Voting Pep Talk

Long time ago, like in 2012, I blogged “Should We Be Required to Vote?” My answer was no. It’s still no.

At the end of that blog post I wrote “People fight hard and even die for the right to vote, but all too often once we’ve got it, voting doesn’t seem worth the effort. What’s going on?”

Me campaigning for Dylan and Julian, November 2016

Since early 2016 I’ve been more involved in electoral politics than ever before. That year I actively campaigned for Dylan Fernandes, who is now our state representative (and an excellent one he’s turned out to be), and Julian Cyr, who is now our state senator (ditto).

This, coupled with the disastrous results of the presidential election, prompted me to not only register as a Democrat — Massachusetts is an open-primary state, which means that if you’re unenrolled in any party you can take any party’s ballot in primary elections — but become involved in Democratic party politics. (My blog post about that has been gestating for several months. I will finish it soon, I promise.)

Travvy jumps for Dylan and Julian.

Just this year I’ve collected nomination signatures for several candidates, attended the state Democratic convention as a delegate, staffed a voter-registration table, and written something like 850 Postcards to Voters. There’s nothing like hands-on experience to teach you what you don’t know, so I’ve picked up a few insights and even answers to my 2012 question “What’s going on?” Why do so many USians not vote?

First, a couple of observations, gleaned from people across the country who are old hands at this stuff:

  • GOTV (Get Out the Vote) efforts are a major part of political campaigns. Getting voters (1) registered, and (2) to the polls absorbs serious time, energy, and ingenuity.
  • Republicans turn out for primaries and special elections. Democrats? Not so much.

The Public Services Building, where my town votes

What this says to me is that many of those who do vote aren’t in the habit of doing so.  For sure some people do show up for every election, but when primary turnouts are regularly under 30 percent of registered voters, it’s clear that many people don’t. This is true even in my town of West Tisbury and on Martha’s Vineyard in general, where polling places are accessible, lines are non-existent, and no one’s out there trying to intimidate voters.

Look at what Alabama voters, especially African-American voters, had to put up with in order to cast their ballots for Doug Jones in last December’s special election: long — hours-long — lines at the polls, polling places that were hard to reach by public transportation, the intimidating presence of police officers . . . The GOTV efforts of the Jones campaign and its allies were herculean — and they paid off.

“Your vote matters” sounds like hyperbole, doesn’t it? When you look at the votes cast in a congressional race, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, never mind the tens of millions of votes cast in a presidential election, it’s hard to imagine that one more or less could make a difference, BUT . . .

Doug Jones won his U.S. Senate seat by just under 22,000 votes, a rather small margin for a statewide race. Conor Lamb won his special election for Congress from Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District (known to us political wonks as “PA-18”) by 755 votes. That’s out of 227,449 total votes cast. In many of the state legislative races I’ve written postcards for, the margin of victory was been in the low hundreds. Thanks to the Electoral College, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election was decided by a few thousand votes in each of several swing states.

Still, it requires faith to believe that “your vote matters,” and matters enough to make you go out of your way to do it. When the evidence all around you suggests that voting doesn’t matter, it’s hard to keep the faith.

As I noted in my 2012 blog post, making voting compulsory is “a superficial fix for a much deeper challenge” — and the challenge is to make voting matter. One sensible reason for not voting is that our “electoral options often boil down to Doritos vs. Pringles, McDonalds vs. Burger King.” In the wake of the disastrous 2016 election, thousands of people across the country have stepped up to expand those options by running for office themselves. Many thousands more have stepped up to help get those candidates elected.

State Representative Dylan Fernandes speaks; State Senator Julian Cyr (left) listens.

Campaigning for Dylan and Julian in 2016 has made voting matter more to me, and not just because both of them won. Now I have a personal connection to both my state rep and my state senator that I didn’t have with any of their predecessors. They’re over here regularly, despite the challenges of representing a district that includes two islands (three, if you include Cuttyhunk, whose year-round population is about 20).

