So Maybe I Won’t Stop Talking…

Big shock to those of you who know me well, I know.

I just read a post on The Feed, Eric Deggans’ blog. In it he says:

“Why write something so provocative in print and on blogs and then get upset when the community decides to engage you about it?”

First let me say: I thought Saturday’s meeting- the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists, which I attended at Deggans’ invitation- was productive- but please bear in mind that I can only speak for myself. I would never presume to know what’s going on in anyone else’s mind.

Next let me try to answer Deggans’ question: The “why” is simple. Or not. I am not upset, not at all. But I am weary of hearing that I am not a racist. Is there anyone out there- anyone at all- who could possibly understand how hard it was for me as a person to admit to the world in general that I fear I may be devolving (Alex Pickett used that word in this week’s CL article, and I like it; it expresses things tidily) into a racist?

OK, so now take that and couple it with people – black and white and whatever falls in between- who spend time with me and tell me that they do not believe I am a racist. Does anyone out there have any idea how it feels to have to insist to these people that yes, although I hate how I feel, it is, indeed, how I feel? Feeling bad about something doesn’t make the feeling immaterial. Do not excuse me; doing so negates the problem. And if you negate the problem, then you cover it back up again, and nothing gets resolved, which was kind of the whole point.

And it’s pretty clear to me after listening to the WMNF interview and reading the piece in Creative Loafing that I haven’t accurately given the proper voice to my concerns. If I had, then the stories wouldn’t miss the mark. WMNF actually got close, but everyone wants to say I’m confusing race with social and economic issues. My point is that yes, perhaps… BUT (and this is a pretty big but) I look out my window and see a group of people that are not like me. My mind- anyone’s mind- looks for the commonalities these people share that I do not share with them. And we share a street, share a neighborhood, and logic would follow that since we all live in the same neighborhood, we must all make about the same amount of money. So then the issues are social.

Is it possible that collective shared experiences make up the social factors in my neighborhood? Is it possible that growing up black is part of those collective shared experiences? Look, I do not argue that it’s impossible to make different choices than those many of my neighbors have; if you’ve been following this, you’ll see that I have actually made the opposite argument. But consider schema, as discussed at the Wikipedia web site:

“In psychology and cognitive science, a schema is a mental structure that represents some aspect of the world. People use schemas to organize current knowledge and provide a framework for future understanding. Examples of schemas include stereotypes, social roles, scripts, worldviews, and archetypes. In Piaget’s theory of development, children adopt a series of schemas to understand the world.” (See the entry).

In trying to make sense of why people in my neighborhood have made the choices they have and behave as they do, this factors heavily. In an attempt to understand why my neighbors behave differently than I have, I have started to see their skin color as one way to group them. This is the heart of the problem.

And, believe me, guys, I KNOW this isn’t how it should be. But please, please, don’t dismiss how I feel. My struggle is real, not something you can reason away. I look around my neighborhood and see a group of people I do not identify with, and as my mind struggles to figure out why many of my neighbors behave so differently, the conclusions I draw shock me. And I struggle not to let those conclusions translate to ALL black people.

The idea that I am not a racist simply because I struggle doesn’t change that my mind has drawn those conclusions.

At Saturday’s meeting Deggans’ quoted Walter Lippman and his sentiments that the role of a journalist was to keep a community in dialogue with itself. I agree. I thought that was the road we were all about to go down.

But when I continuously hear dismissals of how I feel or suggestions that I seek out a better class of black people (made to me at Saturday’s meeting), I think we’ve begun the wrong dialogue, one that doesn’t address the issue. There are a lot of black people in my neighborhood, and a lot of people impacted by their behavior. Suggesting that I or anyone else who faces similar struggles simply look beyond the boundaries of Bartlett Park and ignore what does go on there does nothing to help the situations within my neighborhood. I live HERE. This is what I see, not what happens in other neighborhoods. This is what is real to me.

I want us all to ask why.

Why are things the way they are?

