Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 31

It's been one month. Tonight, as I have several times this week, I've canceled plans in order to write my letter. I should probably just get better at time management. It's disheartening to have no response to anything I've written, yet, but I'm hoping that including my e-mail address will facilitate this. Anyway, on to today:

Dear Mr. President,

I took a break from reading The Audacity of Hope to finish Joe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza. I don't imagine you have much time for reading, but if you do have an opportunity, it is an important book.

One of the things Sacco mentions is "story fatigue" with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This is something I relate to, as I commonly encounter it in friends and strangers; their tendency to sigh, or to stop listening when I talk about Palestine. I find this more exasperating than the ideologues who simply disagree with me. At least they care enough to have an opinion, are aware enough not to feel themselves victimized by the news of another tragedy. It is such a luxury, to be tired of hearing about the conflict. I try not to imagine how it compares to the unending fatigue of living this conflict for decades, because that just makes me angry. With every day that passes, with every story lost in the cacophony of similar-sounding stories, with every canned, talking-point answer, my frustration grows.

The reprehensible treatment of human life in Gaza is unacceptable. Every dollar we give to Israel, every day spent spouting our unending and unconditional support ties the United States more closely to these crimes. And still, you say nothing. Still, you do nothing. Yes, Mr. President, you have an incredibly difficult domestic agenda that must be negotiated and implemented. People in this country are losing jobs, losing health care, losing their livelihood and you're working day and night to turn this around. I understand this. But you're our representative to the world in many ways, and your silence on the complete lack of progress or improvement on the situation in the Middle East is disappointing.

I know we disagree on this issue, Mr. President, but, unlike the GOP leadership, I don't get a debate on it. I'd like you to publicly defend our official position and its consequences; the housing demolitions, the blockade, the random arrests, the collective punishment of innocents, all in the face of criticism from the UN, ICRC and other international organizations. Explain to me, to the rest of the country, and to Palestine why questioning these acts is tantamount to "demonizing" Israel. Explain to me why America supports Democracy everywhere except the Gaza strip. I don't question your right to disagree, Mr. President, but I do wonder if your convictions on this are strong enough to defend the grim reality, and not just to cover up these crimes with the same old platitudes.

Respectfully yours,


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 30- The city & the suburbs

Dear Mr. President,

While shopping with my sister and her husband today, they mentioned that they are looking for houses outside of the city. The hustled pace and crowded nature of Seattle is too much for them, apparently. I suppose this must be some aspect of settling down, getting older, finding that self-reliance that so many adults seem to value.

As for me, I need the city. The community of urban youths like myself, who may not be poor, but who have to keep working, moving, running, constantly, to escape the pull of our debts. We huddle together, sharing light and warmth and WiFi; sharing cigarettes on the sidewalks outside. We exchange information- the petty, the profane and the occasionally profound pieces of insight that aid and ease our survival. We sustain one another as we sustain ourselves, knowing that the community is more important than lower taxes or an illusion of safety.

The suburbs, as I remember them from my childhood, are all about divisions; mine from yours, ours from theirs. Keeping up appearances to keep people from talking, keeping up the lawn to look better than the neighbors, keeping out the Others. Is this solitude the unavoidable desire of maturity? Will I, too, find my life too slow for the city, my needs too big for the high-density life style? I hope this is not the case.

I think the future will inevitably look more like the city than the suburbs.I think, as much as we try to resist it, the truth is that the world is getting smaller, more diverse, more complex. We need each other more than ever. The walls we build around our houses, around our neighborhoods, around our countries, will only make it more difficult for every one.

Respectfully yours,


Friday, January 29, 2010

Day 29

Dear Mr. President,

I filed my Tax return today, and, to my great surprise, I'm getting a refund more than double what I'd anticipated. This is largely due to the American Opportunity Tax Credit which was, surprise surprise, part of the stimulus bill. I'm going to use half of it to finally pay off my credit card. My best friend, upon hearing of my refund, exclaimed, "let's stimulate the economy!", so you can bet we'll be spending the other half more quickly than we should. I have to say, it's difficult not to feel happy with the Recovery Act when I have such tangible evidence of how I personally benefit from it. I'm a fairly well-informed person, and even I had no idea how much the Recovery Act was going to benefit me. I think, had it been explained better, more people would have supported it, and been happy with your administration's efforts.

Anyway, my worries about credit card and student loan debt, my anxiety about returning to school, my general stress about the state of my finances is greatly alleviated by all of this. Thank you so much. I'm generally not opposed to paying taxes, but I won't lie- it was nice not to pay so much this year. I'm still glad you didn't concede to Republican requests for an across the board tax cut in your discussion with them today. Not cutting taxes for the very wealthy, for people like my former CEO, is an incredibly sensible thing to insist upon, and I feel that you did explain this very well. You do a much better job of admitting mistakes, taking blame, and discussing the ideas of your political rivals than I feel President Bush ever did.

The coverage of the State of the Union address continues to be divided along ideological lines, which is upsetting but in no way surprising. Today I watched Jon Stewart mention his perception of your administration as being a third entity, being isolated from congressional Democrats and Republicans. I don't know how accurate his impression of this is, but I think it indicates the sense people have of the Democratic party being fractured so badly it is unable to effectively lead. I sincerely hope that your State of the Union address helped ease this, and that congressional Democrats rally to the pass the proposals you outlined in the speech. I would hate to lose control of the House or the Senate in November, but if the Democrats don't see the ramifications of their in-fighting and start governing more effectively, we deserve to.

Listening to your speech Wednesday, and your answers to the Republicans today, I have to say you sound just like you did in The Audacity of Hope and its nice to know you're still that optimistic. I can't speak for any one but myself, but for me, at least, that optimism seems to be catching.

Respectfully yours,


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day 28- State of the Union

Dear Mr. President,

I loved the State of the Union address. I thought you were eloquent, uncompromising and honest. I was cheering out loud at my laptop several times. Your proposal for student loan payment caps, if enacted, will help me save the money I need to pay for school. My degree feels like a real possibility for the first time in a long time. I was also impressed with your commitment to health care, your call to action to both parties. Promising to repeal 'don't ask don't tell' was a needed boost to the left's confidence. I think, on the whole, the speech was excellent.

What unsettled me was the number of people I talked to who had no idea the speech was even happening. From the clerk at the grocery store, to the people in the ER waiting room, who asked my roommate if we'd been attacked, I was shocked by the people who weren't aware of the night's significance. Where does that disconnect come from? Even my politically minded friends have difficulty seeing how the things you say in your speech affect them. Are we too comfortable? Too cynical? Too shallow? Or is it that we've been let down too many times?

For example, I read the transcript of your Q & A in Florida today. One young woman asked you a question about your lack of response or condemnation for the Israeli and Egyptian treatment of Gaza. The audience booed. To your credit, you calmed them down and asked them to be respectful. Unfortunately, you then proceeded to disrespect the woman in an even worse way, responding as you did with a talking point, and not one that answered the question. She asked why you did not condemn human rights violations, and you responded by pontificating about all the reasons we are Israel's ally and how complicated the situation is. Mr. President, she was not asking you to denounce Israel or outline the conflict's complexities. She was asking why you did not condemn specific actions. Any reasonable adult can tell you that this is a question that can be answered without renouncing our allegiance to Israel. The answer to this question is either "I do condemn these acts, but I understand why Israel and Egypt are concerned" or "I don't feel that the you, the UN, the ICRC, and much of the international community are correct in characterizing these actions as human rights violations, let me tell you why...." Maybe if my generation felt that a straight answer from a politician was possible when it comes to tough issues, more of us would pay attention when you speak.

Anyway, Mr. President, I was quite proud of your speech, even if I'm disappointed by the Q & A. I hope that you consider just how answers like the one you gave this woman contribute to the "deficit of trust" you addressed last night.

Respectfully yours,


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day 27

The post is a reflection of my own opinion and certainly does not represent an official statement on the behalf of my employer.

Dear Mr. President,

As eager as I am to listen to the State of the Union tonight, I can't help but be distracted by the looming rumors of layoffs at my work. Some news sources are reporting that up to 15% of employees will be laid off tomorrow. I'm on vacation this week, and likely won't know if this is true, who will be going, or if this is the end of it, until I return to work on Monday. I'm afraid for my job, I'm afraid for my coworkers' jobs, and I'm angry at our erstwhile CEO who earned millions driving our company to near-bankruptcy and has just left for a higher-paying job with another corporation.

This CEO may have felt he was doing his best to save our company. I don't pretend to know what went through his mind this year. I can say this; while dramatically increasing demands for performance, he cut hours, benefits and eliminated performance-based pay raises for employees. There are hard truths to be faced; some of what he did was necessary. Some employees needed to be pushed to work harder and deliver more concrete results. Some had to be let go. But some of his expectations, some of his decisions and investments were obviously, unforgivably, appallingly unwise. When this man visited my store, he humiliated a coworker of mine in front of other employees and customers. That was not necessary or helpful. The cuts in benefits and payroll may have helped in the short run, but drove away qualified employees and alienated customers. We, the underpaid working class with no safety net and often no insurance, we are the face of this company, the part of it that interacts with customers and the part that represents our brand to the world. How is demoralizing and downsizing us going to help anything?

