Welcome. Bienvenido. 欢迎. 환영. добро пожаловать.

Eleven hundred newly naturalized citizens and their loved ones streamed out of the Paramount Theater in Oakland last Thursday, and we were there to greet them:



“We’re so glad you’re here!”

Also, “Would you like to register to vote?”

After all, that’s why I and dozens of compatriots were there: to empower our newest fellow Americans to speak out at the ballot box. A woman who heads up an activist group I phone bank with had told us that if we ever had a chance to participate in these registration drives, it was a really inspiring thing to do—especially in these dark days when immigrants face such hostility from the President himself. So I was on the lookout for the next opportunity, which happened to coincide with a long break in my work schedule on the one day of the week I’m in that neck of the woods.

I personally registered three of the nearly 300 who signed up that day: a man born in Mexico, another originally from South Korea, and a young woman whose parents brought her from Guatemala when she was two. By sheer coincidence, this last person happened to be the partner of my friends’ son—their whole family, as well as hers, were there to celebrate this last leg of her 28-year journey; it was wonderful to share in their joy.

I spoke with another woman who had been in this country for 30 years, since the age of 5, when her parents brought her from Mexico. One of the other volunteers had already registered her, but she was happy to chat while waiting in line to complete her passport application. She was excited to have finally become a citizen of the only country she had ever known. She was also excited to have a few hours away from work without any of her three young American-born kids clinging to her. We swapped stories about what a great treat it was to go to exotic places such as CVS and the grocery store unencumbered by little ones.

A friend of mine now in her 60s tells me she still vividly remembers the day decades before when she and her sister and their parents were sworn in as naturalized citizens at the Paramount Theater. They had come from Israel when my friend was eight. She can recall the excitement of the day, the outfit she wore (down to her shoes!). This friend, once s stranger in a strange land, has contributed so much to her family, her community, our country, and to me. She’s an inspiration.

I salute those who have just gone through their own journeys to this country, their own ceremonies at the Paramount, and know that they, too, will be an inspiration.

Congratulations! Welcome! And thanks. You are part of what makes America great.

Getting Through the Vote

The enthusiasm gap that has bedeviled Democrats has now morphed into a volcanic eruption of enthusiasm. Here in California, not only are volunteers swarming the state to turn out voters, so many candidates are running in our Top-Two primary that there’s a risk they’ll split the vote and ensure Republican victory in November. Unforced errors and circular firing squads–The Democratic Party’s specialty.

To make sense of this hot mess, a group of us gathered last week to go over the ballot. We are a group keenly interested in politics, and pride ourselves on being well-informed and civically engaged. Here is a sample of our thoughtful decision-making process:

“Our kids were on the same soccer team, and he seems like a nice guy.”

“She donated a kidney to her sister.”

“I don’t like his hair.” (This last one was from me, critiquing Gavin Newsom’s coiffure. At least I was fine with Hillary’s hair.)

What does it portend for our democracy when you can’t distinguish between our group, low-information voters, and a bunch of chimpanzees throwing darts at a sample ballot? And even if we knew who we wanted to vote for, it was nearly impossible to find the right name: 27 people are running for governor, and 32 for U.S. Senator!

Actually, I did do a little research. The more I learned, the more indecisive I became. “I not only lack the courage of my convictions,” I lamented to our host. “I lack convictions!”

As usual, Auto-Correct had the last word: When I emailed the above photo to myself from my iPhone, my subject line–“Gotv”--appeared as “Gotcha.”

Let’s hope tomorrow’s election doesn’t turn into the worst kind of “Gotcha.” And although possibly my persuasive skills leave something to be desired, be sure to get out and vote.




Does Love Trump Hate?

Love trumps hate. It’s a nice sentiment, but is it true? Arguably, fear and anger are stronger motivators, and bipartisan to boot: Trump capitalized on those passions to propel himself to electoral college victory, and fear and anger are also fueling the strong opposition that’s emerged since his election.

So what’s love got to do with it? Listening, connecting, empathy—the small and steady force that goes to work on hearts and minds like water on rock. That’s the spirit behind the canvassing I’m doing each month with Swing Left. We travel outside our deep blue bubble to engage with people in the nearest swing district to try to turn a red House seat blue. Door-to-door canvassing is like phone banking with exercise—moving down the list of people who mostly don’t answer. But when they do, something small and miraculous happens: listening, connecting, caring about the other person.