We’re lucky where I live: our elected representatives show up in person. U.S. senators and representatives don’t come round so often because their districts are so much larger, but they do come round. In other places people see their elected officials only at election time, if then. Small wonder that they believe voting doesn’t matter — in itself it often doesn’t.

Constituents have to hold their elected officials accountable, and turn them out if they prove unresponsive. And that means getting out the vote — persuading those who rarely if ever vote that they aren’t suckers if they act on faith and take time out to vote as if their vote matters, or might matter.

If you need more persuading, consider the efforts that the GOP has been putting into discouraging voters who aren’t likely to support them. They’re afraid of something. Maybe it’s us.

Postcard by Mary Hawkins of Mary Likes Postcards. Check her out on Etsy!

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Channeling Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

I just got back from participating in the annual reading of Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” speech at the Inkwell.  Abigail McGrath of Renaissance House organizes it; Makani Themba stage-manages. There were 30 readers this year, from first-timers to multi-year veterans, and if anything it was more powerful than ever. This was my portion:

I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

Please do bookmark the link and read the whole thing. Read parts of it aloud and feel the way the words flow through you, take you down into the depths and point you toward the heights visible in the distance. This part comes near the end:

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference.

Slavery did fall, but its root system never died and the shoots it’s been sending up are more  tenacious than ever. The principles for fighting it remain the same. We’re on it.

I’ve often wondered why Frederick Douglass gave his great Fourth of July speech on the Fifth of July. This morning the answer was delivered to Kore, my laptop, courtesy of The Atlantic: “When the Fourth of July Was a Black Holiday,” by Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts. Before the Civil War, they write, July 4th was like a national holy day, but it was celebrated almost entirely by whites: “Black Americans demonstrated considerably less enthusiasm. And those who did observe the holiday preferred—like Douglass—to do so on July 5 to better accentuate the difference between the high promises of the Fourth and the low realities of life for African Americans, while also avoiding confrontations with drunken white revelers.”

After the Civil War, however, Confederate sympathizers in the South were not into celebrating, but African Americans “embraced the Fourth like never before. From Washington, D.C., to Mobile, Alabama, they gathered together to watch fireworks and listen to orators recite the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery when it was ratified in late 1865.”

As Jim Crow took hold, the southern whites reclaimed their holiday and pushed the black people out of public spaces and into their homes, cultural institutions, and churches. Up went the statues of Confederate heroes. “Dixie” was sung on the Fourth, along with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts are the authors of the new book Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy, which the New York Times and quite a few others have called a must-read.

There was no group photo of the Inkwell reading this year, but here’s last year’s.

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June License Plate Report

Last year’s June was so spectacular — nine new sightings — that this year’s is a bit disappointing: only three. One of them was Utah, however, which I never did get last year, so that’s something. Tennessee and Delaware were the others.

Michigan, Wisconsin, Washington, and New Mexico have to be out there, and Louisiana and Idaho too. Clearly I’ve got to take more detours through the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital parking lot.

On the upside, at the very end of May I had cataract surgery on my left eye, my stronger eye, which had been getting more and more nearsighted and less and less able to tell some license plates apart on the fly, which is often how I spot them. Now I’m 20/20 in that eye without any correction, something that hasn’t been true since I was in grade school, if ever. (I started wearing glasses in fourth grade.) So we’ll see what I can see in July.

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Finding Light in the Darkness

From one of my very favorite blogs, some specifics about what “Think Globally, Act Locally” is all about.” We did ourselves proud at the Families Belong Together rally today. Quite a few of these things are already happening on our island. Let’s keep going!


lit white candle in darkness

If it feels like the dissolution of much of what we hold dear about the United States is accelerating, that’s because it is. This has been a particularly dire week: SCOTUS has decided that racial gerrymandering, lying to women about our reproductive choices and their consequences, undermining unions, and religious bigotry against Muslims are all A-OK, a series of 5-4 decisions that was apparently Justice Kennedy’s “fuck all y’all” swan song. Thousands of immigrant children are still separated from their parents, traumatized by the experience, and may never be re-united. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and so-called (for now) President Trump both blatantly violated the Hatch Act in using their official Twitter accounts to attempt to harm the business of a small Virginia restaurant that refused service to Aunt Lydia on the grounds that she’s an awful person (which, by the way, is NOT a protected class, and isn’t this what you…

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Families Belong Together

The Martha’s Vineyard Peace Council has called for a standout at Five Corners at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 30, to oppose the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their asylum-seeking parents at the southern border. All welcome — bring signs!

