Public Offender

stephanie morales campaign

Let’s take a trip down Memory Lane. I’m from Virginia.  More specifically, the eastern part of the state known as Tidewater or colloquially Hampton Roads. I tend to claim the entire region as home more than a single city. I was raised and lived most of my life in Virginia Beach. I’m from, where my parents lived upon my birth, the city of Norfolk.  However, the actual place of my birth, where I was physically born was in Portsmouth.

Portsmouth is a bit of a curious city. It’s pre-history is quite the story. Goes back to one of our state’s earliest settlers, Nathaniel Bacon, who was in a dispute with the loyalist governor, William Berkeley,  because he ruled against the settlers in a dispute with local Indian tribes. He, along with hundreds of other settlers from Tidewater took up arms against the governor and lead  a revolt known to history as Bacon’s Rebellion, which Thomas Jefferson considers a prelude to the American Revolution itself. In it’s aftermath, one of Bacon’s lieutenants, a landowner named William Carver, was arrested and hanged. Years later, the land he owned was given to local politician, William Craford, who had it surveyed and convinced the General Assembly to establish the city as Portsmouth, Virginia.

That’s it’s pre-history. The modern history is no less rambunctious. Small, with a tightly compact population, Portsmouth is notable in the region for the urban decay. Growing up, the city was known for it’s high crime, rampant poverty and political dysfunction. However, over the last few years, much of that has changed. Businesses have slowly been coming back, crime(or the reputation of it) has receded, and this has come with a new brand of political leaders as well. Among them is the city’s Commonwealth’s Attorney, Stephanie Morales.

Stephanie is a Hampton Roads native. She graduated from Norfolk State University and attended William & Mary for law school. Initially elected in 2015, Stephanie gained prominence in 2016 when she prosecuted a white police officer for killing a black man, which was only the 5th time there was such a prosecution of over 10,000 such shootings in the last 10 years. And this should have been her story. An enterprising Commonwealth’s Attorney daring to make Black Lives Matter in a field where it’s typically seen that they matter less.

Unfortunately, this week has seen many across Portsmouth call for her to be recalled from office. Why? Prosecutorial misconduct? No. Corruption or abuse of power? No. Believe it or not, her egregious error was to be in a rap video. Yes, she is being shamed and pressed to be removed from her office because she decided to support her kid’s interest in music production and get her family involved in making a video. The video itself could be described anywhere from, at worse, cheesy to light-hearted fun and even creatively entertaining. Looking at the video myself, there’s a interlude where Stephanie raps to a beat. Another where she and her husband dance together, in what could just as easily be a ballroom waltz. The rest of the video is of her husband and kids enjoying the summer weather.

There is absolutely nothing threatening, sensational or otherwise salacious about the video or her behavior in it. Yet, there have been segments of the community that has saw fit to question her ability to be a role model to her kids and other kids who see her in a (gasp, clutch my pearls) rap video(oh dear heavens!!!!). And, yes, there are others who are attempting to have her removed from office for it.

Now, far be it for me to tell anyone who should or should not be their role model. But Stephanie Morales is one of the more impressive persons I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Not only does she has a delightful personality, but she’s CLEARLY dedicated to her job and to her community. More than that, she has a beautiful family, which is the one thing that is visibly shown in the video, but as evident of the video itself, she cares about her family and supporting her children, which is exactly what we ask of our mothers. But when that mother is also a city’s top law enforcement officer barely into her 30’s, there’s is nothing but commendation she should be given.

Nevermind her kids, Stephanie Morales is MY role model. And I’m older than she is.

The real debate should be whether or not she has bars. Not whether she should be behind bars. Or anything remotely close to it. But to question her sincerity, dedication, motherhood and womanhood because she danced in a video is, well, let’s call it what it actually is: slut-shaming. People are trying to censor and harass and demean her for doing nothing more than what we’ve all watched local police do dozens of time through the summer with their lip-synch challenge videos, singing and dancing in recorded videos. But when Stephanie Morales does a video with her family she’s somehow worse than they are? A nation full of police can sing and dance in rap, rock, pop, country, grunge and folk music, but somehow it’s not okay for a dark-skinned black woman to do the exact same thing with her family? Because you know if this was Stephen Morales instead of Stephanie Morales, no one would care.

The blatant reactionary hypocrisy is only out matched by the dogged yet imbecilic sexism.

There has been a lot of wrong in the history of Portsmouth, Virginia. Hopefully, one of these days, years, decades or centuries, we’ll learn to appreciate when our local leaders that are just right as they are.

 

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It’s Labor Day, Virginia… Where Were They?

davenport and rouse

It’s Labor Day in Hampton Roads and we are in Virginia.  The Commonwealth where political campaigning is practically a year-round sport.  We are unlike most states, where we have pretty significant elections every, single year.  Of course, the even numbered years there are congressional elections and the attention-grabbing presidential race.  But in the odd numbered years, we don’t just have random special elections every once and then, but we elect our governors, state senators and House of Delegates on those years.  So with that in mind, our state’s longest serving member of Congress, Bobby Scott has held an annual Labor Day Cookout in Newport News and he’s held this event, successfully since the mid-1970s.

