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A Work in Progress

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A Work in Progress Each of us is a work in progress, from the moment of creation to one's last breath. I had pretty much thought of myself as a finished product, being middle-aged, my youngest almost ready to leave the nest. But, I find that activism has unearthed a new me, tapping into a previously undiscovered aspect of my personality. The fact that others find my ideas and projects to be notable is quite surprising, and it feels really good. It's like playing dress-up and suddenly finding yourself at the ball. Speaking in public, having people interested in my opinion, and writing words that people look forward to reading (besides my mother and close friends) are all a source of wonder for me. I'm still me, and yet I'm a different me. It's like a new haircut or a good diet; you're still the same person underneath but people relate to you differently. It's a little disconcerting. I had never thought of myself as particularly creative, considering that the domain of my two daughters. But suddenly, all kinds of creative, interesting ideas are blossoming forth, springing from my brain almost against my will. My ideas are like the pile of clothes on my big, wooden desk chair in my bedroom. Throughout the week, my desk chair attracts clothing that I haven't had a chance to put away, and by Friday, it's piled high and crying out for order. My ideas are like that random pile of cast-offs, all jumbled up and in need of sorting and shaping. They are frantic to get out there and they won't be denied. This creative process is wild! This brings me to the yin and yang of life. It has particular relevance for us activists, but applies to anyone who has a passion and has to balance it with the rest of life's demands. For the last year or so, I've been obsessed with my lending library project and working at OpEdNews (can you work "at" a cyber-address?), building up the website as "the place to go" for voting issues. It's been intense, and I'm a pretty compulsive person. That can be really good (in terms of hours spent, passion, and what gets accomplished) or really bad (forgetting to go grocery shopping, staying up until all hours, and blocking out everything and everyone). It's not sustainable; I can tell you that. I see it clearly. I suffer from intermittent insomnia, brought on by a specific crisis (like Monday night's revelations about the hacking of Cook County's online voting registration database) or by being generally overwhelmed by the situation. I spend a lot of time inside my own head. The constant interruptions of real life - carpool, grocery shopping, basketball games, laundry, and my day job - all demand my immediate attention and bring me back down to earth with a jolt. I bet that multi-tasking was invented by a mom. There are just so many more balls to keep in the air now. I would have, just a short time ago, described myself as a homebody verging on the anti-social, who hated crowds and meetings and preferred to read a book or talk with a friend. I now voluntarily venture out in the evenings for meetings, even driving for many hours to attend inconveniently timed conferences that are filled with hundreds (or thousands) of strangers, speak publicly, write columns and reviews regularly, and even ask for money to support my work. For a person whose favorite place is sacked out with a book on the couch, I notice that I'm spending less and less time there. My study is where you'll find me, after work and in between other responsibilities. It's ironic, really. I've mentioned that I do some of my best thinking in unlikely places - in the swimming pool and shower among others. Today, as I was standing in the shower trying to shake those cobwebs loose to start another day, I found myself paying particular attention to my feet. For anyone who's taken Feldenkrais ATM (awareness through movement), you know that mindfulness is a biggie. The way you stand is very much a part of how you relate to the earth and how stable you are, how well grounded, both physically and psychically. Well, I was feeling all parts of my feet flat on the shower stall floor. It made me feel well- balanced, literally and emotionally. I think that's a sign that I'm heading into phase two of my hectic life as an activist. Phase one I liken to starting a new business: being overly engrossed in the minute-to-minute details, figuring things out as you go, developing focus, learning by trial and error. It's an intense period, full of much soul searching and introspection and lots of sleepless nights. Late December will mark a year that I am Voting Integrity Editor for OpEdNews. My Invisible Ballots lending library project has opened many doors and is humming along. In the last number of months, the ranks of documentaries on the topic have swelled to include a slew of new entries, many of which I saw in Cleveland: No Umbrella; American Blackout; Eternal Vigilance; and Stealing America: Vote by Vote. Together with HBO's upcoming Hacking Democracy, they form a virtual video catalog of America's recent election experiences. During this past year, I have worked hard to put OpEdNews squarely on the forefront of websites devoted to election issues. I have a wide network of contributing writers and contacts throughout the country. Much of that has been made possible by the wonders of cyberspace, a place that I once feared. While there is still much to be done to bring about change, the groundwork has been laid, and that feels good. It's time to segue to phase two. While the to-do list is still long, the pace must slow. It's simply not possible, practical, or healthy to sustain it in the long term. I'm happy to say that I have numerous "watchers" who remind me to pace myself, to take time, to get some sleep, to remember to do something fun every once in a while. What a concept! Turning my focus outward allows me to refresh and recharge the inner me. Friends and activities that have been slighted over the last year are slowly being cultivated again, and I've reintroduced to my schedule lunch dates, Scrabble and Boggle, movies, socializing, and reading for pleasure. Partial disclaimer: It is true that the movie I saw last weekend was Man of the Year and I did do a review of it http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_joan_bru_061022__22man_of_the_year_22_2c_p.htm but my husband wanted to see it too and so I'm counting it as a night out. NPR used to be my constant companion, waking me up in the mornings, and accompanying me in the car radio as I went about my daily business. But, partly in despair at their unwillingness to discuss election integrity in a meaningful way, and partly to escape the drumbeat of constant bad news, I have said "No" to the radio altogether. I now wake up by myself and I have turned to books on CD. I have always been a voracious reader and haven't given that up, even in the thick of things. I used to favor intelligent mysteries, then women's literature. Right now, my aim is pure escape. I particularly like Peter Mayle, in both book and audio form. He's a former advertising executive who chucked it all and relocated with his wife to Provence. His writing style reminds me of Bill Bryson, another favorite. His new, slower-paced life and wry observations of his adopted country and its