A national “Families Belong Together” march on Washington has been called for June 30 by and many other organizations to protest the inhumane treatment of immigrants, many of whom are fleeing terrible violence in their home countries. Hundreds of local rallies have been called in communities across the country. If you’re not on the Vineyard, you can find the ones nearest you on the website.

Immigration law is complex, and so is the history of enforcement. The continual and contradictory misinformation put out by the Trump administration makes it hard to grasp all the ways that what’s going on now is a radical departure from what previous administrations have done. If you Google fact check immigration policy Trump or similar keywords, you’ll find a wealth of reliable reporting and commentary, but I found this one, Salvador Rizzo’s “The Facts About Trump’s Policy of Separating Families at the Border,” from the Washington Post, particularly useful.

And did you know that if you’re on Martha’s Vineyard, you’re in the 100-mile “border zone,” within which the Border Patrol can stop anyone on the slightest suspicion and check their immigration status? How slight is “slight”? Well, a woman in Montana was stopped because she was speaking Spanish.

This border zone extends 100 miles not only from the Canadian and Mexican borders but from both the east and west coasts.

Here is the ACLU’s fact sheet on the subject.

And here is a “know your rights” chart when dealing with the Border Patrol. It was prepared by the Arizona chapter of the ACLU.

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Registering Voters

Yesterday — a perfect sunny, almost summery Saturday the likes of which we’ve seen few of in recent weeks — I spent six hours at the West Tisbury library sitting behind a “register to vote” table.

This was part of Cape & Islands Vote 2018, a nonpartisan voter-registration effort hatched by members of Lower Cape Indivisible and focused on local libraries. Some 25 libraries participated, including all six on Martha’s Vineyard. On the Cape this was a three-day event, Thursday through Saturday, June 14–16. We Vineyard organizers decided to focus our attention on Saturday, June 16. I was the point person for West Tisbury.

We didn’t register any new voters in my town, but we did give out plenty of information about how to register online, how to apply for an absentee ballot, and the date of the Massachusetts primary: September 4, the day after Labor Day. We also checked some voters’ registrations online to be sure they were accurate and current.

One woman alluded to the recent Supreme Court decision that upheld Ohio’s voter-purge law: If you don’t vote in two consecutive federal elections then fail to return a snail-mail postcard confirming that you still live in the same place, you can be purged from the rolls. Massachusetts is not likely to contemplate doing any such thing, but she’s right: wherever you live, checking to be sure your registration is active and correct is a good idea.

Plenty of library patrons, and the library staff as well, commended us for doing what we were doing. I didn’t feel especially virtuous — spending six hours in the bright, spacious lobby of the West Tisbury library on a sunny Saturday is no hardship — but I do believe that it’s good to make the issue visible in a face-to-face way. Besides, I learned plenty about the voting rules and regs in my state. F’rinstance . . .

  • 16- and 17-year-olds can pre-register to vote. Their town clerks will notify them and add them to the rolls when they turn 18.
  • Massachusetts voters can register or check their registration online on the secretary of state’s website.
  • Voters in any state that offers online registration (about two-thirds of them do) can

    QR code for

    register online via You can also sign up for an absentee ballot, and to receive notifications of upcoming elections. The ultra-complete registration kits each library point person received from the Cape & Islands Vote 2018 organizers included a supply of cards that on one side had 2018 election dates and registration deadlines and the secretary of state’s URL, and on the other a QR code that when scanned with a smartphone will take you straight to (Being smartphone-free and smartphone-illiterate, I learned that a QR-reading app is necessary to do this.)

