Monday, October 26, 2009

delirium diffused.

OK, so I have the black death.

I don't know if it is H1N1, the Swine Flu, or the actual bubonic plague, but I have been flat on my back since last Thursday. I did a house party yesterday afternoon and I looked so bad that the hosts sent me home right after my pitch. They even bundled up my buttons and bumper stickers and the donation basket and sent them home to me with one of the guests when the party was done. Oof. That's pretty bad.

Late last week I got a note on facebook from one of the big shots with the campaign asking if I'd be around to take a phone call Monday morning. Sure, says me. I'm always available to take a call when the No On 1 people call. I may be a renegade of sorts, but I do try to be a team player when I can.

But then I got paranoid. Years of insecurity, coupled with a delirious brain from this flu conspired to get me to think the worst. I wondered if I insulted someone, if I filed something wrong, if I screwed up a pitch or got something backwards and I was about to be bawled out. I searched my (fevered, remember, I'm sick as hell through this) memory for instances, real or imagined, that might cause the big shots to be upset. Exhausted and still not sure what I might have done to be called to the principal's office, I resigned myself to whatever chastisement was coming my way and set my alarm to be by the phone.

I woke up and made coffee for the first time in four days. I sat on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket sipping some orange juice and squinting at my computer for the day's news when the phone rang.

Flu-addled me: Hullo?

Very perky woman: Hello is this Dawn?

Me: Yes, this is Dawn.

Very perky woman: Hi, Dawn. This is (Maine 1st District Congresswoman) Chellie Pingree calling from the No On 1 Campaign to thank you for all you've been doing.

Me: stunned silence

(tick, tock, tick, tock, tick)

Me (startled to life and scrambling for my mental feet) : Oh wow! Hi Chellie! Wow!

Chellie (still very perky): I understand you've been pretty busy up there with the campaign.

And so we chatted, somewhat awkwardly, for a minute or two. I have no idea what I said. Something about house parties and having the flu. Something else about thanking her for helping out, being busy in Congress, that kind of thing.

And then it was over.

I sat and stared at the phone.

Nobody yelled at me.

In fact, someone pretty important just thanked me for the stuff I've been doing. Wow.

I rapidly called a person or two who might be interested in such a thing and updated my facebook status to reflect the morning's events. Wow and damn. That's pretty cool. I'm not her constituent, but it was amazingly cool to have a phone call from Chellie Pingree to start my day. Hot dog!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Time marches on...

We're down to 16 days before the election now.

This campaign has taken over my life.

Our side is out-stripping our opponents by nearly a 3-to-1 margin in the fundraising arena.

The polls still have us in a statistical dead heat.

No matter how right we are, no matter how just our cause, no matter how high-minded and ethical our methods, this thing is not going to be won on those merits.

Voter turnout will win this thing, plain and simple.

We're in an off-year election cycle. People just don't come to the polls in off-years like they do when there is a big race on the ballot, like President or Senate or Congress or Governor. The only things on the ballot this year are some citizen initiatives and a couple of bond issues.

Which means the only people who are going to vote are those who vote every year, no matter what or who is on the ballot, and those who have a dog in the fight, namely the activists on either side.

So truly, it comes down to which side can mobilize their people better on November 3.

I am nervous, but I have hope. In the campaign finance reports for the third quarter, our side had 12,000 donors ranging from large to small. Their side? Well, not so much.

I read through all 450-some pages of our donors when they were posted on line. An interesting thing I noticed was that our campaign staff is donating to the cause. From the executive director to the temp field organizers. They almost all give. The opponents? I didn't see that at all. Oh, I'm sure there are a couple doing just that, but not like I have been seeing on our side. Every two weeks on average, our staff will donate some portion of their earnings back into the campaign.

We believe in this. And it's personal.

I'm doing all I can here in my little end of the world. I am organizing house parties. I think I've raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000, or I will by the time the election rolls around. That's not bad for a volunteer who's unemployed and trying to make ends meet.

