Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: election

Announcing the 11th Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert!

11THChristmashanukwanzaakah-1

 In 2006, when this annual concert started, it was a celebration of the  internet.    Blogging was an avenue for the sharing of personal stories.   Even if you lived in the most isolated rural town in Alaska, you found yourself, through online storytelling, befriending black bloggers in Baltimore, gay bloggers in Los Angeles, and Jewish bloggers in New York.   Christmahanukwanzaakah  was our buzzword for our changing world — one of inclusion, diversity, and empathy.

We were naive.   As our virtual world grew, the problems of the real world flooded in, and eleven years later, when we thing of the internet, we think of the worst aspects of society — the  hate, bigotry, and trolling.  

In 2008, we voted in Barack Obama, the first African-American president.   In 2016, we voted in Donald Trump.

This year’s concert is not just a celebration of the season, but an affirmation of the moral underpinning that connects all religions and creeds –

‘Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you.’

Yes, we love to share our stories and photos with our friends, but we also need to remember to protect each other, speak up against the bigotry that poisons our nation, and make a difference, no matter how small.    

Especially now.  

This year, for the first time, I will be asking for  small  donations, both from concert  participants and viewers, for “Being Black at School,”  a brand-new national nonprofit advocacy organization focused on addressing the complexities of being a Black student in the American education system.

I wanted to end the concert last year because I thought we all had enough of “blogging” as we knew it.   We had moved on to more practical ways to connect with others.   But I get a feeling that we all could use a bit of love, joy, and community this year.   And singing.  

Here are the past blockbuster concerts —

2006  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012 2013  2014  2015

This year’s concert will take place on Tuesday, December 20, 2016  right here online.

It is time to hear YOU PERFORM!   YOU are the CONCERT.  That gives you about a month to work your magic.

Interested?  Sign up in the comment to perform.    You don’t necessarily need a traditional blog to participate, but at least have an online presence in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or Snapchat.   Be part of this long-running tradition!

Concert FAQ:

1.  Create a video (or audio) file of you performing a holiday song.  If you need technical help, ask me.

2.  You must be performing in the audio or video.   Don’t cheat and have your cute kids doing all the work.

3.  You can sing, play an instrument, recite poetry, dance the Nutcracker, or write a symphony.

4.  Once completed, post the video on a place like YouTube and send me the link. Or just send me the file via Dropbox or email, and I will post it on YouTube.   Try to get me all files and links by Monday, December 19, 2016, the day before the concert!  That gives you plenty of time to be creative.

5.  If you are too afraid to sing a song, send me a holiday photo to decorate the concert page.  It could be of your tree, menorah, or plain ol’ winter solstice if you are a heathen.

6.  The comment section is the sign-up sheet.    By signing up, we can see who is performing what, so we can avoid having ten versions of “Jingle Bells.”

7.  Most importantly — don’t be intimidated if you can’t sing.    We like to laugh at you.

Join us in the longest-running holiday concert online — The Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, in it’s ELEVENTH blockbuster performance!

Skating by Vince Guaraldi performed by Angela Reiner Downing of Fluid Pudding

The Election

board meeting

Democracy requires compromise. We cannot survive in a world where ideological splits, gender politics, and vicious accusations of corruption are the daily norm. The 2016 Campaign has brought out the worst in everyone, and I’m not talking about the primary season, but the Board of Directors election in my apartment building in Queens.

There are two political camps in my building — Team Murray and Team Sylvia, which I’ve named in honor of their leaders. Each team has differing views on hot issues such as the efficiency of the new dryers in the laundry room, the wisdom of hiring a new management company, and the acceptable amount of electricity used in the yearly Christmas/Hanukkah decorations. Five new members of the Board are elected each year, and each side want to stack the Board with those loyal to their agenda.

This year’s trouble began a few weeks ago when tenants started to receive homemade “campaign” fliers slid under their door. At first, they were innocent enough — typical campaign promises of more parking spots — but the situation quickly deteriorated as more and more fliers showed up, usually at 3AM, unsigned and with vague accusations of corruption and abuse of power.

Team Murray and Team Sylvia went to war.

“Is there anything lower than sending around anonymous letters accusing good people of profiting from the new laundry machines?” screamed a new notice received under the door, written in a size 15 font.

“Only cowards write anonymously!” the person continued on, anonymously.

The day of the big election quickly arrived. I remembered that Jana was flying in from Atlanta that same night.

“Have any exciting plans for us?” she asked me on the phone on the night before her arrival.

“Very exciting plans,” I said. “I’m taking you to my apartment building’s Board of Director’s election night. This will be more dramatic than any Broadway show.”

The General Election was held in the apartment building’s large wood-grained “community room,” located near the lobby. The room, with a full kitchen and a full set of tables and chairs, has been home to countless meetings for the tenants, sweet sixteen parties and retirement dinners. It was in this room where, many years ago, I had my bris, the traditional Jewish circumcision ceremony.  Can we get any more symbolic than that?

But tonight the room was a shelter for Democracy in Action. The candidates sat at the dais in the front, nervously fidgeting as the tenants placed their filled-out ballets into the makeshift cardboard ballot box, then sat down at one of the rows of chairs set up for the general meeting  before the vote counting.  My mother came early with her friends to get “good seats” up front. I arrived late with Jana since she had just arrived from La Guardia Airport. We found two open seats in the back, directly behind a group of supporters of Team Murray, including Murray himself. Whispers were passing between them; there was a last minute plot afoot.

The meeting started off peacefully. As we waited for late-comers to show up and vote, the President of the Board convened an open meeting to discuss some minor issues involving the building. And that’s when the shit hit the fan. One female tenant stood up to publicly accuse some long time resident on the fifth floor as the mysterious “anonymous letter writer.” The accused fought back, insinuating that she was cheating on her husband, and stealing The New York Times from other tenants. Things only go worse.

Much has been made of the lack of decorum on the internet, with all the insults, hate, and trolls being a product of modern-day forums such as Twitter and Reddit. This makes the assumption that in the days before the Internet, the human race was kind and respectful, lovingly listening to the needs of the others. I can guarantee that Jana and I were the only ones in this room who have ever used Twitter, and there was enough “shaming” going on in this room to fill ten timelines.  Humans have been hitting each over the head with clubs since we were cavemen

After much loud drama, a tenant shouted everyone down, suggesting that we keep our personal issues saved for another day, and focus on the purpose of the evening — the election. All the ballots were now sitting in the box and it was time for the count. But first, as required by “the bylaws,” the President of the Board, a plumber by profession,  had to read some legal document written back in 1960 to validate the legitimacy election.  It was a ritual done in every Board Election since then.

The tenants of the building half-listened to the legalese until he reached the President reached the last paragraph of the bylaws, which went, “According to the bylaws, as written in June of the year 1960, if anyone so chooses to be included on the ballot as a write-in candidate, now is the last moment to do so, or else forfeit your chance.  Would anyone else like to be added to the list of candidates?”

This was read without emotion, much in the same way that a pastor might ask those attending a wedding if anyone present has a reason to oppose the marriage.  No one is supposed to yell out, “Yes,” except maybe a character in a romantic comedy from the 1990s.

But here is where Team Murray executed their shock and awe plot. They earlier had convinced Rashida, a friend of Murray’s wife, Allison, to add her name as a last-minute write-in candidate, hoping to stack the Board with supporters of the Team Murray agenda.

“I’d like to add my name,” said the woman, a middle school teacher named Rashida.

“Uh, OK…” said the Board President, unsure of the next move. In the fifty years of Board Elections, no one had ever added their name on the night of the election.

“You have to add her,” said Murray. “It’s in the bylaws.”

“I suppose it is. We’ll have to add her,” he said, facing the crowd, showing his first true sign of leadership during his five years as Board president. “So now if anyone wants to vote for Rashida, you can vote for her.”

Rose, one of the members of my mother’s weekly mahjongg group, stood up with an objection. Although now frail, the eighty-five year old Rose once worked at a large advertising firm and was considered intelligent and street savvy by the other tenants.

“I think we might have a little problem with this plan,” she said.

