Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Fair Baltimore, the Beautiful City... Sort Of

What do you know? For five and a half years of my life, I lived in the Seventh Congressional District, which is the one that Donald Trump called a "disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess," and "the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States." Our fearless leader added that no human being would want to live there.

I am a human being, I lived there happily.

 To intelligent people, the world is far more complicated than it is to stupid people.

When it comes to intelligent people, the Seventh Congressional District has boatloads. Both Johns Hopkins University (my alma mater) and Johns Hopkins Hospital are located in the district. Many of Johns Hopkins University's professors live in the vicinity of the university, in some decidedly posh neighborhoods.


The Seventh District also includes Baltimore's Inner Harbor. It was kind of run down when I first moved there, but now it's a tourist trap of the first stripe. Even the Baltimore Orioles and the Baltimore Ravens have stadiums in the Inner Harbor.


This picture doesn't even do the Inner Harbor justice. It's gorgeous.

The Seventh Congressional District also houses two world-renowned art museums, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Gallery. I've been to both, and they're fabulous.

But this is the stuff you've been hearing about that contradicts the fearless leader's rancid remark. I'm gonna get real here.

While a citizen of Baltimore, I had more than one memorable encounter with large rodents and many encounters with smaller ones. I left one apartment in haste due to the midnight excursions of a rat. My next apartment after that was visited by a mammal of the same species. Everyplace I lived had cockroaches and lots of them. (Daughter Fair has named them "scuttle boys," which I love.) But I'm a human being, and I didn't mind living there with these universal benchmarks of infestation. City life, you know? My kids live in Philly ... and they deal with scuttle boys, mice, and rats too.

However, it is indeed possible to find neighborhoods in the Seventh Congressional District that are dangerous and crime-ridden.


I would like to behold a Congressional district that has no poverty or crime, where everyone lives a blissful, strife-free life. The Seventh Congressional District is not that district. There are neighborhoods I avoided completely where people live in desperate conditions. These citizens do not blame Congressman Cummings for their lot, however. They are proud of him. They know he is doing what he can to help them. They would not switch places with the caged immigrants at the U.S./Mexico border.

Living in Baltimore changed me completely. When I arrived there in the fall of 1977, I was a registered Republican who believed in small government and the possibility that anyone could be successful if they worked hard enough. Twelve months in Fair Baltimore convinced me that what the human race chiefly needs is a government that props up those less fortunate through sensible taxation of those who can best afford it.

Through a program in the Johns Hopkins chaplain's office, I tutored an inner city girl. She was bused to the university three times a week in the afternoons. At the end of the school year, the chaplain asked all tutors to ride the bus home with their students and meet the students' families.

My student's house had holes in the floor. The furnace didn't work. There were people passed out in the streets. My student shared her home with her mother, grandmother, and two siblings. Her father died of alcoholism at age 36. Against all of this, the child was trying to learn her multiplication tables. Her family was Caucasian. I can't tell from the map whether her South Baltimore neighborhood is in the Seventh or not. It's on the border.

Seeing how my little tutoring pupil lived caused me to ask, "Why can't something be done?" And that's when I became a liberal. Boom. Just like that.

I'm going to make one final point in today's lengthy sermon. Look at this map of the Seventh Congressional District:


Does something smell fishy to you? It's not the rodents or the infestation, it's the shape of this district! It looks like a dragon's head rising from a lake. This is a district that is the product of gerrymandering. Which the Supreme Court just upheld. Is there injustice in the state of Maryland? Oh yes, and it's the way the votes are clustered. Elijah Cummings can't do one damn thing about that.

To summarize in an intelligent way, Baltimore is a city with all the positives and challenges of any large city. There are pockets of lavish wealth and pockets of desperate poverty, and many many neighborhoods along a sliding scale that fit in between. There are accomplishments and struggles. Just because the sitting congressman for that district is tough on the president, that doesn't mean the city is uninhabitable. Insult by hyperbole is Trump's signature achievement as (not my) president.

Rodents? Yeah. I'll bet the White House has them too.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Water, Water Everywhere

Hello and welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Can you believe the cheek of these bored deities? They want me to start a podcast. That's what's fashionable now. They think I should keep up with the times. I'm too polite to point out that They, too, are moored in the past.