The writing of this letter was just interrupted by a phone call. It was my coworker and roommate, who is, not for the first time since I've known her, being taken to the ER for an asthma attack. She has no insurance. Would regular preventative care and access to the medications that control asthma help her? I'm not a doctor, but common sense tells me that it would. I'm going to cut this letter short to go meet her, but, if you are reading this, sir, please spend a moment to think of my roommate, a 23-year old woman from Hawaii, who is in the emergency room today because she cannot breathe, and whose first concern now is how she will pay for her prescriptions to keep another attack at bay. I'm asking you to think of her, because I know our CEO won't be.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 26

Dear Mr. President,

Today a French commission offered its report on the full-face veil worn by some Muslim women. This report is an appalling demonstration of the ignorant, islamophobic hate-mongering that passes as political discourse in much of Europe these days. I hope that your administration strongly denounces the report, and any move to ban the wearing of the veil. How does a ban on the veil in public places liberate women who wear it? Doesn't this just prevent them from equal access to education, government services, medical care and transportation- necessary aspects of living independent lives as full citizens?

I feel this is particularly heinous because it discriminates against women, while claiming to be for their own good. This is the kind of paternalistic legislative overreach that begs a comparison to the regimes like Iran and Afghanistan under the Taliban, which require the veil for almost exactly the same reason, to "protect" women. I once read that high-heels are damaging to a woman's leg muscles. One could argue that they also impede a woman's ability to move quickly, and can be hazardous during emergency evacuations. Where's the French commission recommending a ban on stilettos?

Behind all the posturing, the legislative language and the outright lies from the French government, the simple truth is that this is nothing more than a manifestation of anti-Islamic feelings, of blatant racism. Muslims, be they immigrants or converts, make the French government nervous. The same way Jews made the German government nervous. Are yellow crescents next? Jim Crow-style legislation to segregate Muslims from public life? Where is the line drawn? How much of a woman's face needs to be visible before she can qualify for an education or medical care? Before she can take a bus to work, or shop, or visit family? How much of herself must she cede to the government's idea of what a liberated woman looks or dresses like?

The report says that all of France says "no" to the veil. What does that say to the women who wear it? You are not French. France says "no", to you. What a progressive, egalitarian thing to say. Mr. President, I beg you, do not ignore or condone this offensive behavior.

Respectfully yours,


Monday, January 25, 2010

Day 25

Dear Mr. President,

I started reading The Audacity of Hope today. From the start, I've found your longing for a more productive style of politics inspiring, and recognized too much of myself and too many of my peers in your assertion that "a cynical electorate is a self-centered electorate." Our cynicism may not be without cause, but it is a false kind of wisdom, a false comfort in that it plays into the hands of the type of politicians we think it protects us from.

I think we'd really like to believe in America again, believe in it as a force of good, believe in it as an institution of and by and for us, the people. Do we fail the system by refusing to participate, or adequately educate ourselves? Or do politicians fail us by fattening themselves on the spoils of victory and sacrificing the better interests of the people for the better interests of their party? I don't know the answer. I don't know that we can walk things back, undo the divide. I don't know that I want to work with some one to improve health care, if they don't believe my gay friends have a right to marry the ones they love. I don't know if I want to win or to work together.

I want to believe that we can do both. That we can change minds, not just win elections. That every American can participate in the hard work of making our country stronger and healthier and wiser and more just. That we can understand the link between our values and our vote- that politics can be seen as open to every one and not just the wealthy and powerful. I want to believe that we can elect great leaders and have meaningful national discussions about real issues. I want to believe that each of us can change this country for the better.

I wonder if you are still as optimistic as the author of this book. Is it possible to work in Washington and not become just as cynical as the electorate?

I want to believe that it is.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Day 24

Dear Mr. President,

It's nice to have a cartoonishly evil face for our enemy. Pretty much any time I've managed to lose myself in the complexity of our conflicts, Bin Laden issues another message to remind me that we're actually living in a comic book. I thought his latest warning, that attacks in America would continue as long as we support Israel's occupation, was particularly interesting. Since Al-qaeda has little or no presence in Palestine, I feel like Bin Laden has gotten a bit desperate. America, under your administration, is much more difficult to hate than under President Bush. It has to be difficult to recruit these days. Tying our country to the Israeli occupation- their own cartoonishly evil Super Villain- is probably the best way to keep morale up.

I'm not suggesting that we alter US foreign policy because of Bin Laden. I just want to be clear on that, right away. But if you consider the conditions in Gaza, the abject suffering, the isolation, the inability even to rebuild after tragedy, if you consider all of it and how long the people of Gaza have suffered, it is difficult to see a clear course of action. Some people are going to get angry. Some are going to write letters. Some are going to protest. Others are going to get violent. I'm not excusing that course, but what option have we given them? Years of protest and struggle got them nothing. Democratic elections got them an even worse situation. A ceasefire accomplished nothing. This stalemate has become unacceptable. And the plight of the Palestinians is such that it will always rouse sympathy and anger from those that identify with them- either as fellow Muslims, fellow Arabs, or fellow human beings.

"America will never dream of living in peace unless we live it in Palestine. It is unfair that you enjoy a safe life while our brothers in Gaza suffer greatly." Radical words. Even to me, an ardent supporter of the Palestinians, they ring incredibly hollow. Bin Laden may not be suffering alongside the Gazans, he certainly is not serving their interest with his tactics, but yet he feels he can invoke "we". He may be a truly abhorrent individual, but he isn't stupid. Bin Laden knows this issue is powerful, emotional and divisive.

I don't expect you to pay much attention to the words of such a person. He is a petty criminal, his words rendered meaningless by his manipulation and his hypocrisy. A much wiser man once had some truly radical sentiments; "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” You can disarm Bin Laden, sir, you can move the peace process forward, you can renew America's neutrality by ending our unconditional and unreasonable support for Israel's illegal activity, you can give the people of Gaza hope. And then, when they finally have a state of their own, when they finally have regular access to food and water and resources to build their economy, people will remember that as something America and not our enemies, helped them to achieve. This time, on this issue, we're on the wrong side. It may be years or it may be centuries, but history will judge us, judge you, for these crimes.

Respectfully yours,


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Day 23- 37 years

Today we recognize the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which affirms every woman’s fundamental constitutional right to choose whether to have an abortion, as well as each American’s right to privacy from government intrusion. I have, and continue to, support these constitutional rights.

I also remain committed to working with people of good will to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and families, and strengthen the adoption system.

Today and every day, we must strive to ensure that all women have limitless opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

Dear Mr. President,

The night of the final debate between you and Senator McCain was the night I knew you were a different kind of politician. What struck me was the way you reminded every one, very calmly, that no matter how unapologetic you or any one might be in their support for Roe V. Wade, "no one is pro-abortion." The power of this moment was lost, of course, in Senator McCain's response, which involved air-quotes around "women's health" as though women across the nation were inventing life-threatening prenatal complications in order to score late-term abortions. My appreciation for your words was lost in my disgust at Senator McCain, but your words kept coming back to me, in the days following.

5 years ago, I made a choice. Knowing what I know now, knowing how that choice has haunted me, redefined me, in many ways, broken me, I don't think I would make the same choice, again. I was 18, and I was scared, and I was desperate. I know, for sure, that the law would not have stopped me. I could have gone to a safe, sterile clinic, or I could have gone somewhere else. I wasn't making this choice because I thought it was the right one, I wasn't making it because I thought, at all. I was making it because a person I thought mattered more than all else, told me it was the only way. I'm not blaming him, I'm blaming myself for valuing this man above my own health and safety and survival. For valuing him above all reason or logic.

In the end, of course, he left me. In the end I was alone, as I had always been. And while this decision may haunt me, the question of its morality settled so decidedly in my mind, its legality protected me from truly terrible consequences. The law cannot protect me from regret and self-reproach, but it can, and did, protect my health and safety. It is, once again, about Elizabeth Cady Stanton's solitude of self. The law that protects this decision protects a woman when she is the most alone. When she cannot count on any one, not her family, not her lover, and certainly not the men who govern her, to help.

I know both the desperation of being so young and so scared, and the ache of having surrendered your better judgment to another. So no matter what choice I would make now, I feel physically ill to think of that choice ever again being made for me or for any woman, by men like Senator McCain. This is why your manner in the debate was so inspiring. Not because you agree with me, but because you did not allow the debate to be taken from you and redefined. You did not allow Senator McCain to paint your beliefs as shameful or craven. You did not surrender the dignity of your position and of those that share it. So thank you for that.

37 years ago the courts defined the limits of their jurisdiction to be the boundaries of a person's body. It comforts me to know that you agree.

Respectfully yours,


Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 22

Dear Mr. President,

Paul Krugman has some very important things to say about health care in today's New York Times. I agree with his call for Congressional Democrats to "stop whining, and do what needs to be done." He says this needs to happen in the face of poor leadership from the White House. I'm not sure I agree. I thought your speech at the town hall meeting today was a clear demonstration of your commitment to the issue, but I think the State of the Union will be the real test. I don't think you should be shy about telling the American people just exactly what is holding up this reform- their congressional representatives.