We're transitioning now into get out the vote (GOTV) mode, so my pitches involve more about volunteering than giving money, and that's OK. It's what needs doing right now.

I'm going to be preaching a sermon (yes, you read that right) on November 1 at a nearby Unitarian-Universalist church. It being a UU church, I am going to trust that the structure will not cave in upon my head when I step up to the pulpit, but I have endured no small amount of teasing and hilarity at my new found speaking engagement.

This could all turn into something different for my life when this is over. It's still in the air. I'll write more about it as it develops, you can be sure. For now, I am just going to concentrate on getting through the pile of thank-you notes I have to do, and maybe watch some football this afternoon. Stay tuned.

Oh, and if you want to donate, HERE is where to do it. Thanks.

Oh, before I go, take a look at this commercial released this week. For those from away, this woman's accent is French-Canadian. Her family is probably one of the thousands who migrated to the mill towns that sprung up along Maine's rivers during the industrial revolution. She may still speak French at home -- many of our Franco friends do. They are proud of their culture and their heritage, and their church. And many have been very very torn by the Catholic Bishop's venomous involvement in this battle, and they are standing up and speaking out for justice. I do love Yolande Dumont. She is everything that is right about memeres in Maine.

Friday, October 9, 2009

newspaper column

I got to write a guest column for my local weekly newspaper this week, the Mount Desert Islander, published in Bar Harbor. What follows is the edited version as it appears in this week's paper.

It's all about equality
By Dawn Fortune

Why marriage? Why full equality? That really answers itself, doesn’t it? Full equality.

That’s what it is about. Not partial equality, not kind-of equality, not separate but equal, not half-measures. I want the real deal. I want my full rights as a citizen. I want access to the full array of benefits and responsibilities that come with a civil marriage contract. I want what everyone wants – to be recognized and valued by my community.

I don’t want to have to produce reams of expensive legal paperwork to accompany my partner in the hospital emergency room. I don’t want to have to explain that when I say “partner” I am not talking about business or tennis. I don’t want to be a woman in my mid-40s referring to my “girlfriend” of the better part of decade as though I am no more emotionally developed than a teenager or as though I am referring to a chum with whom I get together every morning to drink coffee.

I want the dignity and security that comes with a marriage. I want to hold a ceremony that is legal and binding as well as beautiful and full of meaning. I want my spouse to be recognized by my doctor, insurance company, and my employer. I just want to be able to say, “Yes, I am married. My wife’s name is Laura.”

I want to be able to walk into my town office and get a marriage license. I don’t ask the Catholic Church of my childhood to approve or disapprove or do anything. The fact that I get the license at the town office makes the contract a function of the state, not a church. I don’t need a priest or rabbi or any other clergy-type person to authorize, bless or sanctify the contract for it to be real.

Yet somehow, lots of religious institutions and individuals seem pretty worked up over whether I should be able to get a civil contract.

The way L.D. 1020 was written was very clear. It eliminated discrimination in civil marriage while upholding and affirming the right of any person or religious entity to refuse to perform any marriage of which it did not approve.

So what is the problem? It seems very simple: if you don’t agree with same-sex couples getting married, don’t marry them. If your church does not agree with it, then nobody’s going to force that church to do something that violates its beliefs.

Those rules are already in place. Priests in the Roman Catholic Church don’t have to marry a Catholic and a Jew, they don’t have to marry divorced people, Protestants, pagans, Hindus or anyone, even if the law says those people can legally marry. Churches and individuals are exempt. Period.

The Legislature and the Governor recognized the fairness in the bill that was L.D. 1020, and that it allowed for those opposed to same-sex marriage to opt out, so they passed and signed it into law. Now some are trying to repeal the law and take away the right given to me by the legislative process.

That’s what this whole referendum hoopla is about: taking away the right of some couples to take out a civil marriage contract.

The Maine way of doing things is pretty “live and let live.” So long as you don’t interfere with anyone, go about your business. People want to live their lives a certain way? We pretty much let ‘em. Is anything they’re doing any of our business? Unless they’re doing harm, we pretty much stay clear.

