A Chicagoan at heart, a series of events, including falling for a local boy, led me to spending time "Iowa-adjacent," in Moline, Illinois. Moline is on the Mississippi River and part of the Quad Cities region. When I first started coming here in 2015, and when asked, "What's it like?" by friends in Chicago, I highlighted three points that stood out the most.
First, five cities make up the Quad Cities, well at least five, some might even say eight or nine. Apparently, they started as the "Tri-Cities," changed to Quad as the region grew, but "quint" never stuck. Second, split by the Mississippi River, residents move between Illinois and Iowa - sometimes many times a day - crossing the largest river in North America like it's no big deal. Being from Chicago, crossing the Mississippi meant a great adventure ahead, not, "We ran out of peanut better, so I am going to the Super Target." As a result, the little girl in me avoided Iowa to keep a sense of adventure alive. Finally, fall 2015 marked the beginning of primary season for the Iowa caucuses and although I was in Illinois, it's an Iowa media market. This proved to be incredibly painful because I don't travel with my Tivo and for the first time since 2004, I had to watch commercials - and political commercials at that! I started avoiding TV like I avoided Iowa.
The "democratic socialist" label is like nails on a chalkboard to me, no matter if it's Bernie proclaiming it proudly or FOX news dropping it with disdain. Democratic Socialists support policy reform in areas I care deeply about, such as healthcare, affordable housing and childcare, and campaign finance. They believe that democracy should work equally, for everyone. So why do I have such a visceral reaction to the label?
I have spent more time than I care to admit trying to figure out why "democratic socialist" bothers me so much. I have questioned whether the time I spent post-communist Eastern Europe has made me overly sensitive. I looked up the word" socialist" because it has been a long time since college poly sci and wanted to confirm it still means the collective ownership of the means of production (it does). I tried to understand how Bernie and AOC describe democratic socialism but direct quotes, in context, are hard to find. The secondary sources I found, are a bit biased, both to the left and to the right. That said, I found one direct quote by AOC that stuck in my head.
But when we talk about ideas like democratic socialism, it means putting democracy and society first, instead of capital first; it doesn't mean that the actual concept of capitalistic society should be abolished [emphasis added].
Originally published on Medium for "It’s Complicated: Lit Up & The Writing Cooperative Contest"
I’ve been in an “on-again, off-again” relationship for twenty years. Like most of my relationships, it’s one-sided. I give more than I get. It keeps me awake at night. I fill up pages and pages in my journal analyzing every interaction, every detail, every chuckle, and every tear. I should have ended it long ago — the first time it made me sick to my stomach, the first time it left me crying into my pillow at night, or the first time I spent days unable to think about anything other than “what the hell happened there?”
What’s worse is that I know better. I learned in my teens that you cannot change the basic dynamics of a relationship. You buy ‘as is’, no refunds, no exchanges, ‘you break it you bought it’, and in my case they usually break me. The problem is that this relationship, the love of my life, isn’t with a man, it’s with a country, or more specifically a group of countries.
I’m infatuated with a region known for centuries of ethnic tension and genocide, where the borders change with the seasons, and where centuries co-mingle. Yet, I long to drive though the countryside in springtime, taking in the smell of green grass after the rain and counting picture-perfect pastures of sunflowers. I know the same scene will, depending on the country, be dotted by run-down or bombed-out buildings, but when I think of the cherries and tomatoes that await me during the summer, my mouth waters. I dream of a living in a place where organized criminals with a bad fashion sense rule business and politics, but at the same time, you can stop by a neighbor’s house unannounced and get a homemade brandy, a cheap cigarette, a tomato salad, and hours of conversation.
My love affair with the Balkans started with Bulgaria in 1997. Me, a wide-eyed Peace Corps volunteer, and my first Balkan love, a post-communist nation struggling with brain drain, a currency crisis, and an inferiority complex because its war-torn neighbors got more attention. I learned to navigate the ailing public transportation system, to cook with ingredients that had no similarity to what I knew, and to fall in love in another language. I tried to cheat on Bulgaria by checking out Macedonia and Albania, which is when I realized I loved the region, not just one country.
I know how they feel. I’m also a Chicago Election Loser. I have a lot of friends who are Chicago Election Losers. If you read this on Wednesday, February 27, and think “Crap, she means me!” I say, “Welcome to the club.” I may be biased, but I think you are in good company.
I became a Chicago Election Loser on February 25, 2015, when I lost my aldermanic race. Due to some absentee ballot counting and a lawsuit, the race wasn’t called until much later, but since I was in 3rd place, I had the pleasure of losing on election night.
I ran against a Machine candidate (the daughter in a Chicago dynasty) and a teacher’s union-supported candidate. I was the nobody, nobody sent. I am a community organizer, with a degree in public affairs, twenty years’ experience in community development around the world, and I know five of the 45+ languages spoken in the ward. And yes, based on that statement, I obviously thought I was the best person for the job. You have to believe you are the best candidate… or you are a bad candidate.
After my loss, there were the “expected” responses, which the 95 new Chicago Election Losers will be hearing over and over in the next couple weeks.
I have a soft spot for Volunteers with Tom Hanks and John Candy because it's one of the rare movies about the Peace Corps and where Tom Hanks doesn’t portray the “good guy.” Instead, Hanks plays Lawrence Bourne III, a wealthy playboy with a gambling problem who accidentally joins the Peace Corps while escaping his bookie. Candy plays Tom Tuttle, a do-gooder volunteer who also lives in the village where Bourne is assigned. At one point, Bourne explains his lackadaisical attitude towards making a difference in one short line, "It's not that I can't help these people. It's just I don't want to."
I spend many evenings a month with different voluntary organizations in my neighborhood. I enjoy meeting my neighbors and learning about what they care about, but I often wonder why it’s the same dozen or so people. Most of my neighbors want positive change in the community and believe it's important to be part of the democratic process, so why don't they show up? Can a nonprofit somehow figure out who is likely to volunteer and who isn't? What makes someone stop being a Bourne and start being a Tuttle?