Krugman's point about bipartisanship is also a valid one. Once again, the Republicans are demonstrating their superior legislative strategy. The health care reform bill is incredibly conciliatory- I'd imagine there are several moderate republicans who would support it, in principle. Unfortunately their party's goal- to prevent Democrats from appearing effective- is more important than doing right by their constituents. This is something democrats could do a better job of calling them out for. Which party is standing on principle and which is putting politics before the national interest? I don't think Democrats have communicated this well to the public.

Finally, I think that a concession to your own base is probably in order. We've been roughed up the last few weeks, the left is lacking fire and excitement. How about checking off some of the campaign promises you can do without congressional approval? Repealing DADT? making real progress towards closing Guantanamo? These may cost you political capitol with the centrists and the right wing, but it would energize your supporters and remind congressional democrats (many of whom owe their seats to your electoral coattails) that you came to Washington to do more than compromise- and so did they.

Respectfully yours,


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 21

With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington--while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That's why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.

Dear Mr. President,

Good luck talking with Congressional leaders about today's Supreme Court decision. I'm in complete agreement with you on this issue, but I have little hope that a congress already so beholden to special interests will be particularly helpful in developing "a forceful response." I think today's ruling would be considerably less effective if large donors were a legitimate political liability for candidates. If being purchased by a company, union or lobby could be more embarrassing and detrimental to a candidate than a sex scandal. I have no problem with politicians who sleep around, unless I'm married to them. I have a considerable problem with politicians who represent special interests and not the voters. Unfortunately, having and affair with a powerful organization will never make quite as many headlines as having an actual affair.

I feel exhausted trying to write this, tonight, but I'm sure it does not begin to rival the exhaustion you feel. Between the arbitrary "one year in office" retrospectives, the election, the supreme court, the economy, and Haiti, I don't know how you haven't collapsed yet. It will get better. It feels like it won't, it feels like we are fighting on too many fronts to prevail, but that must be wrong. At my store, I was chatting with a regular customer and I mentioned you, and she asked me if I still had faith in you. I said that I did, and she cheered out loud. So many of us still have faith in you, sir, don't let our voices get lost in the din. I am struggling to find something meaningful to say, so I will resort to theft. The following is by one of my favorite poets, a Nobel laureate and a woman who survived much darker times.

The Turn of the Century

By Wislawa Szymborska

It was supposed to be better than the others, our 20th century,
But it won't have time to prove it.
Its years are numbered,
its step unsteady,
its breath short.

Already too much has happened
that was not supposed to happen.
What was to come about
has not.

Spring was to be on its way,
and happiness, among other things.

Fear was to leave the mountains and valleys.
The truth was supposed to finish before the lie.

Certain misfortunes
were never to happen again
such as war and hunger and so forth.

These were to be respected:
the defenselessness of the defenseless,
trust and the like.

Whoever wanted to enjoy the world
faces an impossible task.

Stupidity is not funny.
Wisdom isn't jolly.

Is no longer the same young girl
et cetera. Alas.

God was at last to believe in man:
good and strong,
but good and strong
are still two different people.

How to live--someone asked me this in a letter,
someone I had wanted
to ask that very thing.

Again and as always,
and as seen above
there are no questions more urgent
than the naive ones.

I'll end tonight with a naive question, Mr. President. What can I do?

Respectfully yours,


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 20

Dear Mr. President,

I'm just about finished with Dreams From My Father. I'm not usually such a slow reader; I confess that, while I've been enjoying the story, I've felt uncomfortable reading anything that isn't breaking news this week. It was a guilty pleasure, today while babysitting, to return to your beautiful narrative.

I'll be taking my own journey to discover family members later this year. I've recently reconnected with part of my family in the Midwest, people I've never met or haven't seen since I was a child. As important as it is for me to see my grandmother, the abundance of aunts, uncles and cousins I'm sure to meet there intimidate me. I'm so thoroughly conditioned for urban life that even spending last Sunday in my suburban hometown barely an hour away was practically visiting a foreign land. How am I going to survive Nebraska? Where every one owns a car and the idea of finding good Indian, Thai or even decent espresso seems laughable. I'm probably going to have to cover up my tattoos. I'm definitely going to have to listen to country music. I think they probably have vegetarian check stations at the border, making people eat a piece of steak before they let them in.

All right, I'm mostly kidding. And, to be honest, my fear of visiting the Midwest is more about disappointing my relatives than of culture shock. I'm told that this part of the country is "real America." What if it is just as foreign to me as I fear it will be? What does that say about my American-ness? This was a bigger issue under President Bush. On election night, my best friend and I wandered into a 24-hour QFC and giddily took picture of each other holding up arugula, gleefully celebrating the notion that America was somehow made safe for our elitist-organic-whole-foods-liberal lifestyles. America may now have enough room for us and our way of living, but it did not change my family, who by blood and marriage have forged a right to judge me that others do not posses. And we all have to make peace with our origins, be they in Nairobi or Nebraska City.

I'm impressed with the courage you demonstrate in revealing the challenges of your journey, the honesty in the way you discuss your disappointments and theirs, and the genuine affection so many strangers can have for one another. It gives me hope for my own journey. Also, I feel like you've opened yourself up more honestly than any other President. Perhaps this is only an indication of your complete lack of presidential ambitions at the time. Regardless, it reminds your readers of your humanity, in the face of our often unreasonable expectations. Tonight I'm planning to stay up until I'm finished with the book, and I have to say I'm sorry that it's ending.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 19- Health care with no Coakley

Dear Mr. President,

Were we even using that super-majority? Clearly, it makes the jobs of all democrats more difficult, but this is not the end of the world. I think it's time we take a few tips from our political opponents.

First of all, we've got to work on party unity. I'm not saying Democrats have to agree on everything, or that we all must speak with one voice, but what good are those blue dogs doing us? You want to see the American people get behind you? Take a shot at every do-nothing seat-warmer in congress showing up only to collect on donations from lobbyists. Make it clear that no seat is safe from a strong primary challenge. You lead this party sir, so ask the DNC why we're wasting money re-electing these old-timers who don't stand with us when it counts. If I'm donating to the DNC I sure as hell don't want it to go to campaigning for the bought and paid for representatives of the insurance company lobbies. The American people may be capricious, but we respect bold action and nothing would help fix the way our government runs like a wake-up call to congress. I hate to say it, but, when it comes to Health Care, you're with us, or you're against us.

Second, we've got to sell our issues better. Part of this is your responsibility- when you say you're changing business as usual, you have to actually do it. Compromise for the sake of practicality is good, but the reform bill isn't even recognizable. Part of this is just the way this has been explained. "Public option"? What does that even mean? Are we that terrible at naming things? How about, instead of constantly playing softball defense, we come out and call the opponents of reform out for being corrupt? For valuing money and power over the basic obligations we have to one another as a society. Why don't democrats stand together and say that they're willing to show the world they work for the people of this country, not the corporations? We're not on the defensive. We're in the right. Health care reform is about doing the right thing, and we're not going to answer to those who still haven't come around on that.

Sir, we sent you to the White House because we believed in your vision of an American government that could be bold, transparent and represent the values of the people. If the congress we elected to execute your agenda isn't getting the job done, then nominate some new blood this year. We elected you for 4 years, not 1, not 2, not until your unfavorable poll numbers outweigh your favorable ones. You've got an 18-vote majority in the senate, a country that is crying out for real reform, and 3 years to get it done. Please, don't let this election become a referendum on anything other than the need for a more aggressive party strategy.

Respectfully yours,


Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 18

Dear Mr. President,

This morning my family took me to breakfast. We were discussing Haiti, and one of my sisters got upset at the idea that Americans were given higher priority for rescue and medical care. I responded with some feeble defense of the hostilities that you would face from the public if we weren't doing everything we could to help the Americans, but her point that all lives have equal value was not lost on me.

Each day the stories get worse. Each day the photos grow more horrific. Today, I actually had some one ask me what all the fuss about Haiti was. I thought he was being appallingly insensitive until I realized he actually had no idea the earthquake had even occurred. How is that even possible? Sometimes we really do live up to worst stereotypes about Americans.

The Martha Coakley race has me worried. The economy has me worried. Haiti has me worried. But I'm stuck at work tonight, the front door lock is broken, and I'm unable to take the time to articulate any of these worries more clearly. This is not to complain- I just read a story about you on NPR that said your workday ends around 1am. So tonight, let me just say that I am sending you all of the good thoughts that I can and hoping things get better soon.

To end things on a more positive note, on e-bay right now, the Pat Robertson voodoo doll is up to $1200, with all the proceeds to benefit the relief effort in Haiti. I think this is the most reassuring thing I've ever seen on e-bay. Sometimes we make the stereotypes work, I suppose.