Which is why the involvement of so many church groups in this campaign just baffles me. It seems so unlike the Maine I know. If anyone wants to point a finger at things that are really a threat to traditional marriage, they should look at domestic violence, poverty, lack of education and opportunity, and the 50% divorce rate.

What harm my desire to get married is doing to the institution of marriage is not clear.

The arguments we are hearing now against the idea of marriage equality have been recycled from the time when there were laws against inter-racial marriage. They are based in the same arguments used for centuries to uphold slavery and against women’s suffrage, the right of black people to vote and the integration of public schools.

The sky has not fallen in any of the places around the world and the United States where same-sex couples have been allowed civil marriage. Massachusetts is still there. So is Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and even Iowa. Canada, too. No falling sky. No dire indications of end times. No court systems swamped with lawsuits. Just people doing what people have been doing for centuries: choosing a mate, standing up before friends and society and declaring a lasting commitment to that person, and then going about the business of life. Going to work, raising kids, paying bills, going on vacation, all the normal stuff people do.

So what is the point of denying us equality? To reinforce some kind of idea that we are less than everyone else? To send a clear message that we are second-class citizens? To say directly to us “you don’t deserve what the rest of us have”? That is just mean, and profoundly unfair. And it does not sound like the Maine where I grew up and live today.

People have asked me why I don’t move to Massachusetts or New Hampshire or somewhere else that has marriage equality. Maine is my home. I grew up in Windsor. I went to high school at Erskine Academy in South China, and graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington. Maine is a part of me, and I am a part of Maine. I am active in my community and I have friends and relationships here. I just want the same thing my sisters have. I want the same thing my neighbors have. I want equality. I want the dignity, security and affirmation afforded to those who are married. I don’t think it is unreasonable.

On November 3, voters will be asked the following: “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?” Protect equality. Join me in voting NO on Question 1.

Laura and I are headed off for a weekend workshop with the Human Awareness Institute and will be back among the world sometime on Monday. Try to stay out of trouble over the weekend, hmm?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

do we have to do this again?

Ah, it seems that we need to revisit the divide between Maine's urban and rural worlds.

People from away look at some of our cities - Portland, Bangor, Augusta, Lewiston/Auburn, Waterville/Winslow and see rural outposts of suburbia. What they don't know is that Portland is as urban as Maine gets. Our largest city has a mere 60,000 people. By comparison, when we lived in Minnesota, the Twin Cities suburb of Burnsville had 60,000 people, and it was but one of a dozen similar communities arranged around the larger metropolitan area.

We're a small town here in Maine. No, I did not say that Maine has a lot of small towns, although that is certainly true. I said Maine is a small town. A thing that happens in Portland in the morning is known from Kittery to Calais by suppertime. This is especially true in the glbt community here. We know each other's business. That is a double-edged sword at times, but it is largely true. If there is upheaval and distress in the queer community, we all know it and feel it as soon as it happens. If a prominent couple splits, well, let's just say that lots of people often know about it even before the two people involved.

So here we are with an influx of eager and talented volunteers and professional organizers from all over the country. They're pouring into Maine to work on the final push of the campaign, and they are as FIRED UP and READY TO GO as my little dog ever gets. Only they need a lesson in rural life before they begin, and not everybody is going to understand our world.

Telling voters in Sullivan or Medway or Phillips to "just go on line and request a ballot" is akin to telling them to hop in their helicopter and fly to France for lunch. These rural folk often don't have computers in their homes, never mind the high-speed Internet connection required to navigate the necessary websites. My local bank branch manager does not have a computer in her home. She's chained to the thing all day at work, and she'll be damned if she'll do that once she gets home. I get that.

