Bitter Pill to Swallow

Emotions have run very raw in my household since Tuesday night and this is being played out across my community and across the country as evidenced by the protests in our major cities. Many of my friends have greeted me on the verge of tears and I’m watching them go through at least three of the five stages of grief: denial, depression, and anger.

I feel many of these emotions along with a small amount of relief, that at least the election is over. Of course, that sword cuts both ways. The election is over so we at least have an idea of what’s to come, but we also must face the reality that President-elect Trump is on the verge of being the most powerful man (some might say child), in the world. We also know that there is little possibility we’ll continue to move forward (at least for now), on the issues that we Progressives hold near and dear. How much damage can a President Trump and his GOP-led Congress and Supreme Court, do to the environment, to civil liberties, to international relations, and to world peace?

The truth is that the Left isn’t just grieving, we are viscerally fearful. How much of the rhetoric Trump spewed over the last year will turn into reality? And even if he doesn’t pursue his hateful agenda, how will others use him to further their’s (McConnell, Bannon, Giuliani, Gingrich, etc.?)

Those who supported Trump are telling us Liberals to get over it. Just as we, when Obama got elected, told them to do the same. I don’t remember hearing back then though, that anyone had concerns about Obama with the nuclear codes. That’s the big difference now. Trump’s campaign staff did after all, in the last week of the presidential election, take away his access to his Twitter account so he couldn’t tweet something that might further damage his ability to get elected. His campaign staff did not trust him to tweet, it is no wonder the vast majority of us don’t trust him with our nuclear weapons.

Nonetheless, the system that has elected the past 44 presidents of the United States, elected Donald J. Trump to be the 45th. No matter how devastated I am about it, he is our President-elect. And, I’ve made a choice to accept that fact. I will not forgive or forget the disdain he has demonstrated for the vast majority of Americans. Neither will I push aside my concerns for what damage he can bring not to just our Nation, but the entire world. I’ve also chosen to understand though, that we all helped him get elected. “Wait just a damn minute” you say “not me!” “I donated to Hillary, had her yard sign outside my home, canvassed for her, made calls for her, and voted for her.” But, I ask, were you ever glued to MSNBC to watch for the next outrageous thing Trump would say? Did you find yourself thinking that his supporters were either just “haters” or to stupid to know any better? I am guilty of both of those.

My decision to accept that he is our president-elect does not mean I am rolling over. Quite the contrary. Even though it might seem that the United States of America is less and less a place “of the people, by the people, and for the people, we are still are the greatest democracy in the world. It is not time to move to Canada or to throw our hands up in despair. It is time to turn our angst and anger into action. Write your elected officials at all levels or run for office yourself or support like-minded candidates who do. Donate to volunteer for organizations that work on behalf of causes you are concerned about and write letters to the editor to express your concerns. And please remember, with Hillary winning the popular vote by 395,595, Donald Trump does NOT have a mandate from the people. What he does have, is the title of President-elect, granted him by the Electoral College.

Through it all though, remember that blame is not constructive and hate is not who we are. The nation is divided for a reason and we must deal with that reason. I believe it is because we collectively haven’t been focused on solving the problems most negatively affecting our people. Flint, MI for example, still doesn’t have safe drinking water, the loss of manufacturing has left many without the hope for a better life, the education of our children of color lags, and college debt has made it very difficult for many to realize their American dream. Who is responsible for fixing these problems? Ultimately, it is up to all of us. After all, we elect representatives to, well…represent us. By either our support or our acquiescence, we give them their marching orders. As long as we continue to reward their performance with reelection, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten.

I’ll close with the point that, it wasn’t “a Trump insurgency, but a Clinton collapse”) as Jonathan Webber coined) that elected him.” Hillary lost because she got 10 million fewer votes that Obama in 2012, and 15 million fewer than in 2008. That is probably the most bitter pill of all to swallow. But swallow it I must and then I will pick myself up, dust myself off, and rejoin the battle to keep the American Dream alive for ALL Americans.

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Four. Hundred. Thousand.

That’s how many of Arizona’s children live in poverty. 400,000 children who are likely food insecure, with a dim outlook for the future. Let’s face it. The American Dream is no longer the promise it once was. Yes, those who work very hard can still make something of themselves in our country, but it is no longer a given that a child, even one who really applies themselves, will be better off than his or her parents.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes an annual Kids Count Databook that rates states in on how children fare in each of the 50 states. In the 2016 report, Arizona ranked:

  • 45th in overall child well-being
  • 39th in economic well-being
  • 44th in education
  • 45th in health
  • 46th in family and community

Not statistics to be proud of by any imagination. Not surprising either, since with one in five (1.26 million) living below the poverty line, Arizona is second to last in the nation, in front of only Mississippi.

Despite what the privatization pushers would have you believe, the number one problem facing our community district schools is poverty. As for those who would say, “they ought to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps” not only do you need boots to have bootstraps but how is pulling yourself up by your bootstraps technically even possible? And for those who say it is a parental responsibility to care for their children, I say absolutely! But, over one-third of the households in Arizona are single parent. Want to bet the vast majority of these households live in poverty?