Today's sermon topic is water. Many of us take it for granted, like there's an endless supply. But while we haven't been watching, a company called American Water has moved to privatize this commodity. You watch. They'll be coming to your neighborhood, if they haven't already.

But pish tosh! What can I do about the privatization of drinking water? About the only step I take is to use my spigot to fill re-usable bottles instead of buying those stinking little plastic bottles of spring water. Are you like me? Can you remember a time when you just basically trusted the local water source?

I love all the elements, but water holds a special place in my heart. Three years ago, I went for the first time to a place called Ricketts Glen in Pennsylvania. It's an amazing waterfall walk, with 23 falls in a three-mile circuit.

In 2016 I went there with my daughter The Heir. The summer had been dry and hot.


This is the tallest waterfall on the loop, at 94 feet.

Fast forward to 2019, the second of two very wet summers.


Same waterfall, different daughter. This is The Fair.

I mean, reader! It's the same doggone waterfall!

There is a moral to this sermon. If our planet keeps getting hotter, we will have less and less potable water. Our waterfalls may always look like 2016. And we can live without petroleum products. We can live without abundant food. But we are goners after a few days without water.

If a company like American Water comes calling, do whatever you can to thwart their designs. We had a voter referendum on AW's takeover of our municipal water here in Haterville ... and the for-profit company won. Stupid Haterville. One of these days your precious deep level aquifer will supply water to the owners of American Water, and not to your citizens.

Wait. This is depressing! Let's revisit Ricketts Glen, then and now!



Can't live without it! Oh, and there's one last photo that I just adore from this 2019 trip:


A fun time was had by all!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

My Body My Faith

Have you noticed a new level of respect for religion in this country? I have! The only problem is which religion is getting the respect.

More and more often we are going to see courts of law making decisions based on religious principles. I'm not talking about a general set of religious principles, but rather about specifically Christian principles. However, these judicial decisions will hinge on "religious rights."

This happens because of the assumption that most religions are descendants of the jealous God, and if they're not, they're philosophical paths like Buddhism. Have you ever been to an "all faith" service in the wake of some tragedy? Did you ever see them call up a Pagan to pray? Me neither.

Isn't it about time we Pagans demand our religious rights? I'm asking for friends. Friends who might need birth control or doctor-performed abortion services.

All of this protesting, using the Constitution and politics to protect women's rights, would only work if all women got on board. But lots of Christian women -- and I mean tons and tons of them -- oppose abortion on religious grounds. This is how we get draconian laws like the ones hitting the books right now in so many states.

It's time for "My Body My Faith."

Pagans see the world differently, or at least I do. I believe that the health of the planet is more important than the birth of more humans. We are an invasive species. We are literally destroying the only Earth we have, and the more of us there are, the worse it gets. Therefore, a tenet of my faith is that bodily autonomy protects the planet.

Bodily autonomy protects the planet.

That's a simple enough precept that everyone should be able to memorize it pretty quickly. Now, let's say that this statement is a central tenet of Pagan faiths. If it is codified as such, then Pagan women could request safe abortions on religious grounds. To deny a Pagan woman an abortion would be trampling on her religious rights.

Does this make sense to any of you? I want to get a conversation going in our Faith Community about abortion and its place in the health of planet Earth. we need to have some sort of "faith statement" that codifies bodily autonomy as a central tenet of Paganism. We need another statement that codifies the sanctity of the Earth and the sensible stewardship of the planet.

And then we need women who will demand abortions based upon their closely-held religious beliefs.

The only way to fight a politics that uses thinly-veiled religious tenets is to offer a challenge to those tenets using another religion. The only outfit that has done this is the Church of Satan, which is not founded on doctrine, but rather on philosophy.

You would think that after centuries of religious persecution, Pagan women would get up, stand up. Now is the time! You need an abortion? It's against your religion not to have one!

Anybody out there want to pursue this line of thinking with me?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Above the Law

Probably every society in the history of humankind has had members who, by virtue of wealth or military might, are above the law. These people view the rest of us as so much sand spilled on the floor.