Here in Maine, and particularly in rural Maine, we do things on a more personal, face-to-face level. We like to go to our local hardware store and ask a guy named Duffy or Pete about the problem under the sink or on the roof. We don't cotton much to on-line DIY stuff. We want someone to talk to, someone to ask questions of, someone to grab by the shirtfront and shake vigorously if necessary, to make a point. We shake hands and it means something. We know where each other lives and what kind of vehicles each other drives, and if we see someone broken down beside the road, we stop and don't just offer a ride, but we get out our tools and fix the flat or try to tinker with the engine. This is how we do things.

I recently recommended to one newcomer that she read "The Beans of Egypt, Maine" by Carolyn Chute and that she watch the Stephen King movie "Delores Claiborne" starring Cathy Bates. Those two stories I think illustrate the world where I live better than any other thing that I have seen in popular culture. The characters and places in those stories are true to our world. Laura and I fish for trout in Egypt, Maine. It's not far from Ellsworth, and there are places there that look like any photograph of Appalachia I ever saw in a college sociology text.

Laura and I sometimes discuss the fact that her mother and stepfather don't vote. Never have. Don't have any plans to start. They view the whole political process as so much elitist bullshit, and that the politicians in charge of things will do what they want no matter how people vote or which of the scoundrels gets elected.

They want to come to our wedding, which makes my teeth itch. I'd love to require that nobody can attend who was eligible to vote but did not. This thing is so important to us, I cannot describe it. The idea that her MOTHER would not register and vote to cast one more mark in our column utterly confounds me. But I cannot change her. She is a product of her community and her environment. Neither of her parents ever voted, either, and her stepfather cannot read or count much higher than is required to play cribbage.

This is the part of the world where education and opportunity are in short supply. People here run from their desperation through alcohol and drugs. They buy lottery tickets at a rate higher than any other counties in Maine. It's a good thing you can't buy a bus ticket out of town with food stamps, or there'd be nobody left. No shit. That's a lot of what this area is like. Jobs are few and far between. There is no wifi for executives to telecommute from their retreat cottage.

This is rural Maine. I attended a house party this evening at a working farm. The hostess served home made corn muffins that I watched her mix and bake (four dozen, by the way). There was a big salad, some organic chips made from corn and dulce, a kind of seaweed, and salsa made from vegetables grown in the garden, and there were two kinds of chili, a vegetarian one and one made with moose meat. For the record, the moose meat chili was more popular. And she sent me home with a small tub of the stuff for Laura, who was most grateful.

That's how we roll here. Moose meat chili at a house party and a basket of feather-and-manure-speckled eggs on the counter. And nobody blinks. There was some chatter at the party of a recent potluck gathering that involved the slaughter and gutting of chickens. Everybody got to bring a half-dozen birds home to put in the freezer, so it worked out.

I love Maine. I love rural Maine.

I love Portland, too, but for different reasons.

I just get frustrated when people who don't know how we live try to show us new and improved ways to be. If I wanted a Starbucks nearby, I'd live in a city. I prefer the moose meat chili and eggs that need to be washed before you can cook them.

So please, all you well-meaning people from away? Listen when we tell you what will work in our communities and what won't. Not everybody here has the Internet. Not everybody has a cell phone. Not everybody has cable television. Hell, I know people who don't OWN a TV. I know people who don't have a phone. Or indoor plumbing. When we tell you that "go to the website" won't work for our voters, trust us, hmm?

On the other hand, don't look at the ramshackle farmhouses and run-down trailers and assume that we are all the mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging products of years of marrying our cousins. There are some very smart and very capable people here. Yes, there are some from the shallow end of the gene pool, but there are those of us who can write a complete sentence, who are unafraid to creatively split infinitives and defend a run-on sentence as a matter of artistic expression. And who resent it mightily when we feel looked down upon.

Our world is not "quaint" thank you. It is hard work most days. But we value the natural beauty of the place we live and the freedoms we enjoy here enough to work as hard as we do to stay. We don't need or want a Starbucks, a CVS, or a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner. We love our rural world and our rural way of life, even if it is beyond what many can understand. Just respect that please, and don't try to treat us like urban voters or dim-witted fools, ok?