  • Early voting for the general election starts on October 22. 

Hands-down the most challenging aspect of participating in Cape & Islands Vote 2018 was the nonpartisan part. Not wearing or displaying partisan paraphernalia was easy, despite my growing number of candidates’ buttons, stickers, and handouts and T-shirts directly inspired by the current administration. But the injunction was to not discuss politics at all, even when someone else initiated the conversation. This proved impossible, though we didn’t do it when anyone we didn’t know was within earshot.

Am I surprised? I am not. I’m willing to bet that 100% of the library patrons who commended us for setting up at the library were doing so not primarily out of an abstract belief that voting is a good thing but because voting is particularly important in 2018 because democracy, the rule of law, civil rights, the environment, and everything else is under attack by the current administration and the Republican Party. For sure that’s why I participated, and why I’ve been more involved in electoral politics since 2016 than at any time of my life since 1976, when I volunteered for the (successful) campaign to pass the Massachusetts Equal Rights Amendment.

As I blogged in November 2012, I still believe that compulsory voting is a very bad idea. You will not catch me uttering platitudes like “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” Becoming more engaged in electoral politics has not changed my views on this. In fact, it’s made me more aware of how ingenious and persistent the Republicans have been in trying to suppress the vote of people who don’t support them and to rig elections in their favor, for instance, by gerrymandering and by closing polling places in areas that consistently vote Democratic, so that voters have to travel farther and/or wait in longer lines to vote.

Across the country, plenty of citizens don’t see their elected representatives except at election time, and they may not hear much about what those elected officials are up to. I’m lucky: my state rep and state senator are very accessible, and not just to those who, like me, worked on and/or donated to their campaigns. One of my U.S. senators, Elizabeth Warren, hosted a SRO town hall last summer; the other, Ed Markey, is doing one later this month (June 24, 4–5:30 p.m. at the M.V. Hebrew Center — be there!).

Without such accessibility and engagement, it’s not hard to understand why so many U.S. citizens think that “government” is something happening on another planet and that there’s zero connection between casting a vote and even being heard, let alone making a difference.

The upside of the 2016 presidential campaign and election, and all the horrors that have happened since, is that many, many of us realize that the country is in a very dangerous place, and — more important — we didn’t get there overnight. Great work is being done on several fronts to make voting easier and more meaningful. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former attorney general Eric Holder, is fighting to undo the outrageous gerrymandering that has favored Republican candidates. I Vote for America is promoting Democratic candidates for secretary of state (the official generally in charge of all things electoral) in states where the GOP incumbent has worked to suppress access to the ballot.

Many organizations, like Swing Left, Indivisible, Emerge, and Run for Something, have been encouraging, training, and/or supporting Democratic candidates at various levels — and the hugely increased number of Democratic candidates, especially Democratic women candidates, is one of 2018’s big news stories. Others, like my personal fave, Postcards To Voters, focus on getting out the Democratic vote for good candidates.

I don’t want to make voting compulsory. I don’t guilt-trip anyone who doesn’t vote. But I am doing my bit to make voting more meaningful, so that more non-voters will want to vote because they really do believe that, as I keep writing on my postcards, “Your vote is your voice.” And sure, if I’m volunteering to register voters, I’ll register all comers, even those who show up wearing a MAGA cap. But I’m not kidding myself that this is a nonpartisan issue — not as long as one party is fighting hard to restrict access to the ballot while the other is fighting hard to expand it.

Volunteer Susan Phelps (right) and me at the voter registration table, West Tisbury library, June 16, 2018.

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Democratic State Convention 2018

Right up to almost the last minute I was thinking of skipping the 2018 Massachusetts State Democratic Convention. Last year’s convention, my first, was eye-opening in all the wrong ways. You can read all about it, and about how I finally, after several decades of voting Democratic, finally registered as a Dem and got involved in Democratic Party activities.