It's sickening enough to know that we're keeping people in cages in conditions we wouldn't inflict upon the chickens we eat. But to also know that a wealthy businessman like Jeffrey Epstein flung paltry amounts of money at little girls while ruining their lives and robbing them of their innocence is just 1,000 miles past infuriating.

I know someone who got 10 years in jail, no possibility of early parole, for having child pornography on his hard drive. He is now a registered sex offender. In fact I don't even know where he lives, because he cut all ties with everyone who knew him before he was arrested.

Epstein got a flick on his wrist, swatted it away like a fly, and went right back to his party life and his penchant for trafficked women. Trust me, we will never know the extent of it -- or, if we do, it will be because one side wants to smear Donald Trump and one side wants to smear Bill Clinton. And a third side might have it in for the British royal family. All of these sick pukes are in this together.

Once you get rich enough to make your own rules and buy off the law, it's the Wild, Wild West.

This is why Goddess-based religions exist. We, the grains of sand, need to feel that we can exert some agency over this despicable, depraved exploitation. We want to be able to stir up potions and create hexes and otherwise rage against those who want to dominate. A pox on religions that say to take this stuff lying down! That is exactly what the Jeffrey Epsteins of this world want us to do. I say, let's take action in the apparent world and on the spiritual plane! Demand justice from the courts. Demand full disclosure of partners in crime. Demand that sentencing guidelines be followed. And then petition the Goddess to smack these beasts until they crumble.

The moral character of this nation is so low it's got to look up to look down. I am longing for a principled leader, a majority religion that isn't awash in hypocrisy, a tearing down of walls between the "have too much" and the "don't have enough."

At dawn we ride. So might it be.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

My Perilous Day in the Activist Trenches

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," leaning left since 1978 ... and that's just the way it is. Two weeks of living in Baltimore schooled me pretty quick on the notion that the government should be responsible for its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

I have just returned from Netroots Nation, which is probably the most lefty gathering you can find that isn't an out-and-out Communist Manifesto.

Front loading: Elizabeth Warren was there, at the candidate forum, but I didn't get to meet her. It doesn't matter. She owned that forum. She was fearless, funny, and genuine. And smart. And she shouted out for public school teachers and unions. (Unions always get tepid applause. No one remembers what it was like back in the day.)

Of more moment to me was my perilous morning registering voters on the streets of Philadelphia. I volunteered for this task in order to make the cost of the convention more affordable. With this task, I moved over from an anonymous face in a march to an activist -- and I promptly learned the difference between marching and acting.

My voter registration tutorial consisted of the following information. Approach people with the idea that you're looking to defeat Trump, you want to register Democrats. Are they registered? If the person wanted to register Democrat, I was to fill out the form. If the person wanted to register Republican, I was to hand them the form, tell them to fill it out and mail it in. Seemed perfectly reasonable to me, to be honest.

The voter registration leader said we would be lucky if we got two forms in our three hour shift. Within 90 minutes I had registered four Democratic voters.

I was congratulating myself on seeming to have a knack for it when I was approached by a mixed-race couple. They wanted to register. The woman, African American, went first. She registered as a Democrat. The man then smirked and said he wanted to register as a Republican. So I took a blank form off the clipboard and handed it to him with a smile.

I guess you can imagine how that went.

It escalated with just the amount of rapidity you would expect in these troubled times, but I would not engage the man with words. I said, "I tried to give you the form."

He said, "No you didn't! I'm going to get you!" And he snapped a photo of my Netroots Nation badge, which (unfortunately) listed my school as my affiliation. So the dude knows who to call. (This was a rookie error on my part when I filled out my Netroots application. I should have put NJEA and not my local school.)

I've never gotten a disciplinary memo on my job, so if I do it will be my first. I think the dude will have to make up some big-ass story, but he certainly seems capable of doing it. There are no doubt security cameras on City Hall Plaza that caught the exchange, but what the hell.

Still, that irked Republican will have to call my school, find an administrator on duty in the summertime, and concoct a tale that will suggest I'm not providing a safe, secure, and caring environment for my students. More power to him.

If my administration takes me to task for wearing the school name while registering voters, then I will apologize and not do it again. As I say, rookie error.

