A Path Forward

Minnesota has a unique political history with the Democratic party. While many Democrats in Minnesota identify with Democrats, we’re known as the DFL. I grew up believing the principals of the Democrat Farmer Labor party, I still do.

In the early 1920s, the Farmer Labor movement became a powerful political force earning State legislative victories over Democrats and Republicans with their simple message. ‘Agrarian reform, protection of farmers and unions, public ownership of our natural resources, utilities, railroads and a belief in social security legislation’.

Ideals that benefited people’s lives. Ideologies that common folk could understand.

Not only was the Farmer-labor party successful in Minnesota’s legislative seats, from 1921 to 1944 this party elected 3 Governors, 4 United States Senators, and eight United States Representatives.

In 1944, with Hubert Humphry being instrumental, the Minnesota Farmer-Labor party merged with the Democratic party becoming the Democratic Farmer Labor Party of Minnesota.

Today’s Republican party have all but merged with the Tea Party, Libertarians, the Alt-right, and far right Evangelicals giving them a powerful, political voice that drowns out Democrats, Progressives and Liberals.

There’s a history lesson here, and we should learn from it.

Democrats should ask themselves, ‘Why are people who hold our values, our belief in unions, in our environment, in social justice, turning from us, and seeking representation in third parties such as the Progressives, the Green Party, the Independence party, and even Libertarians?’.

We should ask also ‘Why does America have one of the lowest voter turnouts of any modern nation?’.

I don’t have to parse the questions into a thousand data points to find the answer. It’s there, clear, concise.

People don’t vote, simply because there’s nothing to vote for. Nothing new, nothing challenging, nothing that speaks to their future. Not because they don’t care, not because they’re lazy, but because they have heard it all before, with no real-world results.

The Progressive party will continue to grow, as will the Green party, the Constitutional party, the many state Independent parties. So will the Tea Party in some form and fashion, and the Libertarian party, and as they grow, the Republican Party will grow, and become much more of a force than they are now.

At face value, the Democratic Party will claim that they echo the voice of Progressives, that they believe in public ownership of our natural resources, that the Party believes in our labor force, that corporations have grown too large, their influence too great, but if that were all true, Bernie Sanders would have been our nominee.

And here’s the rub, rank and file Democrats, believe in all those things. People in general believe all these issues. Yet, half our nation will not vote.

For the Democratic Party to become sustainable, they must do more than echo repeatedly their concern for issues. They must reach out to people with third party affiliations, bring them into leadership positions, incorporate some of their platforms into theirs, cut ties with corporate donors that contribute to both political parties, and they must learn how to message their belief systems beyond simply attacking Republicans.

While we live in a different world than those of the 1920s and the Farmer-Labor party, some things don’t change. The need to change, the ability to change, the desire to change are always with us.

Politics are, after all, always rooted in being local.

www.robpaxton.me

Along a Rural Road

I was driving back from Duluth yesterday, late afternoon. The sky was blue, the rural two lane lined with burgeoning shades of spring green. Small farming communities came and went faster than the elderly old farmer who I was stuck behind, and couldn’t safely pass. I grumbled at the slow pace, deciding I needed a break, and gas. Like any farming community, the next gas station was there, right along side the road, the pumps standing isolated not in pavement, but dry, dusty gravel that my explorer crunched and crushed over, rolling to a stop shrouded in dust.

The convenience store was small, old, and as I walked in there was a group of young adults, farm kids, gathered around the front counter, talking with the tall women who was taking their money. I made my way to the bathroom, and by the time I walked up to the counter, the kids were gone, the store was empty. I gave her my credit card, and while it seemed like an eternity to verify the card, I didn’t mind, I had a nice conversation with a delightful Indian women.

Not a Minnesota Indian. A women from India. East India.

In the middle of nowhere, Minnesota. In the middle of white, Lutheran, Christian, German, Scandinavian farmland.

I do not know this woman’s life story, don’t know if she owned the store.

I do know this, her presence in that small town store exemplifies what America is all about. What we are capable of as a people, as a nation. I love diversity, I love the fact that diversity is creeping into our smaller communities. And it’s a creeping feeling that some people don’t like, the kind of person who hasn’t ventured far outside their own state, much less county. The kind of person who probably has a twenty some year relationship with their bar stool. Might be I’m being somewhat obnoxiously judgmental about some folk, but the thing is, that’s been my experience.