My newest postcard, for Eileen Higgins, running for county commission in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

This year’s was bound to be better. The 2017 convention was devoted to wrangling about platform planks, a largely symbolic exercise made worse by the enthusiastically ignorant “Our Revolutionaries” and the ineptitude of the MassDems. The 2018 had a clear and non-symbolic purpose: to endorse Democratic candidates for the 2018 midterms. I was a delegate, I had strong feelings about the contests for governor and secretary of state — I collected nomination signatures for Jay Gonzalez and Josh Zakim, respectively — and I’ve written so many postcards to voters in distant states, telling them that “Your vote is your voice,” that the message seems to be sinking in.

The Vineyard contingent at the Mass. Indivisible conference, November 2017. From left: Lorraine Parish, Holly MacKenzie, me, Margaret Emerson, and Kathy Laskowski. Missing: Carla Cooper.

Probably most important, we’re now a year further into the worst, most destructive administration in U.S. history. By last November, when I attended the statewide Indivisible conference, it was clear that the nastiness of the 2016 campaign had mostly receded into the background, at least among those who have thrown ourselves into the many tasks involved in undoing the damage and getting the country back on course.

Still, when my alarm went off at 4 a.m. Saturday morning, I did, very briefly, consider going back to sleep. But no: Trav and I went for our morning walk as the sun started to come up, and I met my friend who was doing the driving on the 6 a.m. ferry. We made it to Worcester in good time.

The convention had actually begun the previous afternoon, with speeches by the candidates who were uncontested in the primary followed by parties thrown on behalf of various candidates and causes. The unopposed candidates included Attorney General Maura Healey and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, both of whom are kick-ass speakers, but the hassle and expense of staying overnight in Worcester wasn’t worth it.

Delegates are seated by state senate district, and this year the Cape & Islands district (represented on Beacon Hill by State Senator Julian Cyr) had some of the best seats in the huge DCU Center: in the very front of the floor at house right. Within the section, we were seated by town. Fortunately the six Vineyard towns were seated together; last year we were split up plus there weren’t enough seats, so trying to keep together was difficult.

After all the welcomes and a good speech by U.S. Senator Ed Markey (who isn’t up for re-election this year), the real work of the convention began: first the nominees for governor, then for lieutenant governor, then secretary of state. For each one, a couple of short introductions and a video presentation preceded the candidate’s own speech.

Jay Gonzalez, candidate for governor, speaks. The photo is of the screen at the front of the hall, hence the distortion in the image.

For governor, both Jay Gonzalez (my guy) and Bob Massie gave very good speeches, refreshingly non-acrimonious and focused in the importance of Massachusetts again taking the lead on key issues, as it has in the past but hasn’t under the current Republican governor.

Going into the convention, I was undecided about the lieutenant governor’s race. Both Quentin Palfrey and Jimmy Tingle were solid candidates. Tingle is better known as a comedian than a politician, and he’s one of the few stand-up comics I’ve ever liked listening to, mainly because he’s a lot more than a stand-up comic.

Jimmy Tingle, candidate for lieutenant governor. Photo is of his image on the big screen.

That gave me pause: I wondered why such a talented performer would be interested in the lieutenant governor’s job. Not to mention — since the 2016 campaign I’ve been more suspicious of flash and charisma than ever.

But Tingle won me over. His video persuaded me that he was serious about the job (in 2010 he got his master’s in public administration from Harvard), and his speech might have been the most powerful of the convention.

The speeches by the secretary of state candidates were far more combative than those for the other two offices. No surprise there: When a candidate takes on a 20-year incumbent in the primary, dissatisfaction with the status quo is generally a large part of it. Incumbent Bill Galvin’s delivery was, considering his long experience, surprisingly awkward, as if perhaps he wasn’t accustomed to having to defend his record.

Josh Zakim, candidate for secretary of state. Photo is of his image on the big screen.

Challenger Josh Zakim, in contrast, was fired up and very clear about what Massachusetts wasn’t doing well enough in administering elections (a big part of the secretary of state’s job) and what he would do differently. This is why I joined his camp the first time I heard him speak this past winter.

