This Hope Thing

Sorry for the prolonged silence. The jerk who schedules my jobs booked me for two “crashes” — that’s publishing lingo for super-rushes — both of which had to be done yesterday. The hardcopy proofread made it to the UPS Store hours ahead of the 3 p.m. deadline, but when she got home, the scatterbrain who took it there it realized that she’d enclosed her style sheets and purchase order with the proofs and so had to make another round-trip to Vineyard Haven in order to retrieve them.

I did take time out from my dueling crashes to go to Elizabeth Warren’s talk/fundraiser last Sunday, but I haven’t dared take time out to write about it because writing expands to take up all the time available to it and I didn’t have any time, not if I was going to meet these deadlines.

Jeremy Berlin

It being the first of July, as I headed toward Edgartown on the West Tisbury Road I was trying to remember whatever I’d ever known about parking in Edgartown. This is not much because I don’t go to Edgartown often, especially not in summer. Edgartown is a motor-vehicular time sink. School Street was my first, second, and third thought, from the not-so-bygone days when my dentist practiced at the out-of-town end of it. Bingo. Malvina Forester rolled to a halt a scant two blocks from where I was going.

While the “host committee” — those who contributed $250 and up — got to meet and greet the candidate at a reception downstairs, pianist Jeremy Berlin entertained the crowd gathering in the Old Whaling Church.

Attendees buy tickets and/or pick up their name tags out in front of the Old Whaling Church.

I wandered around saying hi to people I knew, avoiding people I didn’t want to make eye contact with, and watching people come in. My unscientific entrance poll noted a healthy percentage of year-rounders, significantly more women than men, and very few people under 40.

The last electoral-political event I attended was, I think, a fundraising reception for Gerry Studds at the Field Gallery. Betty Ann Bryant presided (of course), and I presented the congressman with an ILGA tank top, which he accepted with great good humor. ILGA, the Island Lesbian & Gay Association, flourished in the early and mid 1990s, and Betty Ann died in November 1994, so that was probably 1992.

The candidate makes her entrance.

So why did I decide to go to this thing, and why was I so wary? “Won’t get fooled again” runs through my head a lot, along with the suspicion that in this age of high-stakes campaigning it’s very hard not to get hornswoggled by charisma and a well-crafted script. Nevertheless, I like to see and hear people in person, unedited by either the media or their own staff. And I’m also a believer in story — the stories people tell about themselves and where they came from.

I don’t believe every word of any story, including my own, but most stories convey what the teller thinks is important.

I like Elizabeth Warren’s story a lot. She grew up in Oklahoma. Her father sold fencing and carpeting, until he was sidelined by a heart attack when she was 12. When he returned to work, it was as a maintenance man, for less pay. Her mother went to work at Sears to help pay the mortgage.

Elizabeth Warren has three older brothers. One is career military, one works construction, and the third — well, I had the impression that he’d tried various ventures over the years and maybe not been 100% successful at any of them. Elizabeth herself married at 19. She taught elementary school. When her first child was two years old, she started law school.

Hers is an amazing story, but it’s also a recognizable one. A woman with that story has to know in her gut how working people live and the pressures we’re under — and everything about her public career says, Yes, she knows. She’s on our side because she’s one of us, not because she sees some political advantage in it.

And she doesn’t believe that she got to where she is now entirely on her own. “I’m grateful for every opportunity I’ve been given,” she said, and then she said that she was scared that the opportunities she was given are “embedded in time” — history, in other words.

She evoked the Depression, a time when many believed that democracy wouldn’t survive in the U.S., and the determination over the next 50 years to invest in education, research, infrastructure, “creating the conditions needed for businesses to flourish.” No, it wasn’t utopia: we had anti-communist hysteria, and war, and people of color, women, lesbian and gay people, and others were second-,  third-, and fourth-class citizens. But we were headed in the right direction.

Some figures that I scribbled in my notebook: China currently spends 9% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on infrastructure. Europe spends 5%. And the U.S., allegedly the richest country in the world, spends 2.5%.

Another figure: A frugal college student today, one who goes to a state university, lives at home, buys used textbooks, etc., etc., will spend 350% more for her education than her parents did 30 years ago.

And another: After the campaign for the presidency, the campaign for the U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts is the most expensive one being waged in the country. Big Money thinks this is one they can’t afford to lose.

But you know what? The thing she said that I really can’t get out of my head is this: “Being here is an act of optimism.”

Because I’ve been thinking the same thing about my little race for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, on which maybe I’ll spend a couple hundred bucks. Running for office, any office, is an act of optimism. It says, Things can change for the better, and I can help make it happen.

From some angles the situation really does look hopeless — but if we’re managing to get out of bed in the morning and put one foot in front of the other, then we aren’t really without hope.

When I walked out of the Old Whaling Church into the bright sunlight of a Sunday afternoon, my sides were hurting. It’s not all that comfortable, this hope thing.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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3 Responses to This Hope Thing

  1. jo says:

    you have my respect and admiration for making the decision to run for public office. i have a low tolerance for aggravation and stupidity—i’d never make it. may your optimism survive the experience, tempered as always by your healthy skepticism.


  2. Ahhh Susanna…you have given me a dose of hope this morning. The reason that Edgartown is a sink hole for automobiles is that Islanders like you try to park there instead of using the lot at the triangle and taking the FREE bus into town. It would drop you right in front of the Whaling Church.


    • You think? Parking at the Triangle means coming in on the Vineyard Haven Road, which IMO is insane. That bottleneck is the big problem, that and people who drive down Main Street. (This is also a problem in Vineyard Haven: finding parking on Franklin or one of the cross streets is rarely a problem, but Main Street and the Stop & Pee parking lot are usually a mess.) School Street was one long parking lot starting a half block off Main. I’m still patting myself on the back. 🙂


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