Citizens United and a country divided

“Judd Apatow is not available to accept your phone call, ”  and so it goes for a first time candidate dialing for dollars to represent her district in the US Congress.

pexels-photo-607812.jpegI don’t know Mr. Apatow but his last name starts with an “A” and that means he was at the top of the list I received from the national fundraising consultant hired to help me find enough money to convince would be supporters that I can mount a “First Tier” campaign.

My name is Michelle Lee.  I am a wife and a mom. I’ve been a nurses aid, a factory worker and a journalist.  For more than 30 years, people in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region called me the T.V. news lady.

From the field and my chair at the anchor desk I brought them the news focusing on how the decisions made in Washington impacted our friends and neighbors in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District. My work was guided by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.

I did it without personal comment or opinion Monday through Friday on the 5, 6 and 10 o’clock local news.

 A Democrat at birth, I cast ballots in every primary and general election since I was old enough to enter a voting booth, but not one viewer knew whether I was a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent.  I have never been a political insider. I never worked on behalf of a political party nor did I openly supported or oppose a candidate during my career.

That was then. This is now. On the night Donald Trump was elected president I was on the anchor desk. A political analyst  leaned in during a commercial break and whispered to me, “these numbers tell me Trump is going to win.”

I felt as if I had been punched in the gut.

55 days later I left my career behind. A few weeks later I  was on a bus out of Duluth, Minnesota headed for Washington D.C. to participate in the Women’s March.  It was my first act of political and social activism.

I went on to attend Wellstone Camp, the Vote, Run, Lead Camp and Take Action Minnesota focusing on their candidate tracks determined to one day serve my community.

When our Democratic Congressman Rick Nolan announced he was retiring following our party caucuses friends urged me to jump into the race.

“You have name awareness… people trust you,”  they said.

Other friends who worked in politics tried to talk me out of it telling me there wasn’t enough time to mount a campaign.  They also described how Washington was broken. They also warned money talked—that good candidates often had to walk away.

And that brings me back to dialing for dollars.

I’ve already picked the low hanging fruit. That’s how the experts describe family and friends who believe in me and who are willing to donate a few hard earned dollars to send me to Washington. Those are hard calls to make.  I know the value of a dollar in their lives. Most have given to my campaign. Unfortunately, it is not yet enough for me to qualify for the all important “tier one” status, meaning enough money raised to cause big donors to pay attention to my campaign.

Rather than traveling my 27, 538  square mile district listening to the people I hope to represent, I’m told it is more important to sit in a room with an assistant and spend 30 plus hours a week calling a list of strangers.

Judd Apatow doesn’t know me. I doubt he’ll ever meet any of the candidates like me who are calling him. But that’s the world we live in. Because our politics are now filled with consultants and money bundlers.

As a result critical campaign time is focused on convincing people like him that I and other candidates like me are the only line of defense between mean spirited legislation designed to make the rich richer and build walls around the working poor.

Are you as troubled as I am about this money game?

The truth is,  it will take good people to get involved in the process by volunteering for the candidate of their choice, holding house parties and yes, raising money to send them to Washington.

Even though Mr. Apatow is not available to take my call don’t be surprised if you get a “cold call” from me, Michelle Lee a former T.V. news lady from Minnesota asking for your ideas to steer our nation in the right direction and for a donation to send  the first ever congresswoman to represent MN-8 in Washington.

My  Campaign Facebook page

My website

To donate to my campaign, here is the link to ActBlue

Water is life

 When I was a little girl poisonous chemicals were sprayed freely to kill randomly, to knock down the dust on unpaved roads and dumped into sewers to be forgotten. Rivers in the East caught fire, Duluth’s own waterfront was littered with junked cars and a family drive through industrial cities was filled with smokey haze and strange smells. I was told it was the “smell” of jobs and money being made.
The adverse effects of those actions were documented by ecologist, Rachel Carson in her ground breaking book, Silent Spring, which inspired the modern day environmental movement.
In the words of the late, Maya Angelou “When we know better, we do better.”

 

What was once a rare event, today I see eagles flying nearly every day above my Moose Lake, Minnesota home. When the sun does shine the sky is blue. We are doing better, but more work needs to be done.

