Cows, Guns, and the Continental Divide: Montana Diary.8

I’m thinking The Continental Divide might be a good name for a band. Or a novel.

I left Project Vote Smart this morning, a little sadly, though the spectacular drive between there and Butte made up for it. In addition to the stunning scenery, I saw some very good looking black cows; I’ve never seen entirely deep black cows before. Then something else I’ve never seen: a woman jogging, with a 9 millimeter tucked into her waistband (or are you supposed to write 9 mm?). Also: I didn’t identify it as a 9 millimeter (or 9 mm); I don’t know one gun from another, and the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Was that a GUN that jogger has?”
Rachel (the PVS staffer who drove me to Butte): “Yep. 9 mm. I’ve seen a wolf around here.”

After which there ensued an interesting conversation about guns, violence, cities, Montana, and several other things.

We got to Butte airport, and good thing I was prepared with the street address of the Budget Car Rental Office. [insert eyeroll.] The silver car in the foreground is my rental, and the peak-roofed building across the street is the terminal. The entire terminal. Two flights arrive and two leave each day. You can’t exactly miss the car rental counters. The nice young woman at the Avis counter saw me standing at Budget, walked out of Avis, and stepped behind the Budget counter. After taking care of my reservation she kindly pulled out a map and showed me how I could take a quick little car tour of historic Butte.

Butte certainly has an old West feel. Streets named Quartz, Gold, Iron, Platinum, Mercury, Granite, Porphyry, Copper, and so on. Victorian houses and mansions from the days of the mining boom. Here’s the former home of one of the area’s three “Copper Kings,” who tussled for control of the copper mining industry in the late 19th century.

The drive east, from Butte to Manhattan (Manhattan, Montana, that is) was just as gorgeous as the drive earlier. The population of the entire state is not quite a million people, meaning there’s a lot of undeveloped land and farmland. Lakes. Creeks. Hills. Mountain passes. It’s just beautiful. And I crossed the Continental Divide, the fact of which doesn’t really mean anything. But it’s nice to think, “Oh, right now I’m crossing this thing I’ve always heard about.”

Arrived in Manhattan a little after 2, and met Ann Tappan; later we drove to her studio in Bozeman to rehearse, with Kelly Roberti, for tomorrow’s concert.

Click here to continue to final Montana post ➸

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All Good Things. . . Continue, if We Do Things Right: Montana Diary.7

If you’ve missed previous Montana posts, or don’t know why I’m here, click to see: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6. (Probably makes sense to start with Day 1!)

The day started with a 7:30 get together with Richard Kimball, the founder of Project Vote Smart. Over breakfast, Richard told us the story of how he came to start the organization. It’s a good story, and you can read most of here. He also filled us in on some of the challenges PVS has faced (and continues to face), as well as on plans for the near future, which include making the website even more user-friendly. In case I haven’t made it clear, I wish everyone knew about, and used, http://www.VoteSmart.org. It’s a brilliant resource for voters, an antidote to the usual barrage of campaign slogans, sound bytes, and attack ads. I also hope people will join PVS at any donation level. It costs money to keep this gift to democracy going, and it’s so very valuable. You can find out more here. [the photo shows lunch in the lodge.]

Work today included more updating to PVS’ voter registration data base; I took a break from the computer to help get this year’s Voter’s Self-Defense Manual ready for mailing.

What a gorgeous day it turned out to be. I couldn’t get warm enough in the morning, yet sat sleeveless on the deck for dinner! Later, Richard took some of us on a tour of the property in the PVS van. We covered the ground I’d seen on the early walks, but on this tour I learned a lot of the history of the property, including stories about the families that lived here early on. [at left, dinner on the deck.]

Below are some pictures from our tour, and from the grounds. I’m a bit sorry to leave tomorrow. It sounds like there’s plenty to explore around here on the weekends, but I’ll be driving down to Manhattan (Montana, that is), west of Bozeman, where I’ll perform a concert on Sunday. On to the next adventure!