I want us all to admit that these biases exist and that they are not OK, but they are felt. I want to stop pretending people don’t make judgments based on color. I want to stop pretending that the south side doesn’t have problems because of the large number of poor black people living there. I want to stop pretending that color doesn’t factor into social issues. I want to tear down the façade that the south side’s problems aren’t tied to race and bias. I want to hear people admit that color matters even if they believe it shouldn’t.

I want people to be honest. I want us all to stop being so damn afraid of getting sued or fired or judged that we can’t even admit how we feel. I want to hear people talk about the issues in the south side in honest, real terms. I want to hear “important” city officials talk about my neighborhood in real terms, not bureaucratic, bullshit jargon that dances around the issues without ever actually naming, much less addressing them. “Midtown revitalization”? Are you fucking kidding me? You know what that means? That means making a poor black neighborhood appealing to investors or up and coming white and black people who probably don’t identify with the black people living there at all.

But if you say I do not feel how I feel, or that it’s OK because I struggle with it, that’s just tacit permission to never discuss these things, keep them buried, and fool ourselves into thinking everything will improve.

It’s easy to tell me that I’m wrong. I know I shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations. But I feel what I feel.

I’m looking at a whole community here, and behaviors on my street reinforce those feelings. These people are just as black as any other black person, and how they behave- like it or not- makes life harder for black people who don’t behave in a similar manner. It isn’t fair, I know. But if you want to gauge white people by responses I’ve gotten, you can’t say it doesn’t happen. Not all whites, but enough.

I think I can fairly say these feelings 1) are fostered by behaviors like those exhibited in my neighborhood and 2) aren’t going to change if even the black people who don’t behave in that manner but, ultimately, are negatively affected by those behaviors say, essentially, it’s OK.

So if you don’t like the word racist, find another one. But please find one that doesn’t minimize the problem.

And if you want to have a dialogue about the problem, I will gladly respond and discuss it further. But let’s have the right dialogue.

I Am Not a Victim… But Enough is Enough

It seems that I have come under criticism for not getting more involved in my neighborhood’s crime watch activities. It also seems that the Creative Loafing posters feel like I’m whining and playing the victim.

To set the record straight….
-I report on several community groups that all meet at night. Most times I have to choose between making money and going to my neighborhood’s crime watch meeting. I’m a freelancer, guys, I get paid per article. Yes, I know I have chosen this life, but I don’t have sick time, I don’t have anyone else in my home helping with finances, so it’s just me and my laptop against the world (oh, and my Dalmatian, but she really has limited earning potential). I don’t get a salary, so I work when and where I can.
-You want to fault me for not getting involved, go ahead. I made my bed and all, writing what I did, but I would argue that, agree with me or not, my article and these posts have drawn focus to a largely ignored area of Pinellas County.
-I DO call the police, so much so that I feel like the cranky old lady with 97 cats and bright green fuzzy slippers that calls if someone looks suspicious. I have taken every blessed one of their suggestions, save for putting lights up in the alley (I just don’t have the resources).
-Complaining without action or attempt? I’m not a joiner, I’m not a leader, I’m not an activist. I am, however, a writer. So that’s what I do. Those of you who read my article and took it as complaining or whining, read it again, and consider this:

Those of you who disagreed with me are, response-wise (letters, e-mails, and calls to me, the paper, as well as these blogs) in the minority. That shocked me and disturbs me.

I didn’t write I Had a Dream expecting empathy. I expected and hoped that people would not relate but would understand that things aren’t as rosy on the south side as city officials would have you think. I realize that perhaps only a handful of people reading this anymore may have actually met me, so I guess I need to explain that three years ago I felt completely differently. I was more severely opinionated to the left about race than anyone who has responded to these writings.