Then came the voting. We voted the way we were seated, by state senate district. The tellers called us up by town, starting with Aquinnah and proceeding alphabetically to Yarmouth. Since West Tisbury, my town, comes near the very end of the line, there was plenty of time to kibitz before my turn came to line up. One at a time each delegate gave his or her choices for all three contested offices. Tellers recorded the votes both electronically and on paper. “Jay Gonzalez . . . Jimmy Tingle . . . Josh Zakim,” I said. As it turned out, this was how the Cape & Islands delegation went.

It took a while to tally the results from all 40 state senate districts because one district (which was not publicly embarrassedidentified) had had a snafu with the electronic voting so the paper numbers from each city and town had to be counted and verified manually.

Jay Gonzalez decisively defeated Bob Massie for the convention’s endorsement, 70% to 30%. Quentin Palfrey beat Jimmy Tingle less decisively (IIRC Palfrey had 59% of the delegates’ votes), but the huge upset was that Josh Zakim won the convention’s endorsement over incumbent Bill Galvin, 55%–45%. A strong showing would have made Zakim’s point that a more activist, progressive secretary of state is called for, but he won. This may have taken him and his team by surprise, but needless to say everyone was euphoric.

The unendorsed candidates will still be on the September 4 primary ballot: anyone who gets at least 15% of the convention votes qualifies. (I really hope Massie will withdraw. We really need to pull together to defeat Baker, and if there’s an expensive and/or acrimonious primary campaign, that leaves only two months to gear up for the general election on November 6.)

More photos from the convention:

Looking rearward from the Cape & Islands delegation. Paulo de Oliveira, Dukes County register of deeds, on the right; and behind him Edgartown town committee chair Diane Drake.

Edgartown delegate Carla Cooper and me in our convention regalia. Her T-shirt says S.W.A.T. Smart Women Against Trump. Mine should be self-explanatory.


seating arrangements, candidate speeches, voting. Results.

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May License Plate Report

I’d say that in the license plate game, May was six times better than April, but I learned in math class that anything multiplied by zero is zero so instead I’ll just note that May’s haul was much better than April’s.

In order: Missouri, Iowa, D.C., Alabama, Minnesota, and Arkansas. D.C. I’d almost certainly seen earlier in the year, but I keep forgetting to write it down. Missouri, Iowa, Alabama, and Minnesota were all spotted in the M.V. Hospital parking lot, at different times.

MVH is a consistently good source of out-of-state license plates, including the more exotic ones — that’s where I found Hawaii last year — so every once in a while I drive through to check things out. A couple of times I’ve parked the car and taken a walk around. The parking area circles the hospital and includes several sub-lots that are easier, and probably safer, to explore on foot.

Another reliable source is Ocean Park on Oak Bluffs, and Circuit Ave. is good too. Arkansas, however, revealed itself as I drove up Skiff Ave. in Vineyard Haven and prepared to make a left turn into the Edgartown Road. There it was, parked across the street. It pays to keep your eyes open everywhere.

Last Thursday I had successful cataract surgery on my workhorse eye, the left, which had been growing more and more nearsighted over the last year and a half. I’ve already noticed that passing license plates are sharper and easier to read on the fly. This is a big plus, because some states have multiple variations — Florida is probably the worst, because often when I think I’ve spotted a new state, it turns out to be another goddamn Florida. And other states have similar configurations and/or color combinations, so you have to be able to read the fine print. With the cataract this was getting progressively more difficult.

I won’t even go into the license-plate holders that obscure most of the state name. To identify these for sure you have to be on foot and the vehicle has to be parked so you can pick up clues, e.g., the bottom line of the plate holder or something identifying the place of purchase.

So on to June! Washington state is overdue, and Wisconsin and Michigan are too. A friend spotted Montana a few days ago, so I’ve got my hopes up on that one.

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Planting 2018

I’ve blogged it a dozen times if I’ve blogged it once: I am not a gardener. (The record says I’ve blogged it more than once. For starters see “My Dinghy Garden” from 2011 and “Down in the Dinghy” from 2012.)

