I’ve reflected on the ongoingpandemic a coupletimes, and now that we’ve passed the one-year mark, it seems an update is due. Cautiously optimistic is about how things feel.
We made it through the second wave and the rising death toll in the fall and winter. Now the vaccines are rolling out—truly a miracle how quickly that happened—but it’s a race between vaccine rollout and deadlier, more contagious variants. We’re seeing surges in places, lock downs in Europe again, and worrisome numbers that creep upward.
So there’s real reason for hope, but there’s also that continued anxiety that hasn’t left us for the past year.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of a new state. And it seems like we’re closer than ever as Congress debates D.C. statehood for the second time in a year. Puerto Rico has also come up a lot lately, and it all makes for some fascinating what ifs.
For my entire life, the U.S. has been 50 states. It’s a nice round number. Makes the flag with 50 stars nice and symmetrical. As a kid, I assumed that was it—no more states because 50 is a round number.
Of course 50 states is entirely arbitrary and we can add states whenever we feel like it.
I grew up in an fundamentalist Baptist church in the 1980s and 90s, that espoused—among other wacky things—that drums were evil. Yes, straight up devil-worshipping, possessed by demons evil. As goofy as that sounds, it was genuinely believed and strictly enforced—though maybe not widely known. I’m also convinced, decades later, that it was blatantly racist.
This week I wrote an opinion piece for Minnesota Reformer advocating for ranked choice voting. In short, ranked choice voting allows voters to pick a second choice and requires the winner to earn a majority of votes, not just more than anybody else.
It’s a way to empower voters, break the stranglehold of the two-party system, and ensure we’re not led by someone who only got 20% of the vote. The article breaks it all down, but imagine how much better the recent presidential primaries with upwards of a dozen candidates would have been if you could vote a list of preferences.
Is It Realistic?
I write about the piece for Minnesota, and the constant question is can it realistically pass? Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis Park, and now Minnetonka use ranked choice voting. So it’s tried, tested, and gaining popularity.
The challenge is would the Minnesota legislature consider it. Right now? No. It doesn’t help that the state has divided government and has trouble doing basic things. But the bigger issue is that even the Democrats don’t support it.
My legislative district had a town hall on Sunday, and all three DFL legislators (one senator and two reps) didn’t support it. One was against it, one was undecided, and the other went with reality—now is not the time for that fight.
And I get that. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and there are more pressing priorities. I’ve heard others argue that there are other voting reforms that are more important. But I’ll take all the voting reform and voter empowerment I can get.
Maybe now isn’t the time, but it is time to start building the case and making the argument.
I’m not sure I have much to say on the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump. But this feels like one of those moments in history that we’ll be reliving and coming back to for decades to come. So I feel compelled to set down a few thoughts.
Every time we sing the national anthem we ask the question, “does that star-spangled banner yet wave?” amid the perilous fight and the bombs bursting in air.
These past two weeks, since violent insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capital, the answer has been in doubt. Not literally—Congress reconvened that same day and democracy carried on—but the spirit of the nation has been dazed as we suffered this terrible attack and reckoned with the deeper divide.
But today, Inauguration Day, as Lady Gaga belted out “The Star Spangled Banner” on the same Capital steps that two weeks ago held a swarming mob, it did the spirit of this nation well to see those broad stripes and bright stars so gallantly streaming.
Yesterday a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as a joint session of Congress attempted their Constitutionally mandated task of approving the electors for the next president. We spent yesterday watching the news unfold on Twitter and live TV.
I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m grieving for our nation.
There will be so many better opinions and commentaries and I hesitate to add to the noise, but I keep coming back to one thing that I think is important to emphasize.
An erosion of trust and a lack of common truth has imperiled our democracy.
It’s also helpful to compare it to my total reading:
And why do I track these numbers? Because when I didn’t pay any attention to it, I gravitated to a very homogeneous reading list. Which isn’t very good if you want to be exposed to a range of voices and ideas.
Here are some other stats from my reading in 2020:
Sci-fi is still #1: This year sci-fi hit 54% of my reading, up from 37% last year. Carried me through the pandemic.
New is still better: About 75% of my reading came from the last three years. The oldest book was from 1997 (and my favorite fiction read of the year), and it was the only more than 20 years old.
Print dominates: Reading on my phone was a terrible idea this year. And audiobooks barely happened. My print reading hit 94%, quite a boost from last year’s 77%.
YA is dead to me: Once upon a time I used to read a lot of YA. This year? Nada. That’s not quite true, as some books fall under multiple categories and I classified them as other than YA. But even if we track those down, it’s only two or three. I’m not sure why I’ve grown so tired of this genre, but I have. It’s kind of sad too, because it sometimes it seems like YA is where all the interesting developments are happening in fiction.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi – A fascinating book and a difficult read, this one made all the headlines in the aftermath of George Floyd. I’ve also seen a fair amount of criticism about it, but that’s not surprising. It’s a challenge, but I think the underlying premise—if you’re not actively fighting racism then you’re part of the problem—is sound.
Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life by David Treuer – A fascinating combination of memoir and history. I started listening to it as an audiobook but got bogged down in some of the detail and had to finish a paper copy. The history of our treatment of Native Americans is always jarring, but this summary of recent problematic encounters is even more jarring. These aren’t just sins our forefathers committed generations before we were born.
Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America by Stacey Abrams – Nothing like reading about voter suppression in the lead up to a presidential election. Especially one where the biggest story is the post-election rejection of said election based on absolutely no proof. It’d be fascinating to hear Abrams take on that, because that seems like a whole other problem from the one she tackles.
Honorable mention:The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures by Noelle Stevenson – Stevenson’s Nimona has always been one of my favorite graphic novels, and after watching and loving her Netflix reboot of She-Ra, I had to pick up Stevenson’s memoir. More than anything, it’s about creativity and learning to accept yourself. Also has some great cartoons.