Yes, dystopian literature appeals to me…here’s why

I admit it. This non-teenager is obsessed with the Hunger Games trilogy. I can hardly wait to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire the weekend after Thanksgiving. This sequel to The Hunger Games opens tonight.

I’ve read the series multiple times since receiving the box set last Christmas. I also purchased the DVD of The Hunger Games. One may ask in disbelief, or perhaps disgust, “Why would anyone, especially a woman, be interested in reading about children fighting each other to the death?” That’s a valid question. Following are some answers.

The setting is Panem, a future America pretty much destroyed by war and environmental destruction. Panem is the country where the Hunger Games take place and is run by the Capitol, whose citizens live in luxury. Here with plenty of food, comfortable homes, and all the necessities of life, residents have become frivolous in their priorities, clownish in their appearance, and callous to the plight of their fellow citizens struggling for survival and suffering hardships—starvation, rudimentary medical care, etc.—out in the districts.

Dystopian literature, in particular The Hunger Games, resonates with me because I see it as a warning of a future in which the accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a few come at great expense to the masses. Wait, that sounds vaguely familiar. It is already happening. Today, many people in the United States and around the globe are hungry and lack medical care. Inequality has always existed and likely always will to some degree. So I can envision an America similar to Panem as the wealth inequality gap in our country grows ever wider, although I pray future generations will be spared the cruelty of the ruling class portrayed in The Hunger Games. However, it is in societies such as this that heroes are born.

Cover of "The Hunger Games"

Cover of The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins inserts into her tale a young girl, Katniss Everdeen—and I love that the protagonist is a girl. Katniss is a reluctant hero who, after winning the 74th Hunger Games, becomes the symbol of the rebellion, unbeknownst to her. The victor of the games is rewarded with riches for the remainder of their lives, and their district benefits from the victor’s prosperity for the next year as abundant supplies of food arrive each month.

Before winning the Hunger Games, Katniss spent most of her childhood providing for her mother and sister. After her father’s death, Katniss’s mother had a mental breakdown and it was up to Katniss to make sure none of them starved because her mother was incapable of caring for her children, much less herself. Katniss knew how to hunt; her father had taught her well. She became a survivor, embodying independence, resourcefulness, adaptability, and resilience—characteristics I see in myself and admire in others.

The Hunger Games is at its core a story of overcoming oppression and confronting the rich and powerful who have enriched themselves while impoverishing the districts and extracting and hoarding their natural resources. The struggle to right this brutal world appeals to me because it is about achieving equality, justice, and the chance for a better life. The basic ideas of justice and equality of opportunity are at the very core of who I am, so yes, the series resonates with me.

Lastly, there is the entertainment factor. It is a character-driven story; even the Capitol is a character. As an actor, this excites my imagination. I can experience a world vastly different from the one in which I exist. When cast in a role, I most enjoy bringing to life deeply flawed characters. All actors enjoy exploring the dark side—at least I’ve not met one who hasn’t. Why? Because it is boring to always play characters similar to oneself, there is no challenge in it. Even when playing the most repulsive character, an actor searches for redeeming qualities to create a multi-dimensional role. All human beings possess light and dark sides although one or the other dominates. In these disturbing dystopian worlds our imaginations can run wild. It can be a thrilling adventure to live vicariously through these characters in the safety of my environment. Some people may find it unsettling, yet who are we to judge the interests of others? Of course, most of us frequently judge others’ tastes, myself included.

The Hunger Games and other dystopian works won’t appeal to everyone. Nonfiction is my preferred genre, but reading these fantasy-filled books provides a break from the seriousness of the policy-related and current events topics that occupy most of my reading time. Dystopian literature fascinates me, especially when good conquers evil and the oppressed are freed from their bondage.

The Divergent trilogy is what I am currently reading, and a co-worker told me about Maze Runner, so my dystopian literature well will be filled for a while. I was telling my mother about The Hunger Games a while back. She asked, “And why would you enjoy reading that?” I laughed because it does sound pretty awful, but I gave her the above explanation, in fewer words. Many scenes in the books are violent, and yes, there are some very creative and distrubing ways of killing detailed in them. Still, I am excited to see Catching Fire and am not ashamed to admit it. Let the 75th Hunger Games begin!