Respectfully yours,



I just noticed that the First Lady's birthday was yesterday. I wanted to send her my best wishes, from a fellow Capricorn.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Day 17- Man vs. Wild

Dear Mr. President,

In this time when mother nature is doing her best to remind us that we'll never play in the same league when it comes to death and destruction, it's good to know that some countries are still doing their part to at least keep our skills sharp. CNN has a video of the efforts. Does the Israeli government miss the irony of sending one team to Haiti, to rebuild houses, and another to the West Bank to demolish them, in the same week? Some may find it tasteless of me to invoke a comparison with the much more destructive earthquake, but I find this kind of wanton destruction far more offensive than anything any one can say. (Also, I do not overlook the commendable efforts of the Israelis in Haiti. Israel's moral failings towards the Palestinians do not make it an inherently immoral nation, or lessen the nobility of those efforts.) But I watch this video, and I feel hopeless.

Then I read your speech from this morning. "Sometimes I get a little frustrated when folks just don't want to see that even if we don't get everything, we're getting something....It's not enough, but it's progress. Progress is possible. Don't give up on voting. Don't give up on advocacy. Don't give up on activism. There are too many needs to be met, too much work to be done." "So, yes, we're passing through a hard winter. It's the hardest in some time. But let's always remember that, as a people, the American people, we've weathered some hard winters before."

I do appreciate the idea that suffering makes us stronger. I do appreciate that in the tragic history of Haiti, or Palestine, or America, the obstacles overcome have prepared people for the obstacles ahead. But today, it seems so exhausting to consider. Doesn't it ever end? If an earthquake this horrifying can't make us stop and consider our own actions, our own unnecessary destructiveness, what can?

"There are times when progress seems too slow. There are times when the words that are spoken about me hurt. There are times when the barbs sting. There are times when it feels like all these efforts are for naught, and change is so painfully slow in coming, and I have to confront my own doubts.

But let me tell you -- during those times it's faith that keeps me calm. "

Yes, sir. It seems too slow. It seems too difficult to believe that things will get better, that we will stop being awful and destructive towards one another. And much of the faith that keeps me calm in the face of this is faith in you. It is Sunday, and it is difficult to think this week will be any better than the last. But it seemed impossible that a man like you could ever become President, so, for now, I will stay calm with the faith that things will, slowly, improve.

Respectfully yours,


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day 16- right, wrong, and illegal

I will admit, I am more apprehensive about this than other letters, as it is the most personal. I suppose these will always, necessarily, be more about me than anything else. Still I prefer to have a more specific, concrete topic than such an abstract idea. I'm definitely not going to make a habit out of this, but I suppose I am allowed one or two letters that read more like diary entries.

Dear Mr. President,

I am considering breaking the law tomorrow night. Being the daughter of two police officers, I have always considered myself to be, by and large, a law-abiding citizen. However, I learned from an early age that not all laws were right and not all wrongs were crimes. My father took a somewhat different view. For him, legal and illegal were the only definitions of right and wrong. (To an extent. Even my father would have to admit the line was somewhat blurrier when it came to speed limits.) I struggled with thisas a teen. My anti-Iraq War bumper sticker was protected by the first amendment, until March 20, 2003, when, according to him, it became an act of sedition and had to be removed. I suppose this is why I have resisted so fiercely the impulse to follow in my parents' footsteps. A career enforcing the law is simplified by a belief in the absolute morality of the law; the idea that right and wrong can be codefied into a fixed, clearly defined, all-purpose system. I could never reconcile this simplicity with the inherent complexity of the human experience. Conversely, the belief that legality, alone, can indicate morality leads also to men like John Yoo, and the twisting of the letters of law to excuse immoral acts.

I understand the need for laws. I respect them and sometimes even, in the course of my job preventing shoplifters, enforce them. But the things in life I feel the most guilty for were perfectly legal acts, and some of the proudest moments of my life involved defying laws that I view to be unjust. Legality is not, necessarily, about morality. However, the law I am considering breaking tomorrow night is not an unjust law. I do think it is there for a good and just purpose and I would not, under any other circumstances, advise, condone or even consider its violation.

Eight years ago, I failed some one. If I had broken a law, been arrested, been punished, maybe by now I would feel better about it. Maybe I would feel as though my debt had, somehow, been paid. Seven years and 363 days ago, I turned 16. I skipped to school in a new purple dress, carrying balloons and flowers. My close friend was being discovered, by his younger brother, with a shotgun wound to the head. I failed him. I knew he was sick. I knew he was depressed. I knew that I was being insensitive. It was such a small cruelty, at the time.

Ever since that day, when people ask me what I want for my birthday I lie. I lie because all I want is for Josh to be alive and 24, not dead and endlessly 16. I want to take back 8 years of his family's suffering. I want something to take away the 8 years of guilt. And, if I can't have those things, I want to sit, alone, in the darkness with him and tell him how sorry I am that I failed him. I've never managed to make it to his graveside on my birthday, since. Either because I was out of the state, or I didn't have a car, or any number of things. But this year, fate conspired to put it all within reach. I'll be off of work too late to make it before the cemetery closes, but that's actually fine by me. I don't want to have to face him in the light of day. I don't want to risk the shame of having his family see my grief in the face of their own. I don't want to have to answer to the living for my crimes.

I wish right and wrong were as simple as the laws of our society. If I do break the law & jump the fence tomorrow night, it will not weigh heavily on my conscience. In your book, you refer to "sacred stories", the tragedies, hard truths and costly lessons that bind us together as people, in our common struggle to live our lives of quiet desperation. I don't know if there is anything sacred about what I'm considering doing. I don't know if I am more afraid of breaking the law or living another year with this weight on my conscience. I hope that I can be forgiven for breaking the law, even if I can't forgive myself for my more egregious trespasses.

Surely a President understands the constant struggle between the comfort in the certain, simple, legal ideas of right and wrong, and the less defined, intangible morality of nature that govern us all. I hope the distinction is easier for you, than it is for me.

Respectfully yours,


Friday, January 15, 2010

Day 15

Dear Mr. President,

It is difficult to think of anything to write about besides Haiti. I've donated via SMS to the red cross, I've read the news all day, I've worried and worried and worried. Not particularly helpful, to be honest. I don't think I can write to you, who is doing so much, about something I can do next to nothing to help. So this letter is going to be about the Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee, which I just heard about from the e-mail that the Vice President's office sent out.

I already added my name to the petition, and I hope that the tremendous popular support for this idea is enough to get it passed over the objection of the banking lobby. I'll be writing my congressman (not that contacting Rick Larsen has done me much good in the past) and state senators as well. Don't back down on this, sir. Conservatives are saying it is a mere distraction. Michelle Malkin claims that the fee will be passed on to consumers, which may be true, but seems like it should be an indictment of the banks, not the government. If my bank tries to charge me more, I will simply take my business elsewhere. I say all of this as some one with a layman's understanding of economic policy. I could be entirely wrong, but I think a number of Americans are confused about the nuances of this, and we are putting our trust in you and your administration not to take advantage of this crisis for political gain.

Tomorrow I return to work after 2 days off, and as much as I'm dreading getting up early and dealing with the tedious and often absurd public, I'm thankful to be among the employed. I'm still worried about the economy, but I think that things will slowly get better. Bearing in mind my admitted lack of economic expertise, I've previously mentioned John Edward's campaign promise to reform college financial aid systems and work to lessen current student debt. Maybe this is oversimplifying things, but wouldn't it stimulate the economy if the recently graduated who are struggling with loan debt could spend the money elsewhere? Or invest in their own futures, by purchasing houses or starting businesses? If we can bail out banks and auto companies, why not students who are facing unprecedented amounts of student loan debt? Especially as much of that debt is the product of a system already exposed to be rife with corruption and predatory practices. I don't know, maybe it's a terrible idea, but it seems to me that as a society, we benefit more from a well-educated youth with less debt than we do from lending institutions making huge profits off of the dreams of the middle class.

I don't know. It seems frivolous to be asking about debt relief while thinking about the conditions in Haiti, or in any number of places across the globe. Perhaps this is a discussion for another day.

Respectfully yours,


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day 14-Pat Robertson is the worst Christian ever

Dear Mr. President,

"To the people of Haiti, we say clearly, and with conviction, you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten. In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you. The world stands with you." Your words to Haiti were such a relief after the appalling ignorance of Pat Robertson the day before. After tragedies like this, I often feel as though I should have studied something more practical, like medicine. This helplessness is mitigated (though not completely assuaged,) by the secure knowledge that my government, at least, is doing all it can.

I hope this latest display of bigotry and hate will finish Pat Robertson's career for good. Sadly, there will probably always be those who listen to what he says and believes him, simply because he claims to be a man of God. I wasn't raised in a religious household, and my forays into Christian churches were always because I had friends inviting me along for dances, camps, or some other social activity that only peripherally involved God. Now, I have friends who are Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Wicca, Buddhist and hardcore atheists. I don't know where I fit in amongst them. I used to think I was an atheist, but absolute knowledge has never suited my disposition, and being sure, absolutely sure, that there is no God or power too complex for me to understand, is, in my mind, arrogance on the same level as any religious zealot.