For 42 years, this cookout, which is held by one of our state’s most prominent politicians, months before our annual election day, you can imagine is attended by an insane number of political leaders, activist, volunteers, staffers and candidates for office and they have come from across the commonwealth, and sometimes across the nation.  Yes, the event is held in the deep reaches of the 3rd Congressional District, but it is extraordinarily uncommon not to see candidates from across the entire region in attendance.  Even if your district or constituencies or prospective voters that could vote for you are not in the district, the event is so well attended by the party-faithful that candidates still come to be seen, to be heard, if not to have their voters, who do attend, see them and greet them, but to possibly meet donors, supporters who will work for the campaign and volunteers who will commit time.  It’s almost a one-stop shop for progressive campaigning.

So, I can’t help but to wonder where were some of Virginia Beach’s most prominent candidates?  Granted, again, I know this not in Virginia Beach and I’ll readily accept the fact that it’s very possible that with the hundreds of people there, I could have just missed them.  It’s possible that they were there and had further commitments and left early.  But if I’m not wrong, these two candidates skipped out of one of the biggest and most well attended political events of the state, then I could not have been the only one to have noticed.

And I can’t help but to wonder why.

Admittedly, I have my suspicions and my ego is well enough for me to assume why.  It’s possibly they did not know, which would be troubling.  That tells me they’re rather strongly disconnected from local progressive politics or disconnected from certain communities that drive such an event.  Or both.  But putting the cards on the table, Bobby Scott, who is the most prominent African American politician in Virginia, represents a heavily black district with a event that is deep in the heavily black district.  I can see how such optics and surroundings can make certain folks uncomfortable and less likely to attend.  It’s to be expected.  But while that may be a valid reason for typical guest(it really shouldn’t be), that reason fails for a candidate for public office.

So to put it bluntly, if Ben Davenport does not have at least one black voice around him or in his campaign to tell him, “hey, you might want to attend this” then that is a problem.  It’s the same sort of problem of privilege of being able to ignore minority voices at your convenience.  Whether it’s purposefully or as a matter of happenstance, if you can’t filter in voices to tell you things like this to keep your ear connected to groups you are not a part of but still have to represent, then you’re doing yourself as big of a disservice as you will be the rest of us if you get elected.

This goes double for Aaron Rouse.  Ben Davenport may have the convenient excuse of being disconnected from the minority community.  Aaron Rouse is a African American.  How he could miss out at the largest gathering of African American political activist in the state is jarring to say the least.  Now, unlike Ben who’s run for office before, Rouse is new.  But I know he doesn’t have “new” voices around him working on his campaign.  If they don’t know better to have their African American candidate at events like this, then I can’t help but to question his sincerity.  If not his awareness.  Both of them.

Now, I just want to reiterate again, that I’m not saying they weren’t there, or that they even had to be there.  I was not there for the entire event, but I was there when most of the other recognized candidates, elected officials and party leaders were.  The organizer in me is okay with them not being at events outside of their district.  Particular if there are events in their district with voters that will certainly be voting for them. But with two candidate, where there are already plenty of progressive voters validly questioning whether or not each of these candidates actually care about progressive issues, it sure would have gone a long way to assuage our fears.

So do they know there are those questioning their sincerity?  Or do they not care?

Thanks to their lack of presence, the question deserves to be asked.

I Know What You Did On Twitter

I know what you did on twitter

Anyone remember that late 90s movie I Know What You Did Last Summer? It’s a “slasher film”, which had their heyday in the 1980s with franchises like Halloween and  Friday the 13th, but this was during a time when slashers tried to make a comeback with the “it” celebs of the late 1990s. Like literally, the guy who made Dawson’s Creek decided to make horror movies all of sudden. Anyway, it was largely forgettable. Had a plot that centered around a group of teenagers partying one night and they accidentally kill a man. Instead of owning up to the mistake or calling the authorities, they decide to cover it up and forget it ever happened, but of course, as the movie unfolds, their lack of judgement comes back to bite them when they least expect it.

Well, flash-forward to today and let’s adapt such a tale in the age of social media we live in now.  Last week, Atlanta Braves pitcher, Sean Newcomb was in the mist of one of the greatest games of his career. With just two outs to go in the ninth inning, after retiring every batter that has stepped up to the plate that game, he was on the verge of doing what every major league pitcher dreams of doing in their career and throwing a No-Hitter, clearly one of the best moments of his young career.  Unfortunately, with one out to go, the No-Hitter was broken up and he came up short of his attempt, but was able to record the resounding win for his team.  And unfortunately for him, his night was not over.  Later that night, Twitter user @NatsSquid(“Nats” being the nickname of Atlanta Braves rival Washington Nationals) uncovered older tweets sent out by Newcomb when he was in high school.  These tweets contained very inflammatory and derogatory language that is offensive to African-Americans and the LGBTQ community.