This has not been an easy journey (relax, my anti-Cathy hate club, I am not whining) in that respect. Or any respect, really. That any living situation- regardless of your level of involvement in neighborhood watch groups or cleanups or whatever- can facilitate as dramatic a change as it has for me- is unacceptable. I’m not real pleased with myself, don’t misunderstand, but I have seen things I cannot unsee. I can’t pretend they didn’t happen. I’m not like city of St. Pete’s leadership (to be fair, just some of it, not all): I can’t act like things are fine here. They are not. Living here has changed me. Yes, I have allowed it, but I would argue that any one of you who spent two years on my street would emerge from the experience changed as well.

Here’s what I’ve seen:

Some people don’t want to be fixed.
Some people aren’t capable of changing their lives.
Opportunity means nothing when the above two statements are true.

And here’s what I want to know:

Those of you who remain adamant that I am not a racist- why is that so important to you? Is it because you feel like I do and don’t want to admit that you might be a little bit racist, too? Or is it because you want to believe that all people are, as Anne Frank said, basically good at heart? I assure, they are not, and I am no different. I am not a bad person, but I have flaws. Many. (My ex husband can send you a notarized list, in either alphabetical or temporal order of discovery.)

One final thought, and then let’s move on, please…

I am not a victim.
But you know what? If I’m not, then neither are my neighbors. We are all responsible for ourselves. At some point we must stop blaming our parents, our schools, our genetics, what the fuck ever, and realize we’re responsible for our future and our situations. Either we’re all victims or none of us are, and either way the result doesn’t change.

I Had a Dream.

I posted this a few months ago but have revised it at length and my very courageous editor has run it on the front page of this week’s Gabber.

A note about this: I believe this is the only thing I have ever written that has driven people who do not like me to say I have courage. Hell, no one has ever said I was brave before, like me or not. I like to believe that I’m not driven by other people’s opinion of me, but for some secret squirrel reason, that gave me pleasure to hear.

Here ’tis:

I Had A Dream
A Tale Of One City

By Cathy Salustri

I’m a white woman living in a black neighborhood, and I’m turning into a racist because of it.
I don’t say this proudly; quite the opposite: I am ashamed. But that doesn’t change what I have become.
Growing up, I didn’t -as I don’t think many children do- notice skin color, save for the little blonde girl in my first grade class. I spent the first seven years of my life in an Italian neighborhood, and when Karen showed up in school, I asked my mom why Karen’s skin was so pale- was she sick? Beyond that, I didn’t really understand the idea of “a colored person”. I guess, after meeting Karen, I thought “colored” must mean Italian.
When we moved to Florida, though, my new southern peers explained it to me in terms that sent me sobbing to my mother, asking her if my dad’s best friend knew he was black. Despite those ignorant euphemisms, I learned- or thought I learned- that what mattered was what a person looked like inside, not out.
Four years ago I moved to Gulfport, a city that prides itself on its diversity. Of course, in Gulfport “diversity” refers more to sexual orientation than skin color. As a Gulfportian, I occasionally felt like a straight minority, but it didn’t change how I felt about gay people.
Then, almost two years ago, I bought a house in Bartlett Park, a predominantly black neighborhood in what we used to call the “south side” but now refer to as “Midtown”. Here I have been forced to acknowledge the racist within me. Please understand: I am not proud of this; I’m simply not willing to pretend.
I am a racist. Unlike Gulfport and gay people, living in Bartlett Park has made me feel differently about black people.
While I walk my dog, the comments I get- mostly come-ons, although I assure you I’m not all that- make me uncomfortable. I get intimidated at how physically close these men get to me, so much so that if I did not have a dog I wouldn’t walk through my neighborhood. I don’t fear unwanted advances but I do believe one of two things: either these people are trying to figure out how long I’ll be away from home or are gauging my reaction to see how easily intimidated I am. My saving grace? A cantankerous, overprotective Dalmatian. These men often ask if she bites, the only comment they make that gets more than a nod in return. Hell, yes, she bites.
When someone broke into my shed last year and, while inspecting the damage, my friend had his scooter stolen from my front yard, the words that went through my brain shocked me, but they would not go away.
When the loud bass thrums through my house, rattling my windows and making my head throb, only a very strong sense of self-preservation keeps me from throwing a rock through the car’s window and shouting things that would most certainly get me arrested for hate crimes -if I lasted that long.
Every time I have to call St. Pete’s finest because some crack head has stolen something out of my yard or broken into my fenced backyard, I can understand why people don’t want to come to the south side.
Living in my neighborhood, I understand why people don’t want to hire black people, why they say the horrible things they do about them. I understand how people learn to stop juging people by their individual traits. It’s not always ignorance; sometimes it’s simply taking the offensive.
That’s the sad part: I would love to call most of the people in my neighborhood good people and argue the ‘few bad apples” theory. The reality? only four homes on my street (myself included) have anyone living there who holds a job. The rest get money from… well, I don’t know where. Maybe they all inherited it. People walk by smoking pot… at any time of day. Houses have people- young people, not retirees- sitting outside all day and night. Parties start early every day, music thumping, crowds gathering, all hours before twilight. Strangers visit several homes on my street for just a few minutes at a time, then disappear down alleys again. I see no signs that most of my neighbors want things to change.
I hate what I see and how I feel. I like the few neighbors I know. They bring me food on Thanksgiving, check on me when I enter a hermit phase and don’t show my face for a while, and smile at me on the street. So when these racial slurs ricochet through my head and two minutes later one of my neighbors brings me a plate of crawfish dressing, I feel no better than Michael Richards. I have had every advantage, my skin color among the largest. I’m not a stupid girl; I know that does NOT give me the right to use these words; in fact, I should, because of those advantages, know better. Even in a neighborhood that receives substandard city services, I have advantages because of my skin color.
And make no mistake about it: we do receive substandard services. We don’t get our mail picked up every day, our alley trash cans (city issued) barely cling to life, and trash collection seems based on the Chinese calendar. Potholes and litter line the alleyways.
A code enforcement officer in my neighborhood told me he was happy to see a white person in the neighborhood. A St. Pete policeman responded to one of my calls- a break in to my fenced yard- and told me to move, because the police didn’t have enough officers to do what needed to be done in Bartlett Park.
I cannot believe these two city representatives would have said the same thing to any of my black neighbors. Every police officer (and there have been many) who has come out here has asked why I moved here, their tone suggesting I need my head examined.
I have had a plethora of petty thefts and few big ones, although no one has attempted to enter my house… yet. Lawn mowers, old sandals, wasp killer, weed eaters, lawn furniture, ladders, and a host of other items disappearing have all definitely clouded the way I think. My fence lock getting smashed off with a cinder block hasn’t helped, either.
Last month a 19 year old black man, Maurice Fleming, got arrested while riding my stolen scooter. The locked scooter disappeared from my front yard; two days later the police caught him riding it a few blocks from my house. He had Ecstasy on him. He also was on probation for possession of cocaine and weed. My first thought? Well, my first thought was unprintable. My second thought was not much better: “Well, statistically, he’ll be dead soon.” Not quite the tolerance my mom and dad tried to teach me.
Tuesday morning I sat in court and watched him tell a judge he had a prescription and simply mistook the Ecstasy for his prescription. I then watched the judge sentence him to “time served”. The charges of grand theft? Dropped. Incidentally, Mr. Fleming totalled my scooter. Excuse me, allegedly totalled it. I watched Fleming make eye contact with someone he knew watching the sentencing. He smiled at them. And something in me broke, because at that minute I realized I wasn’t just thinking awful things about him, but every black person in that courtroom.
I moved here because I believed skin color didn’t matter, that underneath the epidermis we were all the same. I moved here because I could afford my home without putting on heels and a skirt and working 40 hours a week at a place where I got memos about group lunches and had to participate in trust falls and team building exercises.
I don’t want to move, I really don’t. I love my 1925 house, its refinished wood floors, fireplace, and huge yard. I love living close to Gulfport and downtown St. Pete. I love that I can pay my mortgage with the money I make writing.
But I hate what it’s doing to my view of the world. I hate that with every burglary (10 times in 18 months), words I once found abhorrent stop just short of my lips. I hate that I know my neighborhood’s problems result from crack and too many absentee landlords, yet I still find myself looking at every black face I see, wondering: Will you be the next person to steal from me? I hate that I am losing the ability to see anything other than black and white. I hate that I want another white person to buy a house on my street because that would be a “sign” that the neighborhood might turn around. I hate that two years in one neighborhood has erased an entire canon of black literature and history and replaced it with racism.
Above all else I hate that my friends who have darker skin than I will read this and see what I have become. I wish that not saying these things would make them go away, but it doesn’t. So what can I possibly say to them to erase what I feel, to convey how it hurts me to feel these things? How can they ever trust that I don’t care what their skin looks like?
What about the next black person I meet past the perimeter of Bartlett Park? Will I see them as a person, or have I lost the ability to see past the pigment in their skin? Will I judge them before I know them, and, as such, never know them at all?
That makes me a racist if that is true, and that, more than any prescient fear for my possessions, disturbs me more than anything else.
My friends assure me that a racist would never move to this neighborhood.
And I agree: a racist didn’t.