One of the Arabic tattoos I have reads, "In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful." This line is often said or written at the beginning of things in the Muslim world, letters, stories, meals, and the Qur'an. The idea that everything I do, every action though, and word; every heartbeat, is done in the name of whatever force and reason governs the universe appeals to me. If there is one tenant of Islam that resonates with my own belief system, it is the tawheed, or supreme oneness of God. The idea that God is not some bearded patriarch, or some moody tyrant, is something I can reconcile with my intellectual side. And it doesn't leave much room for Pat Robertson's Devil. This may not make me a particularly good Muslim, in the traditional sense, but Muslim is literally "one who submits" and what choice to any of us have but to submit to the higher laws of our universe? The nature of those laws may be more like scripture or Karma, or as impersonal as gravity, but I don't claim to know enough about them to say for sure.

I know your faith is in all likelihood closer to the defined, unambiguous faith of Mr. Robertson than my own nebulous collection of dishes from the theological buffet. That being said, I don't think that, just because you're a Christian, you should have to dignify the words of Mr. Robertson by denouncing them, in order to demonstrate that not all Christians are ignorant nutcases. I feel the same way when Muslim groups feel compelled to denounce acts of terror or the hateful words of holocaust deniers or other crimes, just because they are perpetrated by those claiming to be Muslim. The faith of true Muslims stands in opposition to these acts, and that faith alone should suffice as a rejection of them.

Anyway, I know people of all faiths are praying for those in Haiti, and I suppose that can't hurt. Thank you for sending aid, and for the addressing the people of Haiti with the respect due to them. I don't think that my idea of God can forsake people, so I'll just hope that America, really that the whole human race, collectively forsake Mr. Robertson and that one day he finds himself lost, alone, (preferably somewhere being occupied by the 18th-century French) and is forced to reflect, honestly, on his life.

Respectfully yours,


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Day 13

Dear Mr. President,

I really love hummus. I tried it for the first time at a small falafel shop near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Much to my dismay, this has made me kind of a snob about the hummus I buy here in the states. Recently, I gave up on my favorite brand of hummus, after finding out it was produced by an Israeli company.

Voicing my objection to US policy in Israel is never as simple as voting. Almost never is there a "pro-Palestine" option on my ballot. Usually, when considering the foreign policy position of a candidate, I find myself faced with "Pro-Israel" and "More Pro-Israel than you, so HA" and "So pro-Israel I will get the flag tattooed on my face." I believe that, in this instance, voting with my dollar tends to be more effective than any literal vote I might cast. It may not be easy to avoid shopping in the stores or buying the products that would contribute to sustaining the occupation, but it is a minor inconvenience compared to the suffering inflicted on both the occupied and occupiers by those that profit from the status quo.

While in Palestine, we encountered a few young Palestinians working on an awareness campaign to help their neighbors identify and boycott. One of my Palestinian companions later that day announced that he, too, was swearing off Israeli products. I returned home, determined to commit to boycotting Israeli products until the situation changed. This determination was empowering, for a few hours, until I remembered that I could buy all the non-Israeli products I wanted, but so long as I was paying taxes, I was supporting Israel in a big way. In Palestine, it is not uncommon to hear the occupation referred to as the "American-Israeli occupation", and one look at our foreign aid budget explains why. So while I may love my country, love the schools and other public services my tax dollars fund, I can't ignore the fact that my money is also spent arming the oppressors of my Palestinian friends. I could stop paying my taxes, practice a little civil disobedience, but I'd probably have to quit working to do so.

So I can't vote to change our policies, and I can't keep my money from supporting those same policies, either. This is maddening. I feel so powerless. At least the Tea-Party hacks could vote for John McCain and call their consciences clear. What is my alternative? The more I think about it, the only conclusion I can reach is that I have to leave the country, eventually. Have I lost my, once unshakable, faith in our capacity to change? I don't know. I hope I come up with a better plan before the demands of my conscience outweigh the obstacles to expatriation. I haven't given up trying. Writing you all of these letters is probably a last-ditch effort to come up with some shred of evidence that my voice in opposition might be enough.

I apologize if this tedious, if my persistence on this same issue, especially in the face of the catastrophic tragedy in Haiti, makes for very boring reading tonight. I have the luxury of single-mindedness, something that your office cannot possibly afford you. I might ignore other issues, other injustices, in hopes of others taking up the fight, but you cannot. Every crisis is in front of you, in briefing books, on the wall of the situation room, demanding your immediate action and attention. But, then, you knew what you were getting into when you ran for office, while I am just trying to feel OK about the daily way I live my life. I don't know. Maybe it is just tonight, maybe tomorrow I will think of something I haven't yet. Until then, I'm learning to make my own hummus and hoping that your own conscience will lead us toward a foreign policy I can feel proud of.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 12- Why I love push polls

Dear Mr. President,

My mother, who has been a Democrat as long as I've known her, was surprised to receive the "2009 Obama Agenda Survey" from RNC chairman Michael Steele. She was kind enough to share it with me, knowing I, too, enjoy a good laugh. It has me musing on the things that make me a Democrat. The thought that Democrats don't send out surveys this absurd (or, if we do, that we at least have a more professional editor,) is particularly comforting.

An example question:

"Do you agree with Barack Obama's budget plan that will lead to a $23.1 trillion national debt over the next ten years?"

My response options are "yes", "no", and "no opinion". First of all, the 2010 budget is 2.381 trillion dollars and 140 pages of information so dull I can't stay awake to read the table of contents. Do I agree with all of it? I don't even understand all of it! If I did, how could I have a one-word opinion about something so complex? How many people, looking at this survey question, have read enough of, or even about, the budget to be able to answer that question intelligently? Even if given a week to study, and an unlimited word count with which to respond, I could not feel confident about answering that question completely, so the idea of checking a box next to "yes" or "no" is laughable. Do the people this survey was intended to reach not recognize that they are being manipulated to provide meaningless statistics to support equally meaningless talking points? And don't even get me started on the wording. I may have had no love and little respect for President Bush, but I always referred him as such, and Chairman Steele should know better than to sign his name to something that doesn't respect, at least, the office of the Presidency.

Last night I watched the 60 minutes report on the revelations Game Change provides about the 2008 campaign. A friend had expressed his shock at Steve Schmidt's treatment of Sarah Palin during the interview, which made me curious to see it. I thought it was courageous. Clearly, Mr. Schmidt is not worried about his own reputation. Anderson Cooper obliquely calls him out on putting politics ahead of patriotism by selecting some one Schmidt himself sees as obviously unqualified for the VP nominee, but Schmidt can always just call that "gotcha journalism." What's truly brave about his interview is how fearlessly he risks his future as a campaign director. I know if I were a Republican running for office in 2010, I'd want some one who at least waits for the concession speech to finish before he find the nearest camera and starts telling the liberal media elites how it was all my fault that we lost. Seriously, is this man what passes for a professional political operative these days? Has he never seen an episode of West Wing?

As a Democrat and die-hard Tina Fey fan, I'll admit I was sad to hear that Sarah Palin will be joining the Fox 'news' team and unlikely to pursue the 2012 Presidential nomination. As much as I appreciate a race with some elements of suspense, the sight of you and her on the same debate stage would make for an entertaining evening. The erstwhile governor of Alaska represents everything that is wrong with the GOP. She's an insubstantial reactionary who talks in soundbites and bumper sticker slogans. "We've got room in Alaska for all of God's creatures- right next to the mashed potatoes!" Seriously, does she know she ripped that off from some one's T-shirt or does she think she made it up?

Palin or no, the Republicans don't have a serious contender for 2012. Yet. They seem to be counting on Democrats to provide the tools of our own destruction, by angering their base enough to get them to organize against you. Now, I can't claim to have done much to help you get elected. I voted, wrote a blog on Daily Kos, and spent a few hours calling voters in Washington and Montana. This time around, even if I'm not the most impressed with your presidency thus far, even if you accomplish absolutely nothing for the next 3 years, I swear to God, if the RNC keeps sending this anti-intellectual BS to my mother, I'll go door-to-door in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida for your re-election. And I hate Florida. Which, I suppose, is to say that, between being their own worst enemies and eating their young for a chance to meet Anderson Cooper, the Republicans may have more in common with Democrats than any of us would like to admit. As much as I'd like to see the congressional Democrats take a few pages from the Bush-era playbook on party unity and efficiency, I'll comfort myself with the fact that we control the House, the Senate, the White House, and they're giving new meaning to the term "sore loser" and sending out push-polls that reek of desperation.

All joking aside, I'd really like 2012 to be about more than just beating the Republicans. If I promise to spend the next 3 years learning more about the budget, do you think you could promise to spend them making 2008's victory mean something more concrete? I'll probably need better material for the swing states.