“What’s that?” asked the Board President/Plumber.

“We voted all already and our ballots are in the box.”

Pandemonium broke out, and even King Solomon himself couldn’t find a compromise between Team Murray and team Sulvia, a precursor of what is going to happen when Bernie Sanders makes a play for Hillary Clinton’s super-delegates at the Democratic Convention this summer.  Politics is an ugly business

The Board President consulted with a tenant from the fifth floor who used to work as a court stenographer, and a decision was reached

“We will take all the ballots out of the box and return them to you, and then you can cross out someone and add Rashida instead.”

It was a mess. Many tenants never signed their name to the ballot the first time, so no one was quite sure which ballot belonged to which person, except if they used a special colored marker

Rashida, fearful of utter chaos, made the announcement that she was pulling out of the election, much to the dismay of Team Murray.   She realized that it was just too complicated, and also wanted to go home before nine o’clock to watch some TV show.   The ballots were returned to the box, and a trio of supposedly unbiased tenants from the building, an accountant, a retired NYPD officer, and a stay-at-home mom, took the box behind closed doors into the “kitchen area” to count the ballots by hand.

As the rest of us waited for the “results,” calmness fell over the room, and tenants socialized with each other, asking each other about their health and families.  My mother took Jana over to meet her friends, introducing her as my “girlfriend.” Not that I minded my mother saying it, but it did feel weird hearing her say it, especially since I never described her as such.  But women know these things.

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Jana meeting the neighbors.

The cocktail party atmosphere faded as the kitchen door swung open, and the election committee returned with results. The crowd returned to their seats. It was time. Call Wolf Blitzer.

The election results were a surprise.   Despite the maneuvering of the Machiavellian Team Murray, it was a clean sweep by Team Sylvia.   All five of the Team Sylvia candidates were elected to the Board.

Murray himself stood up and announced the entire election a fraud.

“It’s an illegal election.”

“Why’s that?” asked the Board President, who was re-elected for a second term.

“Because the ballot box was opened, making it null and void!”

“But we only did that because your own candidate decided to run at the last moment before she changed her mind!”

“I demand a new election.”

“We’re not having a new election!”

“Then I’ll take this entire apartment building and the Board of Directors to court!”

Insults were flung. Someone’s wife was called a whore. Arguing was heard for hours as most of the tenants shrugged, and went upstairs to their apartments. Rashida went home to watch her TV show.

“So what did you think?” I asked Jana as we took the elevator upstairs.

“That was the best time I’ve ever had in New York.”

A week later, all parties agreed to accept the results, as long as it goes down in the history books with an asterisk, much like the contested election of George W. Bush.

Politics as usual.

One Day Break from Cynicism

I am so glad that Obama won this historic election, but I couldn’t sleep all night. I was worried about what this election would mean to my future. I’m not talking about more taxes. What truly bothered me is that as a cynical person, all this hope and good will is bad for my writing. An African-American President. Respect from the world. People caring about each other. People are so optimistic on Twitter, I don’t even recognize the application anymore. Who are these people? Weren’t they just a bunch of assholes a few days ago? Have they all changed overnight? I even read some blogger who said that from now on, she will only read bloggers who “are positive about the world.” I don’t want to lose readers, as newly good-hearted people run away from my dislike of humanity.

But then a ghost appeared to me. It was the late Nipsy Russell, the first black performer to be a regular panelist on a weekly game show. I loved Nipsy Russell, especially the poems he would recite on the old Match Game, gems like these:

If you ever go out with a schoolteacher,
You’re in for a sensational night;
She’ll make you do it over and over again
Until you do it right.

The opposite of ‘pro’ is ‘con’
This fact is clearly seen
But if ‘progress’ means move forward
What does ‘Congress’ mean?

Nipsy Russell was a big influence on my love of words. Seriously. He was great.

“Neilochka, Neilochka. Cheer up.” the ghost of Nipsy Russell said to me. “I wrote this little poem for you —

Today we all are proud
A good man’s won for you
But life would really suck
Without some sarcasm too”

“So, what are you saying?” I asked, confused and startled by his sudden appearance in my bedroom.