I am NOT a Republican.

Really, I’m not. But sometimes… well, sometimes… sigh.

I write for the Gabber, a Gulfport-based indie weekly, among other publications. Gulfport, a teeny-tiny town on the tip of Pinellas County, passed a human rights ordinance last year, making them the first municpality in the county to do so. It protects, among other things, gays, lesbians, transsexual, and transgendered persons from discrimination. It is a liberal, welcoming community, by most people’s standards. It is, I like to think, the only place on the west coast of Florida where all the gay people are out of the closet and the fundamental Christians are in. So I get exposed to things that people in, say, Safety Harbor probably do not.

This weekend, Steve Stanton, city manager for Largo (also in Pinellas County), lost his job because he revealed to the media that he would soon “undergo gender reassignment surgery” (that from the TImes). And people in Gulfport have taken up arms. Not all, but many.

People showed up in pink shirts. They protested. They called Largo unfair, bigoted, whatever.

Maybe. But…

But any time the Daily Show shows up with a crew, you know you’re about to see a mockery in the making. Usually rightly so. I just wonder which way they’re going to go.

Cause here’s the thing. Penis, vagina, breasts, man-nipples, I really, really, REALLY don’t care. But…

But this guy told his coworkers and the papers before he told his 13 year old son.

I’m not judging him for wanting to be a woman. I think he’s probably a screwed up guy, but so are MOST career public administrators. What I’m juging him for is simply this:

I put myself in his son’s place. Going to school with all of 12 hours knowledge that your dad’s gonna be a chick soon and, hey, guess what, life as you know it has just been totally, irrevocably, painfully altered. Life isn’t fair, I believe that, but at 13, your parents should still be on your side. (Pissing them off doesn’t come until your 30s, I’ve found).

As one Gulfport bureaucrat told me (off the record, of course…), Stanton gave up his right to change his gender when he had a kid. And I agree. ESPECIALLY when you’re a public figure.

Stanton should lose his job because his priorities are so fucked up? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s hard for me, picturing his kid at school. And the kid knows now that both his parents knew and didn’t tell him until they absolutely had to.

But, yeah, let him continue to run the city. Sure, why not, since he’s exercised such good judgment up until now.

The Whirlwind

Yeah, I know… no posts for a while and then I post this crappy one.

It’s election night and I don’t tend to follow these things except out of a sort of third party objectivity. You know… “no man who is capable of getting himself elected… should by any means be allowed to do the job.” That sort of thing.

I DO have one question, and any answer at all will be accepted if not believed…

Why, if we have such a steadfast separation of church and state, are most of our polling places at churches?

The Gabber in the St. Pete Times

I love the maniacal crosspaths of life. Here’s one…

A few weeks ago, I went down to the tent city in St. Pete to interview its residents. The media wasn’t allowed in, but because the photographer, Coe Arthur Younger, has covered the plight of the homeless fairly extensively for several months, Coe and I were allowed in to talk to the residents. As we did, I noticed a St. Pete TImes photographer taking pictures from outside the tent city.