Respectfully yours,


Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 11

Or "The enemies of Success"

Dear Mr. President,

Today I prepared the books that will be released tomorrow morning for their displays. One of them (which actually comes out today) is Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's Game Change. I am unspeakably giddy about reading this book (though it will have to come after Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope) as the 2008 election is one I would happily relive. Sadly, the other book that caught my attention is called, (with a truly admirable amount of subtlety and nuance) The War on Success. Maybe I'm being judgmental, maybe I should look past the bullet holes on the cover, the Conservative Book Club recommendation, and the quote on the back that actually suggests any reader not inspired by the books "has already surrendered to the enemies of success." I won't lie, I'm probably not going to look past those things. According to the subtitle, you, Mr. President, are an "enemy of success", and I wonder how you feel about that. Surely, you've been called more ridiculous and more insulting things, but is there really a significant portion of the population who believes that their president doesn't want them, his citizens and constituents, not to succeed? Significant enough to convince some one to write a book about it, and a number of others to agree to publish it?
The world is a mind-boggling place, sometimes. Working in a bookstore, I encounter a wide spectrum of readers, and while I often find myself puzzling over those buying books by Glenn Beck or Robert Spencer, I suppose that there is a place for every kind of book. Today I had a woman angrily return a book I'd suggested she read. It was The Iron Cage by Rashid Khalidi. She is traveling to Israel soon, and was looking for "a more balanced" perspective on the conflict with Palestine than what she knew from her "crazy orthodox" relatives. I don't know this woman well enough to know what balanced means to her, but she seemed interested in hearing from a Palestinian perspective, and so I suggested Mr. Khalidi's book, as I respect him as an intellectual. I warned her that I was quite strongly in support of a free Palestine, and that Khalidi was considered, by some, to be quite radical in his opinions. I also encouraged her to visit the West Bank on her trip, as I feel first-hand experience will offer the most "balanced" idea of what it is like to live in Palestine. I didn't get a chance to ask her what about the book made her so angry, but I try to keep my political views away from my conduct at work. (I confess, when Vice President Cheney used to come into my store in DC, I would excuse myself from the sales floor to avoid an encounter. Some jobs aren't worth keeping silent.)
When I logged on my laptop during my lunch break, however, I saw something that may explain the woman's anger.'s headline is "Sources: Israeli shelling kills three in Gaza". This headline runs beneath a photo of armed men in ski masks, the black bands of Islamic Jihad around their foreheads. On December 26, three men were killed in Nablus. Their story did not make headline news on CNN. The photos of these men, and their mourning families, can be found (along with their names) here, in a story by Bridget Chappell. If these men had been militants, it is presumed, they might have made the front page at All 6 were killed by the IDF, all 6 were people with names and families. Why is it that the only image most of America will see is of faceless figures carrying automatic weapons? In the mainstream American media, Palestinians are rarely depicted as anything besides terrorists or statistics. That, I must conclude, is why my customer was so angry that I would dare suggest she read something written by one.
Clearly, I'm just as much of a hypocrite. I may actually have to give The War On Success a chance, now.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Day 10

Dear Mr. President,

Tonight my best friend and I are having an African-themed dinner. She's preparing herself for a 2-year trip to Burkina Faso for the Peace Corps. Don't get me wrong, the idea of eating goat is pretty appalling to both of us vegetarians, but we recognize that she's probably going to have to adjust to it, somehow.

When we were seniors together in high school, our AP English teacher had us write letters to our future selves, which she promised to mail 5 years after graduation. At the time, I had my life planned out well enough to tell myself exactly where I should be. One year into my peace corps service, graduated from college, best friends with my best friend, and, preferably, still dating my boyfriend. As you can imagine, 5 years later, my future self has disappointed her high school past on all but one count.

My best friend and I have gone to school on opposite side of the country, spent a semester on different continents while she was in South Africa, and have stayed close through it all. Will two years apart change that? Since high school I've at least learned enough not to say for sure. But I wouldn't have her stay. I'm so proud of her willingness to give two years of her life to helping others, and inspired by the way she embraces the unknown. It is comforting to think that, even if I haven't lived up to my own expectations, she has.

I think most of my generation graduated High School and planned on changing the world. It seems daily I read or hear something about our generation being apathetic, uninformed, disengaged. Where did we go wrong? What happened between high school and real life that kept so many of us from living up to our own expectations?

For me, it was money. It's not that I feel like every one should just be given a college education. It should be a challenge. It should be something I invest enough of myself in to make it worthwhile. When I get my degree (and, mark my words, I will) it will have been hard won, and it will mean something to me, more than it will ever mean to the people reading about it on my resume. But, between trying to save to go back, and pay off the loans I already have, trying to choose between the benefits of a full-time job and the demands of a full load of classes, I wish going to college in America was just a little bit easier. Would a degree make me happy? Yes. Would it make me the person I thought I'd be by now? Probably not.

I'm still enjoying your book. At my age, you were more successful and more ambitious, but you were, in many ways, just a lost as I feel now. This gives me hope. Not so much that I could be elected president, but that I, too, could wind up a successful, well-adjusted adult with some idea of what my purpose ought to be. I'm looking forward to discovering how you pulled it off.

For now, I'm going to enjoy African food and the last few months with my friend. She's got a two-year plan, at least, and it will be interesting to see where we are whenever we meet again. I hope that in two years' time, I'm more like her, and more like the person I'd hoped to be in high school. For what it is worth, it is comforting to both of us to think that you'll still be in the White House, and that our country will, in all likelihood, be two years better off because of it.

Respectfully yours,


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Day 9

Updating from lunch, again. I hate sending in typed letters, but I haven't had time to write out the last two. At least they'll be more legible, I suppose.

Dear Mr. President,

Today while on my way to work I was stopped, for the third time, by a man asking for money. This man doesn’t remember me, as it’s been 3 times in 4 weeks, but I remember him. He’s well-dressed, white, and hangs out on the streets in my (predominantly non-white) neighborhood. He gives the same story about his mother being in one of the 2 major hospitals nearby, and asks for money to drive her back to their hometown, where he promises to mail a check to pay me back, if I leave him my address. Each time, this man tells me the story, and looks about at the homeless men waiting in line by the church center and insists, “I’m not a pan-handler. I’ve gone to the police, I’ve called my bank, but it’s the weekend. I’m just desperate.” What he seems to be saying (and why I find him contemptuous enough to remember him so well) is: “Trust me. I’m white, and middle-class, like you. I dress like your father. I talk like your professors. I’m trustworthy, because we play for the same team.”

Mr. President, I am the daughter of two Sheriff’s deputies. I’ve grown up around law enforcement officers my entire life; I’ve even worked loss prevention for the better part of the last two years. I understand how easy it is to believe that one can tell by race, nationality, age or physical appearance how a person will behave and what kind of threat they pose. But profiling of this kind is the most senseless because it hinders the kind of awareness that actually prevents crimes. If I believed, for example, that every non-white, or visibly poor person on the street was trying to steal from me, or lying about spending the money they ask for on food, than I would likely have given this man at least money, if not also my contact information for its return, the first time he asked me. The idea that a certain race, nation or class of person is automatically untrustworthy implies that trustworthiness can be assumed on such a basis as well.

Working loss prevention has taught me not to pay attention to a person’s clothes or skin color or tattoos or hair style. A person who is going to steal behaves in a certain way, regardless of how they look. That man on the street today acted nervous, only asked other white people for money, despite being surrounded by people of color, and contradicted himself twice in his story. Also, he was dressed like my father. (Clearly, this is not an honest individual.) What angers me is that he has profiled me, as well, a white girl in a non-white neighborhood, naïve, afraid, eager to help those that look like me (but not, “pan-handlers”) This man assumes, based on my skin color and clothes, that we’re on the same team and that he can use that against me.

This also applies to airport security. Take, for example, the three American women in my group, all flying in to the Tel Aviv airport. All three of us were 22 years old, had American passports and spoke English as our first language and offered the same trip information when asked where we were staying in Israel. I was welcomed in and passed through in less than 5 minutes. The second girl, Texan by birth and Indian by blood, was pulled aside, questioned for a half-hour, asked her father and grandfather’s names and (after finding them Hindu and not Muslim,) released. The third girl, the American-born daughter of Iraqi parents, was detained for 4 hours in the airport, shouted at, degraded, and only released after the intervention of our group’s director (himself a white American.) The three of us entered the country with the same ‘nefarious’ purpose; to back-pack, shop, explore ruins and make friends. Of the three, I’m likely the most radical in my political beliefs (and was quick to use my camera phone to snap photos of the Israeli soldiers detaining us during our hike, over their strong objection.) While I pose no threat, whatsoever, to Israel, of the three of us, I, the loud-mouth with the camera phone, was still allowed to enter the country with little to no screening. This is because Israel’s security procedures are based on race, religion and nationality, a system designed to prevent threats, only if they come from people who look, sound, or pray like “enemies.”

My point is that screening people based on what country they’re born in, what word they use for God, or the color of their skin is not going to keep us safer on planes. Rush Limbaugh and the people who think like him may believe that this is a good idea, but the kind of complacency it breeds, (not to mention the time it wastes on the innocent, or their humiliation which can turn into resentment) will only put us in greater danger. Our team doesn’t have the same uniforms or flags or colors, and pretending that the other side does is the worst kind of naiveté.

Respectfully yours,


Friday, January 8, 2010

Day 8

I feel pretty bad about yesterday's post. It didn't say what I wanted, at all. Today's is fairly short, in part because I've spent the last two days in a mindless, almost-sick-but-not-quite haze, and in part because I overslept and had no time to read the news more closely. I've been getting a lot of pep talks lately, and the sight of so many articles about the unhappiness of the liberal base made me think that Obama might want one, too. (Ah, how foolish my hubris can be, sometimes.) Anyway, here it is:

Dear Mr. President,

The headline on NPR this afternoon reads, “Obama's Base Cools As It Watches Him Compromise.” Surely there are poll numbers to tell you that this is true, the liberal base of the Democratic Party has been disappointed by the many concessions you have made on issues like health care. As a member of the far-left, I’ll admit I’ve shared in this disappointment, to some degree, though I find most of my frustration is not with you, but with the democrats in congress. This is in part because the Executive branch is, constitutionally, the weakest branch of our government, (and, somewhat ironically, the President still held most responsible by the general public for the state of the nation.) I don’t mean to imply that you’re powerless or blameless for the lack of progress, but perhaps not solely responsible for our all of our societal woes, as some would insist.