“I’m saying that America — the world — still needs you.” said the comedian. “God put each of us on this earth for a reason. Some are here to lead America as the President of the United States. Some to write poems on game shows. And others are here to kvetch and look at the negative side of things. America needs all of us.”

“But what is there to feel negative about? I don’t really believe that President Obama will bring in a socialist government and destroy America — like those crazy right-wing talk show hosts do?

“Neilochka, open your eyes. There is one reason to truly be cyncial about the Obama administration. Something all Americans should be in fear of every day of their lives. Something so scary, that I almost would have suggested for you to vote for McCain instead.”

“What’s that?”

“Guess Who’s Coming to Stay at the White House… a lot!”

“Oh, no – NOT MORE OPRAH!”

Are Obama Supporters Too Elitist?

Did you ever notice that the humor in the the site “Stuff White People Like” is not really about “white people,” but about upscale, educated white people? They are the ones interested in New Balance shoes and ipods. Of course, most of us don’t really care about the OTHER white people — the ones who live in trailer parks in Kentucky — they’re off our radar anyway, so it isn’t a big issue. Not working class minorities. Those we do find interesting. But working class white people.

Can we add “Supporting Obama” as “Stuff Upscale, Educated, White People Like?” (at least the ones I read all the time on the blogosphere)

While I usually don’t write much about politics, I have been fascinated by the growing class distinctions in the Democratic race. You would think that this year’s election would be manna from heaven for the Democratic party, as the candidates include a woman AND a man of color. Instead, upscale white people, meaning most of the media, academia, and Democratic blogosphere are crazy over Obama, leaving Clinton with the underbelly of the party. Ironically, this group is helping Clinton win the nomination.

Obama is a great orator, someone who inspires the intellectual with visions of hope (which means living in a country that isn’t run by George Bush), but the actual working class seems to be voting for Clinton. They gave her the victory in Pennsylvania. Why isn’t the working class inspired by Obama? Is it because Clinton gets down and dirty and speaks to the real-life issues that face these citizens rather than speaking in flowery tones about hope? Is it racism, where the Archie Bunkers of the world feel more comfortable with a woman than a man of color?

I think we should partly blame ourselves… and our own elitism, which is affecting the whole election. While the Democratic party was once the strong hold of the working and middle class, most of the upper middle class now look on them with disdain. Our issues are not their issues. Maybe we are embarrassed about our own humble backgrounds, wanting to maintain a certain sophisticated image as we Twitter away in our loft/office in San Francisco. Obama has been criticized as elitist, but I think he is only trying to appeal to his followers — us.

Here are a couple of Twitters I just read after Hillary’s victory speech in Pennsylvania:

Watching a Hillary Clinton “victory speech” is like watching puppies raping kitties.

Let me rephrase that, Hillary’s audience looks like the crowd that got turned away at the Jerry Springer taping.

“blah blah blah day one, blah blah blah gas prices, blah blah blah give me money”

I love watching the idiots behind Hillary… they are funny to look at.

I really want to understand how anyone can look at Hillary Clinton & think to themselves: “You know? I think she should be president!” WTF?!

Not only did I notice a hatred for Clinton, but also for her followers, as if they were stupid. They are described like the unwelcome family members from the deep South that you hide from your children. I even read a blogger calling Clinton the candidate of “old saggy women,” and this was written by a woman! Great, let’s add a little ageism to the mix!

Why do people who always complain about lack of equality in life, always turn around and act just as pig-headed? Maybe someone working hard to care of their family doesn’t have the time to go to seminars about global warming or Darfur, but it doesn’t mean that we both can’t be part of the Democratic party. That’s what politics is all about. If the Democrats really want to win, they need to get the working class under their wing. Without them, first Clinton will win, and then McCain will be President.

Too many people think supporting a candidate is akin to following some cool band. I don’t think it is a good idea for Obama supporters to be dismissive of the lower middle class, calling them ” gun-toting trailer trash.” This is not an effective way to win voters over to your side. Supporting a candidate isn’t feeling good about yourself. It is about winning elections.

