Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Thoughts on a Year Full of Change

I have really neglected this blog; in large part because of all the change going on, though you'd think that would just give me plenty to write about. No. Sometimes change saps the creative energy out of you. And sometimes it just makes finding the time to write (or paint or build a dog house) nearly impossible. Plus, rapid change can make the casual writer's political scribbling become irrelevant before she or he is able to click on "Publish." Well, I have a couple of 3-day weekends this month, so here's a summary of 2016.

The National Lawyers Guild was flexible enough to let me study for the California bar exam this year. And I did. I spent hours reviewing contracts, property, criminal procedure, civil procedure, and man it brought back memories. More on that later.

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Bellas Artes Very Art Deco Interior
JC and I went to Mexico City for a few days in May. Unlike the last time I went, I got to go to Palacio Bellas Artes, the Templo Mayor, and the Museo del Carmen. I was able to revisit Teotihuacan, where I could be the guide this time. More adventurous friends had shown me how to avoid the tours and get to Teotihuacan via the metro and regional buses. It takes a bit longer, but the bus depot had a Subway sandwich shop, which kept us going.

As I recall, the Templo Mayor was closed on my last trip. This time we were able to tour the ruins uncovered beneath and alongside the Metropolitan Cathedral and the main Zocalo. In one spot you could view modern Mexican business towers, colonial Spanish buildings from hundreds of years ago, and the templo itself – layer upon layer of newer structures built over other structures. We also saw mummies at the Museo del Carmen, which I had missed last time – again, closed. I managed to purchase some t-shirts at a store with a complicated shopping process: once I decided what I wanted (in this case needed), workers lowered the shirts with a rope from the storage area above; then I paid for them at a counter, but had to pick them up at a different counter upon showing my receipt; the gentleman at this last counter reviewed and stamped my documents. The shirts were too tight.

We also found decent vegetarian food.

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Casa de los Azulejos
I'm generally a happy traveler in urban centers full of history. Add in my ancestral roots, and you've got me hooked. Staying right on the Zocalo was pretty touristy, but it pleased me nonetheless. One afternoon we were in our un-airconditioned hotel room, watching some storms roll in and trying to get the breeze blowing through the french door windows. I got a call from someone I only knew through email and a couple of previous phone calls. He let me know that I was likely to be offered a job that I had applied to many, many months ago.

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Speaking of Mexico, this kid, Francisco, came into my life in March through the Big Brothers program.  He and his family are from Mexico. Kids need mentors, and I needed an excuse to go to the park more often. It's a pretty good match.

I first met him in an office building. His mom brought him into a small room and we were instructed to talk about the activities we enjoyed. I had to sign a form saying I wouldn't take him on motorcycle rides, and an additional form about firearms since we had a pellet gun in the house (we've yet to purchase pellets). After about 20 minutes, the kid asked, "do I go with him now?" And, ever since, we pretty much have a standing date on Saturdays. Did anyone see the 2016 movie "Nine Lives"? No? Well I did! Francisco and I (and increasingly JC) have also been on frequent trips to the beach, a rock-climbing gym, a carnival, kid-friendly museum/discovery/science places, and plenty of parks.

I also took him to a community outreach event I did for my new job – there was music, and games, and he got a free backpack out of it. The new job is probably the biggest change for me this year. I was at the NLG for nearly 12 years. I was increasingly open to change, but also didn't really like any of the jobs I saw posted. And I was seeing the good jobs – the ones people would send me to post to NLG lists so awesome people would apply. Some of the best options required a law license, and that, in part, is why I was studying for the California bar exam. Other really good options required one to be bilingual. Duolingo now says I'm at 46%! But that guy who called me in Mexico had emailed me one over a year ago that caught my attention.  It was an investigator position at the Office of Citizen Complaints - a San Francisco public agency that investigates public complaints against police officers. The idea of being a public servant maybe sounds boring, but is appealing to me, especially serving a function that (while insufficient on its own) is so necessary. The idea of focusing on one type of work was also appealing: instead of being the director, human resources person, researcher, public speaker, event planner, fundraiser, communications director, tech person and a hundred other jobs required to keep the NLG functioning with only two staff people. So, on a whim, I applied and, eventually, got an offer. And that's what I'm doing now. I put the bar exam on hold, pero todavía estoy practicando Español cada dia.

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Taken early one morning on my way to work. Early for me anyway.
The focus at the new gig has been good, but there is still a great deal of variety. Everyone comes in with different issues – not just the particular misconduct of which they are complaining, but sometimes unique legal issues, personal issues, cultural issues, and so on. They may have violated the law themselves, or may think the police should have arrested someone else. Their primary form of income may be, technically, illegal. They may not realize that their complaint is completely unfounded, or they may not know that the police did several other things during their encounter that amount to misconduct. I do work in the field, and interview witnesses as well as, naturally, the police officers accused of misconduct. So, it isn't like I'm making the same widgets every day from 9 to 5. Actually I usually start at 8:15 AM! Adjusting to that has been one of the biggest challenges. Well, that, and I don't get to be learning about, strategizing about, and debating political change all day. Just at lunch, during my morning and evening commutes, and during my two fifteen minute breaks; also at night and on weekends and holidays.

OK, I'm mostly just on twitter. I need to do more, because there is plenty to do.

The Sanders campaign had been the political surprise of the year until November, right? The media wouldn't portray it as such, but a grey-haired, socialist from Vermont giving the Democratic Party establishment a run for its money was pretty unexpected. And that's really who he was running against. Clinton as a person has her own flaws and epitomizes that establishment, but it was a broad swath of the Democratic Party establishment that was really up for election this year, and it failed to beat a World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame inductee who pals around with neo-Nazis. Although I'd bet more money on Sanders' elect-ability, I still thought Clinton would pull it off in the end. I shared the shock of my liberal-moderate brothers and sisters on that count.

IMG_4545Now the question is what do we do, and it feels a bit like being out in the wilderness at night in complete darkness, because you don't know exactly what to expect, but you know you need to prepare yourself. I actually think that may be one of the things that makes Trump more frightening than Clinton – the unexpected. After all, I have no doubt that a Clinton administration would have unleashed a great deal of pain on the planet, unlike Trump, she and her compatriots would have dressed it up in humanitarianism, incrementalism, and wonkishness. But she is a standard politician entrenched in the same Democratic Party that coalesced around her husband's presidency 20 years ago.

Trump is an unknown. He doesn't seem to have a well thought out political ideology and he may be part of the ruling class, but is certainly not part of the Republican establishment.

So there is the unexpected, but even if Trump is prepared to do about the same amount of harm as a standard Republican or Democrat, the other scary aspect of his campaign and future presidency is the proto-fascists, crass bigots, and shameless corporatists he has empowered. Unfortunately, many  Democrats are saying they are willing to work with Trump, and even liberal journalists and pundits seem perfectly willing to normalize the worst aspects of what we've seen and what may be to come.

So we – those of us who are not politicians and not "millionaires and billionaires" (said in a Bernie Sanders voice) – have to fight and protest. There lies our hope. The people freezing in North Dakota to stop an oil pipeline have shown us the way forward. So have the movements for Black Lives and the one to Occupy Wall Street, which both came while an ostensibly progressive, black president sat in office. A Sanders presidency would also have needed protest, though I think a Sanders administration would have been more responsive. At any rate, we live on a planet dominated by an economic system that is killing us, and in a country that is more or less running it, so who our political leaders are is important, and yet, even the right people would be relatively incapable of saving us, if we aren't willing to take risks and save ourselves.

That should be our New Years Resolution actually.

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