I wonder what it is that holds you back from the bold action you promised in your campaign. Is it congress? Is it an ill-informed and capricious electorate? Is it the fear of being a one-term president? These are all legitimate reasons to be cautious, I suppose, and your decisions are, to your credit, thoughtful and well-explained to the public, even if they are not always pleasing to either the left or the right. The middle course, the path of slow progress, may be what our country needs, but it will never be popular. Americans, having been too far removed from the inherent violence in rapid, dramatic progress, often wish for the kind of change that is only possible through oppression. (The Tea Party types may claim otherwise, but they are not being oppressed, and the country is not being radicalized.)

I have enough faith in your wisdom (and your superior access to information) to believe you know what the right course is, and to reserve my judgment. As frustrating as it is to be attacked by your supposed allies on the left, bear in mind that those of us on the fringe have a purpose to serve, as well. We demand more than we will ever be given, in hopes of inching the country towards what we believe to be a better future.

As I’ve been told many times today, keep your chin up, sir.

Respectfully yours,


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Day 7

Dear Mr. President,

Reading about you and your father is difficult for me, as it reminds me of my relationship with my own father, which I have conducted without your grace or self-awareness. I was raised by women, scolded and shaped as a person by my mother, my grandmother, my sisters and by the wisdom of so many teachers. My father lingers as a specter in my memory, not absent, at first, but certainly not present. Men in my early life were large and loud, they lived in comfortable chairs in front of the TV; set dressing for the defined, complex female characters to interact with. Men were manifestations of will, their anger hung in the room like a cloud, their favor elated me, their participation in activities or conversation lent importance and gravity. I grew up never resenting this, playing with the boys at recess and having slumber parties with the girls, never concerning myself with the differences in roles that were so obvious in adults.

You arrived in New York with your father's letter, full of the instructions to find your place that you, at the time, found inadequate. I read this and cast about in my memory for what "dime store advice" my father had sent me into the world with, and I can recall none. Instead, I enter the world fearing men, while at the same time searching each one for the unconditional love I feel is somehow owed to me still. (I'm sure even the most casual student of psychology would cite writing to you as a manifestation of this absence, as well.)

I've grown up in an age where "feminist" has, unfortunately, come to mean something militant, angry, inherently anti-man and, by extension, anti-traditional woman, as well. I grew to consider myself a feminist without ever feeling comfortable with the connotations, aware of the inherent sexism in many aspects of our society, but unwilling or unable to offer any practical alternative. When the nomination race for the 2008 election began, I initially supported John Edwards, as I'd been impressed after meeting him at a book signing, and excited by his proposal to forgive student loan debt. (The subject of another letter, but certainly a proposal worth considering.) After the race narrowed to just you & Mrs. Clinton, I read the Op-Ed that Gloria Steinem wrote in support of Clinton and felt, (as I'm sure Steinem intended,) that it was almost traitorous for me, as a feminist, not to support Clinton. This was a fleeting feeling, as I found myself drawn to the tone of your campaign, unimpressed with her tactics, and generally reluctant to support a candidate with her unconditional-to-the-point-of-unreasonable support for Israel. Did this make me bad feminist? Did I owe it to generations of suffragists to submit to the higher calling of electing a female president? Or did they, in fact, struggle to free me from this?

Sometimes it seems like life is a series of conflicts, falsely characterized as Good vs. Evil. Men vs. Women. Black vs. White. Republican vs. Democrat. Christianity vs. Islam. As I've matured, I've learned to reject these teams as constructions, attempts to unconditionally divide me from some people and bind me to others. These teams are safe, easy, even, at times, expedient. There are days when it still feels like a game, interacting with men, playing by their rules, striving for the approval or love that they define and they control. But I don't think that this applies all men.

Today I watched my nephew, who is one and a half, and the first male baby to be born in my immediate family. He, too, has spent his early life being raised by women, women like me, who lack a clear idea of what a good man is. Are we equipped to raise this child alone? Can we give him enough examples of who he wants to become? Luckily, he has a caring and responsible father figure, recently introduced, but happy and eager to show little Asher what a good man is. I am so grateful for him, and for the number of positive male influences I have had throughout my life. This gratitude reminds me to check my sweeping characterizations of gender, or my fear of a passing male figure on the street at night, reminds me to judge people as individuals and not as reflections of or upon any larger group.

On my arm, I have a few lines by Elizabeth Cady Stanton; "in that solemn solitude of self, that links us with the immeasurable and the eternal, each soul lives alone, forever." She spoke about self-reliance, about not ceding our ability to defend or support ourselves to any other, not because they cannot always be trusted, but because they cannot always be there to protect us. Not our parents, or our mates, or our families, or even our government. Learning to reconcile this self-reliance with the companionship we all need is where life gets difficult and complicated. You, sir, are a role model for my nephew, a figure I hope he one day aspires to be like, not because you are the perfect mythological figure of Manhood, but because you have reconciled the power of your position with the humanity that limits us all. Thank you, for that.

Respectfully yours,


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Day 6

Dear Mr. President,

Today the clashes at the Egyptian border have me thinking about Gaza. It's been more than a year since Operation Cast Lead. It has been one year, and still the reconstruction has not been allowed to move forward. One year and still the 1.5 million Gazans are kept near-starving by blockade. One year and still the people have not turned against Hamas. You, of course, already know all this. You know how much the people of Gaza suffer, you know the atrocities detailed in the Goldstone report, you know the role the US played in the conflict between Hamas and Fatah that led to the blockade in the first place. You know the punishment America and the rest of the international community were so swift to deal out when the Palestinian people held elections in 2006 & the results were not to our liking.

Not long ago you accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. You were awarded this honor due largely to your return to a diplomacy-based foreign policy, your belief in the power of non-violent solutions. You have reached out to the Muslim world in many ways, the most prominent of which being your speech in Cairo, in which you said "The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."
But, of course, you know all that, too.

Why, then, am I writing you a letter about things that I know you already know? Why am I writing you a letter about a situation that must weekly, if not daily, require your attention? Because it has been more than a year, sir, and nothing is better. So much, in fact, is only getting worse. On your watch.

Not long ago, I sat in the living room of a Palestinian family in a small town outside of Nablus called Awarta. It was during the end of your primary race with Hillary Clinton, and already clear to us that the general election would be between you and Senator McCain. The father of the family, upon learning that I was an American, advised that I should vote for you. "Both would be bad for us," he said, sadly, "But at least Obama will give you health care."

I understand the political reality that makes supporting Palestine so difficult for you as a president. But that reality is not greater than one year of the needlessly prolonged suffering of civilians, of children, all because Israel may punish without fear of reproach from its allies. How are we acting in Israel's best interest by turning a blind eye to its transgressions? How are we serving peace when we undermine Abbas's authority by pressuring him to defer action on the Goldstone report? What does this accomplish, besides weakening the moderates and perpetuating the bleak reality that radical elements thrive upon?

You know the answer, sir. It has been more than a year. It is time to make your words in Cairo, the spirit of your Nobel Prize, and the promise of your presidency a reality. Do not let another year go by with no hope for Gaza.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Day 5

Dear Mr. President,

I just watched the First Lady's appearance on Iron Chef America. I've been so happy with her campaign for healthier eating habits- I lived in Washington DC for close to two years during the Bush administration, and I recall how difficult it was to get good produce in the city. Between the farmer's market and the White House garden, I think it is truly admirable how the First Lady uses her considerable abilities to influence what is fashionable and popular to encourage people to be healthier.

Shortly before the 2008 election, Michael Pollan wrote a letter to the next "Farmer-in-Chief" The points he makes about how food policy affects health and energy policies demonstrates how urgently we need comprehensive changes in the way we consume, grow and subsidize food in our country. Of course, government mandates about what and how we eat would not go over well with most Americans. Making eating choices that are environmentally and health-conscious is something that many Americans would not do if they felt forced to, but making such decisions fashionable is incredibly smart. The media is inevitably going to waste time obsessing over the First Lady's toned arms or what dress she wears with which shoes to meet which head of state, and I think it is brilliant that she has turned this obsessive attention into something positive. (Though so much inane coverage would probably still make a lesser person crazy.)

I wasn't always particularly conscious about what I ate. I've been a vegetarian my entire life, but in high school I thought that my mother's quest to find bread without high-fructose corn syrup was just one of her silly eccentricities. Now I get a weekly CSA produce box and irritate the hell out of my non-Pollan-groupie friends by reading the ingredient lists on everything we eat. I'll admit, this change has been largely due to the fact that I'm better off financially than I was before. Eating organic and cooking fresh food can be affordable, but for many it remains a hallmark of elitism. I do feel that this is an area where the government could be of more help. Shouldn't it subsidize food that results in less environmental damage and less strain on our health care system? Isn't that just common sense? Why would we pay for the industrial corn and soy that make us sick and is grown with chemicals that destroy the ecosystems of our farmland? I understand that altering the flow of that much money is difficult when the recipients have so much power and influence, but shouldn't our health be worth more than that?

