I can pinpoint the exact moment in my life when I actually cared about what was going on in local politics. (In national politics, that moment was Dubya, of course.) It was in the winter of 2010. Just a few days previously, I had filled in my bubbles, quite pleased with myself for performing my civic duties by voting on stuff. And then I heard on the radio that WA state had voted to repeal a tax on candy. I actually screamed at the DJ in my car, who thought it was just great that people could get cheaper candy while government-run programs suffered. The issue is long past now – thanks to voters, a Snickers bar is a whole 2 cents cheaper and my last class of seniors numbered 38.
Anyway, after a few days away this weekend with my son’s friends and their parents (yep, he’s three, and he has actual friends), I came home to my favorite little non-food-item treat wrapped in blue – the New York Times on Sunday. Inside was an op-ed by former Kraft Foods executive Michael Mudd called “How to Force Ethics on the Food Industry.” His first point of advice? Levy taxes on sugared beverages and other snack foods and candy. I screamed YES at the newspaper, but then I got to thinking: How do we change the thinking of people who will most likely not even pick up this newspaper?
I see the complexity, obviously – no one wants Uncle Sam peering over their meal, checking its contents. And everyone has eaten with that friend – the one who waits to see what you order (grilled cheese) and then chooses the quinoa-stuffed peppers with a small salad. Everyone wants autonomy over their choices – but what is the alternative? If our medical insurance rates are terrible because people decide to literally eat and drink themselves into a hospital, shouldn’t we be able to limit the poison they dump into their bodies? When will we finally acknowledge that we are all on the same planet, and start acting accordingly? I keep thinking about the look on WA state Senator Karen Keiser’s face when we were speaking in Olympia – the unspeakable frustration of working with people day after day who disagree with you on such a fundamental level that it is impossible to even begin a conversation.
So many of us – myself included – feel truly despondent. Like there is no point in even trying to get in the game. We know the outcome. So how do we bridge the gap? How do we find a way to talk to each other? We are out there, reaching into the abyss of the Internet, looking for a way to connect, but ultimately finding ways to polarize.
This feeling of helplessness also makes me miss teaching. You see, teenagers haven’t quite decided about issues. They still really listen and, most importantly, they fight back. We are all so busy being polite that we have stopped talking. Can you remember the last time you discussed politics over dinner with friends? With co-workers? With your spouse? Sometimes, I feel like I have to check the political affiliations of those around me before speaking, lest I offend. It is the same with religion (which I think should just be called Philosophy). I still can’t figure out why we don’t really talk about this – the one thing that means anything. Our purpose. Why we are here.
Politics is ultimately about how we want our world to work. It is inextricably tied to the fates of our children. Surely, we should all be very interested in this. Perhaps this is why I blog as well. I don’t like being impolite. I don’t like making people feel uncomfortable to their faces. But I guess I don’t mind doing it on a screen. I think taxing candy, soda and any other food that is processed all to shit to make schools or other worthwhile programs better is the greatest idea ever. Why don’t other people?
And where do we go from here?