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The Greenhouse Effect made a big impression on me when I was a kid. Environmental degredation scared the everlovin' shit out of me, to be honest. There were pictures in our science books of ponds full of dead fish killed by toxic runoff, brown skies over sprawling cities, and prognostications that, by right now, we'd be all out of oil, and drinking poisonous guck because the water would be irrevocably polluted.

20 years later, things look pretty dire, though not as bleak as we thought. Air quality has improved, but on the other hand greenhouse gasses are up. Global warming has been acknowledge to be real and happening, not just a crackpot theory. There are several schools of though on Global Warming, from the “it's all our fault, we wretched, wasteful apes” school to the “it's not happening,la-la-la, and if it is, it's just part of th earth's long history of cycles of fluctuation” school. I'm willing ot believe that it may be partially cyclical, but I'm also more that willing to believe that all the Chrysler Imperials of the 1960s, the muscle cars of the 1970s, the minivans of the 1980s, and the SUVs of the 1990s had something to do with it, as well as the huge coal-powered electricity plants, the loss of rainforest land, and many other cuts and cankers we've inflicted on our host-planet.

Learning about environmentalism in school made a big impression on me, and typical of my high-strung ways, it did cause me to fret a bit. One summer, the highway we lived next to was being resurfaced, and I watched clouds of diesel exhaust hang over the equipment and smelt hot road tar cooking, and worried that the brown haze of stirred-up dust on the horizon was a cloud of toxic smog, like in the big cities, and that when it rained, it would be acid rain which would burn our skin and fill the river with upside-down-floating, rotting, dead fish. Yes, my fevered young imagination ran away with me quite a bit, and I was inclined to over-worry, but the fact was, that it definitely bothered me to think of the world I very much enjoyed living in being slowly reduced to a big ol' dump.

What we learned at school was modelled at home, too. My mom, who would vote Green if this country had a functioning Green Party, separated out recycling at a time when few people did. When we'd go to town, she'd often park the car downtown, and we'd walk a great many of the petty errands. We were taught to turn off the lights when we left a room, not run the water incessantly, not take more food than we were going to eat, and not to litter. In fact, to this end, Mom organized a few litter hikes for our school, where we'd go along the roadway and clean up rubbish. Our family did an amount of self-sufficent-living, what with keeping our own cow for milk for many years, chickens for eggs, and my mom always had an impressive and large garden, by this point in the summer teeming with green-beans, peas, carrots, lettuce, radishes, with tomatoes on the verge of production, and melons and cucumbers and squash biding their time. We knew where food came from, and how privileged we were to have so much of it, so fresh, at our disposal.

When I was very little, I reflexively respected any man in a suit on television, from the local weather forecaster to the President, to the huckstering televangelists. Of course, I'd get incredibly irritated with long-winded Ronald Reagan, for his rambling speeches which pre-empted some show I'd wanted to watch, and of course I felt the news was beyond boring stuff only old people liked, but I figured it was important. When the President came on TV, I'd go tell Mom or Dad that he was on. I had this reverence for The Suit up until I was about 8.

We had old magazines at school to cut up for art projects, and when I was ahead on my schoolwork, I'd sometimes go look at magazines, reading articles about low-fat chocolate mousse, solar-electric power, AIDS, and crash-test-dummy technology. At the time, the big news stories were the Oliver North hearings and the Iran-Contra Affair. Of course, I was way too young to really understand the intricacies of international arms trafficking and puppet governments, but I understood enough to know that our country, run by somber Men in Suits, had been giving guns to dangerous bad guys, and that this guy who was an assistant to the President lied about it, and maybe the President lied, too. And of course, lying was bad. It gelled in my mind that Ronald Reagan was possibly a bad man, definitely not very good at his job, if he was the boss of the government and didn't know what his workers were doing. He was more than just an annoying old man who talked too much on television–he was a lousy president.

The 1988 Presidential Election campaign was probably the true dawn of my political consciousness, for I was 11 by then, and quite emotionally invested in leftist philisophy by then. In the ever-so-nuanced ways of a fanatic pre-teen, I drew moustaches, devil-horns, and blacked-out teeth on George Bush on the covers of Newsweek magazine, and watched the opinion-poll numbers on television, rejoicing when Dukakis's mumber was higher than Bush's. I knew that I really didn't want Bush to be president, because he was basically just the same as Reagan, and he wasn't big on women's rights or the environment, which were two hot-button issues for me (and still are, actually). We had a mock vote at school, and I was the only kid who voted Dukakis. We weren't supposed to tell who we voted for, but I did, and almost got into a fistfight with a boy in my grade, who called me a “commie” and said that people who voted for democrats were retarded. Then he let fly with what I guess was a witicism from the campaign trail that year, “Don't park your Benson under a Bush, 'cause a Quayle might fly by and Dukakis on it.”