If I were some hard-working blue-collar guy working in Pennsylvania, there would be no way I would vote for Obama after reading some of the things Obama supporters write about ME on Twitter. It’s like when Simon Cowell trashes some singer on American Idol, and the bulk of Americans vote the opposite way just to sting him. Why are we mocking those necessary to win an election? At some point, hipsters have to listen to at least one Randy Travis song if they want to win the election.

Clinton or Obama?

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In all my years of following politics, I don’t recall a Democratic race being so close and and so embittered as the current race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  Like in a Hollywood movie, these are two allies torn apart by the intensity of the political process.   Democrats usually rally behind a candidate by March.  Events are different this year.  Tensions are high as friends and families draw the lines in the sand — Clinton or Obama.  The Democratic Party has been splintered.  Liberals, progressives, men, women — these “categories” are now useless, as each demographic divides itself into smaller and smaller sub-groups.  Blacks, whites, Jews, union members — no one votes as a single bloc anymore.  Candidates and pollsters alike are scrambling to decipher what Democrats want and who to appeal to in this important election.

As of today, here is what the Democratic landscape looks like, according to the most recent polling:

Women over 50 who lived through the feminist movement:  Clinton

Women under 40 who know more about their vibrators than the feminist movement:  Obama

Voters who want change:  Obama

Voters who want change, but not as much as the other voters:  Clinton

Women who make over 100k — Clinton

Women who make over 100K but are divorced from a randy husband who was getting oral sex from his “intern” — Obama

Blacks who think Obama is too “white”  — Obama

Blacks who think Obama is too “black” — Obama

Blacks who owe favors to the Clintons — Clinton

Guilty Liberal Jews who say they love “rap music” just to look cool — Obama

Religious Jews who think Obama will nickname the White House the “First Mosque” — Clinton

Small Town Americans who have never met a black person, but feel comfortable with them  — Obama

Small Town Americans who have never met a black person, but still don’t like them — Clinton

Small Town Americans who have never met a black person, but still don’t like them, but have heard Clinton speaking on the TV — Obama

Misogynists — Obama

Racists — Clinton

Misogynists and Racists —  McCain

Misogynists and Racists who hate McCain – Clinton, because at least she doesn’t seem like a typical dame

Academics in Universities — Obama

Academics in Universities with Tenure — Ralph Nader (what do they care?!  They have a job!)

Asian male models who look gay, but aren’t — Obama

Women who buy Anne Taylor suits at the outlet mall — Clinton

Men who show their private parts on MySpace — Clinton

Men who go online and ask for photos of women in bras — Obama

Crest users — Obama

Colgate users — Clinton

Those who make love to Neil Diamond — Obama

Those who make love to Nine Inch Nails — Clinton

Those who know that Hillary Clinton and Hilary Duff spell their first name differently — Obama

Those who say, “Who’s Hillary Duff?” — Clinton

It is clear that this race is going down to the wire!

Vote for Me… Or Else

marlon.jpg

I woke up this morning and saw a large manila package outside our door.  I opened the door, still in my underwear, and took it.  It was for Sophia.  Since she was still sleeping,  I took the initiative to open the package myself.  Out came a huge brochure, a press kit, and a free movie pass for a Paul Thomas Anderson-directed movie for Miramax.  I laughed to myself. It was for the SAG awards.  It was that time a year again, despite the Writers’ Strike. The Weinsteins must really want to win and Oscar this year.   Did they really send this to each and every SAG member?

I heard Sophia rustling in bed upstairs.

“You got a package!”

“A package? From whom?” she asked, half asleep.

“Someone really wants you to vote for them! — “There Will Be Blood“.”

“Oh my God.” she replied, her voice cracking nervously. “What did you say?!”

“Someone really wants you to vote for them! — “There Will Be Blood”.”

“Who would do such a thing? Is this a threat?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Sophia stepped out of the bedroom, looking like she spent a little bit too much time on Facebook last night, particularly the US politics application. She heard me say: ” Someone really wants you to vote for them or there will be blood!”

I assured her that Hilary Clinton would never send her a manila package with a threatening message.   She would put a horse’s head in the bed.

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