Not a lot of things piss me off, but ignorance shaded in stupefying knowledge usually sets me down the path of obnoxious judgement. The kind of ignorance where a stool sitting, beer drinking man shrouds his ignorance in world affairs and cultures, with knowledge gained from today’s media. The kind of ignorance with out thought, without experience, that leads to some universal knowledge about the world far removed form where they sit. They have become experts in the world, because they have been told about the world. Never studied it, never experienced it, never thought more than half past the news, about the rest of the world, but they are a god given expert about the world.

And that’s why I love America. As ignorant as we can be, as self centered and isolated in our thinking, our humanity, our tolerance nullifies all that. With every Indian woman that works in some dusty rural gas station, change happens. She changes us, she makes us better. Better people, a better country.

 

 

 

A Common Man

common-manThere was a time when I thought I would change the world. Not could, but would, as in that was my sole purpose for being born. For a very long time, I believed in destiny, in fate, in God and in myself. So much so, I thought myself somewhat special. Not special in the sense that I was better, but special in that I had a specific job to do. Specific and special, assigned by God (or perhaps by aliens but that’s a different story) to make the world a better place.

I’ve always had a personal view of how the world should be laid out, along political, social, cultural and religious veins and the relationship of each, to the other, and to the body. Always thought my ideas were somewhat solid, even if they were somewhat simplistic but I think it’s a fair and substantive question to ask if a Nation should seek respect before power, if belief proceeds needs and determines ritual, if education enhances compassion, and in what way?

30 years ago, I really believed that by the time I was in my fifties, we’d have a moon base, moved on to Mars, beaten back poverty, experience the beginnings of a spiritual awakening as well making inroads into prejudice.

I guess I kind of figured the human race didn’t need my input. That you’d all be alright, that you’d get to where you need to be with out my help. I kind of haven’t worried about humanity for the last 30 years as I went about raising my kids, working and having fun but a funny thing happened the other
day.

I woke up!

I realized I really don’t like the world we’ve made for ourselves simply because I know we can do better, a hell of a lot better. Thing is, I’m a dreamer, and I do happen to believe that dreams do come true, but I’m also smart enough to understand, that they don’t come true without hard work, sweat, hard faith and diligence.

Maybe my destiny is still in play? May be, that I’m not a common man?

And You?

Reflections in a Decision

If I’m asked to define my character, who I am in one word, I’d use the word reflective. I like to think, I like to ponder. Now, before you assign a cool thought to that, being reflective has it’s drawbacks. Sometimes, I find it hard to let things go. Some things harder than others. The things that are hard, are those that I am passionate about, those things that I care deeply about. It also has been my experience that these are things I have little or no control over. The solution is, I write. That’s how I
exert control or at least, I’m able to say, I’ve done what I can. Often, it’s not enough.

The thing is, thats life. You don’t have a say in everything but every once in a while you have a responsibility to say something,  about something and when that time comes, you need to do so or flounder in your nights sleep wishing you had. Before doing so can create many a sleepless night, should I say something, or remain silent? As your wife stares at you between pillows, and tells you to let it go.

I’ve been down that road, and it kills you. I learned to solve it by making a quick decision, accepting the decision, admitting it if it was the wrong decision, and moving on. Not complicated.

The single reason you lose sleep over a decision is simple this. Fear! You worry how that decision will be perceived? Fear based in lack of self confidence.

Before you formulate any understanding of what I just said, think about that self confidence thing for a bit? What do you think I mean by that? Being self confidant isn’t about being in’ your face Bitch, I ain’t never wrong’. It’s about being confident to being wrong and correcting your mistakes.

If you can’t understand that your decisions have implications beyond your life, and that if your decisions impact others in a negative fashion, it’s probably the wrong decision. Not always, but usually. The question you should always ask, ‘Does my decision benefit a thing or a person?

If you find yourself defending a lot of your decisions, you might want to start thinking about how you make decisions. I get it, in the corporate world, your decisions have to benefit the corporation, but benefiting the corporation should be benefiting  those who work for the corporation. Unfortunately, that’s a by gone thought.

Truth is, most decisions you make are based on how you will be viewed. Please, don’t argue! It’s simply true of 99.9 percent of you. Make the safe choice, the easy road out. You make the choices your boss and your friends expect you to make and you are, for the most part, fine with that.

The problem is, it’s usually the wrong choice. Some of you who lose sleep over the problem, well, there’s still hope for you. Most of you just make the decision and nod off to sleep, thinking you’ve done a good and honorable thing, pleasing your friends and your boss. What you’ve really done is maintain the status quo, and failed to grow as a human being.

There are a lot of routine, day to day, minute to minute decisions we all make. In our professional lives as well in our personal spheres. Most of them require little thought, many are redundant. But there are many that create heartache for yourself and others, and those require reflection. More so, they require the ability to be able to think them through. Doing so without prejudice requires a bit more than just thinking about them. They require reflection.