That was Friday.

On Sunday, my parents came to visit and my mom brought me a few pieces from the past few weeks’ coverage of Tent City in the Times. She said she thought I would like to read them.

Yesterday (I’m a horrible procrastinator and an even worse housekeeper. I like to tell myself it’s a sign of the creative mind) I went through the papers. I read a few articles and then came to the January 6 edition of the Times. On the front page of the Local and State section there was an article about Tent City. I looked at the picture and started to read, then stopped, looked at again, and noticed something odd.

In the dead center of the photo- which, in all objectivity, was not a well-composed shot- I sat, in my green Gabber shirt, chatting up one of the guys who lived in Tent City.

How funny. The Gabber reporter in the Times.

Even funnier? I just look like one homeless person talking to another.

Funnier yet? My mother- the woman who birthed me, raised me, taught me right from wrong, wiped my butt (although not for some time now)… she looked at the photo, read the article, and never noticed me. Her daughter. Spawn of her loins. Just another homeless person.

Just another example of how we see and don’t see.

The Future Skink

Seriously, the guy has balls.

http://www.sptimes.com/2007/01/16/State/Crist_proposes_barrin.shtml

I mean, ever since I bought my first home almost 12 years ago, I’ve said that insurance companies should have to provide all or nothing insurance products (meaning if you don’t insurance homes in Florida you can’t insure ANYTHING in Florida), but I don’t have them lobbying me.

Of course, it probably helps that Crist has paid insurance premiums on his downtown waterfront condo for years and he’s probably sick of it, too.

As Trudeau said of Clinton many years ago… he’s going to break our hearts, isn’t he?

I am a heartless bitch.

I just thought I should say that to save you all the trouble, because I suspect if you keep reading those of you who don’t already feel that way may start.

I’ve spent the past few weeks of my life immersed in homelessness. It all started when I capitulated to an editor’s request to pose a homeless person and write about my experiences panhandling. I did, and the article is (with permission) included in a prior post.

Then another publisher, one I hadn’t worked for before, asked me to write a piece for his magazine. And the first editor asked me to hop on down to tent city and write about that. Yes to both.

So I spent about an hour and half talking to the tent city residents. They were, you know, people. Not like me, not in many senses, but people. I want to be clear on this: I did not identify with them, not like I expected. There was no “hooker with a heart of gold” story. These were people dealt a series of bad breaks who, for whatever reason, couldn’t deal with it. It was heart rending to talk to these people, and I left… depressed. Sad.

So some of you are nodding your heads, thinking depressed and sad sounds just about right. But here’s the key to why I felt that way: because there is no answer. We don’t have a solution to this problem, nothing is going to make it go away. Help is and for a very long time has been available to those who seek it. I’ve written about those success stories, too, long ago. People can pull themselves up. But many of the people I talked to cannot. Or will not. I do not know which. And that, to me, is sad. A waste of a human life, because the way these people live is no way to exist. I saw no joy in their faces, no happiness at simply being alive. Of course, I don’t see any evidence of these things in lots of people who have very nice homes, but I’m getting off-topic here.

I write my followup for ˆThe Gabberˆand start working on the other piece, all the while following this story in the ˆTimesˆ. But the more I read, the more I get upset. At the homeless people, at their mentality, at St. Vincent de Paul, but not -NOT- at the city of St. Petersburg.

Any other reporter would have gone into tent city and walked away with empathy. I went the other way. I didn’t feel sorry for these people; I instead have grown angry at their sense of entitlement. The daily paper of record said that social service agency offered rent vouchers of $550, but tent city residents complained that $550 won’t even get two weeks in a hotel.

That’s when I started to get angry. No, it won’t, but it WOULD pay my mortgage for a month. Granted, I don’t live in the best neighborhood, but I still prefer it to William’s Park or a tent on a vacant lot. A letter from tent city residents, published in (where else?) the daily paper of record, says that roughly 60% of the people in tent city work full time.

