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Apathy and Political Ploys

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A Chihuly installation that has nothing to do with this story

I was minding my own business in the courtyard on the corner of Monroe and Wells, trying to enjoy my Mexicali salad and a little sunshine, when I was interrupted. Not by the usual culprits like a colleague, a pigeon, or some guy selling Streetwise. I was interrupted by a voice inside my own head. It happened to be speaking in a booming baritone and didn’t give two shits about serenity or spring greens.

Devastate. Decimate. Desecrate. Destroy [pause] our system. 

Devastate. Decimate. Desecrate. Destroy [pause] our system. 

I’ll have you know, this is atypical. My subconscious might be quirky, but it doesn’t usually get incensed (in a Malcolm X-ish kinda way) and begin to alliterate.

So I put down my fork, took out my BlackBerry and emailed my friend Irving. Devastate. Decimate. Desecrate. Destroy [pause] our system.

What about defecate, he wrote back in a nanosecond.

That’s the good thing about friends. They don’t always need you to put things in context. When something sneaks up on you (and your cherry tomatoes) and bursts your bubble of indifference, they care, too.

Irving knows me well enough to know I don’t always care. My older brother is the one who inherited the activist gene. He’s the one who got arrested in college for protesting apartheid, who accumulates stacks upon stacks of precariously balanced newspapers, and updates his Facebook status every 12 minutes with abbreviated newsflashes that, to me, might as well be written in Swahili.

I’m generally the one who has no counter-argument to the statement, Ignorance is bliss. Ignorance, avoidance, denial – all bliss.

With me, mom skipped the page where Snow White got poisoned, muted the sound when the Wicked Witch melted, pressed fast forward when Bambi died. I haven’t opened my Smith Barney statements since November. I haven’t watched TV since Ruben Studdard won Amercian Idol. I get my news – good or bad -- by reading the headlines over the shoulders of my seatmates on Metra.

The thing is, when something touches your own life, it has a way of grabbing your attention. And the headline that’s grabbing my attention right now is, Poor, disabled, and elderly to pay the price for deadlock in Springfield.

Go on. Read it. I’ll wait.

Truth be told, I work for the largest social welfare organization in the state of Illinois. One could argue I am paid to care if our state is operating without an approved budget two weeks into the new fiscal year. One could argue I’m paid to care if our legislators are batting around budgets that will, in fact, devastate (decimate, destroy) major parts of our social service system.

But on my own time, in that courtyard on the corner of Wells and Monroe, I care for other reasons. Namely, because of what these agencies have done for my family.

They taught my husband English. They helped him become a U.S. citizen. They took care of our babies so we both could work – diapered them, burped them, taught them to swim. And during recent tough times, they were the buoy that kept us afloat.

I cared when that English program closed last week due to lack of funding. And I cared when that counseling program had to cut its staff and then cut it again, despite having waiting lists that last for months.

And that’s just us. One little Skokie family with a home, an income, and each other.

What about the thousands of other families – poor, disabled, elderly, or not – losing the services that have kept them afloat?

Can’t skip the page, mute the sound, or press fast forward this time.

According to my brother, my colleagues, and my seatmates on Metra, there are things I can do. Educate a friend. Hug a social worker. Write a story for Oy! Make a donation. Write letters to our legislators. Edit out the part that says, What the fuck planet are you living on? Pray they come to their senses.

But on this particular day, sitting in my courtyard on the corner of Wells and Monroe, apathy turns into apoplexy and the baritone booms on.

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