 

There is a Thread.

 

Cosmic_dust_clouds_in_reflection_nebula_Messier_78Is it believable that our greatest fear is to be forgotten? That after our lives have ran their course, traveled well past our children and theirs, that our names, our deeds, our possessions and their worth, are nothing. That all that we are, will be captured by a bleached tombstone, setting alone in the company of the dead. How many generations will pass before our words, our deeds and our aspirations are unknown. How many before even our names bring a question as to who we were?

There is a loneliness, a desperation in this fear, isn’t there? Despite the truth, we walk the path and hardly ever stop to think of the implications. Perhaps because if we dwelled too long on the worth of our lives, we’d descend into a chaotic nightmare simply because the truth and fear of being forgotten so soon after our lives is tragic and unbearable.

Yes, we live on by what we pass to our children, but will your great grandchildren know what you have given them. Only in the most transient terms, as you understand what your great grandparents gave to you.

The question is one of purpose, correct? The eternal quest to know why we are here and to consider that we are so soon forgotten, calls that concern to the forefront. How can there be purpose in our lives when no one even bothers to think about our existence. Indeed, it is not our physical remains that become dust in the wind, it is our very lives, our actions and aspirations that fall prey to the predation of time, and worse, indifference.

Or do they?

Religion has given us a belief in our sustained value, that there is a purpose. An unknown but individual purpose to be revealed in our afterlives, that claims, regardless of our religious beliefs, that there is worth to our existence. We take solace in that but in the recesses of our thoughts, we question.

I don’t have a lot of faith in organized religion! I do believe in something majestic, though. Some ‘thing’ greater, something wondrous that soothes my soul. That there exists among all of us, a thread that weaves all that we are, all that were and will be, together into a universal tapestry that serves purpose and gives value to individual worth. Consider a woven garment? When in the process of being wove, there is potential for worth. When completed, each thread serves purpose, and contributes. The analogies are numerous, the implications grand.

Each thought, every action that we manage is a threaded needle that weaves itself through our heart, around our soul, and penetrates deep into our minds, weaving our moment of existence together with all of humanity, before and after. You and I are as physically and spiritually aware of those who came before us as those are that come after. Their names and their faces are there, you just need to remember, to look once in a while.

There are indeed shared experiences dating back to our first ancestors, of the same planets, the same moon, the same Earth, the same questions and concerns. These things are the needle and our lives are the thread. We are one and we are the same.

Find the quiet place in your thoughts, close your eyes and allow the darkness to open and the faces and lives will come simply because they cry out to your fear, you are not forgotten.

Human Nature, and the way of the Beast

There is an old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

The truth is nothing really ever changes, does it? Perhaps in the sense of time, space, and location it might seem that things change, but they do not. Mountain ranges rise, thrusting their peaks skyward in a powerfull display of earthly ego but these peaks erode and wither away to dust and to some long term observer, they would conclude a semblance of change, and they would be wrong. Those peaks will apear elsewhere, in some form in some fashion, in some place.deeptht

Human civilization is no different. Rome rose, collapsed, rose again, collapsed and has now risen again, only to be on the verge on eventual collapse.

Human behavior does not seem to change, and while it may contribute to what we see as change in the short viewpoint, in the long term it all becomes the same. Because I can plant a tree, and see that tree bear fruit, that tree and it’s fruit, is not much different than that of a tree planted a thousand years ago.

Change is an illusion!

The stage remains, the characters remain the same, only the actors change and their behavior remains no different, they play their roles no different than their predecessors.

While we have physically evolved, the emotions, thoughts and belief systems have change very little. While I’d agree to an argument that religion has changed, I’d add that ‘change’ has only bothered to effect a small number of people. The need for religion has not changed. The overlying arc of who we are as humans has not changed, and cannot change.

The capabilty to do so is beyond us, or hidden from us for some reason.

Take something as destructive as war. You’d think that after the first war some several thousand years ago, people would have got together and started talking about a better way to solve their differences. It didn’t happen then, and it won’t happen now.

Why? Because power; the need to control, to subject, is to be proven right, is to be given worth, and all those things are powerfull emotions humans cannot control. It is worth taking the chance to lose everything so that you may gain everything if you prevail. It is a need saturated deep in all of use and it is unchanging, and it is the beast in us

Adrift

Image1Some years back, I lost my son, Sean.

There are a hundred different ways a person can die, and while death is horrible, the death of a human mind is a different type of personal tragedy.

