Sunday Morning ~ Judgement (Election) Day
Usamatame nchito zace mtima wace usanaudziwe. ~ Do not praise his works until you know his heart.
~ Chewa proverb
July 12, 2020
I don’t work well with vague instruction. “Get out and do your part!” confuses me unless there is a clear task. I appreciate the enthusiasm but if I don’t understand what “my part” is I always feel like a disappointing slacker. Early in my career when nurse-midwives were fighting for the right to practice in an unwelcoming medical system, I heard the cry from our national organization to become involved in state and federal politics and do our part! We were to ask our legislators for votes on specific bills improving our ability to practice and women’s ability to access care. I had no idea how to do that. I lacked skill to even access the legislative system, never mind sit down with our elected officials. The aura was too thick, the schedule too packed, the desks too wide, the furniture too polished. Our national organization recognized this and offered educational sessions on the step by step on how to sit down with your elected officials and educate them. The whole process was intimidating and took some practice. But I found I liked it. So why is it so hard to keep up?
My Maine midwifery colleagues and I made appointments and spent time on Capitol Hill informing legislators about midwifery practice and issues for Maine women. Access to care, discrimination, reimbursement for services, are all complex issues to present in fifteen minute blocks and it was always nerve wracking. The process is fascinating though; walking the halls of Capitol Hill buildings is daunting but awe inspiring. The flags! The plaques! The suits! We get a little giddy: the attire, the photos, the formal waiting areas, the conference room, the preparation about who speaks when and who is from whose district. It’s a game and I see why lobbyists get off on it. I also see why elected officials get corrupted by it. The power is overwhelming.
I remember sitting at a huge conference table with Olympia Snowe on a Tuesday morning, her brocade suit a major distraction for me. I couldn’t take my eyes off the suit. It was mint green, heavy, with shiny threads running through it. It looked like something the queen would wear to a state affair. All that was missing was the crown. I wondered what this woman wore to weddings? We took a posed photo before we got to any discussion (if that’s what you want to call it) as if the photo was more important than what we had to say. We sat. We had our little scripts we had to work into the fifteen minutes our group of ten were allotted. She wasn’t listening. I watched her; smile never changing. Her only comment was “Did you say three million with an M? That shouldn’t be a problem.” And I then watched the aide (a health aide? a personal attendant? older woman, more subdued suit) say, “Wait, we need to know more…” as Snowe was nodding with a wooden smile and agreeing to everything we asked. I sat watching and thought, “Wow, this was either very easy or very scary.” Our requests were never granted. Or at least not for the next twenty years.
I had a flashback to my father sitting at the breakfast table with his face hidden by the open newspaper. This was a common morning scene but one day he collapsed the paper onto his lap roaring with laughter, tears streaming down his face. He tried to speak as we asked what he’d read that was so funny but he was laughing so hard he could hardly breathe. When he could finally collect himself he tried to read aloud to us, having to stop several times while he endured another choking fit of laughter, “There are two things one should never watch being made,” At this point there was another outburst of laughter and he had to stop again. We waited. It was fun to watch him so amused. We laughed just because he did. So far there was nothing very funny. He gathered himself again and continued, “One is sausage…(another outburst of hilarity), the other is…(we could hardly make out his words as he grasped for breath through his howls)…THE LAW!” He finally got out the last words and dropped his head on the table as if the funniness of this was just too much to bear. We stood there, trying to understand what the hell was so funny. It was a huge disappointment. I barely even cracked a smile when I heard the punchline.
Sitting with Olympia Snowe that day, I finally got it but thought it was more tragic than funny. There have been many similar scenarios in my career and I’m bloody sick of it.
Tuesday is primary day here in Maine and I can’t stand the suspense. Covid pushed the June election day forward with the assumption we’d be out of the woods by now. In Maine, however, the woods are never far away. Hopefully this has been a blessing for Betsy Sweet, the senate candidate I’m supporting. The past month has highlighted even more what is at stake. As each passing day prolongs the bad acid trip of a reality we’re living through, the electorate of Maine might be waking up. I am hopeful. I want to be sitting in my poorly lit greenhouse on Tuesday evening zooming in on the victory party. I worry I haven’t done enough: letters to the editor, letters to voters, donations, and signs are only small offerings. I had imagined going door to door and am wondering if being unable to do that has hurt or helped. But know what makes me feel better? She does! Her enthusiasm and energy always make me feel better. I want her to be my senator and imagine a country where everyone has compassionate, intelligent representation. Susan Collins has got to go and I’m more excited about this candidate than I’ve ever been. I can envision calling her for an appointment, visiting her office, and actually having her interested in what I am saying.
I was sitting with Betsy at the Common Ground Fair last September volunteering at her table. There was a little lull and she turned to me and asked, “Since you work in health care, what is your view on immunization?” I thought, “Wow. A candidate educating herself about important issues affecting her constituents.” I went into a little fantasy of what it would be like to have her in the senate. To have many like her in the senate. We CAN turn this country around, I know it. She has a history of advocating for women. She wrote Maine’s Clean Election Law. She understands the system. She’s unafraid to interact with those who disagree with her. She listens to their stories and learns from them. She is smart. She’s progressive. I am confident of our shared values. She has the experience, stamina, and guts. She is everything a leader should be. And I sit here and think, why should this be so remarkable? This should be the norm. So let’s make it that way. We can do this.
Love to all,