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Crawling

Friends of the Everblog, I am certain we are all gearing up for the Labor Day Weekend, right?  If you are anything like me, the grilling, laughter, and (perhaps, more than one) beer are well and truly anticipated.  I’ll just use my soapbox to share with you a few pieces of what I think are good news events.  Nothing too heavy, I promise.

Keeping in mind what Labor Day is all about, I found this to be rather encouraging.

On Thursday, the protests involved workers at nearly 1,000 restaurants in more than 50 cities, organizers said, spreading to areas of the South and West including Atlanta, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Raleigh, N.C.

Workers have garnered the courage to strike.  Now the only question is will we – consumers – support them in spirit…  And in choices?

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This past week, we also celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  It was a wonderful opportunity for all to ponder and pontificate on exactly what his words meant to each of us.  And (our resident Pinhead)  Bill O’Reilly told us what he thought.  What is possibly good about this?  After having made such a ruckus about conservatives being excluded, he admitted he was “Wrong“.

Last night during my discussion with James Carville about the Martin Luther King commemoration I said there were no Republican speakers invited. Wrong. Was wrong. Some Republicans were asked to speak. They declined. And that was a mistake. They should have spoken.

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Meanwhile, down in Florida…Republican, David Simmons (an author of the state’s Stand Your Ground law), would like to tweak the controversial legislation.  Especially where cases of Neighborhood Watch programs are involved.

…something that would affect the ability to go ahead and follow somebody else, for example, and confront them. That’s generally believed to be outside the parameters of anyone who’s participating in neighborhood watch and this is something that I think needs to be debated.

Would that this could have occurred sooner, but it is happening  now.  In all fairness, this is the second time Simmons has filed this particular bill.  He hopes it will actually receive a hearing this year.  And, what do you know?  I agree with a republican.

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Even though I don’t “light up”, I think the Department of Justice was correct in its decision to not tell me I can’t.

The Justice Department said it would refocus marijuana enforcement nationwide by bringing criminal charges only in eight defined areas – such as distribution to minors – and giving breathing room to users, growers and related businesses that have feared prosecution.

This balanced approach to handling marijuana usage just may work.  States (Colorado and Washington) are given authority to handle the situation, with an assurance that the federal government will only step in if it is proven that they are not up to the task.  I know, I know..it’s the DoJ.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed anyway.

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Allow me to leave you with this:

progress

The past fifteen years, we have been doing a hell of a lot of crawling.  But crawling is moving forward.

Support those union workers.

Accept (or gloat) when someone who is wrong…admits it.

Continue to speak out, loudly and proudly, against dangerous legislation.

Remember that there is a delicate balance between individualism and collectivism.

We won’t be crawling forever.   As long as we all have a dream…or two.

Be safe and enjoy!!

That does say “Eyeball licking,” right?

We’re on a mini (and impromptu) vacation this week. We look forward to starting back on Sunday (or Monday…coming back from vacation is rough!).

In the mean time, here are some interesting, funny, sad, thought-provoking, head-scratching things we’ve been reading. The title of this post is inspired by one of the links below:

All Over the Place

Summer is winding down for many families in the South, where school starts before Labor Day.

This is why, I imagine, so many of the writers here are busy.

So here are some links of just some of what we’ve been reading; please let us know what you’ve been reading and writing in the comments!

Not Far Enough

This past weekend, my family made our umpteenth trek through the nation’s capital.

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We picked quite a day for it.  It was nearly 100 degrees.  And the humidity!  Let’s just say it was the type of heat that would make Satan knock on your door to ask for a glass of iced water!

Our plan was simple.  The children would see each and every thing they wanted to see.  If time allowed, I could do the same.  Which was a good thing, since the only thing I hadn’t seen a million times was the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.