So, Anne, you ask ... will you do any more voter registration?

Count on it. Pennsylvania went for Trump by 44,000 votes statewide. I know who to approach about registration, I know what neighborhoods to visit, and it turns out I'm not afraid to approach people respectfully. I believe I could register as many as 50 people by November of 2020.

When I returned from my shift with five voter registration forms, the coordinator was so impressed he asked me to spearhead the entire Philadelphia operation. That was an easy "no," but I feel really good about the fact that there are now five new Democrats in Philly, thanks to me.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Gob-Smacked by the 21st Century Again!

Hello, hello, and welcome to another installation of "The Gods Are Bored!" I'm Anne Johnson, hardy volunteer at Netroots Nation! Wow, did I bust my chops today!


Netroots Nation is a convention that pretty much gathers every sort of progressive group, from labor unions to First Nations protesters, Daily Kos, ActBlue, plus old standbys like the ACLU and the Society for the Separation of Church and State. On Saturday a few presidential candidates will drop in as well.

My volunteer shift, right at the opening of the convention, consisted of doling out swag bags and free t-shirts. I was part of a team of six volunteers doing this, and we all rose to the challenge.

Do you remember that "I Love Lucy" episode where the candies are coming down the conveyor belt and Lucy and Ethel have to wrap them up? It wasn't quite that intense, but readers, I flew around that swag table like a dervish for three hours straight! There were all kinds of steps for each person and each bag, from making note that they had received the bag, to stuffing it with a few pieces of swag that arrived late, and then getting the right sized t-shirt for the person. Plus, do you know me? How enthusiastic will I be to greet people who hate fossil fuels, love LGBTQ rights, believe in unions, and -- needless to say -- detest Donald Trump? I was all smiles and good cheer!

I've lived near Philadelphia for more than 30 years, and I've spent lots of time at the Convention Center. I know full well that the place never has enough water and snacks available. Today was no different. The bottle of water I brought was gone in the first 90 minutes of my 3-hour shift. And although many attendees wanted to refill it for me, none of them knew where to go to do it. It was okay, though. I made it through those hectic 3.75 hours and crawled panting to the water fountain ... and in a little while I felt fine again.

In the afternoon I attended the Labor Caucus, and it was good old-time union organizing and notes-comparing. Everyone was upbeat despite our current political climate. There were lots of unions represented too. Always a good time when a teacher can rub elbows with a Teamster. It was also interesting to hear about innovative ways that unions are gaining membership. There was no particular speaker, we just talked to the people at our tables and then sent up a brave soul to report out what we'd said that was important. No PowerPoint, no blah blah blah. Then we all gathered in the front of the room for a photo. Oh yeah, and they had snacks and lemonade too! Union, yes!

And then the 21st century came rushing up to club me like some kind of embittered cave man. Oddly enough, this happened at the kickoff for Elizabeth Warren's campaign in Philadelphia.

I've always loved Elizabeth Warren, and in the last year or two she's grown on me more. I started a monthly donation to her campaign awhile back, and she actually called me to thank me. So It was with great excitement that I attended the kickoff, and it was made even better because my daughter The Fair joined me there.

The Warren bash was extremely well-attended. The rented room filled up fast, the organizers put out all the extra seats that were available, and it was still standing-room. As is often the case at such grassroots things, the attendees were mostly (but not all) people of a certain age.

The nice young volunteers stepped up and -- of course -- thanked us for coming. Then they told us they were going to roll out something brand new and really special that they hadn't revealed before at any other event! Wowsa, what could it be? A Skype with Liz?

Turns out the really special thing was an app designed to gather voter data for the Warren campaign.

The Fair's phone was almost out of juice, so she downloaded the thing on my phone. I tried to follow the PowerPoint, but as is ALWAYS the case with me, the presenter flew through all the great things the app could do, and she lost me at the first slide. Haven't I written about this before? I'm a fucking fossil. If it's a new computer program, I just. Don't. Get. It.

My daughter The Fair is not a fossil. She's a sweet flower. As the event wound to a close (with more than a quarter of the attendees leaving early in a thunderstorm), she turned to me and said, "I can sure see how this app will help with organizing, but this is not what I expected this evening to be."

