Thursday, September 11, 2014

Appalachia and My Politics

Not a popular subject but an important one. I will be publishing my Civil War series of stories later this week but I just went to the Grassroots gathering of Virginia Organizing. I rested all week to get ready for it but still gave out with this illness. I had also forgot, ye old brain fog, I scheduled two places to be at the same time. I went with the first commitment, gave it my all and survived.

Photos of the event are here. It was a great event in spite of me being sick and I thank those that got me there. I could not have gone without help.  It also made me realize I have another blog I'm neglecting called, Life under the Virginia Way, that was suppose to deal with issues of politics.

I just realized I don't need two blogs. Just one. As often as I don't write, I can put another page link up at the top on politics. First of all let me say this...I hate politics. But how we live is decided on a political plane in a political arena and you can't avoid politics especially in Appalachia.

Policies all of us live under are usually determined by the politics at the local, county, state and federal level. Even if you want to just ignore politics, people's politics create how you live in this country. So one may think one is avoiding being involved in political decisions by being apathetic, or by not discussing them, but you are not avoiding anything. Apathy is its own form of participation. By not participating you are letting others determine the policies you live under. You can't live here, or anywhere without politics effecting your life.

I didn't used to be so involved. Life was much simpler when I wasn't and just lived under whatever happened to be. I used to be a housewife and happy to be so. I raised children, a garden and took care of the home.  In the late 80s early 90's my ex husband became ill, lost his railroad job and we lost everything we had. Went bankrupt and actually became homeless.

It's amazing how watching your children go through something like that will politicize a person. I couldn't get a job at that time. It was as bad as is it today.  I remember I counted 18 applications I filled out in just one week with nothing to show for it. While searching again, I stopped in at the local community college to see if training would help me get a job and ended up getting a degree.

Eventually we pulled ourselves up, but not without help and though the marriage did not survive, my desire to make this place a better world for my kids and grand kids is still strong.
View from the gallery at the Virginia State house...yep been there a few times. 

Virginia Organizing is a group I have volunteered with since it's beginning. It is non partisan, though it's accused of not being so by those that don't understand the organization. Just because the organization is backing things like immigration reform and health care issues, doesn't mean a thing. It truly is non-partisan.

Hey, I've voted for Republicans and we have worked with Republicans, Democrats and anyone that will work to solve problems. I just don't know about the new breed of politicians being produced these days. It's got many baffled. You know, the ones that act like a two year old and won't even meet with their own constituents? Yep...pretty weird and some really weird times in our political processes.   I'm for good ideas and solutions and I don't care which side it comes from.

Every year I've tried to volunteer for at least one VO project. Since I've been ill...well, I'm doing better than I have been the last few years. At the grassroots event I was asked a series of four questions. I thought I would post them and my answers here. I've watched participation grow across the state, from a few people sitting in a library or at a McDonald's talking about what kind of community and state they want to live in to where it is today.

1. How did you get involved in Virginia Organizing. 

I got involved with Virginia Organizing at the very, VERY beginning, before there was a Virginia Organizing. My family had just survived going from middle class to being homeless and losing everything we had. In that experience my family dealt with so many issues trying to survive. I was looking for a way to change the way the system works and responds to people when they get sick or lose a job, or need education. I was looking for a way to make it better for my children, so they would not have to experience that ever again. 

2.  What has been the high point of your involvement?

Learning so much, watching people get involved, and how they learn so much and watching it work and the organization grow. It was a different kind of model, no membership, but a great diversity of people across the state and their relationships to one another. Hard for me to understand at first. But the high light is... it works.

3. What have you learned since you became active with Virginia Organizing?

That change comes slowly because all issues are connected. That issues like race, gender, LGBT, immigration, heath care, the economy, the environment, energy, every single issue you can think of are community issues and connected to one another. I have learned I can’t be single issue oriented if I want to make my community better for my people.  I have learned I have to stand up for others and with others all across the state working on solutions to the issues they are having to deal with in order to make my own community better for my family and my children. 