Rosamond, my paternal grandmother, was a spectacular gardener. My mother, Chiquita, was a pretty good gardener but according to her she didn’t have a green thumb so she wasn’t a gardener at all. I managed to avoid gardening even after I moved to Martha’s Vineyard, where everyone and her sister, brother, parents, cousins, and in-laws has a garden. It is actually easy to avoid something that all your friends are doing, especially if you are cussed enough to think you’re a nonconformist.

However, I was seduced by the green side of the force after my neighbor-landlady moved her horticultural efforts from the little dinghy out back to the much larger garden patch near the compost. My specialties from the beginning have been cherry tomatoes and basil. Basil because pesto. Cherry tomatoes because cherry tomatoes halved, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt, and slow-baked in a low oven (about 200 degrees F) for a couple of hours are one of the world’s great taste sensations. Who knew?

Since I live in a studio apartment where all available flat surfaces are piled high with books, notebooks, folders, and loose papers, starting seeds in early spring is out of the question. I start with seedlings, and I get my seedlings from Vineyard Gardens, the nursery across State Road from the West Tisbury post office and up-island Cronig’s. Every Tuesday, Vineyard Gardens offers a senior (over 62) discount of 20% off everything, so there I was yesterday afternoon, hauling my little wagon around and collecting plants, potting soil, and a packet of basil seeds.

When I got home, of course I had to drop everything and get planting.

I started with the windowbox, which isn’t attached to any window. It’s built into my deck railing, but “deckbox” sounds funny. Over the years I’ve tried different flowers in the windowbox, but in recent years I’ve gone for petunias with some sort of purple in them.

Hardy 2017 coleus

I love the way coleus catches the light, so I always have at least one in a pot on the deck railing. (One or two have survived tumbles from that railing when the wind blows hard enough.) Last fall I brought my two coleus inside. They made it through the winter in pretty good shape. On warmish early spring days I’d put them out to soak up a little sun, then bring them in at night.

One night I forgot to bring one of them in. I’d set it on the railing for some reason, and when I came home after dark I didn’t notice it. That was an ice disk night so the poor coleus got frosted. It never recovered. Its surviving sister is now outside 24/7 and much prefers direct sunlight to what comes through my west-facing window. Yeah, it looks rather leggy and probably would have benefited from pruning at some point, but since I’m not a gardener I don’t know much about that.

I did bring a new coleus home from Vineyard Gardens yesterday. It’s taken up residence on the deck next to the windowbox. I promise to move it if the wind gets to blowing real hard.

The rest of yesterday’s haul consisted of four cherry tomato seedlings (two Sungold, one Rose de Berne, and one whose name I forget but I think it has “honey” in it), two basil seedlings, a packet of basil seeds, and a two-cubic-foot bag of potting soil. (Two cubic feet of dirt is heavy, by the way, especially when it comes in a floppy bag that’s hard to get purchaase on.)

Cherry tomatoes to come

The seedlings are now duly planted. Two basil seedlings, of course, won’t yield much pesto even if they flourish. This is why three long planters and one medium pot are now sown with basil seeds. The seedlings are mostly harbingers of things to come.

Basil does quite well in containers, I’ve found, though last year wasn’t a great year for basil and the resulting pesto was at best so-so, probably because the proportion of parsley to basil was too high. I think the summer wasn’t consistently hot enough to make the basil happy. Basil likes hot.

Presiding over the dinghy is the grandmother of all chives. I planted it as a seedling in 2011, or maybe 2010, and it’s survived every winter since and come back every spring greener and more tenacious than ever. I’ve tried to thin it out by pulling out strands of it, but no dice: the dirt has firm hold of its roots. It’s still usable, but no way do I need that much chive, and it’s taking up room in the garden that could be devoted to other things — like basil. Maybe this will be the year I dig it up, or maybe not.

If Medusa decided to give up snakes, she could come back with my chives for hair.