We spent many hours walking and talking.  We spoke of the American spirit and discussed inventions that changed the world.  We debated which famous American was best, in his/her respective field.  I had to referee the occasional brotherly skirmish.  In other words, it was your typical garden variety family day-trip.

It never dawned on me that I would learn anything .. from my children.

Let me remind you:  It. Was. Hot. My asthma was trying to take center stage.  I had four (somewhat spoiled and over-indulged) boys in tow.  By the time the kids were satisfied that they had seen all they wanted to see, I was exhausted.  And, sure, trying to ensure the satisfaction of four boys can make me a little cranky.  My overall mood was not great.

The more we walked, the less oxygen I seemed to take in.  I was stopping every ten feet to catch my breath.  I wanted to give up on the journey.  I was urged to give up and “just see it next time”.  But I have lived long enough to know that there may be no next time.  And to be perfectly honest, that stubborn Mommy part of me was determined that if I had been walking through an inferno for 7 hours, I would damn well see that exhibit.  Or pass out trying.

Not understanding, my oldest son remarked: “Mom, I know you want to see this thing, but it’s hot and you can’t breathe.  Maybe we should forget it.  Is it really worth all that?”

[Enter visions of cotton fields, torched houses, protests, jail cells]

To which, I responded: “That is why I must keep going.  Men and women, like King, got sick.  They kept going.  People told them it wasn’t worth it, but they kept going.  Heat wasn’t the only thing beating at them, but.. They. Kept. Going.”

So…we kept going.  I was dizzy, light-headed, and wheezing.  But I kept going.

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Finally!!  We were there!  At that moment, my fatigue vanished.  My initial joy was not in seeing the monument.  It was in pride that I made it without collapsing.  It was all about me.

Once I realized that, I took a step back.  I removed myself from the equation.  I remembered how grateful I am for those –  like Dr. King –  who removed themselves from the equation, daily, so that we all might have a better quality of life.  I read his words on the Inscription Wall, and I felt humbled.  And small and petty.  My small accomplishment of “making it” paled in comparison to the type of endurance he needed.  Every day of his life.

After having splashed my face and arms with water from the waterfall, I turned to the faces of my children.  Observing me.. and my humility.

Initially, I was a little embarrassed.  They, then, did something I will never forget.  They, too, splashed their faces and arms.

At that moment, a lesson was driven home.  Children need to observe humility.  They need to see adults continually fighting for what is right, fighting for a more perfect union.

Sadly, it isn’t  hard for me to imagine Dr. King’s America.

An America of fear, prejudice, and hatred.  An America where equality is privilege.

True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.     MLK 1963

An America of poverty.  An America that excuses bad behavior and ignorance.  An America where workers are treated poorly.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.     MLK 1964

An America at war.

It is not enough to say “We must not wage war.”  It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.  We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.     MLK 1967

I can imagine it, because that is MY America, to a lesser degree.  We, as a society, have become complacent and selfish.  We rationalize this by saying we have come pretty far from King’s America.  Well, I say we haven’t come far enough.  I say there is always work to be done.

Wouldn’t you agree?

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What I’ve been reading

I don’t usually get my news from CNN, HLN, MSNBC, Fox, whatever.

So here’s what I’ve been reading about the past few days, while recovering from a minor illness–and these are some stories I think all citizens of this country (should read about too. Agree with the story or not, it’s always good to exercise one’s mind!

Wanderlust & Nostalgia

The sound of steady rain from tropical storm Andrea is the current soundtrack of my life, and I feel more mellow today. I thought of writing about politics, but I want to remember how beautiful this country is right now.

I find myself nostalgic and full of wanderlust. Being stationed in Florida, my heart yearns to go west.

But I want to go. Fuel prices and responsibility be damned, I want to feel the wind in my hair and the Pacific at my feet once again.

Alas, I am stuck here. So I close my eyes and remember that time when I was able to traverse the country fairly freely.

I hiked the Olympic Mountains of Washington State, a lush, gorgeous rainforest. As we hiked up to the snow-covered peaks, crossing rapid rivers of snow-melt and rain, we watched our step. The slugs out there are huge and plentiful.

