Thursday, August 16, 2018


These people who think politics is beneath them?

The ones who, when you bring up anything political, recoil as if you've assaulted their sensibilities?

There are some things they just don't get.

Today was primary day in Connecticut.  I left the afternoon open on my calendar because I figured I would offer my help to one of our local candidates.  Sure enough by 9:00 am I got a call.  Can you help at District 2?

So I'm poll standing (in the shade) in Old Wethersfield, asking the few voters who typically come out for  primaries in August, to consider casting their ballots for Kerry, our new friend who's running for  State Rep.  Many of these folks I know; they stop by after work, doing their civic duty.  We talk about the candidates, the kids, who's going off to college, who's nest will soon be empty.

So I'm sporting my red, white and blue I VOTED TODAY sticker and run into a friend who glances at it and grimaces.  Ugh, I can't be bothered with politics, she says. With emphasis.


She's telling this to someone who led two referendum campaigns with the goal of relieving overcrowding in our elementary schools.  The second one passed and the local Democrats asked me to run for office.

No thanks, I say. With emphasis.

I prefer to have my life back.

One day back then, I was handing out flyers at my daughters' elementary school, and my friend Robin joked, Pretty soon you'll be running for office!  I put my index finger to my temple, like my hand is a gun, and pull the trigger.

No effing way.

I was not a fan of politics.

Until my daughter's safety depended on politicians.

She was in the first wave of  kids with deadly nut and peanut allergies.  In those days no one had ever heard of an Epi-pen, never mind been required to know how to use one in an emergency.  This was before there were nut-free tables in school cafeterias or any awareness around this lethal allergy.

Back then, we had school nurses from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm.  Suppose Meredith ingested something by accident at snack time outside these hours?  Teachers are not medical professionals; administering life-saving medication is not their job.

So our organization, the Wethersfield Schools Parent Council, a district-wide advocacy group, put this issue at the top of our agenda.  Our kids had special needs, asthma, type 1 diabetes. We needed full-time nurses.

Raised in catholic schools, I had no idea what a Board of Education was.  The other parents said we had to go to a public meeting and speak in favor of including full-time nurses in the school budget.

Yikes, speak in public?  Go to the podium and speak into a microphone so I could be heard on the local cable access channel?

It reminded me of Mrs. Buchas, Meredith's first grade teacher.  She looked me in the eye and said, Mrs. Montinieri, you've got to speak up.  I was willing to advocate for Meredith but concerned about rocking the boat.  If they banned peanut butter from the school, Meredith would be that kid.  I would be that mother.

I had to assure her safety without alienating everyone in sight.

That night, at the BOE meeting, I had no idea how powerful my voice was. All we did was speak clearly on the issue, and voila, full-time nurses in every school.

This Board I spoke to?  They were elected officials.

During this time I learned how policies that affect kids in classrooms are developed.  I learned who recommends what and to whom for approval.  I learned which political party adequately funds education and which one would just as soon slash it.

So guess what?  I did run for office.

I'm at all these damn meetings anyway, keeping tabs on these local officials.  Some I admired for their commitment and dedication, for the time they spent away from their families after working all day.  Others I breathtakingly disagreed with.  For them, the time was never right.  Or the idea was good but the process was a problem.  Maintain the classrooms?  Not this year.  A new furnace?  Let's patch it up.  Finally when parts are no longer manufactured for our antique boiler, they're forced to approve the expenditure.  Hello energy efficiency.

I served on the Town Council where I got to vote against reducing the BOE's requested budget  increase for two years.

After voting on drainage repairs, snow removal bids and blasting roads to improve sight lines, I ran for the BOE, where the issues were closer to my heart.  Meantime, I dragged my husband into the arena.  He started on the Ecomonic Development Commission and ended up Mayor.  He's far more skilled at it than I was.  He's a pragmatist; I'm an idealist.

Our marriage survived, smile.

My point is that this friend, who's visibly disgusted by my I VOTED TODAY sticker, she's proud of veering far away from politics.

But what's not political?

Politicians decide if there are psychologists, curriculum specialists, and after school athletics in our schools.  They decide to fund technology, institute before and after school programs, and whether to fund drama, art and music.

Politics are woven into the fabric of  our everyday lives.  Politics determine whether we can afford to see a doctor, whether gun violence proliferates, whether there's cancer-causing pesticide in our food supply, and whether we have the right to know that or not.

Politics pervade the right of women to be sovereign in our bodies, determine whether our LGBTQ friends have the same rights as the rest of us, whether our immigrant neighbors feel safe, whether our nation goes to war, whether our elected officials are above the law, abusing their power or corrupt due to  corporate influence.  International trade politics determine the price we pay for goods and services and whether American small businesses thrive or fail.

Decency would seem to demand these things but politics prevail almost everywhere.

Having the right people in politics assures our freedoms are protected, our planet is preserved and our grandchildren inherit  prosperity, not preposterous debt.

So when my friend scorns politics I wonder what narrow world she's living in.  Where is this world without politics?

Imagine my surprise  when I drove by her house before the last local election -- political signs on the lawn!  The guy her household apparently favored was, IMHO, exactly the wrong guy for the office he sought.

My friend who can't be bothered with politics was evidently not very well informed about her candidate.  He never has a creative solution; he's against every forward-looking initiative; he was in  the then-majority party who obviously didn't caucus on budget adoption night.  The most important vote of the year and no consensus?  They took turns throwing out random numbers, hundreds of thousands of dollars, to cut from the education budget.

That meeting goes down in my memory as such a fiasco of inept leadership that it would have been comical if it weren't about our kid's education.  But what does he care, the candidate?  His kids go to the local private school.

Saving grace?

One ray of hope is the Wethersfield Women For Progress. These are mothers who bring their babies to meetings, ask male candidates who will watch their kids while they work, throw sign-making parties and show up in Hartford to protest.

Do we agree on everything?  Far from it.  But we have respectful exchanges about who we like and don't like in the candidate pool.  On primary day many posted smiling selfies with  I VOTED TODAY stickers.

My selfie skills are sub-par but I got some good advice from the group:  Julie!  You're so close!  Throw on a quick, confident smile and THEN take the pic (sunglass emogi).  

See why I love this group?

Despite the tumult in politics, basic ideals underpin our nation.  They endure as long as they are energized -- by us.

Apathy?  Indifference?  Staying above the fray?  These put our freedoms in peril.

That's the story of why I VOTED TODAY.

What's yours?

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