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TLC: A Prescription for Activists - Take As Needed

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TLC: A Prescription for Activists Take As Needed By Joan Brunwasser, Voting Integrity Editor, OpEdNews November 5, 2006 Since 2000, the Republican national strategy has been to marginalize dissent, to make us feel as if we are all alone in having serious doubts about the direction this country is heading, its leadership, and our moral compass, which is totally out of whack. The Great Uniter has divided us as never before. This attempt to dismiss or ridicule anyone who doesn't support present policies is, simply, a bully's tactic. Doesn't it make you wonder about W's school days? I'm reminded of Libby Anker, whom I met in Dorothy Fadiman's Stealing America: Vote by Vote. After the 2004 election, people claimed that, for the sake of stability, we should support the president. But, stability is not the goal of democracy. Totalitarianism is based on stability. Democracy, on the other hand, is based on dissent. She has a point there. We have veered wildly off course. As long as each of us feels ourselves alone, isolated and powerless, they have us right where they want us. That's why I'm prescribing a regimen of TLC (tender loving care) for the foreseeable future. We have a lot to do to get our country back. It will be a long, hard fight and we must be in top condition to pull it off. So, I'm going to tell you what I do (or try to do) and how it works for me. Adapt it to your own situation and see if it doesn't help. What have you got to lose? I have attempted to create an oasis for myself, where I can recharge my batteries before returning to my writing, reviewing, recruiting and networking. Come visit my bedroom. It is high-ceilinged, with many large windows and lots of natural light. It is filled with green plants, rag rugs, a patchwork quilt and heavenly flannel sheets. I can lie in bed at night, with snippets of future pieces running through my mind, and gaze out my high windows at the star-studded sky. There are no shades on my windows. Instead, I have wonderful lacy curtains that blow gently in the breeze and enhance the view. We built this room when I was pregnant with my now seventeen-year old son. Finding ourselves short of funds, we skimped by covering the windows with nine sets of horrid, utilitarian mini blinds that rattled and clanked like a bunch of loud, metal wind chimes. Replacing them was an inspired, if expensive, decision. My de'cor was inspired by a number of visits to B&Bs across the country. Since life doesn't take me there on a regular basis, I have created my own version at home. I have mentioned elsewhere my love of reading. Especially late at night, after several hours on the computer, posting and composing, I've found it extremely restful to take half an hour or more with a good book. I once specialized in literate mysteries. But, I've discovered that there is a direct correlation between what we fill our minds with and how we view the world. I used to think my boss overprotective because she was so careful about what her youngster was exposed to. I've now come around to her way of thinking. We have all heard how hours of watching TV violence desensitizes kids to the real thing. I find that same cause and effect link in myself. If I read story after story of "bad news", whether it is corrupt public officials or crime or other depressing stories, it makes me feel powerless and angry and afraid. This theory holds with literature as well. While I wasn't reading junk, the overall effect was equivalent to being bombarded by bad news all day, every day. I was no longer able to speak out forcefully about what's going on today and what we can do about it. My fear and anxiety took over and rendered me helpless and mute. Reading happy, uplifting books for pure pleasure, exercising my brain through puzzles and word games, and listening to classical music or books on tape have all greatly improved my disposition. Every time I get in the car, I reconnect with my current, new best friend. Right now, it's Julia Child, and I have to tell you, we could all learn a lot about how she threw herself into the things she was passionate about, how she loved life and always focused on the positive. I'm not a wine lover, can't eat half the things she describes and am not wild about cooking. But, just listening to her in my free time has had a wonderful effect on me. Her positive attitude is contagious. Although she is dead now and our paths never crossed, I am inspired by the way she greeted life and its challenges. This accomplished chef was not born that way, Au contraire! In fact, she came from a household where her mother didn't cook much and neither did she. Finding herself in France, Julia began a lifelong love affair with the countryside, its inhabitants and their love of food in all its forms. It was a perfect fit. Julia Child was another person who didn't set out to change the world and yet ended up having an outsized effect on it. I've been thinking about my poor houseplants lately. They have suffered mightily from my busy schedule. It seems ridiculous that something that shouldn't take more than ten minutes remains undone, but this chore is always somehow at the bottom of my list. A green plant doesn't necessarily let you know that it's dry and starving until it's too late to reverse the damage. Our democracy is in a similar bind. It may look like it's working because there are still three branches of government and a press (however unresponsive it may be to stories of urgent interest to its public). But the rot runs very deep and we have to start paying close attention before it's too late. I have written elsewhere about the need to be mindful: to listen to our bodies because they are offering vital