4. What excites you most about being a Virginia Organizing member?

The future. I’m seeing it work!!  People learning that we have to work together to find solutions and make the changes needed. I've seen Virginia Organizing giving us the vehicle to do just that.

Is this sounding Utopian? Well it's not. It's a lot of hard work. The work of coming together and finding what we can agree on and finding solutions to problems.  Do I believe the same as everyone in the organization...NO...I definitely have some views on different issues not like others. But you have to have an open dialog and an open mind. A respect that not everyone believes everything the same as you or yours. But where we can agree, change can happen.

What I have seen happen over the last twenty years is that we all have, all across Virginia, more in common than we do differently and if you don't let the differences stop what we can agree on, we solve problems and get things accomplished that help us all. It's amazing how that works.

The organization was even working with Governor Bob McDonnell on the restoration of rights issue. Every Virginia Governor, long before McDonnell, has been concerned with this issue in Virginia. How people who have been involved with a crime, did their time and paid their fines, and not in any more trouble get restoration of their rights. It goes right along with Christian beliefs to restore and forgive people.

The only way was for the Governor of Virginia to sign off on each and every case by petition. So many cases exist every year, that if that was all a governor did, it would be all they would get accomplished while in office.  It's estimated there are close to 400,000 returning citizens right now in Virginia in need of restored rights. It's been a problem for DECADES!! Someone told me try over 100 years but I haven't looked that up yet.  Bob McDonnell was actually working with us trying to help find a solution for it.

Restoration of rights just restores things like voting rights and rights to get a passport, even become a notary. It doesn't restore gun rights, not in Virginia. For that you have to petition a court separately. If people have made mistakes and paid for them, it just makes sense to forgive and restore them to be complete productive citizens again.

There are many people I realize who have been hurt in the past by actions of other people. They don't care the situation or the crime. They say if anyone makes any mistakes that hurts others in any way, even though they have made amends....tough, they made their bed and have to lie in it. In my mind and my belief system, that's not exactly a Christian way to be. To skip over the restoration and forgiveness clauses in the Bible as if they don't matter is a big no no in my religion. Those people who are not willing to forgive have a big problem they will have to come to terms with and to answer to God for.

On Governor Bob McDonnell and his fall from grace...I feel very sad. Who in the world would ever rejoice at this? It's ironic he may need those restoration of his own rights one day.  When he was either a state delegate or the Attorney General we were working with him on another issue and I can't even remember the issue. With this organization I have volunteered to work on so many over the years. Next year is the 20th anniversary.

But at that meeting, we were hopeful because he had a plaque in this office with a quote from St. Francis. Can't even remember the quote but we thought if he believes in this, then maybe he will see how desperately the particular issue we were working on needed addressed in Virginia. I remember he was a politician that would at least listen and try to explain why or why not he thought a solution was good or lacking. I understood him to be a politician willing to allow the bringing together good ideas and find solutions regardless of where they originated from. Rare these days especially in Virginia or in our national Congress.

So I see his fall from grace, as something changed and very sad indeed and highlights a big problem we have always had in politics.....controlling money's influence in the political process.

I think we can all agree that we hold our elected officials accountable to using public office for any private gains as a bad thing.  The McDonnell's scenario played out like a really bad soap opera and we don't know what goes on behind closed doors. But I think it's a part of a culture in politics today to think that they thought what was occurring wasn't wrong. Which to me is most disturbing.

Part of their defense was that it didn't matter they received all these gifts or special favors. It is questionable whether the giver of those gifts would have gained the level of access to using the Governor's executive mansion or access to those specific state officials through the Governor's office he received, if he hadn't given those gifts. So I don't know the solutions but I hope we find it soon.

People's lives depend on decisions made in the political arena. That's why no one can avoid politics even if they wanted to.

I hope to do what I can and volunteer some more for Virginia Organizing. That just depends on this crazy illness that I have come to just loath!!! I am hoping they will have a Restoration of rights workshop in our area. For more information click HERE. I would like to try to volunteer for that. I know a couple of people who have worked hard to make amends, worked to put their lives on the right track, who deserve to be forgiven and restored.  It shouldn't take decades to get that accomplished.