Within hours, and almost as a response to, the revelation of Newcomb’s high school Twitter activity, it was uncovered that Washington National’s shortstop, Trea Turner was also found to have sent out homophobic and racially insensitive tweets during his high school years as well.  These were the latest incidents, which include another Major League ball player, Josh Hader, who tweeted a litany of racist, misogynistic and homophobic tweets, again while he was in high school, that was uncovered during his first MLB All-Star appearance.  Also, not to mention, earlier this year, Villanova guard, Donte Di Vincenzo who also got into trouble after a sensational game and NCAA Basketball Final Four appearance with his high school twitter activity causing him to delete his account. And rounding out the list is Wyoming quaterback, Josh Allen, who also tweeted racially insensitive language that was revealed days before he was to be drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft.

If you haven’t noticed a bit of a trend in each of the cases: A athlete having a memorable moment of their career, which is being overshadowed by something they posted on Twitter when they were in high school, virtually coming back to haunt them and stealing the thunder and acclaim in what would otherwise be a defining moment of their lives. Now, as it would happen, there has been push-back from fans and commentators from the sports-world who, while they may be sympathetic to those who might be offended, are also bothered by what has to be targeted and purposeful attempts to knock someone down after a deserved victory.  It’d be one thing if this stuff was uncovered before the season started or earlier or later in their career, or hell, perhaps even the night after the occasion of their personal achievement, but these revelations are often coming the day of their moment. So it almost seems it’s being done to purposely attack someone and not being done as a matter of social awareness in the betterment of our society.

Usually, for those of us who like living in a civil society, knowing who the racist are or the homophobes that still believe the most silliest and archaic shit about gay folks, pointing them out is like putting a thumb-tack on a map of where not to go. You see it, it’s there and you can deal with it accordingly.  But defenders of these athletes insist that these athletes should not be judged as harshly because of something they said in high school, as a teenager, a time where everyone knows their decision-making minds are invariably at its worst.  And to be honest, I have to agree.  Teenagers are notorious for their bad decisions they tend to make.  But here’s the problem: these teenagers, that get the excuse of not knowing any better, they didn’t put themselves on earth.  They were all raised by parents who do or should know better.  And because of that, they are the ones ultimately responsible.  Of course, it is not their twitter accounts and they are not the ones sending out the tweets, but they are the ones responsible for teaching their children the social awareness of other cultures and being accountable for the things they say.  They’ve been around long enough and lived in this society enough to know better and teach their kids how the world will view them based on the things they say.  But they don’t do that.  Ultimately, I’m not certain they feel that responsibility.

Let me close this out with an incident that’s been in the news lately. A few years ago, 19-year old Pravin Varughese was murdered by 19-year old Gaege Bethune. Bethune, who will be sentenced later this month defended himself in his trial by initially blaming Varughese for his own murder and made a claim of self-defense. Fortunately his claim, was dismissed by the revelation of, you guessed it, his twitter account, where used racially derogatory language while bragging about him attacking Varughese. Of course no one would believe him now. And while I’d like to say he has no one but himself to blame, his parents have tried to blame everyone else including the police, prosecutor and media for not giving their son a fair trial. They claimed that the media made their son out to be the kind of human being that they did not raise. Well, they did raise him. And they did not raise him to respect those that are not of his race.

The Bethunes, like the Newcombs, the Turners, the Haders, Di Vincenzos and Allens all are probably(possibly really, I don’t know them) not at all prejudice and assumed that their lack of prejudice would simply transfer to their children and be reflected in their social media habits. They probably taught their children good from bad, right from wrong and lessons of equality and justice. Possibly. Now, far be it from me to assume what they weren’t taught by their parents, I’m not white, nor do I have children. But I do know, that my upbringing, just like practically every other non-white kid growing up in America, included repeated and forceful lessons of what it means to grow up in a society where you are the minority. Unfortunately gay folks almost always have to learn the hard way about the society we live in. And given their incendiary social media proclivities, it exposes a level of comfort that I just can’t imagine any rational parent affording to their children. However, many parents do not fully realize the position they’re in, where they can get away with the benefit of not teaching their kid about the dynamics of social awareness. Some would call it a privilege.

So, if you’re raising a white kid in America anywhere from about 1787 to about now, let me be clear: it is not enough to assume your children have the wherewithal to not be racially or culturally insensitive.  You have to realize, like my parents did, that we live in a nation that actively teaches us that black and brown people are rather bad or lesser than and those who identify as LGBTQ lack humanity. And with that, you have to continuously teach your children of what to do, what to say and what not to say. Just like my parents did. Please teach your kids what racism is and to not do it. Stop letting White Privilege raise your kids. Because it can come back and bit them when they least expected it.  Now, I don’t want to come off preachy. Again, I don’t have any kids myself and couldn’t possibly know what you do or do not teach your kids.

But just think of this as your friendly neighborhood reminder.

Sports Racing

sports race

If you’re a sports fan, last week was quite the week to be a fan.  We’re hitting the beginning of Summer so most sports are rather beginning to rev’ up the excitement or are culminating with fantastic finishes.  And that’s exactly what happened last week, where no less than five major championships were rather claimed or reclaimed across the entire sports world.