I stared off at the Grand Tetons and at Jackson Lake, where I found a boat with my name and middle initial docked—just as it’s been since I first traveled there in 1982.

I’ve spent meaningful time in 47 states (Sorry to have missed you, North Dakota, Hawaii, and Alaska).  I’m not talking about changing planes in Los Angeles. I lived and breathed in these places. I’m talking about driving on back roads, getting out and exploring the Cathedral of the Plains, hearing (and feeling) the hum and vibrations of the turbines at the Hoover Dam, chasing rainbows in Colorado, discovering Sioux City, South Dakota has a surprising amount of street art, and staring out at a dry but green plain in Utah, realizing it was the last place the Donner party gathered before it became infamous.

(That last one—that’s actually a rest area with small, unassuming historic sign to inform you of the significance of the place. Suddenly, the quiet green span of land looked intimidating.)

I just saw Django Unchained, and my attention was drawn to the geography. “That’s not Tennessee or Texas!” I said to the screen. “That’s Wyoming!”

I waited until the end of the credits—it was Wyoming. What a dumb thing to do, pretend that the mountains of Wyoming are in the South.

(If you’ve seen them, then yes, you know this is a dumb and distracting thing.)

Do yourself the favor and explore this country as much as possible. Go east, go south. Head northwest. Go.

You don’t have to go far from home or spend lots of money. If you travel a mere 20 miles from your home, you’ll find something of beauty or historic importance you didn’t know was there.

Down the rabbit hole, Out through the Chocolate Factory

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where-” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“-so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice Added as an explanation.

Lewis Carroll

Down the rabbit hole.  Our nation is down the rabbit hole.

Collectively, we feel trapped, confused, helpless, and angry.  We are afraid.

I, too, feel all those emotions.  But, what I feel the strongest is frustration.  Like Alice, all I want is to get… SOMEWHERE.

When did we fall down the rabbit hole?  Does it matter?  I would love to say it is irrelevant how we got here.  But, I can’t.  On our journey, we stumbled over our own fear..er..feet.  We’ve fallen, and can’t seem to get up.

We read our children stories, like Alice in Wonderland, hoping to teach them the importance of life choices.  We encourage them to dream and set goals.  We help them develop courage, determination, and perseverance.  We teach them that not trying is the only true failure.

Well, look at us!  Aren’t we quite the hypocrites?  Even now, when our inability to act is harmful to our children, we do nothing and go nowhere.  From our comfortable spot in the pit, we point fingers.  We blame blacks, women, gays, immigrants, republicans, democrats, or the poor.  Our children, remembering what they’ve been taught, see the grown-ups bicker, complain, and remain…stuck.

We stress to our children the value of education, yet do nothing about this and this.  If we proclaim that education opens doors for our sons and daughters, shouldn’t it actually do so?  We must prepare our children for adulthood by improving ALL of our schools.  Wealth and/or vouchers shouldn’t be necessary to receive a quality education.  Nor should college costs ride a person’s back well into middle age, forcing them to take up residence in a parent’s basement.

We teach our youth to play by the rules, yet allow this.  If we want them to know that playing by the rules is the right thing to do, we must ensure that they grow up in a world where that is expected.  Of everyone.  Corporations are allowed to (legally) cheat the system.  This is a no-brainer, right?  It’s broken, we fix it.  Ah, that would make too much sense.  So, our kids grow up observing that greed is the key to success.  There goes the sharing is caring lesson.

While we are pointing fingers on climate change, things like this happen.  Why is this even a continuing debate?  Overwhelmingly, scientists agree that our planet is being stretched too thin.  Natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy and the massive tornado in Oklahoma, are going to continue.  We have been warned, again and again, about this.  Is this garbage really easier to believe than 97% of scientists??

As we bicker about who is more patriotic, tragedies like Sandy Hook go unaddressed.  Unless you count this.  Our children are told repeatedly that violence is not the answer because it never solves anything.  Ha!!  Have you noticed that our culture is becoming more violent by the day?  Yeah, kids have, too.  When we have opportunities to come together, and make decisions that will save their lives, we should take them.  Perhaps, they need to give us a pep talk about bullying, eh?