So let’s assume you make $5.50 an hour after taxes and you work 40 hours a week. That’s $220 a week, take home. Let’s assume you can go to a soup kitchen or get food stamps and can feed yourself. Let’s do the math of a budget: $65 for water (no way one person uses more than that in St. Pete, my bill isn’t even that much), $150 for power (again, an estimate), and $600 for rent (that’s reasonable, trust me). Let’s assume you don’t get anything at all in the way of a rent voucher and you have to pay that all by yourself. $815 a month in expenses against your $880 in income. No, that doesn’t include gas or a car, but for minimum wage you don’t travel far. You can get a crappy job anywhere. You take cold showers, you don’t use power you don’t need, you go to a food pantry, you make it work. If you’re that poor, you can get help. Especially for power and water. But let’s not forget that a lot of places take Section 8, government assistance for housing. Yes, it sucks. The places are often crap. But- and I’m only going to say this once- YOU ARE HOMELESS. SOMEONE IS OFFERING YOU A HOME. Jesus, I want to know when someone’s going to offer ME $550 towards living expenses. YOU HAVE TO WANT TO SURVIVE ENOUGH TO DO IT, AND YOU CANNOT BLAME OTHERS IF YOU CANNOT.

And if it still ain’t enough? Well, get a second job. Or a third. That’s how it’s done, folks. I, like most people I know, am three checks away from homelessness. But I don’t want to be homeless, so I am not. It really is that simple. People do not do what they don’t want to do. I know it isn’t easy, but it can be done. I have talked to homeless people and people who have been homeless, and the two attitudes are separated by this: the ones who aren’t homeless anymore ˆdidn’t want to be homeless anymoreˆ.

It’s not that I don’t sympathize, but… come on, bitching about rent vouchers? Complaining that St. Vinny’s won’t try to change the law so you can stay somewhere you don’t own or rent? Suggesting the Mayor Rick Baker lacks morals because he won’t overrule City law?

St. Vincent de Paul should have looked at the law before they set up a tent city.

Help isn’t always in the form you expect it and the successful human learns to take it however it’s offered when they need it.

Mayor Baker responded to the criticism with this wildly valid point:

“I do not support the concept of ‘drop-in shelters’ that provide no structured programs geared toward independence and continue for an indefinite period of time. These facilities become attracters of people from other places because of the free shelter – a no-responsibility opportunity. In the two weeks after the illegal tent city opened downtown, our overall downtown homeless count saw a 30 percent increase, and the prospects for it growing were significant. This week, city and county officials, along with social workers, are meeting with the remaining individuals at the tent city to identify alternative arrangements for those who are willing to work toward independence.”

That much is true; the city sent people down and St. Vinny’s tried to help, too. But people have to be willing to change. The whole tent city thing sounded way too permanent for me, and I applaud any effort that encourages people to better their own situation. But survivors- true survivors- will find those agencies on their own, they will not wait for help to come looking.

The Man Who Will Be President

When I waited tables at the now-defunct Bellagio in downtown St. Petersburg, I liked Charlie Crist. He seemed decent enough, never overtipped or undertipped, and truly seemed to enjoy spending time with the very fit woman by his side while they ate appetizers and had a glass (one, always one) of chardonnay on the porch. Of course, I know he, like any politician, campaigned every moment he spent awake, so I’m not trying to paint him as a regular guy who happened to wonder what I thought of local issues. But he was nice. A politician, but as far as that class of people goes, nice. Intelligent, despite what some media outlets may indicate when they suggest he doesn’t understand the finer points of certain policies. It did not at all hurt that the man apparently spent a lot of time grooming, which I, of couse, do not but will not fault him for. He was easy to look at, that’s all I’m saying. Nice, intelligent, good abs… isn’t that what every political party wants as a front man? Wasn’t that the rationale for adding Dan Quayle to the presidential ticket at the start of the Bush dynasty? OK, so they missed the “intelligent” part with Quayle, but maybe the ‘pubs have gotten the idea by now.

