, you may think of your commitment to each other as a marriage, but the state does not. You may share all your resources with each other, but Michigan will not honor your relationship. You have no protection. You can draft a sheaf of legal documents to simulate the contractual elements of marriage. You can hope that such documents will be honored as you attempt to conduct your business as a couple. But there are no guarantees.

Good luck with your new economy, Michigan. Good luck attracting quirky, creative, innovators. Good luck retaining gays and lesbians who've devoted themselves to public service and education for the wellbeing of their fellow citizens.

Maybe this is what some voters wanted -- to drive out the queers, make them unwelcome, purify Michigan for the sake of future generations.

Obama hurts Detroit's feelings. Get over it.

The headlines shriek: "Obama blasts Detroit, Ford again." Oh please. As if Detroit and the Big Three are above reproach. Obama simply shared a memory of a dismal ride from the 1970s, a Granada.

Even if you are loyal to Ford or GM or Chrysler, you can't argue they never ever produced a dud, especially in the 1970s.

My first ride was a late 1970s Chevy Nova with cheap interior, bad radio, hideous color choices, and no sound proofing.

Obama has criticized Detroit for indulging consumer appetite for gas guzzling SUVs and large trucks. And he recently pointed out that the Japanese makers are getting ready to trounce the Americans with their well-developed fuel efficient vehicles. He is right. Toyota will soon raise the base price of their popular small cars. Take that GM.

For anyone who came up in the 1970s, the decision to build gas hogs has been unfathomable. They are wasteful and cost more to operate. Building them takes more resources but delivers the same level of function of a more fuel efficient car. They are icons of conspicuous consumption. Monuments to ego.

Obama is spot on when it comes to the Detroit Three and their pursuit of greater profit through the sale of SUVs.

If you have a memory of a domestic dud from your early driving years, feel free to share a comment.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

The long winter is over.
Spring has come.
Rejoice and be glad, Michigan.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Found poem from spam subject lines

Spam -- the junk that jams your email inbox -- may have redeeming qualities after all. Here is a found poem from recent spam subject lines.

Don't understand?
More dimension and vigor
You can do this too
Is it hard?

For the sake of your health
Be not afraid of making changes
This is what people want to know
Dreams can cost less

Relax, take a deep breath
We have the answer
Immense weapon of love
Your life

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Clare Public Schools squashes Day of Silence

If you're a gay kid in Clare Public Schools, you're on your own. The school administration will not support you or assure a safe environment or permit something as benign as participation in the Day of Silence, a national event of solidarity with LGBT youth in schools.

According to a report in the Clare County Review, Clare Public Schools officially prohibited student and teacher participation in the National Day of Silence sponsored by GLSEN.

Clare Board Of Education President Tom Weaver read a statement at the board meeting prior to last Friday's event:

"Teachers will be instructed to teach, and students will be instructed not to post any signs or hand out any literature.
If a student chooses not to participate in classroom activities, they will face the consequences of their actions. Disciplinary action will be taken against any students or teachers causing any type of disturbance relating to the “Day of Silence” issue."

Doesn't the Board of Education realize that harassment on the basis of perceived sexual orientation or gender expression is the most common "disturbance" relating to the "Day of Silence" issue? The issue is creating safe space for all students. Period. Kids are driven to suicide and assaulted every day because of actual or perceived difference. By prohibiting an event that demonstrates support for an inclusive environment, the community leaders are giving a green light for violence and abuse against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender kids.

Even worse, they are tacitly accepting a community standard based on suppressing civil action to protest injustice. They are condoning a community standard of discrimination, intolerance, conformity and fear.

It's bad enough LGBT adults in Michigan continue to face workplace discrimination.

Michigan's future depends on a culture of creativity and diversity and inclusion. That means welcoming gay and lesbian people. And transgender people. And all kinds of different people.

The Clare County Review reported that Rev. Jim Shuster, a bus driver and pastor of the North West Baptist Church, said, “This agenda is the homosexual cause. Are we going to allow this agenda into Clare Schools? It’s sin. Why do we want to legitimize sin in our schools? Our tax based school system should not promote this agenda.”

It's not a homosexual cause, it's a human rights cause. Kids have the human right to be safe in their persons in schools supported by the state.

Michigan, you have a long, long way to go. Please don't shoot yourself in the foot.