I’m not saying that poor families can’t be good families. Far from it. What I am saying is that being poor makes everything else tougher to deal with. Those of us who are fortunate to live well above the poverty line can’t imagine the day-to-day challenges of being poor. Once, while running for political office, my wife took the SNAP Challenge. This required her to live for a week on a food budget of a little over $4 per day. (SNAP, an acronym for the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is also known as “food stamps.”) The challenge was, well, challenging, and that’s just one very small glimpse of what it means to be poor. For children, it can mean that the only meal they get each day is the one they get at school. That makes learning more difficult and illness more likely.

For the rest of us, it means missed opportunities and wasted resources.  This, because we will never know from where the next President, successful businessperson, literary genius, or incredible athlete will come. Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson all came from poor roots. Lebrun James and soccer star Pele grew up in poor families. Oprah, who grew up in extreme poverty, is the daughter of an unmarried teen. John Paul DeJoria (Paul Mitchell hair products and Patron tequila) lived in a foster home and spent time in an L.A. street gang. Andrew Carnegie, considered one of the largest benefactors of libraries and educational institutions across the country, worked in factories as a child and forced himself to sleep at night so he would forget his constant hunger. Yes, these people were probably special to start with, but they didn’t make it big all on their own. Which poor kids have we already written off that could have had similar stories if only we’d provided them the right support? And for those who might not be moved by thoughts of disadvantaged poor children or the missed opportunities surrounding them, I offer the sheer economics of this crisis.

“In the mid-1990s”, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris said in her recent TED talk, “a decade-long study of 17,500 adults (70 percent Caucasian and college educated) conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the CDC, found childhood trauma dramatically increased the risk for 7 out of 10 of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Depending on the amount of trauma experienced, those exposed had triple the risk of heart disease and lung cancer, 4-1/2 times the risk of depression, 12 times the risk of suicide ideality and a 20-year decrease in life expectancy. Almost 13 percent of the population has had significant exposure, yet 20-plus years later, doctors are still not trained in routine screening or treatment.

Children in foster care have generally had to deal with more than their share of trauma such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse; neglect; living with parents with drug and/or alcohol addiction; and much more. In Arizona, the state is seeing an alarmingly large increase in the number of children living in foster care due to abuse or neglect. “The rate grew by 87% between 2009 and 2015 and the number of children in foster care more than doubled in seven counties.” As of March of this year, there were 18,906 kids in out-of-home care, seven percent more than the 17,592 children from a year ago. By 2016, the number was more than 19,000. This, after Governor Ducey fired the head of the Department of Child Safety for systemic problems with that agency’s ability to protect children. The problems obviously still exist.

Arizona’s Children’s Action Alliance says there is “growing and unmanageable stress on families, the destruction of the safety net to help families before they are in crisis, and the lack of effective child welfare policies and practices to keep children safely at home. Resulting consequences include huge costs to taxpayers, an overwhelmed and unsustainable child protective services system, a shortage of foster families with children sleeping in offices and living in shelters, and life-changing trauma for thousands of children. Arizonans will bear the effects for many years to come, as children who have experienced foster care are far more likely to fail in school, become homeless, and suffer with poor mental and physical health.”

Providing the right support to help children grow into productive citizens is money in the bank. Prenatal care is less expensive than preschool and preschool is less expensive than prison. Ensuring much better outcomes, while ultimately saving taxpayer dollars, should be something everyone can get behind.

This is war!

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Make no mistake about it, there is a full-blown war underway for public education funding.

Corporate reformers (who bill themselves as “education reformers”) are totally focused on their mission to access the over $600 Billion spent each year on educating America’s K-12 students.  Forget about wanting improved outcomes for our students.  The only improved outcomes corporate reformers are after is that of their profits and portfolios.

What public education advocates must realize is that this truly is a full-blown battle for the hearts and minds of parents and taxpayers.  The corporate reformers have been clever.  How else to describe their ability to sell “school choice” as something parents should want.  Forget about expecting our state legislators to do their primary job of ensuring a quality public education for all.  Forget about transparency, local control and concern for the common good.  It’s survival of the fittest, dog eat dog, and every student for themselves.  After all, as long as MY kid is taken care of, what does it matter?

Problem is, none of us lives in a bubble.  We must rely on each other for a well-functioning, civil society.  The purpose of education can’t be just to make a child college and career ready.  Thomas Jefferson said:  “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

So ultimately, this is more than a war to save public education.  It is really a battle to save our Nation.  No, I am not overstating this.  If we really want to continue to be self-governing, where each of us has say as well as a shot at the American Dream, we must win this war.

The Corporate Reformers are right…this is the civil rights issue of our time.  But, their definition of the “this” is tied to school choice and that is absolutely the wrong focus.  The real civil rights issue of our time is whether or not we believe EVERY child has the right to equal opportunity to succeed or, if we are going to only focus on those with the resources to buy the opportunity to succeed.

A commitment to public education is what made America the greatest nation on earth.  Yes, we must win the hearts and minds and we must win this war.