information about how we feel and how to take care of ourselves. Yoga, Feldenkreis, walking and swimming (when my foot injury will allow) all help to counteract hours of sitting at a computer, pouring my heart out. Yoga is wonderful because it makes me concentrate on this very moment, this second. I find that shift of focus incredibly difficult but very much worth the effort. I was talking with a friend last weekend and he was telling me how much he felt his short-term memory was suffering. I had to agree. While age is definitely a factor, I think I've hit on another major cause for forgetfulness. I don't know about you, but I spend an awful lot of time looking and planning ahead. It makes it hard to zero in on the present if your mind is always somewhere else. By taking a few minutes every day to retrain myself to focus on the here and now, I hope to change my modus operandi. I think it can make me more productive. Someone once said "Life has no dress rehearsal". If we live that way, we won't miss out on life's richness while planning the future. I have an extremely neurotic and very loveable dog named Emma. She was a rescue, like our other dogs, and we were warned that she had probably been abused. We didn't reckon on her abject fear of teenaged boys and men. I happen to have one of each at home. I'm happy to report that she has settled down considerably over the last several years. It has always been abundantly clear that I am her 'alpha dog'. I don't mind; I actually like being the focus of someone (what can I tell you? She's a person to me) who thinks I'm the best thing since sliced bread. Who tolerates my horrible schedule and is always there to escort me up to bed. If I am particularly late, she comes into my study several times and puts her head delicately on my knee, reminding me that she's ready to retire for the night. "I'm not ready yet, Emma. A little while longer" I tell her and she goes back to guarding my door, infinitely patient. I'm trying to take a few more minutes every day to give her the TLC that she craves. She's so playful; she loves to roughhouse. She is a big dog, solid but incredibly gentle. I can whack and shove her and generally get my own ya-yas out and she's in seventh heaven. She loves other dogs and other people, even men, eventually. The way she deals with her extreme anxiety is instructive. When friends of the male persuasion come over, she spends a lot of time at the door, to-ing and fro-ing, barking and wagging her tail but staying carefully out of reach. For the guy with the time and inclination, a few minutes showing that there is nothing to fear is time well spent. Emma is generally able to overcome her fear and becomes so charming and playful, you'd swear she was a different dog altogether. The transformation is total. Unlike abused children who become wounded adults often perpetuating the cycle of abuse, she has learned to live with her fears. Her bad experiences have not soured her on people; she is always cautiously optimistic. Her generalized anxiety sometimes takes new and surprising forms. For instance, we spent a very long eighteen months after she suddenly refused to ride in the car. This made trips to the vet a trial; I almost threw my back out numerous times trying to push/lift/cajole sixty plus pounds of pup into my minivan. She was clearly terrified. We learned to live with it and then, a few months ago, she was ready to ride again. It was weird and unexpected, but in a good way. She had obviously worked the issue out in her own mind and had moved on. Mind over matter. She taught me that change is possible, even when it seems utterly unlikely. I can't stress enough the importance of a supportive network of family, friends and colleagues. Cherish those in your inner circle and savor life cycle events as well as everyday life to the max. This may sound glaringly obvious but I often have to stop myself from becoming a complete automaton, glued to my computer screen, unable to utter an intelligible sentence. (For instance, it is 3:53 a.m. right now. As I said, I'm a work in progress. This area obviously needs some fine-tuning.) Yin and yang; you can't be an activist 24 hours a day. You'll just burn out and that'll be the end of your usefulness. Better to let each part of life enrich the other. Those spiritual batteries will last a lot longer. I accept the fact that I can't change the world all by myself. I have been lucky enough, though, to see how I can bring about change in small but lovely ways. Earlier this week, I wrote a review of Truth in the Booth: The Clint Curtis Story. I have long been an admirer of Clint Curtis and had offered my help in the campaign. A number of people responded to my review by sending him money to continue his fight against Tom Feeney. That was very gratifying and demonstrated, once again, how we can share the heavy lifting. It wasn't possible for me to personally send him a large check but I could and did make it possible for others to hear about him and step forward to help. Slightly different but better. That's what this is all about. How we can work together, each person bringing his or her strengths to the table. I'm giving you these tips now, before the election, so you can keep them in mind after November 7th. The temptation will be to sink into depression. Trust me, I understand completely. But, I'm telling you now: don't go there. It'll just complicate our efforts to bring about change. Accept what is and move on to the challenge ahead. Think about a single drop of water and a stone. Now, think about a torrent of water and that same stone is no longer impervious or unchanged. Together, we can become part of a mighty and unstoppable force for change. How exciting! Won't you join me?
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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