That “Commie” comment stuck with me…I didn't know what the term meant, so I asked my mom, and she told me it was a kind of rude way to say Communist, and explained, in relatively simple terms, what communism was. Being who I am, and how I've always been, I wanted to know more about communism, and so the first thing I did was go to the encyclopedia and look it up. Then I looked up articles on countries that had communist governments. Then, I read some books from the library on political systems. Then, I learned about Socialism, which really seemed to make sense to me.

Welfare was one of the big arguing points back then, with welfare recipients being portrayed as lazy, ignorant, and generally malingering drains on society. I didn't see it that way, however. I could recognise that people got down on their luck, maybe didn't have a good education so they couldn't get a good job, or they had too many small children and couldn't afford the daycare fees. My notion of welfare reform, back then, was that the adults should get to learn how to do a new job, and the kids could go play at a free nursery school all day while their mom or dad was learning or working. Similarly, I thought that drug addicts should get to go to a hospital where they could get well, then, if they were poor and couldn't get good jobs, they should be able to go somewhere to learn a new job, so they wouldn't feel so bad they wanted to get high again. My sense of fair play saw people in unfortunate situations, who might not know how to make their lives better. I was aware of the stereotype of “inner city schools,” large, bleak buildings with not-enough books and broken-out windows, too many kids, and not enough teachers. I recognised how privileged I was to go to a small rural school, where one teacher might attend to as few as 6 children, all told. I knew it wasn't fair that some kids not get a good education, or might be pressured to leave school before they should.

As I got older, and learned more about history, I idolized the girl-protestors from the shirtwaist factories, the ladies who got arrested for campaigning for the right to vote, and the women who scandalized society by wearing trousers and riding bicycles. I learned why unions were formed, then learned that my own great-grandmother, Grandma Chickadee, was an early-adopter member of ILGWU. This same woman, while working in a factory that made draperies, had an industrial sewing machine needle puncture entirely through her hand, leaving her with a scar across her hand for life. Dangerous factory conditions were not just words in a dusty history book; they were part of my living family history. I read about the New Deal, the WPA, the noblesse oblige attitude of the Roosevelts, that those who had should help out those who had not, and that if everyone pitched in together, everyone would be helped out. It was, on a large scale, akin to the rural American tradition of a husking bee or a barn raising. Everyone putting some money into a universal retirement account theoretically meant that everyone, once they were sufficiently old, would have money to live on when they couldn't work anymore. People who were out of a regular job could get a job fixing up things for the country; building public housing, or facilities like dams and bridges that would benefit anyone. The notion of American citizenry generally working together for our general benefit was highly inspiring and satisfying to me. Then, I learned about Kennedy, and what he meant in his “ask not” speech. I already knew about Job Corps…a branch of the Corps was a local institution, and plenty of local people had good jobs there, taking care of the kids who studied there, teaching, doing maintenance, etc. I knew that Job Corps was kind of treated like Juvvie, and a lot of kids who were sent there would run away, but I knew that it could do one of those things I felt was necessary for people in a bad life situation, and that was teach them useful things that could help them get better jobs.

The seeds of Socialism that have sprouted in this country are all things that have appealed to me. Unions for fair treatment of employees and worker safety. Social Security, for the reasonable care and prospects of the elderly. Medicaid, for the health care coverage. Job Corps, for practical manual training. Of course, many of these institutions hardly got off the ground, or have been gutted and degraded over a period of time, but they're all valuable institutuions which have served our people, and continue to serve our people, and should get polished up, tuned up, and generally renovated to better, more efficiently serve the folks they'd originally been meant to serve. Because there are far, far too many people in this country who have no health care, no retirement funding, little job security, crap for pay, and a shoddy education which is insufficient to help them function properly in our society. I fully believe that each and every one of us could and should work together to make sure that everyone gets a good education, has work, has adequate health care, has reproductive freedom, and has the means to care for any children they do choose to have. That they needn't worry about dying indigent and starving in a cold-water basement flat because they had no pension.

Another time, I'll tell y'all more about my current political beliefs and what I do to support them and attempt to realize my philosophy. At the moment, I'm worn out for sustaining a serious tone for so long, and am going to go have a beer.

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