inhabitants are intriguing precisely because they so little resemble my own life. The emphasis on quality of life, local color, wine, and every aspect of food - the variety, the preparation, the eating - make for very relaxing reading. I feel as if I'm in another world altogether, and it's a welcome relief. These e'migre's have given up their TV and their watches to follow the sun, the moon, and the dictates of the seasons. I can't imagine him getting all hot and bothered about elections or voting or anything political at all. And that's precisely the charm. For a brief time each day, I'm simply somewhere else. It's like a massage for the brain, a perfect antidote to reality. I just finished the Mayle book, and have now started Julia Child's My Life in France. What a gal! What joie de vivre! She had such an appetite for life. What fun it must have been to be around her. Every day was an adventure. Another person whose company I cherish. This beats listening to the news any day. My chronic Achilles' heel injury has made me temporarily suspend swimming and walking as my regular forms of exercise. It's been two months now and it was very hard to give them up, especially swimming. Not only did I really enjoy the routine, but I did some of my all-time best thinking in the pool. But, something interesting has happened as one door shut and another opened - I've rediscovered yoga. When I was in college light-years ago, I used a book called Richard Hittleman's Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan. I just Googled it and found that it's still in print and people are loving it (again? still?) all these years later. I feel like I'm in a time warp. Needless to say, the Joan who did these exercises faithfully all those years ago is not the same Joan who tentatively, stiffly approached them this time around. Even with the swimming and the walking and the Feldenkrais, I was still incredibly stiff. But, I'm proud to report that I recently had a breakthrough. There's this particularly annoying position called the plough, (I secretly call it the pretzel), where you lie on your back and bring your legs up in the air and then over your head behind you. Trust me: it's as uncomfortable as it sounds. I've been practicing it and discovered, to no-one's surprise, that I'm not as limber as I once was. But, what I am is stubborn, and I've kept at it. This last week, when doing the plough, for the first time in decades, my feet touched the ground behind me. Now that was an accomplishment! Since I'm always looking for connections between disparate things, I extrapolated from that to what we can accomplish if we put our minds to it. Little by little, it all adds up in the end. In September 2005, I started my lending library project with three copies of Invisible Ballots. Last month, while in Cleveland for the We Count 2006 convention, I gave away copy number 2,000, a goal that not that long ago seemed unattainable and unfathomable. It shows that perseverance can pay off. Perhaps we can take hope from this and apply it to our efforts to bring about reform. Now, this doesn't count as a review for Dorothy Fadiman's Stealing America: Vote by Vote. But, I want to mention here that I was very struck by Pat Leahan, the fresh-faced and soft-spoken Director of the Las Vegas, New Mexico Peace and Justice Center. She tells how activists statewide forced the issue of ballot integrity and got their governor to support reinstating paper ballots. (Lest we get too excited about Gov. Richardson, let us cast our minds back to November 2004, when he was singularly unhelpful to Kerry and made a recount in New Mexico financially unfeasible.) When Leahan thought about trying to write legislation to bring about change, she was overwhelmed and unnerved. Once she realized that she didn't have to do it all by herself, it seemed so much less daunting. And do it they did! How inspirational is that? Yin and yang. Sunday night, when I attended the Fadiman screening, I saw a woman I first met months ago at a showing of Invisible Ballots who told me that she has been reading my pieces (yin), and when I got home, there was an email from a family friend asking to be removed from my list (yang). I was recently invited to write a piece (for pay! definitely yin) for a local rag on election issues, and a few days later, the offer was pretty much rescinded (yang again). This constant yo-yoing insures that I don't take myself too seriously. One step forward and six steps back. But I have to remind myself that if I weren't trying at all, I'd be even further behind. A big plus is the company I keep. Where else would I meet so many dedicated, upbeat people who love democracy so much they're willing to commit so much of their free time to working to restore it? Rather than sitting around whining, they're out there doing what they can, and their activism is both inspiring and contagious. My brother, John, is a professional consultant and coach and he was recently at a conference in Colorado. There was a session where participants talked about people who were working for change. My brother stood up and talked about me. I can't tell you how moved I was when he told me that. It was so validating. It's hard to imagine that we can really make a difference. I'm still the same person that I was my entire life before this recent new chapter. And yet I'm more than what I was. My life has taken a new direction and I'm empowered and enhanced by my new skills and network of colleagues and concerned citizens. Being an activist on an ongoing basis is akin to training for a marathon and running one simultaneously. There's the striving for optimal physical and mental conditition, as well as the supporting roles of coach and advisors, who keep the athlete on track and focused. In some critical ways, long-term activism is the more difficult endeavor. This marathon never ends - the finish line is always tantalizingly out of reach. We move from crisis to crisis, making this more like one marathon after another with no downtime in between. The ongoing nature of activism is, thus, grueling indeed. Rewarding, but grueling. That's why those who do no more than cheering from the sidelines also play a critical part in keeping spirits high. And we all are constantly changing hats, madly rushing between the cheering section, the pit, and being the "main event." That flexibility makes it much easier for all of us to sustain the effort. I owe my sanity to the combined efforts of family and dear friends, a steady mix of word games, massage, escapist books, and other peaceful and reinvigorating pursuits. Hilary once rightly said that it takes a village to raise a child. In this case, it takes a village to sustain an activist. We all do what we can and that keeps the chain going. My life has taken off in an exciting new direction and I'm committed to bringing about fair elections that will allow all eligible voters to vote, and have confidence that the votes recorded are an accurate reflection of their wishes. And that's only the beginning. After that, we can tackle the role special interests play in our elections and getting the corporate media to do their job. Who knows what I'm capable of? As I said, I'm a work in progress. Stay tuned!
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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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