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Click to continue to part 8 ➽

Some Pretty: Montana Diary.6

If you’ve missed previous Montana posts, or don’t know why I’m here, click to see: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5. (Probably makes sense to start with Day 1!)

Today, more time at the computer, making sure New Hampshire election town clerk office listings are all up to date on the PVS website, and double checking the list of all New York state Congressional and Senatorial candidates.

I’ll keep today’s entry short, and close with some pictures from this evening’s walk.

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Click to continue to part 7 ⇒

From Town Clerks to Ex-Presidents: Montana Diary.5

If you’ve missed previous Montana posts, click to see: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.

Today was a long day, but a good one. I spent the morning finishing up the policy statements submitted by some of the lesser known, in many cases one might say fringe, candidates (see Day 2 for more about that). And though I may not agree with a thing any of them say, some are quite well-read. If extreme. What’s important is that they’re running for office, and voters need to know who they are and what they stand for. There’s so much information on the Vote Smart website; in fact, if you go here, you can find out who’s running for office, and compare candidates, issue by issue.

You can also turn to the Project Vote Smart website to find out where to register to vote or get an absentee ballot. I spent the rest of the day updating part of the data base of information on local election offices. So if you live in a Texas county, or a Massachusetts town from Cambridge to Natick (alphabetically, that is), I made sure that the contact information for your election office (or town clerk) is up to date. You can check out my handiwork here.

This evening, the member volunteers were invited to have dinner at the home of Richard and Adelaide Kimball; Richard is the founder and president of PVS. That’s him in the black shirt on the far right; the others are member volunteers, like me, and I’ll tell you: these are smart, interesting, informed people who’ve done (and continue to do) some pretty impressive things with their lives. I’m learning a lot.

Later, some of us joined the young staffers and interns, who were watching the Democratic convention. It was very interesting to hear their takes on Bill Clinton’s speech (which they all thought was way too long). I have such a vivid memory of the night Clinton won the Presidential election the first time — and to think that these young people were only two or three years old! But they’re intelligent, they’re well-informed, they’re involved, and they make me think there’s reason to be hopeful. Oh, and that’s Abigail (for Adams) and Potus, enjoying an evening’s romp. They skipped the speeches, though Cleo the Cat stopped by for a bit.

Click to continue to part 6 ➪

In Which I Rejoice and Despair: Montana Diary.4

If you’ve missed previous Montana posts, click to see: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

Here it is 7 pm and dinner was finished over an hour ago. This is a different schedule than I’m used to. In the office to work at 8, an hour-long lunch break at 12:30, then back to work till 5. (Except, that is, for me: I was so involved in what I was doing that at 5:15 I looked up and realized everyone had left the office. When I got back to the dining area ten minutes later, dinner was well underway.)

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I’m here at Project Vote Smart as a member volunteer, and that PVS has created the Voter’s Self Defense System, which makes non-partisan, unbiased information on legislators and candidates available to all of us. For example, PVS “digests key legislation in Congress and all 50 states into easy-to-understand summaries, making it easy to compare what your representatives said during the campaign with how they actually voted on the record.” Find out how much money candidates raised, and who donated. Find out where they stand on issues that matter to you. If you’d like to know more about what PVS does (and I hope you will), THIS page provides a good overview

So. . . on my first day I did two things: I spent an hour or two in an envelope-stuffing-and-stamping assembly line. I know that doesn’t sound very glamorous, but what went into the envelope is pretty sexy: The Political Courage Test, a questionnaire sent to candidates inviting them to provide comprehensive information on where they stand on relevant issues. You can have a look at the current test forms here.

But before and after the envelope-stuffing I worked at a computer; PVS invites all candidates to submit an issue statement, and I was asked to type up some of them for later input into the data base. I worked my way through a stack of pamphlets and letters from current candidates; several are running for Congress, a few for the Senate, some for their state Assemblies; there was even a statement from a write-in candidate from President.

Now, why the title of this post? Well, on one hand, the papers in the stack were from candidates in a number of states, many certainly first-time candidates, people of varied backgrounds and beliefs. The existence of those statements–the very fact of that stack of papers–is a philosophy, an idea, a political ideal made real. We live in a country where anyone can throw her hat in the ring. Anyone can put himself forward for public service because he see problems and would like to have a hand in solving them. People can form a society and decide that everyone living in it has the right to have a say in how things go. Obviously, we’ve never fully lived up to that ideal and, let’s be honest, throughout our history we’ve fallen far short. But the ideal itself, the fact that it’s our lodestar and it’s at play at all, well, that’s beautiful.

And so I felt sort of excited and joyful typing away at that computer. So why the despair? Well, as above, anyone can run for office and, apparently, anybody does. Even reading the most crackpot statements, or the ones that outline the opposite of everything I believe (and there were many of those), I was aware of the hopeful ideal of participatory democracy. But some of the statements were so poorly written, some made so little sense, and some were just so way out there that I couldn’t help but feel rather hopeless at the same time. These people might end up making laws in Congress next year?

I mean, honestly, this? “I support that, All citizens health care for healthy lifestyle to included, diagnosis, prognosis, treatment & therapy for physical & psychological well being.”

And this? “The BUDGET is BROKEN – We need to FIX IT & BALANCE IT.” (Sorry, but that’s a teenager’s capitalization, and I saw TOO MANY EXAMPLES Today of this KIND OF Creative capitalization! Plus exclamation points!)

How about this one? “What about Gibson Guitar, going on for 7 yrs: they get special wood from India for the neck of the guitar, workers at Gibson finish it here. Obama wants the work done in India -“ (I think the candidate is trying to address the problem of outsourcing, and wonder why she didn’t say so.)

Well, I have three more days of stuffing or typing or whatever else they’ll have me doing, and I’m looking forward to every minute of it. The pictures, above show (top) the envelope assembly line and (bottom) my computer station.

Click to continue to part 5 ⇰

In Which We Search For an Elusive Treehouse and Find an Ant Hill: Montana Diary.3

To see the previous Montana posts, scroll down.

It being Labor Day, we are not laboring, except, perhaps, under the impression that there is a treehouse on the property, and that we would be able to find it. Well, to be fair: several of the member volunteers have been here before, and some of them have actually seen the treehouse, so seven of us set off in search of it, knowing that whether we found it or not, we’d have an adventure. Here are my hiking companions, Carol and Bill standing, and L-R seated, Ann, Rae, Colleen, and Cathy. These are some pretty impressive human beings, let me tell you. And not just because they all crossed the rope bridge without complaining. (I went first! I went first!)

The hike took us through gorgeous woods, across fields, over bridges, past an impressive ant hill, up to an old cabin. We came upon the ranch’s three charming horses, one of whom took a shine to me and wouldn’t let me get far away enough for a good picture. It was a satisfying two-hour(ish) walk, and we never even found the treehouse. More pictures, including horses and rope bridge, below.

Tomorrow we start work at 8. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing, but this explains why I’m here:

“Here at Project Vote Smart, Americans young and old volunteer their time, take no money from special interest groups, and have committed themselves to an extraordinary effort that, if successful, will provide their fellow citizens with the tools for a reemergence of political power not known for half a century. Their idea is one you may have thought of yourself. It is a deceptively simple concept but enormously difficult to achieve and would not be possible without the collaboration of citizens willing to lay their partisan differences aside for this one crucial task.

Picture this: thousands of citizens (conservative and liberal alike) working together, spending endless hours researching the backgrounds and records of thousands of political candidates and elected officials to discover their voting records, campaign contributions, public statements, biographical data (including their work history) and evaluations of them generated by over 100 competing special interest groups. Every election these volunteers test each candidate’s willingness to provide citizens with their positions on the issues they will most likely face if elected through the Political Courage Test.”

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Click to continue to Part 4 ➤