Regardless of the steps our government might take to make it easier, I still feel the American people, and not our government, are largely to blame. We have to start voting with our dollars, or the industry will never be forced to change. I suppose this is why I'm so pleased about the First Lady's campaign. Our approach to food as a nation does need to be re-examined. The farm bill subsidies that make corn and soy by-products so cheap should be changed. But until our country is ready for that kind of drastic change, or responsible enough to decide to do what is best for our long-term health rather than our short-term gratification, I think making it trendy to eat organic vegetables is one of the best things any First Lady could do.

Respectfully yours,


Monday, January 4, 2010

Day 4

Updating from work on my lunch break.. I really should have written this earlier in the day.

Today's letter:
Dear Mr. President,

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Today being January 4th, and the type of day that requires me to type this up quickly during my lunch break, I am going to write about my favorite constitutional amendment, the 4th. Don’t get me wrong- I think the 1st is the most important- but the 4th is my favorite, (and not just because it features so prominently in Jay-Z’s 99 problems).

While returning from my trip to Palestine in the summer of 2008, I was flying out of the Tel Aviv airport. I’d already had an amazing trip- punctuated of course by run-ins with the IDF at checkpoints and while hiking, though these encounters had been relatively easy for me, as an American. Once in the airport, however, I was on my own and had no idea what to expect. While I’d entered the country with ease, my companions had each been detained, interrogated, searched and grudgingly allowed entrance. During our hike, Palestinian Arabs had to use separate lines through checkpoints, and the IDF soldiers stopping us to check ID often tried to “sort” us, (“Arabs on one side, every one else on the other.”) Our group began as strangers but became fast friends and our response quickly became “We are all Palestinians. You cannot separate us.” Once in the airport I was instructed by my guides to tell any one who asked that I’d spent the whole trip in Jerusalem, and that any items I had purchased (olivewood carvings, jewelry, flags, t-shirts, etc) were also from Jerusalem. I did so, but became uncomfortable lying during a more in-depth search of my belongings.

The woman shouting questions at me wanted to know who I’d been with, their names, their professions, where we had gone and if I had been “alone with any Arabs.” She seemed to think me horribly naïve, and kept insisting that I had been in danger. “Don’t you know what they do to women?” “How do you know they did not try to give you a bomb?” This whole process, while mildly offensive, was still a bit amusing to me, as my backpack was full of the clothes I’d been wearing for 2 weeks of hiking in the summer heat.
I’d heard stories about a British traveler who, growing weary of the endless questions he’d encounter on his trips through Tel-Aviv, would start to remove his clothing at the first question. I’d had a professor experience a truly invasive search at the Allenby bridge crossing, and so I was prepared by these anecdotes that a more invasive search was not impossible. I was dressed modestly, again, on the advice of the trip organizers, but at one point my jacket slipped down to reveal a tattoo I have in Arabic. This caught the attention of one of the security offices and I was ordered to remove my jacket, read the tattoo and explain what it meant. She said “Why would you get that language tattooed on your body?” I was then asked to proceed to a back room for a “metal detector test”, (though I did not encounter a metal detector but instead was asked to remove my clothing,) and frisked. The girl conducting the search seemed mildly embarrassed about the ordeal and apologized to me several times before checking between my toes and in my hair. I passed this strange test and the girl led me through security and escorted me to my gate, even intervening with her supervisor to allow me to keep my asthma inhaler in my carry-on.

After an uneventful day in Prague, I made it to customs at JFK. The man looked at my passport, looked at my tattoo, and said “Welcome to New York.” In that moment, sir, I loved my country more than I had the rest of my years. Knowing that I could have a tattoo of anything and not be interrogated about it, knowing that I could have my belongings kept private unless there was reasonable cause for suspicion, knowing that my constitution protected me in this way made me incredibly grateful. I’m sorry that so many of us have to experience a loss of our freedom to appreciate what we have.

This brings to mind the tightened security and more elaborate searches faced by many Americans since the attempted attack. While I am genuinely happy to have my belongings searched before bringing them aboard a flight- I have no wish to die in an airplane and would cede even my beloved 4th amendment rights, to some degree, for this safety- I wish there were ways to ensure that these measures were being conducted in a such a way as to respect the individuals being searched. I hope that passengers are not being profiled by their race, religion or personal appearance. We have to find a way to balance personal safety with personal freedom and the inevitable mistakes along the way will need to minimized, admitted to and apologized for. I only hope that we do not allow fear to shape our country into something unrecognizable.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Day 3

Dear Mr. President,

"She was a foreigner, middle-class and white and protected by her heredity whether she wanted protection or not." You wrote this, of course, about your Mother in Indonesia when you were a young boy, but you might have written this sentence about me. I had wanted to delay, as long as possible, the mention of my experiences abroad in these letters, if only because I fear the stigma attached to the region would somehow undermine the opinions I hold.

Two summers ago I was fortunate enough to travel through the West Bank. I was not there as an activist, or as a volunteer, though certainly there were elements of each involved in the trip, I went as a tourist. It seems strange, but we Americans are uniquely qualified to consume, offering economic stimulation even when we have no practical skills. At least shopping in Palestine made me feel less guilty. The group I traveled with on a long walk in the footprints of Abraham came from America, Germany, Canada, Brazil and all over Palestine. I was the only white American traveling alone, and felt distinctly this unasked-for protection that you describe. People were so perplexed by my presence there, and I entered the country with far less resistance from the Israelis than my companions, even those with American passports, due to their Arab or Indian heritage.

My suburban, middle-class upbringing in a place like Seattle, where water is excessive and cheap and everywhere, where racial and class tension is muted, where liberalism and its assumed tolerance and respect for differences in all of us is wholly unremarkable, could not have prepared me for the injustice, the institutionalized racism, and the struggles of everyday life that I witnessed in Palestine.

Mr. President, I suspect that many of my letters this year will be about Palestine and our policies toward that part of the world. I did not expect to find myself connecting so personally with your own family's experiences abroad, or I would not have mentioned it now. The way you describe power, the nakedness of it in places like Indonesia and its hidden, more modest (perhaps, even, more dishonest) manifestations in America, resonates with how I feel about Palestine. I do not see the world as a cast of heroes and villains, a place of good and evil, but instead as a constant struggle with the kind of power you described and those who would abuse it. That imbalance seems to be the cause of human suffering in myriad forms. For now, I will keep reading and wonder how it is that we have come down so decidedly on the side of that power, of the abusers and the oppressors, so many times through our nation's history and, more importantly, every day in Palestine?

Thank you, Mr. President, for thinking about this question.

Respectfully yours,


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Day 2

Tonight I actually said the words, "No, I can't go out, I have to work on my blog." OK, this is going to be a bigger commitment than I anticipated. Also, I got around to buying stamps which are surprisingly expensive. At first I thought that I would send e-mails, but ultimately decided on letters because it seemed more "authentic" (Whatever the F that means) and more egalitarian. But this is false! Stamps are expensive! Oh well... Also, my handwriting looks like an angry 3rd grader's.

Today's Letter:

Dear Mr. President,

Today I started Dreams From My Father. I was struck by the poetry of your writing style. As a bookstore employee, I may not be the most discerning reader, but I certainly read enough to appreciate the rare quality of your words. I am not as picky about what I read as I am about food, for instance, as a trashy sci-fi novel every now and then probably won't rot my brain as effectively as high-fructose corn syrup, but I find myself more often drawn to fiction, as it is usually more beautiful prose than nonfiction. Your book seems to be proving me wrong in this assumption. Thank you for that.

I watched your address from Saturday online. ran it under the headline, "Obama promises justice for Christmas terror plotters," which I found rather off-putting. It brought to mind the false "War on Christmas" that O'Reily and his ilk are so fond of using to divide Christian and non-Christian Americans. I was happy to see that this was not a phrase you used in your speech. After listening to you, I read up on Yemen a bit, as it is not a country I'm comfortably informed about. In reading about the 2004 civil war and 2009 escalation of the insurgency, I felt ashamed that this was completely new information for me.

I think you did a good job of reminding us who the enemy is, however, I feel like this speech also spent too much time focusing on the offensive tactics we were taking militarily and through the intelligence agencies. Yes, there is a childish part of all of us that wants to hear words like "punish" and "justice", but you mentioned the poverty many Yemeni people suffer as well, without expanding upon that idea or even drawing the connection between people suffering and militant groups like Al-Qaeda. That's an important point- a truth that is difficult to admit and impossible to impart to those that will not hear it, but it is essential to understanding the type warfare we ought to engage in.

I guess my point is that, maybe we as Americans should also resolve to learn something about Yemen in 2010?

Anyway, Mr. President, good speech. Not your best, but it got the job done. Thank you for your continued efforts to keep our country safe, and may that job get easier in the coming year.

Respectfully yours,