The call came just as I was drifting off for the night. Sean had been committed for a psychiatric observation, he had been playing chicken with traffic on a major Interstate.

Just like that, a switch turned, moving Sean’s sense of reality from one world to another. One day a normal nineteen year old, the next morning, a strange, weird person possessed my sons physical body.

This person with a blanket cape, bawking like a chicken, talking to the universe about psy-balls and imaginary girlfriends was not my son.

Except he was.

And I should have seen what was coming, and so should have others.

When Sean was in High School, he was labeled a pot head, a class clown, disruptive. Not on a daily basis, but on an ongoing, substantive basis where he wasn’t even able to graduate.

Thing is, all those labels were red flags, red flags that no one, including myself and my wife, were aware of.

Sean’s last year at Sauk Rapids Rice was 2008.

I have another son who clearly has anger issues. I believe that anger is based in what happened to an older brother he was close to, and based in a fear that he too might wake up tomorrow morning a different person than who is is today.

Like Sean, my youngest son attends Sauk Rapids-Rice High School.

My son had an aggressive incident where his anger took over and became an obscenity fueled rant. There was no physical altercations involved. It was verbal, and it was posturing.

It was also unlike him, and also unacceptable.

I recently attended a ‘manifestation’ meeting to discuss if his learning disability was a cause for his behavior.

I had asked for a mental health professional to be present, knowing that Sauk Rapids had recieved a Department of Human Services Grant for School Linked Mental Health services. One of the targets of this grant, to ‘Improve identification of mental health issues for children and youth’.

The reply to my request from Erich Martens,

‘In regards to mental health services in our District, we do not have an on staff mental health worker and our services are co-located one day a week. This means that this service is provided by a licensed provider working in our building from another agency and students and families use their insurance to cover the service. Therefore, there will not be a licensed mental health provider attending, however information can be shared with you regarding options in the area to address needs that C**** may have’.

At the last minute, the School Psychologist had an opening in her schedule and was present for the meeting, and had valuable input not into my son’s behavior, but into avenues of testing that’s available within the District.

I was very forceful in this meeting, after all I am fighting for my son. I was extremely forceful in reminding Erich Martens how we had failed recognizing the red flags with Sean, and as painful for him to hear it, he owns that failure, as I and my wife do.

After the meeting, Erich shared with me that he had vivid recollections of conversations with me regarding Sean’s behavior, and that Mental Health was never mentioned.

I threw my hands up in the air, exclaiming, EXACTLY!

Perhaps, if there had been a trained mental health professional on staff my wife and I would have been saved a parcel of the grief we have experienced.

A son who went missing after a med switch, and was found three days later, mid January, without shoes or shirt, wandering fifteen miles from his group home.

Or visiting my son in a County approved Facility where there’s no staff to be seen, and drugs are sold freely.

Or spending our weekends traveling to Mankato, Wilmar or Fergus Falls or wherever the County was placing him for the next few weeks or months.

Or stopping to visit only to find he had been moved, and no one knew where, including the County.

I wonder how many young adults just like my son have passed through the locked, secured doors of Sauk Rapids-Rice -High, because this is the thing. I know at least two teachers on Staff who confided in me of their struggles with their children and severe mental Illness, as well as a close friend who has a daughter with a severe mental illness. I’m talking Schizophrenia in all three cases. All in my small world of friends and associates.

As a community, we don’t talk about it, and when we do, it’s in muted whispers. It’s an embarrassment.

Eight years since Sean left the High School, and I ask, what has changed in assessing those who need Mental Health assistance.

That DHS grant I mentioned, Erich Martens was googling it during our meeting, a meeting where Erich Martens and other professionals didn’t want to hear about how this district failed my son eight years ago, and how it wasn’t going to happen again.

But to their credit, after two and a half hours, they listened.

It should not have taken 2 hours of verbal tension, fist pounding and few outright F-bombs to get my point across that Anger such as my son displayed is indicative of a mental health issue. My youngest is not displaying schizophrenic tendencies, but he is sending out red flags for help. My wife and I will do our part, and the district will do theirs.

Mental illness cuts across social, racial, political, economic, & religious barriers. It doesn’t much care about the color of your skin, or who your God is, much less who you’re supporting in the next election. They are our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Our mothers, fathers, relatives, and our friends. We should be aware, we should be doing a lot more.

Mental illness is a community problem. It is our problem. One we should be paying a lot more attention to because it is my firm belief, and god forbid if an actual shooting were to take place at our High School, a locked door and a camera isn’t going to stop it.

It’s going to come from a kid with a gun in his backpack that’s been sending out red flags.

