This is the transcript of the speech I gave at the Henderson Democratic Club on Wednesday:
While watching Django Unchained, I couldn’t help but laugh at an exchange between the title character and German bounty hunter Dr. Schultz in which the doctor asks, “Are you positive?” And Django replies, “I don’t know. What does positive mean?” Schultz then shoots a man on a horse and Django says, “I’m positive that he’s dead.”
They call this the Information Age, but after spending 15 years working as a journalist and blogger, I feel that what we know for sure – what we are positive about – is getting fuzzier and fuzzier. The Information Age feels more like the Dis-Information Age. And if you can see how crazy this all is, you’re still sane enough to play the game.
No doubt, there are a lot of reasons that the Information Age has become a kind of Catch-22.
We can blame the 24-hour news cycle that yawns its great jaws, hungry at all hours for the latest breaking exclusive. Vitriolic pundits are convenient. And they satiate an agitated audience that prefers melodrama to wisdom, much like we all prefer eating desert over eating our vegetables. Now weaned on a kind of operatic theater called news, we the consumers expect more of the same from every news outlet no matter how far down the stream we trickle.
To be fair, as a journalistic blogger, I must take my share of the blame. But then again, who are all these people clicking on my most controversial posts?
But if the ugly rhetoric of this past election cycle has taught us anything – even those of us on the winning side (thank God) – the serious work that lays ahead is not going to be accomplished by shouting the loudest on twitter about Binders full of Women, Legitimate Rape, or even exchanging health care for chickens. (Remember that one?)
I admit, I feel a duty to call this crap out. I’m offended by the War on Women. I am offended by the separate-and-not-equal status of LGBT individuals. I am offended that on almost a daily basis, there is an equally hardcore conservative out there calling me a baby-killing, God-hating, sodomite-loving, Communist whore. They question my patriotism. And there are plenty that see a Scarlet W, if you will, branded on me so that all can see that I am a second-class citizen whose uterus is more regulated than any gun-owner’s right to bear arms.
I know. I get the hate mail – with the lovely dead fetus photos – to prove it.
My grandma used to say, “Don’t waste time fighting crazy. There’s no reason to it.”
But with problems like the fiscal cliff, historically high unemployment, and our nation’s failing education system hanging in the balance, we can’t just act like my two-year-old daughter and take our toys and go home. Indeed, when powerful politicians like John Boehner are seen telling our own Sen. Harry Reid to “Go F—k yourself” just steps from the Oval Office, politicians are starting to remind me more and more of my toddler when she lays on the floor and has a tantrum.
Some of you may be surprised that I am not talking tonight about issues traditionally labeled as “women’s issues.” You know the ones: Equal pay, ending discrimination and sexual harassment, and especially the hallmark reproductive rights issues, including access to affordable health care, including birth control and abortion. Anyone who reads my syndicated blog, The Sin City Siren, knows I care a lot and write a lot about these issues.
But frankly, labeling these as “women’s issues,” is a kind of disservice. These are not just issues for the ladies any more than the fiscal cliff debate was a man’s issue. We shouldn’t ghettoize any issue, whether it’s about abortion rights, marriage rights, or a child’s access to reading, math, and science programs.
These issues are Everybody Issues!
Indeed, when we brand issues – this one’s a woman’s issue, this one’s a veteran’s issue, and so on – we are essentially dividing and conquering ourselves. As a survivor of sexual violence, I care about the high rate of sexual assault on women in the military. However, I also care about climate change, Medicare, and gun control.
As progressives, we have to unite to wave the banner of all our issues with equal gusto! Don’t put important issues – women’s or anyone else’s – in the corner!
In fact, as we live in this information age with all these ways to “tag” our beliefs, it seems to only help us get more divided.
But tonight, I’m here to argue for a return to big-picture thinking. Because in the end, we are all going to lose if we keep up this game of Capture the Flag.
So how do we do that?
Just last night I read a funny quote in a magazine, “You can’t swallow an elephant whole.”
Now, the point the author was trying to make was that for any big problem, we have to break it up into bite-size pieces and soon the problem is solved. As Democrats, we’ve had our own elephant problem. And ours actually walk and talk a bit more like asses than pachyderms sometimes!
But, hear me out: I think we’ve been going about this situation from the wrong angle. We’ve been fighting fire with fire, a strategy that sometimes blows up in our faces and certainly helps alienate others. People on all sides of the political spectrum are starting to sound a bit like former President Bush with a “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” philosophy.
We’ve been trying to swallow that elephant whole.
Sure, fire wins sometimes. It can be useful. We won the presidential election and picked up some seats in the Senate. New Hampshire became the first state with an all-female delegation. We held off threats to shut the federal government down over Planned Parenthood funding. Obamacare is law.
But there are still big problems on our plate. Especially right here at home.
Nevada has become the poster child for the big problems in America right now. Record unemployment. Record foreclosures. Record bankruptcies. Budget-busting demand for food stamps and WIC. The Clark County School District has the third highest number of students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches in the nation. Meanwhile, our school system was ranked 50th last year and we have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy. (Good thing we’re going to see a bill proposing comprehensive sex education this session!)
If you ask me, we are standing at ground zero. I daresay, we have nowhere to go but up. But we can’t do it alone.
Our state Legislature goes into session next month and we’ve got to work together – with friends and sometimes with those we see as foes. I wonder how many of those hardcore conservatives who send me hate mail know that I am, in fact, a Christian, a wife, a mother, and a tax-paying business owner.
We have to figure out how to reach across our own personal aisles. The aisles that we create to separate us from the other guys.
Back when I worked at Las Vegas CityLife, I shared a cubicle with a news reporter named Mike Zigler. We were like the Odd Couple. He was a fast-talking Republican who wore a button-down shirt every day in an office full of people clad in t-shirts and jeans. My first year at CityLife was the year Bush won his second term, and the verbal sparring between Mike and I could sometimes be heard on the other side of the newsroom. But when we looked past some of those hot-button issues, we realized we had a lot in common – both of us hailing from Midwest towns and sharing a strong desire to make the world a better place. In fact, we shared a meaningful friendship until he died a few years ago. I have no doubt that this friendship left a mark on each of us that made us better people.
Now, I’m not saying that we all need to leave here tonight and schedule a tea party tomorrow. But let’s not cut off our nose to spite our face.
Forget what the talking heads on TV are saying. Stop baiting your conservative aunt on facebook. Quit this game of verbal War we’re all playing … and actually connect with people. Because as corny as it sounds, we really are all in this together.
Let’s seek allies where we can find them. Persuade the reasonable. And roll up our sleeves and do the work that needs doing. Because it is not hyperbole to say that for some Nevadans, life is hanging in the balance.
As President John F. Kenney said, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
I may not be positive of much, but I’m positive about that.