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”  
J. K. Rowling

Let’s choose a direction.  We’ll never get somewhere, if we don’t.  Our children deserve that much.

To them, everything is magical.  Anything is possible.  Adults know better.  We are aware that no Cheshire Cat or Elder Wand exists.  Life is a series of choices (or unfortunate events, depending on perspective).  We learn from mistakes, and try again.

Enough crying and complaining!  The next generation is watching.  If there is an outcome we desire, let’s elect representatives who will help us achieve it.    Those that don’t..replace them.  Occasionally, we will learn that our ideas aren’t good ones.  If that happens, we change direction.  Life has taught us all that there is often more than one way to get where you’re going.  Remember, the failure is in not trying.

So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Roald Dahl
 
Choose to educate yourself.  Then, choose to act.
 

Laughing at Prejudice?

Laughing at prejudice?  Who in the world is foolish enough to do that?  Do you really want to know?

YOU ARE!

Everybody has met this guy…Charles Ramsey.  The humorous, animated, unwitting hero of this week’s kidnapping and hostage drama.  The guy is friggin’ hilarious, right?  The hair, the teeth, the ebonics.  The internet universe can’t seem to get enough of him.  He is literally everywhere!

But why, exactly, are we laughing?

People, especially black people, are having a little difficulty figuring that one out.  NPR is asking a question I have been asking for years.  Is society laughing with Mr. Ramsey, or is it laughing at Mr. Ramsey?

On the surface, this would be no big deal.  Here we have this really funny guy who helped save the victims of a horrific crime.  He is the best kind of hero, because he didn’t wake up that morning with the intention of doing anything drastic.  He was simply enjoying his Big Mac, and BAM…

“…..a pretty little white girl ran into a black man’s arms…something is wrong here!…..”

Yes, indeed, Mr. Ramsey.  I think something IS wrong here.

In the short span of a few hours, Charles Ramsey’s hilarity began to outshine the humanity of his act.  It became all too easy to see him as another poor, uneducated, black dude…who while needing a haircut and dentist, is funny as hell.  This man helped to free three women, imprisoned for a decade.  And, in the span of a few hours, he had joined the ranks of the “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” chic.

Say what, now??

And did you even hear what he said?  What you call humor, I call honesty.  It had to be serious because he was useful.  Useful.   Black people, men in particular,  have internalized a feeling of inferiority.  Society, without thinking, encourages it.  No?  Power on a television or computer.  A black man is wanted for a crime.  “Welfare queens”-in hair scarves, pajamas, and bedroom slippers-argue with baby daddies.  Maybe a comedy starring a black comedian..complete with stereotypes and foul language.  Most likely, it is Beyoncé shaking her groove thing.

I do not think society is intentionally prejudiced.  We all want to feel as though we are laughing with, as opposed to at, Ramsey.  But, as one of my fellow bloggers so eloquently stated…”While I rarely claim to speak for all black people, I think I’m fairly safe in saying that we’ve had enough of playing Amos and Andy and Mr. Bojangles for this country. As long as we can sing and dance, and make folks laugh, it’s cool. But black intellectuals rarely enjoy that level of acceptance.”  And I couldn’t agree with her more.  Our roles, in society, are very defined.  We are either cracking you up or starting crack houses in your neighborhood.

There is more to the black community than singing and dancing.  More than rap songs and rap sheets.  There are teachers and doctors; lawyers and scientists; parents and children.  Mothers who try to instill a sense of self-worth when none is felt.  Fathers who demonstrate remarkable pride in the face of  bigotry.  Sons and daughters who confront stereotypes on a daily basis.  And, there are, occasionally, opportunities to demonstrate that humanity is not solely reserved for the affluent.

But…We laugh.

We laugh because he is an animated guy.  We laugh at his hair, his teeth.  We laugh because who would have thought this guy would someday be someone’s savior.  We laugh without thinking how it would make him feel.  We laugh because we are so accustomed to this type of black person that we pay no attention to the insensitivity we are demonstrating.  We laugh as some young African-American seethes at yet another portrayal of the ignorant black person.  We laugh not realizing that we are shaping a little black child’s world view.  We laugh because we don’t understand.