We ask people about their local concerns, how they’re feeling about the direction of the country. Talking to people helps me curb my own tendencies toward writing off those with different viewpoints. Of course we are trying to identify votes for Democrats in the mid-terms. But we also seek to understand what matters to people. I can assure you, it is not the Russians, or Trump’s tweets, or shutting down the government (a move that generally generates disgust, not kudos).  Mostly, people are concerned with traffic, healthcare costs, jobs. Danica Roem, the Democrat who unseated a long-term Republican in Virginia’s House of Delegates last fall, understood this. She may have won a place in history by being an out transwoman, but she won her campaign by focusing on fixing the congestion on Route 28.

She also won because of voter turnout: the highest statewide in 20 years for an off-year race, with the youth vote doubling in less than a decade.

Which brings us back to love and hate. Love’s opposite is not hate but indifference. We hear it all the time: “It doesn’t matter.” “Both parties are the same.” “My vote doesn’t count.” “Nothing will change.” Political demoralization is rampant across party lines, and it’s easy to understand why people who feel that politicians are indifferent to them are indifferent to voting.

The silver lining to the 2016 election is that many people who have never before participated in politics now see that elections have consequences, the outcomes are not the same, and that their involvement matters very much.

A sign I saw at this year’s San Francisco Women’s March sums it up:

This past election was not determined by Trump voters.

It was not determined by Democrats.

It was determined by non-voters.

Love won’t trump Trump and his GOP enablers. Voting will.




Getting Out the Vote

Absentee BallotsMy husband and I are political junkies—or at least we were until we had to stop following the news to preserve our mental health. Still, we consider voting a duty, not a privilege. So when our eldest daughter turned 18 in 2006, I wrapped her birthday presents in voter registration forms.

Even then, back in the days when hope was ascendant and our fervor less dampened, voting was complicated. For Emma’s first election, we sat down together at the dining room table piled high with Voter Guides, newspaper clippings and endorsements, and a small forest’s worth of glossy political ads. The lesson commenced.

“It’s pretty impossible to be well informed about all the issues and candidates,” I instructed. “So one strategy is to follow the recommendations of people you trust. Or compare all the editorial endorsements of various newspapers and average them out.”

“Then there’s plenty of well-intended but poorly drafted initiatives. You have to decide what message you want to send or whether to vote purely on the merits. It’s perfectly reasonable to vote your ideals, but it’s also a good strategy to vote pragmatically. Sometimes, to be honest, I vote against whoever is using the most FULL CAPS in the voter information pamphlet—never trust someone who only knows how to shout.”

“This is really depressing,” sighed Emma, staring at hundreds of blank bubbles on her vote-by-mail ballot.

When our daughter Ally turned 18 three years later, she was less interested in my voter education drill. In fact, she registered in her college town, beyond the reach of my knowledge of local issues. Still, a mother can dream of eternal influence, so I sent Ally my trusted friend’s carefully researched election recommendations on statewide and federal choices.  I assumed she’d be thankful for my guidance.

Wrong again.

“I really don’t appreciate you sending me that,” declared Ally. “I’m trying to be my own person.”

I apologized immediately, adding how proud I was that she was following the issues and figuring things out for herself.

“How are you staying informed?” I ventured.

Ally replied, “I’m just going to vote according to this mailer I got from the Democratic Party.”

So much for Ally’s declaration of independence.

Always the child who suffered most from Post-Traumatic-Dinner-Table-Political-Rants, Ally has now removed herself even farther from our impassioned discussions and maternal interference, to Barcelona. So Jerry Brown and the Democrats will have to make do without her vote.

Emma, though, wanted me to send her mail-in ballot to Brooklyn, where she’s been temporarily sojourning as a starving artist. I am happy to report that she’s been calling for election advice.

Trouble is, now that hope has curdled, I have been shirking my civic responsibilities by being less well-informed. Of course I’ll vote, but I hadn’t quite gotten around to the research phase. So I suggested a couple of sources to check out, then gave the only reliable advice I could:

“Remember, the ballot must ARRIVE by the end of election day, not just be postmarked. So be sure to mail it in time. And please–let us know what you find out, so you can tell us how to vote.”


What is your method of being an informed voter? How have you talked to your kids about politics and voting? Do they follow your lead?