And the real tragedy is, the day after such a shooting, the question will be asked, ‘What more can we do?’.

The answer is already there.

American Choices

American ChoiceThe Great American Process

American greatness has been defined in several ways; by our choice in leaders, our thinkers, scientists, by events, by our times, and by our populace, citizens, you and me. Be it Washington, Kennedy, Einstein, World War, Activism or Moon landings, we have been a great nation defined by who we are, and what we can accomplish. Yes, we have had some not very-bright spots along the asphalt path, a couple of things that we’ve been ashamed of, but the thing is, all those things, they are put out there for the world to see. We’ve talked about how fucked up our government can be, experimenting on it’s own citizens, inciting wars and little revolutions for the benefit of business and Democracy alike. Good God, google Operation Northwoods!

Nothing in the last 240 years have threatened the continuance of our Nation. Civil war, Depression, Riots, Activism, giving women the right to vote, the civil rights act; nothing has came close.

And now we find ourselves in a most peculiar position.

A position that requires us to vote for a woman nobody likes, an orange haired buffoon, a reincarnation of Joe McCarthy, a little Cuban boy, a man that should be married to the woman nobody likes, and an old white haired hippy activist socialist. Are you waking up from the nightmare with a loud, WTF?

Me? I kinda like the old hippy trippy guy, he kinda reminds me of… me, but when I was younger, a lot younger, or what I’ll be like when I’m older, much older.

Yep, I’m on the Sanders bandwagon. Hillary’s time has come and gone, and it’s time for this nation to move on, literally. Trump will never win a national election, with his three marriages, gargantuan ego, and his golden locks just ain’t attractive to most normal thinking Americans. Cruz has a lot of baggage, lot of it hasn’t been talked about yet, but most have caught on to the fact that he’s not only free and loose with facts, he’s also full of shit, a lot of shit. Marco, sorry! You have those boyish good looks but that’s just not enough, you actually have to show up at least once in a while to work and it’s kinda evident you’re still thirsty, we’er just not sure what you’re thirsty for. Jeb, like Hillary, you’re time has gone. Do us a favor and ride off into the sunset. Use the same horse your brother rode outta town on. Better, when Hillary’s political career is over, marry her and start a new dynasty, maybe in Kenya. That’s a good place to live and grow. Kenya has also produced at least one great President.

While any one of these above candidates might not destroy our Democracy, might not send our Nation descending into the turmoil of degenerative hell, (well, Trump might) not one of them will make it better.

So? Who’s left?

Bernie will make it better.

The Bern.

Vote for the Bern!

Rear View

In the darkness

there is no path

forward.

No roads to lead

the way,

to divide,

those who come

from those who go.

All that is seen

exists in the past,

the rear view mirror,

where all I see,

is what was,

not what is,

nor is to be.

Such futures given

damn mans souls,

and deny Gods

grace,

and wonder do I,

where am I?

A Very Merry Thank You

Fundamentally, life is about change. So much so that when that experience is both muted and chaotic, and when both inhabit the same time and space, change is fundamentally transformative.

My mother has sold her home of many years and just moved in down the road. Once a two hour 2015 xmasdrive, mom is literally now a 5 minute drive. That move was a last minute decision, and a surprise. In addition, my son has transitioned from a group home to semi-independent living.

Both moves will have an immediate impact. My routine will change, that’ll probably bug me because I’m a routine sloth bug, lazy and predictable. Because of that, I might be somewhat dysfunctional, in that sometimes I can’t get shit done because it’s outside of my routine.

I can write that my entire family is a bit dysfunctional, but really it’s no more dysfunctional than yours, so lower the lid on your throne. See, with family comes responsibility. A time to drop whatever you’re doing, to help a parent, a brother, or sister. Dysfunctional arguments aside.

I’m deeply appreciative and thankful for my sister. Barb flew up from Tucson to help move my mom. She took control, got the job done and if you know my mom, that wasn’t easy. Of course, there’s a lot more to that story, but now’s not the time.

Sean’s transition has been a long one, a winding journey through a disjointed, strange forest. One that’s difficult to talk about in the sense that his future is always in flux. We learned that last January.

We’re lucky in a lot of meandering ways, lucky for Tabitha and Victoria, for their work and dedication in helping Sean get to this point in his life. And there are also a host of good people who have helped and supported Sean over the years, from staff at his group home to doctors I’ve never met.

Life is about change, it’s also about being appreciative of people in your life that help you wither through that change. In the midst of chaos, I was basically silent, lost, and it turns out I was lucky, there were people who made it all work.

For that, I’m especially thankful this holiday season.

Merry Christmas everyone.