But imagine if the shoe were on the other foot?

Would you laugh if Honey Boo Boo, and shows like it, were the prominent portrayal of white America?

Would you laugh when that portrayal began to influence the rest of the country?  When it became the basis of stereotypical opinions of white America?

Would you laugh when white lawyers, doctors, businessmen, and philanthropists got precious little air time?

Would you laugh if white women were constantly shown in broken down trailers, guns in hand, and dirty babies in tow?

Would you laugh when a white man performed a truly good deed and society made a joke out of him?

Well…would you?

Stop Whining and Start Participating

220px-Ann_Richards

“But if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in heels.”

~ Ann Richards at the 1988 Democratic National Convention

Plenty of humorous quotes and quips have been attributed to the late Ann Richards. The feisty former Governor of Texas possessed a larger-than-life persona and a wicked wit. Her 1988 Democratic National Convention keynote speech introduced her to America and launched her political career on a trajectory toward becoming the 45th governor of Texas, the first woman to lead the state.

I sat in the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center last Thursday evening watching ANN, a solo show written and performed by actress Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men). Ms. Taylor recounted tales of Richard’s life: her childhood, marriage and family life, battle with alcoholism, involvement in politics working behind the scenes at first then daring to jump into the political arena herself, time as governor, and the post-gubernatorial years. Taylor beautifully and effortlessly embodied the over-the-top, bigger-than-life Richards in every aspect from her appearance to her Texas drawl and mannerisms. At times I almost forgot it was Holland Taylor on the stage.

“Stop whining and start participating!” This was one of the directives that Ms. Taylor’s Ann gave near the end of the performance. Another memorable line from the show was: “Life is not fair. I learned that when I was eleven years old. Life is not fair, but government should be.” These two quotes resonated with me the most.

Richards’ life was one well-lived, though not void of heartache. She had a loving, supportive father, who from the start told her she was smart and could be anything she wanted. Her mother, on the other hand, was not as supportive and rather distant. Their relationship is revealed in Ann’s retelling of the time that a local TV station held a special screening of the above-mentioned keynote speech from the Democratic National Convention. Her mother accompanied her to the station, and instead of being proud of Ann’s achievement, her mother was most excited that she “got to meet the weather man!”  Though this was told with humor and gusto, the sting and hurt of her mother’s comment was quite obvious.

Richards was first elected to a county commissioner seat in 1976. Her husband had declined to run so friends encouraged her to do it. She went on to become Texas State Treasurer from 1983 – 1991, then governor from January 15, 1991 – January 15, 1995. During her one term in office, Governor Richards championed women’s rights, reformed the Texas prison system, and revived the state economy.

Ms. Taylor closed the show with Ann speaking from the grave about her cancer diagnosis and treatment then about her funeral and memorial. She also gives some parting advice, telling the audience (and I’m paraphrasing): “They [legislators] are not the government. We are the government. We can fire them. If you are not voting, you are letting others make decisions for you.”

The U.S. is facing some serious challenges. Challenges our current leaders seem unable to tackle for a variety of reasons—hyper-partisanship, the influence of special interest money and lobbyists, no worries about getting re-elected due to gerrymandered congressional districts, and a total disconnect between Washington and the people they represent. When we are not involved, we are allowing others to make decisions for us that affect our lives—and in many instances not to our benefit.

I left the performance inspired on many levels, the biggest ones to write and produce my own one-woman show and to get more deeply involved in politics—to do more than blog about issues, pen letters to my senators and congressman, sign petitions, and vote. Granted that is more than many Americans do, but there is always more to do. All of us can be more involved, especially those who don’t vote.

It bears repeating: “Stop whining and start participating.” Interestingly, President Obama told the Ohio State class of 2013 on Sunday afternoon, “I ask you to participate and persevere.” I sense a theme…

ANN on Broadway

Cross-posted at The Feisty Liberal  

Updated May 8 – video clips added