Had a lovely campaign launch this evening. We started with VT cheese plates and maple trout platters, then had enchilladas filled with braised native chicken tinga, charro beans and cheese, baked with red chili sauce. There was wine, beer and an intimate group of supporters. One of the most gratifying things about running for office is the opportunity to meet, and learn from, a wide variety of people. However, the best thing about running is being witness to the immense generosity of your neighbors. People take time to talk, donate money, offer support, and genuinely care about your efforts to represent them. Thanks again, to everyone that came to the campaign launch. Pics will follow soon.
[The broad strokes of my remarks - I flipped the script many times.]
I know it isn’t exactly uplifting to note as part of a campaign launch, but we are about five days away from the 50th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination. A few months prior, on March 18th of that year, RFK gave his first two presidential campaign speeches. Accounts of his delivery note that his leg was shaking and that he stammered from nervousness throughout. So that gives me some comfort in delivering these remarks. In the latter part of his second speech, Kennedy spoke of the inadequacy of the Gross National Product for measuring the health of a society. I hope you forgive me for quoting him at length:
“Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all.
...the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
To that list enumerated by RFK, I would add that GNP also doesn’t measure the health and beauty of the Vermont landscape, the cohesion of our small towns, the connection and support of small schools, the dignity of farmers working the land, and the trust in our public institutions. I’m in the difficult position of running for office to defend the invisible, but real; to protect the immeasurable, but vital; and to advocate for the ephemeral, yet profound.
The hard-hearted and the hard data metrics crowd surely wince at this touchy-feely stuff, but I’m used to it - remember I basically have an undergrad degree in philosophy and two graduate degrees in art. Defending useless and vague notions is my thing. I ask that each of you also refuse to be cornered by bottom line thinking and join me in defending the “beautiful and pointless” (how the critic David Orr describes poetry).
As I’ve said already, I am the director of a small library in a small Vermont town. From the perspective represented by those that champion metrics like GNP, my library and many like it in Vermont, probably shouldn’t exist. There are surely more “efficient” ways of distributing the physical materials and the services that they provide. And yet, every year libraries get funded - sometimes contentiously, sometimes not. Communities recognize that there is more to libraries than circulation statistics and patron visit logs. They serve the common good.
On my campaign information card, I have the phrase, “In search of the common good” which is also a title from a book that surveys international utopian movements. I picked it because I think it reflects the “poverty of satisfaction” that Kennedy describes. The key, is that it is a search for the common good, not an achievement of the common good. Life is too messy for that, with too many differing notions, too many utopian weirdos.
Let me be clear, I am not the mystic hippy I may sound like. I know there are people in our state that *wish* they had only “satisfaction” to worry about. I know people are struggling. I have seen first hand as a school chef in Pomfret how childhood hunger affects achievement. I have seen the quiet networks of support that enable kids to bring food home, or to shower in the school because they have no running water. And I’ve seen teachers spend unpaid time seeking services for families in need.
I had none of these struggles growing up. I came from a solidly middle class family, the son of a high school math teacher (my mom, who went to college) and a firefighter (my dad, who did not go to college). They never talked about working hard, or public service, but they set an example that apparently stuck with me. They sacrificed a lot for our family and for others - my dad risked his life pulling people from burning houses and has scarred lungs from all the smoke he endured. And my mom, like so many teachers, went to work early and came home late in order to help students that were having trouble. As a white guy from a secure home, I’ve had plenty of advantages. Honestly, thanks to attending public school across from a housing project, I saw that other kids weren’t sure where their parents would be when they got home, let alone whether they would have help with their homework or have dinner that night. I was aware at an early age how much easier life was for me. Despite this, I still managed to waste many opportunities, opportunities that others would dream of having.
I’m facing another opportunity now, one I can use to create possibilities for others. I hope to be elected to the legislature to make life better in all the ways I mentioned that can’t be measured, but also in the ways that can. I would love your help - a lawn sign, a good word for me to your neighbor, a donation, a letter to the editor, solid advice (like not talking too much which I think I failed to take!), and of course, your vote. Please join me in search of the common good.