The latest one to be won was on Saturday.  Terrance Crawford, boxing’s undisputed Lightweight and Junior Welterweight Champion was facing Welterweight Champion, Jeff Horn, who gained his title by beating megastar Manny Pacquiao.  Crawford was the odds-on favorite to win.  He’s easily one of the more talented boxers in the post-Mayweather/Pacquiao era.  He’s just as fast, crafty, packs a punch and isn’t at all easy to hit.  Eight of his last 10 fights have ended early and this would prove to be no exception.  For someone who went 12 rounds with a hard-hitting fighter known for exciting knockouts in Manny Pacquiao, Jeff Horn was clearly out of his league.  The fight was just a clear display to see how above and beyond Crawford is in the sport.  I should know.

A bit of background, I’m a boxing fan from way back.  Like many guys my age and environment, I grew up with boxing Pay-Per-Views being as big of a deal as the Super Bowl in my household and extended network of family and friends.  Whenever Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard or a “Sweetpea” Whitaker had a fight, it was an event.  Through the 1990s, those events centered on the heavyweight division and the Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe trilogy.  By this time, my passion was lit.  I wanted to continue to see the never-ending soap opera of returning champions and insurgent contenders.  However, my family didn’t.

By the late 90s, Mike Tyson was a shell of himself and the title was undisputedly held by British-born Lennox Claudius Lewis.  He was a tough guy for American audiences to follow.  Though he was black, he was wasn’t American.  He stood straight up.  Coming off an era where Tyson mauled most of his opponents in minutes, Lewis was more methodical.  You had to appreciate his craft.  But if that wasn’t bad enough, the reign that followed the British, but black Lennox Lewis, was the Ukranian (actual) doctors Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladimir Klitschko.  Names you probably would spell wrong if you weren’t a fan.  American audiences that drove boxing for decades were disinterested in the Klitschkos.  And for a while, I could not understand why.  No, they were not Mike Tyson with a slew of early round knockouts, but don’t get it twisted, they were called “Dr. Steelhammer” and “Dr. Ironfist” for a reason.  Ninety percent of their fights ended early.  They were every bit of the knockout artist as Tyson was.  And that’s what people are drawn to in combat sports, beating the holy-hell out of your opponent, but boxing, lead by the popular heavyweight division waned in popularity in the 2000s.  In it’s place sprung up another combat sport, Mixed Martial Arts and Dana White’s promotion UFC.

Which leads me back to Saturday night and my drive to go watch the Crawford-Horn match.  I hoped to go to my local sports bar and see if they would have a stream of the fight and when I walked in, the bar was sparsely populated.  It wasn’t as full as I’ve seen on most Sundays during football season, not even as much as a Monday or Thursday.  But everyone was glued to the screens above watching the UFC Pay-Per-View with Holly Holm and Meghan Anderson.  I did not stay long.  They weren’t showing the boxing match I wanted to see and I’m not a MMA fan.  Honestly, I think the action is often much more slower and aesthetically unpleasing than boxing.  Again, we watch these sports to see someone get knocked the heck out.  There’s not only no guarantee of that in MMA but some don’t even see it as a focus.

So I left.  However, not before I heard a bit of a ruckus from the crowd gathered when Holm took a couple of solid shots to the face.  And it just made me wonder, “if these guys are excited by someone taking two solid shots in the face in an octagon, why wouldn’t they be excited for one of the best champions absolutely destroying his competition in the ring?”

I wondered… but in reality, I knew.  I can look at those in the bar and the competitors on the screen.  Of course it isn’t at all universal, but the popularity of a sport has been endemically linked to the make up of those competing within it.  It took me back to a few days prior, the first championship won that week, the Stanley Cup in the NHL.  Washington Capitals, perennial playoff losers were playing the Vegas Golden Knights a team that was literally in uncharted territory since they took the ice last October as an expansion team.  When the Capitals won the series clinching game 5, I noticed my social media accounts light up with a litany of updates about the win.  And many of them were from friends who I never knew to post anything about hockey or sports at all.  Again, it wasn’t universal, but the majority of those updates were from friends that were white.  Meanwhile, the night following the NHL finale and the night before the Crawford title match, the NBA ended their season with the Golden State Warriors beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, winning their 3rd title in four years.  And the majority of my social media updates on the NBA Finals were from friends that were black.

Now, of course I understand that my social media timelines are fully anecdotal, but they are representative of the audiences that typically watch these sports.  Nielsen Media Research tracks demographic data of those watching television programs across the nation.  Sports like NASCAR and hockey, which are predominately participated by white males, invariably have audiences that are consistently greater than 90% white, whereas basketball and football, which are two sports with the highest involvement of black athletes, are watched by more African-Americans.  Granted, there have been studies from both Florida Atlantic and Penn State that have linked our sports consumption to other factors like wealth, class and accessibility moreso than race, but even each of those have a racial component.  It’s easier for a black kid to buy a cheap basketball and go a the park with a hoop than to spend hundreds of dollars at a golf course.  Or getting a group of latino kids from the barrio to hit a $.79 ball with a stick is more easier to do than to get those same kids on a frozen lake in Central or South America.  However much a sport is accessible to us, socialization still plays a significant role as well. Which is probably want grounded my passion for boxing to begin with.*

That said, if you look at the two sports I started this piece with, boxing and MMA, they’ve seen similar trends in viewership reflected by those participating in it.  A recent study of both sports found nearly double the amount of viewers for boxing are black or latino than compared to MMA.  And while black fighters have found easier fortunes in other athletic pursuits that are more accessible, many of the top tier boxers are black.  Many others are Latino and Eastern European.  There are very few white Western European or American boxers with much success in recent years.  Such a demographic is far more common in MMA, with fighters like Conor McGregor, Chris Wideman, T.J. Dillashaw, Holly Holm and Stephen Thompson have found success.  As a boxing fan, I’d be hard-press to come up with a similar list of fighters in the sport.*

And also, to not be left out of the discussion, Rafael Nadal won his 11th French Open championship in tennis and when asked if women tennis players like Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki(names likely bigger than his) should be paid equal to their male counterparts, he noted that their earnings should be linked to viewership.  He compared it to modeling where female models routinely make more than their male counterparts because they have a larger following and recently, Women’s tennis has been similar.

Now this week, countries across the world will begin play in the 2018 World Cup of soccer.  In a few years, those same countries will be joined by more in the 2020 Summer Olympics.  We don’t think this way, but it is not at all uncommon for citizens of their own nation to cheer for their home nation in such worldwide events.  Just look at how American boxing fans that flooded pay-per-view buys watching Americans like Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather spend less money on England’s Lennox Lewis or Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko.  Moreover, even within our national sphere of sports, it is not uncommon for fans to cheer for teams local to where they’re from.  Virginians on my timeline watched and cheered for the Capitals just as Californians on my timeline cheered for the Warriors.  But when those same connections to familiar demographics become racially defined, it’s then more frowned upon.  Perhaps it is seen that if I know nothing of the sport but cheer for the black Terrance Crawford to beat the white Jeff Horn, I am in a way endorsing a form of overt racism.  But if we do slow down and think about how we connect to sports, we connect with who and what is familiar.  And consciously or not, that does include race.  And it’s not because we think the opposing or unwatched race is lesser than, but a common connection to who we are and where we’re from is a comfort zone.  So if we were to look at it just as with the teams and clubs where we’re located, from a certain point of view our race is also a home team.  And you always root for the home team, fan or not.

Update #1: I just saw an interview with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, where he mentioned with winning the Olympic bid for 2028 that the city could see a similar effect that it did in 1984 when a surplus in revenue funded the kind of inner city facilities that brought tennis to Compton allowing for successes like Venus and Serena Williams.  And with the recent announcement of the World Cup coming to North America in 2026, it’s very possible we could see another such spike in talent and exposure.

Update #2: After a bit of reconsideration, I’ve remember that I do know of an recently reactive Western fighter, former Heavyweight Champion from England, Tyson Fury.  After winning the title he celebrated a little too hard and had to quit boxing for a while due to health related reasons… Looking at you Alex Ovechkin.

Trolls Under the Bridge

Carla Congress

If you’ve ever have the opportunity to visit your Congressman, or Congresswoman, you definitely should take it.  Not just at your local congressional office, but in their offices in Washington, D.C.  We often forget the kind of privilege we have as Americans, to have this kind of direct access to the people who represent us and make our laws.  The physical manifestation of being able to literally walk the Halls of Congress can be awe-inspiring and daunting but at the same time has the ability to fill you with power, pride and purpose that each of us have as citizens in our democracy.

However, for those that do physically walk those halls, in a certain hall, one is noticeably different than the rest of them.  Every member of Congress, and their staff work in one of several office buildings that are directly adjacent to the U.S. Capitol building.  When members of Congress leave their office to go to the Capitol to conduct the business of the government, there’s a subterranean tunnel system that members use to go from their offices to the Capitol.  They’re not your typical tunnels.  They’re well lit, well traveled.  They’re fairly long and even shuttling is available.  However, when members, their staff, tourist and constituents walk down one such tunnel to the Capitol, they’ll notice hundreds of pieces of art hung on display.  As pedestrians walk down the hall, you can easily forget you are beneath Capitol Hill and think you’re in a museum.  The pieces on display are as beautiful as they are slightly out of place.  You’re in such a majestic and elegant place, but set apart from the granite columns and marble statues are these abstract, colorful, artistic expressions that surely must have been masterpieces made by the best artist in history.

Well, not really.  Because you see, every congressional office sponsors a competition, which has each member’s office contacting students from high schools in their districts for submissions.  These submissions are judged and a winner is chosen, one per congressional district and the winning piece is put on display in the underground tunnel on Capitol Hill.  The offices do not ask whether or not these students like the member.  Don’t ask whether they are Republican or Democratic students.  They don’t know if they’re rich or poor, contributors or if they can do anything for the member.  The Congressional Art Competition is what the office does for it’s district.  It’s one of the many services and functions provided by a congressional office.  They work for the people.  As members of Congress, that’s what they do.

Well, down here in Virginia Beach, Virginia, one such Congressman, Scott Rigell, Republican who served from 2011 to 2017, held a symposium for women.  The symposium, which was sponsored by a multitude of businesses and government organizations, had attendees from across the region including the particular woman in the picture above, Carla Hesseltine.  The Chair of the Virginia Beach Democratic Committee.

Last month, a Twitter account was uncovered from a @GOPJoeInVB that sent out a tweet, one of three tweets from an account barely a month old.  The tweet featured several pictures of Virginia Beach’s Democratic Committee’s elected chair attending several events with prominent Republicans and suggesting that the Democrats elected a Republican to be their chair.  The tweet was then picked up by a post written on progressive site, Daily Kos.  The post, was from a user who admittedly created the account on Daily Kos specifically to write the post about the tweet, further damning the VBDC chair and her connection to Republican politicians.  Particularly noting the picture above where the user “BeachProgressive” slams her for attending a fundraiser for Republican Congressman Scott Rigell.

Well, as noted above, the event depicted in the picture was an event sponsored by the Congressional Office for the office and for the benefit of the district and not for the benefit of the Congressman.  But, silly me, what do facts matter to some people?

Now, it’s very possible that “BeachProgressive” is fully ignorant of how congressional offices, or any elected official office actually works and just ignorantly goes about doing the dirty work of Republican troublemakers by wrongfully stating that the event was a fundraiser.  But thankfully, this information was revealed to be false and purposely misleading.

Unfortunately, this revelation did NOT stop individuals within Virginia Beach’s Democratic Committee from taking the ball and running with their own agenda.  Which is a little comical, considering the accusation that Carla Hesseltine has her own.

Armed with this information and the intent to rightfully ask of the situation at the committee’s monthly meeting, it was clear things were to come to a head.  And so the meeting started off not unlike most local committee meetings; dreadfully boring and painfully process-oriented via Roberts Rules of Order.  However, it didn’t take long for the questions to arise and the accusations to fly.  They were sprinkled throughout, but sourced from one individual.  She seemed upfront, honest and sincere with her intentions.  She said she wanted to move the party forward, united, one would say Indivisible. And yet during the course of the meeting, she began to unpromptedly disseminate flyers with the above picture attached.  Now, I allowed for the possibility that two random and bogus internet nobodies being fully unaware of the lies they were spreading.  But not her.  Particularly when I specifically and directly told her, under no uncertain terms, that the picture was purposely a lie.  Why?  Because she asked me.  So she knew the truth.  But she still came to the meeting with the picture in hand and passed it out to members KNOWING it was NOT TRUE.  She did it in the middle of the meeting, without invitation.  Now, not everyone who attends those meetings have time for internet squabbles.  They come to see how they can get more Democrats elected and progress a Democratic agenda.  Even if they knew about the allegations against Carla Hesseltine, it’s very possible they did not care.  But to purposely pass out unsolicited false information, that you know is false, then there’s no doubt you’re doing it to purposely mislead others and lie to them about your motives.  Your goal is not to elicit a honest dialogue with someone.  It’s to impugn their character.  That’s it.  Especially when it was further revealed she did it after denying Carla the opportunity to address it the way she requested.  It’s one thing to ask questions, which we definitely should do, but it’s something else entirely to duplicitously spread untrue information when you know it’s bullshit.  Even if I wanted to believe a unverified Republican twitter bot, even if I wanted to heed the word of a biased blog post, even if I really wanted to question whether Carla Hesseltine’s agenda matches my own, how could anyone possibly believe anything that is a product of a series of provable lies, fabrications and exaggerations?

Because this is what it is.

We live in the day and age where internet activity is extremely pervasive.  However, there are those that use the internet to purposely sow discord and incite others to abandon their goals and intentions for another’s amusement or ends.  This has been compared to the fable of the three billy goats crossing a bridge and being waylaid by a troll beneath the bridge.  The goal of the goats is to get across the bridge for greener pastures.  The troll, doesn’t care about the bridge.  Doesn’t care about the grass.  It just cares about stopping progress.  This is dictionary-definition of internet trolling.  So when someone creates a twitter account named “GOPJoe” to send out a tweet, they’re the troll under the bridge.  When someone creates a user account to only write about that tweet, they’re the troll under the bridge.  And when you purposely spread lies without regard to order or the truth you have been given YOU ARE THE TROLL UNDER THE BRIDGE.

Don’t feed the trolls.

Thank you.
Regards,

 

“O”… Really?

President Oprah

In just a few short weeks, it will officially be one full year since the 45th President of the United States has taken office and last Sunday night, the 2020 Presidential Election was effectively kicked off during the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards.  Oprah Winfrey, who is not just the richest self-made female billionaire in America, but also the first and richest black multi-billionaire in the world, while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award during the Golden Globes, gave a speech that immediately caught fire across social media.  Given her profile, what she talked about and the thirst this nation has had to quickly turn the page away the colossal mistake we’ve made in 2016, the uproar for her to run for President has been nothing short of monumental.

Everyone has pitched in their opinion of whether Oprah Winfrey should or should not run for president.  And it’s been a fun idea to think about.  Particularly since our current president has made his entire career out of being at the forefront of American television for years.  If there’s anyone that could match him in terms of wealth and name identification, it’s Oprah Winfrey.  But that is where any and all comparisons between the two cease.  Where he has been crass and appalling, she has been warm and comforting.  Where he has been abhorrent and deplorable, she has been delightful and encouraging.  Where has the president’s been an offensive blight in American media, Oprah Winfrey has made her career and the careers of others being one of most positive influences on the planet.  She has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, given away nearly half a billion dollars for educational pursuits and other humanitarian efforts and has gone from rural Mississippi to being the de-facto “Queen of Media” and has been adored by millions.

And this is the problem.

Back in 2007, for the first time in her career, Oprah Winfrey had publicly threw her considerable support and influence in a political campaign behind Barack Obama.  But it was also during this time that she too was asked about running for president someday and she realized then, what I’m certain she’s fully considering now that the current president is experiencing at this very moment, that in order for her to run and for her to win, it would come at the expense of so much that has given her the kind of impact she has today.

Oprah is not a politician.  Even while endorsing Barack Obama, Oprah had to never actively get into politics.  That just doesn’t mean endorsing any particular candidate.  That means giving candidates money, lots of it.  That means taking a lead and defining yourself and your entire media profile on extremely partisan issues.  Issues that have and will define how and what people think about you.  She has spent her life uplifting thousands and building bridges literally and figuratively.  However, as a candidate she WILL have to burn bridges she never thought she had to burn.  And if she were to win and become president, she’ll realize quick how impossible it will to build actual roads and bridges when she has a congress that will oppose anything she wants to do because she also wants to make sure businesses treat women fairly by paying them what they pay men.  As a private citizen, she doesn’t need to worry about these things.  She could pay women who worked for her what she thought was just and fair.  She did not have define to millions of fans and viewers how she feels about abortion and welfare, health care, gun control and such issues that will turn people away from her no matter how she’s made them feel talking to us from couch to couch through a television screen.  It is not fun having to be subjected to what people will invariably put you through.  It is not easy having to put yourself out there and to try to convince people you can help make their lives better and acutely explain to them how.  It’s petty, grueling, ugly and demoralizing, particularly when you know you have every intent to do the best but are handcuffed by a myriad of factors that you have absolutely no control over at all that would have never stopped you before.

Now, I’m not going to tell anyone whether they should or shouldn’t support Oprah Winfrey to be our next president.  She’s obviously talented, has the ability to reach millions with ease.  But there’s way much more to this than people want to realize.  And we see the consequence of those not realizing this right now.  While most elections, thematically come down to “change” vs “experience”, we’ve typically voted for politicians that actually are politicians.  And there’s a reason for that.  It lets us know that they are able to work with a system that by its very nature often complex and chaotic.  It’s that electoral resume that assures us that we can trust these individuals to make these critical decisions and do it deliberately and righteously.  Oprah doesn’t have that, but yet, she makes it really easy to trust her still.  Ultimately, those who are asking her to run for president have to open their eyes.  You don’t how where she stands on international hotspots like Syria, North Korea or Russia or if she will respond any differently than the currently president has.  You don’t know how she feels about immigration reform, tax reform or entitlement reform.  You might think she’s right where you want her to be but then again, she may not be.  But beyond how you may feel about her, she also has to consider everything that she will have to sacrifice and surrender to do something that she has absolutely no control over whether it will go well or not.  And while we might think it’s a great idea for Oprah Winfrey to run for president, we also have to accept that it’s entirely possible that she may not think she should the our next President of the United States.

But, if she does run… Well, it’s fun to dream.

Diary of a Friendly Neighborhood Public Servant

folded flag

17 years ago, I had my first exposure to how political decisions can have an effect on the lives of Americans.  My brother served in the U.S. Navy on board the U.S.S. Cole.  While in port, off the coast of Yemen, a smaller vessel sped towards the hull of the ship and detonated an explosive in an attack that claimed my brother’s life as well as the lives of 16 others.  Naturally, I was devastated, as was my family.  We’ve never lost anyone this close this suddenly or violently.  At that time in American history, such a terrorist attack was unheard of and the attention of the nation was focused on our family, as was most of our political leaders.  My family received calls of condolences from senators, congressmen, former, current and future candidates for President, and most notably the President of the United States at the time, Bill Clinton.

Wanting to meet with our families and those injured during the attack, President Clinton had all of us gathered at one location prior to our memorial service.  It was an interesting feeling, knowing we were going to be meeting and speaking with the President of the United States of America.  On one hand, we were angry and wanted desperately to have an outlet for that anger and he was a convenient target coming to us.    We were certain to give him an earful for the decisions he made that lead to my brother’s death.  However, he was still the President of the United States of America, the Leader of the Free World, effectively the most powerful and most important person on Earth.  And that was Bill Clinton.  It’s one thing to be an influential, charismatically-gifted man, but to be that AND President of the United States of America was awe-inspiring to say the least.  Yet, STILL responsible for the depth of sorrow my mother, father and brothers and I were feeling then.  These were two divergent emotions going on in my head as he made his way through the building where we were.  There were many of us gathered in attendance, nearly 40 injured and family members of 17 sailors along with other naval personnel, so I had time to gather myself and focus on what I had to tell him, what I wanted him to hear.  But the longer we waited, the more we begin to realize there was a LOT of time passing by as the President made his way through.  We begin to wonder what was taking him so long to get through a room, to shake hands and nod and do what politicians do.  When he finally made his way to our family we found out why.  President Clinton’s eyes were red, welled up with tears.  He had been crying the entire time.  He forced himself to apologize to each and every one of us, to hear each and every one of us and to own what his own actions caused.  Needless to say, it was the last thing we expected.  Afterall, it was MY brother that had died.  Yes, my emotions were frayed and all over the place.  I was excited to meet the President but wanted to tell him about the impact that his decision to have my brother’s ship dock at an unsafe port had on my life, but it was clear he felt it as well.  Not just the impact it had on my life, but what it did to all of our lives.  And to see us all at once, one after one, of the lives he was responsible for shattering, it was understandably overwhelming.  At a time where I expected the leader of our nation to comfort me in my time of mourning, as it turned out I almost felt it incumbent upon me to actually comfort him instead.

That was where human empathy meets political implications.

It wasn’t long after (and to a large part because of) my brother’s death, I began a career in politics.  Not as a prototypical politician.  But working in the field of politics and government, most people have very little conception of the “bells and whistles” that goes on within any elected body.  That’s where I found my niche.  Since it was the decision-making of our elected leadership that lead to tragedies like the one I experienced, I felt a responsibility to not just to make sure we have the right leaders to make the right decisions, but to also hold them accountable to those decisions.  I filled the role as a legislative staffer and political campaign organizer.  In each of these roles, I assisted those in office and those seeking to be elected in a variety of capacities.  And if in case you cannot conceive, let me scope it out.  Any elected official has the duty to represent thousands, if not millions of people.  It is near-impossible for any one person, no matter how talented to know the individual desires and hopes of each person they represent.  This is where the machinery behind the scenes come in.  Information about the constituencies are funneled in, ordered and addressed as prioritized.

I explain this because as a staffer of such an elected official, there is an expectation to have the elected official fully informed and briefed about every detail of what they are being asked to do.  They are briefed on laws they’re voting on.  They’re briefed on events that affect their constituents.  They are also briefed on what they do on a day-to-day basis and who they meet with.  They know who they’re meeting.  Why they are meeting this person.  What this person wants.  What they may need to obtain from this person.  They are given background information about the person or persons they meet.  This is all in an effort to give the idea that they are as fully informed and of the utility we expect them to be to hold such positions of power.

Of course this is not always the case.

Earlier this month, 12 soldiers from the United States 3rd Special Forces Group were ambushed by a group of insurgents linked to the Islamic State(ISIS). Four of those soldiers were killed in the attack, which initially went unnoticed by the American public for several days. However, once brought to the nation’s attention, the President of the United States was encouraged to give a call and offer condolences to the families of those who were killed in the attack. Very similarly to what President Clinton did with my family. But upon placing a call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, it was leaked by a family friend and member of Congress that the President’s call to Mrs. Johnson was extremely unpleasant, off-putting and disturbing. The President of course combated these assertions. I don’t know exactly how he can tell how someone else feels about something he said, but according to him, he and Mrs. Johnson had a pleasant conversation and that the Congresswoman was flat-out wrong and that she lied to the press. The President’s Chief of Staff backed up his claim.

There’s a truth within this matter. And although that truth really should have been kept between the President and Mrs. Johnson, it hasn’t. Mrs. Johnson firmly believes that not only the President wrongly pronounced her husband’s name, but was dismissive of what she was going through. That was confirmed by the congresswoman who was there. Of course the President’s version of events differs. But there is no doubt about a couple of things. The President of the United States, like President Clinton before him, is a public servant. He serves the public that elected him. The President’s Chief of Staff claims that he, like I, fully briefed the elected official that he serves, about who he was speaking with, telling him the correct pronunciation of Sgt. Johnson’s name, perhaps some additional details about his life and career in service. Whether the President was correctly briefed, as his Chief of Staff claims remains to be seen. He should have been, but given a consistent pattern of disregard of information and counsel of greater judgement, it’s likely immaterial whether he was properly briefed or not. The president has proven to not be the most attentive to detail. However, what should take over from there is human emotion and reaction to the pain another is experiencing. Human empathy would tell most of us to not exacerbate the pain another is feeling. And if you unintentionally do, you take responsibility for that mistake as to not cause more pain. Getting into a VERY public disagreement with a widow of a man that was just killed that you were responsible for absolutely qualifies as exacerbating the pain of another, intentionally or otherwise. And if you are insisting of exacerbating that pain or negligent of what they are going through and more concerned about your own public perception, then it’s fully probable that you lack the ability to empathize with another. And as an elected leader, if you lack the ability to connect with the human emotions of another in any way, particular one as essential and intrinsic as empathy then how could you possibly be expected to be the public servant they need?