Chives gone wild


Posted in home, outdoors | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Positively Pro Postcards

Back in early February I blogged about writing postcards to Democratic voters. At that point, I was writing for my seventh campaign, for Conor Lamb, running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. This was, by my count, the 54th undertaken by the volunteer-fueled organization Postcards To Voters. Conor made a big splash when he won the March 13 special election in a district that was handily carried by Trump in 2016.

I’m still at it, and so is Postcards To Voters (PTV). I just finished writing for my 21st campaign. PTV is on its 88th. There are now more than 20,000 volunteers writing postcards from every state in the union, and with election season moving into high gear, more are needed! The more volunteers there are, the more campaigns PTV can take on. Here are several ways to sign up:

  • Use the form on the PTV website.
  • Send an email to
  • Text HELLO to Abby the Address Bot at 1-484-ASK-ABBY (1-484-275-2229)

As a new writer, you’ll be sent complete instructions and asked to write a sample postcard. Once that’s approved, you can get addresses for any active campaign by texting Abby the Address Bot or (if you’re on Facebook) friending Abby and private-messaging her for addresses.

Volunteers donate postage and postcards (and/or the material to make postcards) as well as our time, but Postcards To Voters welcomes donations of money to keep running and to help grow the volunteer ranks so we can write for more campaigns between now and November. You can donate via PayPal or the old-fashioned way, by check; I just used my credit card to make a modest monthly donation. Here’s how to do it.

So why am I (still) so excited about Postcards To Voters?

  • For each campaign I participate in, I learn something about the district. So far I’ve written for candidates in Alabama, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, Tennessee, New Mexico, New York, Massachusetts (Emily Antul for Chelmsford board of selectmen — she won!), Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska, Georgia, Mississippi, and California.
  • I’m awed by the caliber of the candidates. The statistics alone are impressive, of how many Democrats, especially women, have taken up the challenge of running for public office. Learning about some of the individual candidates adds depth to the statistics. They’re a pretty amazing bunch.
  • I never realized how many special and local elections take place around the country between one November and the next.
  • I’m now paying more attention to state legislative and other “down-ballot” races than I was before.
  • The postcards are positive. After consulting with each campaign, PTV sends out instructions to volunteer writers. Typically these include three “must-haves” for each card, which include the candidate’s name and office, the fact that s/he’s a Democrat, the date of the election, and a key talking point. They also include a longer list of optional points, from which each writer can devise a personalized message. The message and address are always handwritten, and the focus is always on each candidate’s experience and what they want to do in office.
  • Postcard parties are fun, and a great way to get new people engaged in writing postcards.
  • Every Tuesday is election day somewhere. PTV writers and friends get together in the Postcards To Writers Facebook group to hear the results for the candidates we wrote for and for Democrats running in other races across the country. We also share images of the postcards we wrote. This is a positive, upbeat, and creative group — a great antidote to the pervasive gloom-and-doomery of the national news.

Many PTV candidates win, sometimes in races that receive national attention, like Doug Jones in Alabama, Patty Schachtner for Wisconsin state senate, Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, Rebecca Dallet for the Wisconsin supreme court, and Helen Tai for Pennsylvania state representative. Those who lose often have done better than any Democrat in their districts in years, even decades; in some cases, no Democrat has even run recently.

Here are some of my recent cards. At first I personalized them for each race, but some people thought they looked too professional, as if they might have come from the campaign itself (which is never the case), so I started making them generic. So far I’ve managed to devise a different one for each campaign, using templates and my own messages, but with more and more campaigns to write for, I’m thinking of having a bunch of my favorites printed up instead of printing them on my sometimes finicky inkjet.

For Emily Antul, board of selectmen, Chelmsford, MA

For Javier Fernandez, FL state representative. This is one of my faves so far.

For Helen “Give ’em Helen!” Tai, PA state represenative. This is my #1 favorite card so far.

For Machaela Cavanaugh, NE state legislature

For Geneviéve Jones-Wright, San Diego County district attorney, CA. The election’s coming up!

Posted in public life | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments