Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: Rhode Island

National Day of Action

13495181_10208951353837365_94521619094688861_nToday, I was one of the thousands of people across the country to attend an event tied to the National Day of Action. I was fortunate enough to attend a sit-in with Congressmen Cicilline and Langevin, along with mayors, local elected officials, survivors, clergy, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, members of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, and my children.

We attended adorned in our Moms Demand Action swag and were surprised to see that Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts was there. We have been “friends” on Facebook for several years now, but with me having lived in Texas until three weeks ago, it was a wonderful surprise to see her here in our little state. Everyone started the event sitting in chairs in the auditorium at the Providence Public Safety building in downtown Providence, however, it became apparent that Congressman Cicilline, who had just attended the sit-in in the well of the US House of Representatives with civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis only the week before, wanted us to sit around him on the stage. So we all got up and went to the stage while Congressman Cicilline continued his comments. Today’s speakers included elected officials, clergy, survivors, and advocates. And then Shannon Watts got up to speak.

After having worked with Moms Demand Action for several years now, it was incredible to be in the same room with Shannon and more amazing to hear her speak about the reasons we were all there. Just by way of background, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded by Shannon in her kitchen as a Facebook page to vent her anger and frustration following the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. Quickly, her Facebook page grew into a grassroots movement. Today, there are over 3.4 million supporters and there are chapters in every state in the country. As I wrote in my previous entry, the tide is turning in this country toward those concerned with preventing gun violence and in opposition to those elected officials defending the desires of the previously dominant (and unobstructed) gun lobby. Change will not happen overnight, but it will happen. Taking the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving as the foundation for this movement, remember that it took MADD many years to achieve a significant shift in public opinion and legislative action. As Shannon says, this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Having now seen the work of chapters in Rhode Island and Texas, it is apparent that there are passionate members of this organization in both states. I have no doubt but that this passion is replicated across the country in all chapters. I thought my friends in the Texas chapter had a much harder road ahead of them until I saw that the speaker of the Rhode Island House is an “A” rated NRA lapdog, not unlike the leadership in Texas. Several important and reasonable pieces of gun violence prevention legislation were left off the docket as the Rhode Island legislature wrapped up its most recent session. Shame on him.

Because the Republican leadership in the United States Congress, in both houses, has no intention of addressing gun violence, gun violence prevention organizations across the country are taking the fight to state houses. Across the country, sensible legislation is being passed against the wishes of the gun lobby, but in agreement with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans (even the majority of gun owners). It was the intention of this National Day of Action to show the national Republican leadership that the people want there to be a vote on two key pieces of legislation. First, a bill limiting access of those on the no-fly list access to firearms, and second, closing the background check loophole allowing the purchase of guns online and at some gun shows.

It was incredible to meet Shannon today. She is as wonderful and determined in person as she is online. She not only remembered me from Facebook, but she remembered that my wife had died and offered me her condolences. I will continue to offer my help to this organization in whatever way they find valuable. Equally impressive, to me, was that my children were there with me because they wanted to be there. Everything I do in this movement is for the benefit of my children and the children of parents everywhere. To have my kids there, wearing their orange and Moms Demand Action t-shirts was heartwarming. Again, they were there because they wanted to be there. I was very proud.

As Congressman Cicilline introduced speaker after speaker, it became apparent that there were several gun rights activists at the back of the room glaring at the crowd. One wore a t-shirt that read Ban Idiots Not Guns. Now I’m not sure what that was supposed to convey, perhaps an allusion to those mentally compromised having access to guns, or maybe it was a comment on the people in the room. Another person tried a strawman argument with Congressman Cicilline at the end of the event, attempting to put words into the congressman’s mouth and then argued against them. Following Congressman Cicilline’s rebuttal, the crowd roared their approval and shouted down the individual, thus bringing the event to its proper conclusion.

I look forward to continuing to work for Moms Demand Action (and any other organization in Rhode Island) to put an end to the daily slaughter of 91 people in this country and the heartbreak it brings to their loved ones and friends. Nothing else is acceptable. Thank you to Congressman Cicilline, Congressman Langevin, Providence Mayor Elorza, Shannon and the moms from Moms Demand Action in Rhode Island. Together we will make a better tomorrow for our children. We are on the right side of history. It’s only a matter of time.

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Hello, Rhode Island

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After three and a half days of driving, we finally arrived at our new home here in Rhode Island. The trip was everything I expected it to be, uneventful, and that’s the best thing you can say when you are driving across country.

The first night we only made it to Shreveport, Louisiana because the second truck that came to gather our belongings left early in the afternoon, leaving us little driving time before it got too late. The weather was terrible as we left Texas, terrific downpours tracked us as we headed for the state line. After that experience, I was glad to settle into the hotel in Shreveport for the night.

The second day, we made it to Nashville, Tennessee. For dinner, we found a little place Cameron’s friend had recommended. We had chicken tenders in the special “Nashville Hot” sauce. It was delicious, but the after effect of the sauce was a fire in your mouth. We all survived it and would go back for more. Cameron wanted to go to the Third Man Records store, Jack White’s record label in Nashville. So early the next morning we found it and Cam enjoyed every minute he spent in the place. Cam has a podcast called Effortless. He writes the episodes and records them with his friend Tristian. Inside Third Man Records, they have an old-time recording studio which presses your recording onto a 45 record while you wait. Cam wrote a special episode of the podcast the previous night in Shreveport and performed it in the recording booth while Samantha and I watched. It was fascinating and fun to watch.

After Cam had finished, we were back in the car and off to Roanoke, Virginia, the last stop before making it home to Rhode Island. The day’s travel was easy compared to driving in all of the rain we had encountered. With only one more long day ahead of us, we all went to bed early and looked forward to the next day.

I was nervous to show the kids the condo. I had purchased it after having flown to Rhode Island last winter and seeing several condos in the area. I had flown back to Texas the same day and made a decision the next afternoon. I wanted the kids to like their new home, even though they would likely only be living there until they went off to graduate school. I have never lived in a condo, and the area is new to us, so I wanted them to be as excited as I was to see the place.

The drive to Rhode Island from Virginia was equally uneventful, and we drove in good weather. The kids were as excited as I was to finally see the “Welcome to Rhode Island” sign on I-95. As I didn’t even have the keys to the new place yet, I had my real estate agent leave them in a flower pot on the front step for me to find when we arrived. The place was just as I had remembered it and the kids were genuinely excited to see it. They both took to their rooms (Sam’s is significantly larger than Cam’s) without complaint, and we toured the house eager to place our belongings in every room. Unfortunately, our belongings would not arrive for several more days. With nowhere to sleep and my mother in law with us, I tried to find a hotel nearby, but the only one I could find with availability was in Newport, so off to the island we went.

We spent three nights in the hotel while the first of two trucks found its way to Rhode Island. As with any move, there were some small breakages and crushed boxes, but overall, most everything made the trip unscathed. That first day was warm and with the doors open all day while the movers moved all of our belongings into the house, the house heated up. Unfortunately, it was later that evening when we found that the air conditioning was not functioning. Fortunately, it cooled down that night, and as we slept with the windows open, it was very comfortable.

There have been the usual hiccups, minor plumbing issues, etc., but the move has been smooth compared to what we’ve been through over the past few years. Every time I got frustrated with something, the kids would remind me that we have been through much tougher situations and that this was a minor inconvenience. They are so wise, and I am so proud of them.

My mother in law managed the trip better than I expected, thanks to the excellent care the kids gave to her. She will be living in a senior memory care facility three miles from our home. She understands where she is and should blend into the new facility easily.

So we are finally settling into our new home. It is not decorated the way we like. Wallpaper needs to be taken down and paint colors need to be changed, but that is minor stuff. The largest pieces missing from our lives are Lisa and Delbow. They would both like the new place, I think. I can picture Lisa redesigning everything in her mind and all of us pitching in to see her vision materialize. I can see Delbow running through the grass, sniffing where the woodchuck, chipmunks, and wild turkeys had just been. I miss them both dearly but carry them both in my heart.

There are far too many boxes that need to be emptied now, so I’m off to do some unpacking. Wish us well in our new home. It is lonelier without Lisa, but we will, as we always have, make the best of it, smile, remember the good times, and have some laughs. My kids are the most resilient people I’ve ever known, perhaps because it is all they remember, but I will work to get them through this, and they will help me get through it. Together, we can conquer anything.

Steel Blue

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My children, twins, will graduate from the University of Texas at Austin in three weeks. This a full summer semester before campus carry takes effect. I am so thankful they will have enjoyed their time at college before the advent of guns in their classroom. In addition, we will be moving to Rhode Island in the weeks following graduation. This will exempt us from seeing Texas open carry zealots who cannot shop in a grocery store or visit a restaurant without their trusty firearm by their side, like some deranged metallic playmate.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, Texas has embraced the gun like never before and this in the face of a plethora of withering facts against such a position and against the wishes of the majority of the public. By all means, don’t let facts dissuade you from carrying out unwanted legislation in order to enhance the state’s swagger well beyond reason. Both open carry and campus carry were passed during the last legislative session. And don’t be lulled into believing that with such measures the gun lobby will be sated and have no other bills pending in the next session. In fact, the next session has already been tagged as the “constitutional” carry session as the gun lobby will push for both open carry and campus carry without any restrictions, training, or registration; another step in the guns-everywhere mentality where even those time travelers from the old Wild West would feel uncomfortable.

And Texas isn’t the most responsible when it comes to its guns. Last week, the TSA announced it had set a new record for the number of guns confiscated at American airports. In a study done in 2015, three of the top 6 airports listed by the number of guns confiscated were based in Texas. In fact, two of them were located in Houston. How can anyone be trusted to carry a firearm when they can’t be trusted not to bring it with them aboard an airplane?

Gun violence prevention organizations have done a good job keeping pressure on legislators and in state houses throughout the country. However, it is still considered a marathon and not a sprint to get meaningful legislation passed at the national level (and in some state houses, like Texas). And there are still too many individual organizations working toward the same goal where economies of scale could be realized if they joined forces. I’ve written about this before, and there has been some consolidation, but the resources, both physical and monetary, are still spread between too many organizations to counter the behemoth that is the NRA.

They say Texas is turning blue. However, it is still a deeply red state in many locations and blue in the larger metropolitan areas. Eventually, there will be a transition. I just hope Texans of common sense don’t turn blue from holding their breath until then.

Rhode Island Bound

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In three months, my children and I will be moving back to Rhode Island. And while Texas has been very good to us in some ways, we are eager to leave all of the bad memories behind as we try to build a new life without Lisa or Delbow. It will be incredibly difficult.

We will make our home in East Greenwich, a town I know very little about but which had the size and type condo I was looking for. I am excited to live there. It is centrally located in the state and will allow me to get to Providence or the beach with equal rapidity. My sister lives in North Kingstown, which is easily gotten to and my mother and brother live in Middletown, which is on the way to the beach.

Moving to Texas was the right move at the time and I do not ever regret that decision. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center bought Lisa, at least, six and a half years that she would otherwise not have had had we stayed in Rhode Island and sought treatment. I cannot say enough about the physicians and nurses at M.D. Anderson. To be sure, there are always bureaucratic snafus that occur and I was always Lisa’s best advocate to permeate the sometimes confusing maze of departments and silos. But, overall, the facility has earned its position as one of the best cancer centers in the world.

We have lived in this house now for over six years. And in all that time, it still does not feel like our home. Lisa decorated it with many of our belongings from Rhode Island and we painted it the same color as our home in Rhode Island inside. However, it never became “home” for us. It always seemed that we were leasing the space until the catastrophic happened. And now it has. The kids will be graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in late May and we will then pack up all of our belongings and make the trek back to Rhode Island and that which we know and love.

Wish us luck on our move and starting our new life without Lisa or Delbow. I would like to think Delbow is sleeping on Lisa’s lap right now as she looks down on us approvingly on how we have handled everything so far. I don’t know what the future holds, but I am grateful to my children for their support and love.

Give The People What They Want

Give The People What They Want

I am many things.

Male

White

Short

Overweight

Middle aged

Married

College educated

New England raised

Living in Texas

A son

A husband

A father

An uncle

A nephew

A friend

An enemy

Blue-eyed

Left handed

Employed full-time

Middle class

Homeowner

Car owner

Non-smoker

Independent

I am all of these things and these are measurable demographics used by all manner of people and organizations in order to sell me things and, in politics, theoretically, represent me.

Having been raised in Rhode Island, I grew up thinking the majority of the country was just like me, white, Catholic, middle class. There were blacks and Jews in school with me, and while they were the minority, I did not treat them any differently, nor did they see me (I hope) as an oppressor. They were my friends and part of my world.

As I grew, I began to see the political landscape of Rhode Island as the basis for the fabric of America. At the same time, I joined the workforce and began to understand Churchill’s remark:

“Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”

Rhode Island politics is dominated by trade unions. Democrats control the legislature and the state constitution essentially renders the Governor moot. As I began to bring home part-time, high school student paychecks with deductions to anagrams I did not understand, I began to think like a conservative (Republican). I worked for this money; don’t give it to somebody else. Business drives the economy. Without jobs there are no unions. Ayn Rand would have been very proud. But in retrospect, I think this reaction was more a rebellion against the Rhode Island Democrat mindset and less a political ethos. Taxes were too high, handouts too easy and I did not feel my hard work was being protected in the state house. I was a Conservative with no heart.

As with everybody, as we get older, the world gets smaller. College, just next door in neighboring Connecticut, opened my eyes to other religions. No longer was Catholicism the dominant religion. No longer did liberal tendencies dictate legislation. So, too, were these the days of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economy. As a burgeoning economics major, this philosophy made sense and met with my understanding and expectation of things. However, as a college student trying to get loans and seeing my parents struggle to shoulder the weightiest financial burden for two college aged children with a third coming up through the ranks, coupled with the seemingly never ending string of corruption issues emanating from the Reagan administration, my conservative leanings were shaken. Was this a reaction to the financial situation I found myself in? Was it a reaction to the broadening of my understanding of the country and the world? Or was it simply another shift against the grain?

Careers, a marriage and parenthood quickly followed. Once again, I found myself trying to provide for my family and build a career in an economy growing under Clinton’s watch through economic structures established by his Republican predecessors. And once again, living in the Rhode Island Union, I saw the expansion of social programs as a long term detriment to the local economy, but those were heady times and we were all (relatively) happy living on the dotcom bubble. When that burst, and September 11, 2001 hit, Rhode Island was slow to respond to the economic crisis that ensued. Like the rest of the country, I was angry and wanted to strike back at somebody for the evil perpetrated on my neighbors (Boston, from where the flights originated and New York). Following the morally damaged presidency of Clinton, I fell into the political pit warned about by Bertrand Russell when I voted for W:

“Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man.”

I had ascribed FDR’s tenet, “I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I can sure pick smart colleagues” to W and assumed he would do the same. Unfortunately, I think Kurt Vonnegut put it best when he said:

“The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.”

My wife’s diagnosis with an aggressive breast cancer in 2008 forced us to reevaluate our lives. Because family and her survival weighed so much more over career and home, we picked up stakes and moved to Texas to seek treatment at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

At first, this change of environment seemed to meet my expectations and stereotypes. Southerners were friendly and slower. Northerners were rude and always in a hurry. I ignored the conservative predispositions of Texas even though Texas-bred W took us to war in Iraq over bogus intelligence and OBL and the Taliban hid in the lawless Hindu Kush on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. And even though Rick Perry, W’s intellectual equal, continued to gut the education system and pilfer jobs from other states, it didn’t matter to me as long as my wife was receiving the best medical treatment. My once expanded understanding of the world didn’t matter to me when my family was suffering.

Then, on December 14th of 2012, while working on my laptop at the hospital while my wife was undergoing restaging tests, news broke of a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. I read with horror as first the casualty total rose and then it was reported that children were among the victims. That day, coupled with the local reaction in the following weeks caused a seismic shift in my perception and attitude. No longer was Texas the friendly, slow state with questionable education standards and a job-pilfering, slow-witted governor, now it showed itself to be a gun loving, religious zealot, paranoid, racist, American anachronism. Unfortunately, as time elapsed, I came to understand that this political/religious background was neither limited to Texas, nor the south. “Red” states throughout the country began to show their prejudices, paranoia, fear and hatred. The “Gun Control” debate had ripped the genteel mask of civility off of otherwise, (seemingly) generous people. I saw the people who attended the NRA’s Annual Paranoia Jamboree here in Houston. I argued with them. I argued with the dimwitted grandfather who brought his grandson to a gun control rally in Austin to argue for more gun rights. I was scheduled to debate a state senator, who had introduced a firearm protection act, on television, until he chickened out. I had become a liberal without a brain.

And then it hit me. The Kinks were right!

Why, I asked myself, was I always going against the grain? Why were my political positions always running counter to the culture in which I lived? How could I be represented by people so contrary to my positions? Lightbulb! Ted Cruz was elected by people who were pleased by what he claimed to represent. Louie Gohmert was elected by people who believe what he believes. Steve Stockman was elected by people as deranged as him. And so it is. Give the people what they want.

And so, the reason congress is in a perpetual state of paralysis is because America is in a perpetual state of paralysis. We seek to impose our ideal democratic notion on the rest of the world while ignoring fractures at home. Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote, warning America not to consider ourselves exceptional. George Bernard Shaw wrote,

“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….”

The fact I find most interesting is that Congress has a 19% approval rating, according to Gallup. If we elect representatives who represent our interests and convictions, why is our approval of the job they do so low? At heart, are we not happy with our own convictions? The devil is in the details and it is this process that divorces concept (patriotism and democracy) from reality (legislation and personal responsibility). We cannot give the people what they want because they are not prepared to work for that which they think they deserve.