Anyway, before I give anyone the idea I would vote for or against a president based on his six pack (although, really, would that be any less intelligent than some of our previous choices and rationales as voters?), let me explain why Crist has, so early on in his reign, won my favor. It is, of course, way too early to consider 2012. Let’s get through 2008, please. PLEASE. I’m just saying… I can see it: President Crist.

I freely admit this could, just maybe, possibly be getting a step ahead of myself. But still… he’s taken a stand. Against bullshit government.

In a word, MAA. Man Against Acronyms. How about another? EOFLONJC (Elected Official Favoring Language Of Non-Jargony Context).

Does Crist jump into office vowing to restore the Everglades? Does he get his feet wet by vowing to create an economy not dependant on tourism? Does he reassure his constituents by tackling property taxes or insurance issues? No, he does not. Many could fault him for that; I do not. PT Barnum would do all those things, make a great show of promising miracles. Other politicians who subscribe to the Ringling Brothers School of Public Service would also jump on any or all of those bandwagons.

They would fail. Perhaps not completely, but they would fail. I mean, really, tackling a multi-billion dollar statewide financial crisis in the making before you’ve even got your socks put away in the governor’s mansion? Greedy representatives have, jointly, spent years beating down the common landholder in Florida; it’s going to take just as many years to fix the damage. So to make that broad assertion to reassure the public would be something akin to smoke and mirrors. No, Crist has tackled something much better:
Whereas.

He’s right, and what he doesn’t say outright is this: bureaucrats, so insecure about their own level of competence and intelligence (they’re not all incompetent idiots, I know at least three very fine public servants), use the industry jargon as a shield, a way to wield power over and intimidate the very people they are supposed to serve. Government jargon is a layer of insulation against the public finding out who really mucked something up.

I spent five years translating engineering speak and bureaucratic language into documents an 8th grader could understand (and a Florida 8th grader at that!), and in that time I found not one concept improved by jargon. I now regularly wade through public records to get details for articles, and every week I have to translate the Gulfport City Manager’s report into information people want to read. As far as agencies go, Gulfport isn’t too bad, but vestiges of employees who have spent years serving other cities remain in the Manager’s reports.

Here’s the key to plain language, Governor: eliminate passive voice and make your state take accountability for things.
Example:
“The new rule requires that a time limit be put on negotiations.” (From the December 30 Gulfport City Manager’s Report)
Who requires it? You have to slog even further through to find out, by which point your eyes have glazed over and you have spittle collecting and crusting around the corner of your mouth.
So just say:
“The FCC says the negiotiations can’t take longer than x days.”
or,
“The FCC will start limiting the amount of time cities and cable companies can negotiate.”

See, once people KNOW who the players are, they know who to blame. Which, I believe, lies at the heart of many government documents: no one wants to make anyone accountable. Eliminate the jargon and you can let people know where to find the villains.

“Make government accessible to people.” How many times have we heard THAT phrase? Clinton reshaped the IRS, made it “a kinder, gentler” agency. Then we elected the black hole who now serves as president, and, well, seems like everything about making government about the people it governs went straight to hell (no offense, Boy King).

But Crist has started constructing an inroad to understanding what the hell our government does. And here’s a little secret: once people find out, they may find they can negotiate property insurance and the like with less help from the government. They may stop cursing Citizen’s for the high rate when they can see the government docs that stipulate Citizens MUST charge higher rates than private insurers. Then they can get mad at their representative instead of his insurance-peddling minions.

There’s a wealth of information available behind the cloak of PolitiSpeak. Crist says, indirectly, he wants people to be able to access it.

Wild ideas, Mr. Governor. Tread lightly, or you just might get a reputation as a man for the people.

Ah, yes… President Crist.

Of course, I still want to see what he does about the Everglades. But barring him giving Big Sugar even MORE tax breaks and selling the cypress for timber, I don’t think he can muck it up. And if he does, thanks to his affinity for easily understood government documents, we’ll know.

I wonder if he knows who Skink is?