That made me feel a little better.

Elizabeth has a plan for everything, and her campaign will be whiz-bang on the smartphones. (It already is. I get texts all the time.) But on this flash-flood evening, a large number of older liberals were left shaking their heads as they sneaked out into the rain.

Well, what are you gonna do, after all? You can't call people on the phone and expect to speak to them. Heck, Elizabeth Warren called me, and I let it go to voicemail since it said "Unknown Caller!" It's even worse to knock on a door. When was the last time you answered the door to a stranger? So it makes abundant sense to be able to text people and be in touch with them nearer to election day. I just can't do it myself. I'll put my money in the collection plate and feel like a good church lady.

When I went to the elevated train this morning to ride into Philadelphia, I got down on the platform, and every single person was looking at their phone. Every last person. It was so unnerving that I began reciting Walt Whitman poetry. No one noticed anyway, so why not?

People don't own smartphones. Smartphones own people. It only stands to reason that this is the single best way for a geeky candidate to mobilize her base. But I don't like it.

You know what sucks about being a Baby Boomer? Knowing that your best century is behind you.

I'm returning to Netroots Nation Friday and Saturday. Elizabeth Warren will be there on Saturday. Perhaps she'll pat my hand and say, "There there, you can just donate. You don't need to use the app."

Missing the days when phones were attached to walls I remain,

Your reporter from the front lines,
Anne Johnson

Sunday, July 07, 2019

I'm Going to Netroots Nation 2019

A couple of weeks ago, I got an invitation to an AFL-CIO caucus meeting at a thing called Netroots Nation. I suppose the AFL-CIO's algorithm recognized me as an active member who lives in the Delaware Valley.

I had sort of heard of Netroots Nation. It has something to do with online political organizing. But that's pretty much all I knew.

I expressed some interest, but upon investigation, I discovered that Netroots Nation 2019 is a humongous convention with a big price tag. But you know what? Being a volunteer at fairy festivals has taught me something: If you volunteer, you get a discount or a free admission.

I signed up for two volunteer shifts and got a discount. Then I sent in my RSVP for the AFL-CIO caucus meeting.

Readers, I'm going to a political convention. It begins on Thursday (I'm doing first morning shift doling out swag bags and selling t-shirts) and runs until Saturday (I'm doing first shift registering people to vote). The Labor caucus is on Friday.

Already, this opportunity has stretched my horizons. Without the help of my daughter The Fair, I downloaded the Netroots Nation app to my smart phone. This could be a game-changer.

It's been hard for me to find things to write about in these dark days, but I'm feeling confident that this convention will dole out some moments of interest. At the very least I can feel with confidence that the Philadelphia Convention Center will be chock-a-block with people who think the way I do. That's always a comfort.

So yours truly will keep you informed and up-to-date on the events that will transpire at Netroots Nation!

I ordered a new Gritty pin for the occasion. It's what the well-dressed Philly progressive is wearing!

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Happy Independence Day!

Let me see if I can hit the high points.

We have people at our border, caged in conditions we reserve for mass production of chickens.

We have a president who has ordered tanks into the nation's capital and will be turning a bipartisan holiday into a media spectacle.

This same president is showing a blind obedience to dictators abroad and oil barons domestically.

He has packed the Supreme Court with pro-business flunkies who will render decisions that will harm the people and help the powerful.

This all sucks.

But Gods damn it, this is my country too. My ancestors came here in wooden boats, settled inhospitable terrain, fought in the great wars (Revolutionary War, Civil War). They also opposed the government when it did not serve them (Whiskey Rebellion).

It is with the Whiskey Rebellion in mind that I prepare for participation in the Fourth of July parade and perhaps travel into Philadelphia to see the big-city fireworks. I will stand in opposition to this president and his party in every way possible. It is my patriotic duty. I am an American, and because this nation is headed down the toilet, I have to work harder than ever to see that its ideals are upheld and that its ordinary folks, its workers, its struggling masses, don't find themselves bereft.

The stakes are high. Even the entire planet is in danger.

Happy birthday, America! The Whiskey Rebellion is perhaps in need of re-enactment.