From water shortages to animal extinction today’s children have spent their lives threatened by dire warnings. Our young adults have grown cynical as industry and government concede their future for immediate rewards that have the potential to cause irreparable harm to the environment.
The Arapaho have a saying; “Take what you need and leave the land as you found it.” We must offer the next generation hope by ensuring the land will be left better than we found it.
For more than a century, mining has sustained families on the Iron Range. We have supplied the ore to win a war. Powered by immigrants and protected by unions, iron mining has not only served us in war time it has also provided economic security for hundreds of hard working Northlanders and their families. The development of taconite, recovery of ore from mining waste and new methods of steel making are extending the life of this important industry.
Research and development and new investment continue to find ways to support the industry and the families who depend on iron ore mining. Government regulations have reduced the negative impact to our environment. But over the years we have also seen how mining’s cyclical nature has resulted in devastating shut-downs and the flight of our young people to big cities. Understanding our iron ore deposits are finite we must empower our communities to develop new industry suited for the 21st. Century that will serve our communities and protect the region’s fragile ecosystem.
As a young journalist I was told the 8th District is powered by Taconite, Timber and Tourism. These were the three legs of the stool that supported the Northland economy. State and federal mining regulations and forestry management practices have allowed us to use our resources wisely while maintaining our tourism industry. In an effort to expand our economy a full court press is now underway to mine non-ferrous metals within the St. Louis River and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watersheds.
This new-to-Minnesota mining process comes with the promise of new jobs. It also comes with the potential for dangerous pollution to our air and water by the exposure of sulfide-laden rock and its harmful runoff if it is not done right. This form of mining has had devastating, long term consequences for other communities and we must proceed carefully by utilizing science based evidence along with our hearts and minds focused sharply on the future health of our children and grandchildren.
I am not yet convinced non-ferrous mining (also known as sulfide mining) can be done safely, nor that we can protect our environment from the potential harm this form of mining may bring under the current plans now being debated. One miss-step will burden generations to come. While I agree copper, nickel, gold and palladium are the building blocks of the future…I know in my heart that without water, our most precious strategic reserve, there is no life.
Until there is science based proof that this new-to-us mining process can be done safely I believe these strategic reserves should remain where they are; deep under ground.
For children’s sake we must get this right.

Family Values 2.0

I’ve been giving a lot of thought about the definitions of family and family values lately. Most of my childhood was spent in a traditional family unit. I had a mom, a dad and six brothers. But compared to the popular television program at the time; Leave it to Beaver, ours was anything but traditional.

Untreated alcoholism and its ugly symptoms were our distant cousin often visiting unannounced. The threat of poverty was a constant. I remember neighborhood kids taunting me saying their parents were going to call “Welfare” on mine.  At six years old I didn’t know what welfare was, but I sure had heard a lot about the poor house. 

CIMG7448Children of the depression, my parents greatest fear was the “poor house.” Mom could stretch a pound of hamburger, a box of noodles and a can of tomatoes to keep us fed and she made sure we went to Sunday school clean and pressed, our hair slicked back with sugar-water. 

With the occasional helping hand from extended family, and our community along with well placed mentors we survived and thrived.

I’ve spent a lifetime studying what makes a family.  Most families are not the Cleavers. The definition of family reaches beyond that traditional family unit, genetics or living under the same roof. 

The Republican Party would like us to believe otherwise. Inspired by Jerry Falwell and Phyllis Schlafly for decades it has proclaimed itself the keeper of family and family values; values we have allowed them to define and use to divide families, communities and our country. This is also the party that fights to reverse critical social policy and our healthcare reform in favor of rewarding the wealthy one percent.

After years of interviewing friends and neighbors and reporting on the issues that impact our community I can report the concept of family has evolved far beyond  some mythical image embraced by those who would hold us captive in poverty and the fear that is left unfettered promoting a long list of isms. (sexism, Racism, Age-ism, Colonialism and more.)

Today’s family is extended, non-traditional, same sexed, heterosexual, singular, plural; all the above and much more. Defining family is more difficult that catching lightning in a bottle.

I’ve been blessed by the wonderful families that have come into my life.  Among them, a mom working part-time, going to college full-time and raising four healthy and happy children.  Another mom working toward sobriety and the return of her children. A family headed up by a grandmother and community leader willing to call out injustice as she sees it, while standing firm in her resolve to create a better life for her kids. 

I also want to tell you about another young couple I know and love.  Until recently they would not have been allowed to marry.  But Minnesotans understood the ‘heart wants what the heart wants’— and voted to approve same-sex marriage.  That young couple is now happily married, owns a home and is creating a life together under the full  protection of  law. I am proud to say Minnesota’s DFL party led the fight to establish laws and programs to ensure these amazing families have the opportunity to survive and thrive.

The members of my party have a strong work ethic, we respect every human.  We stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves. We are generous, honest and hold an open mind. We strive to live life well and do what we can to ensure others have the opportunity to live well. We are spiritual, fair and honest. That is the definition of family values in support of the evolving family.

With the 2018 midterm elections we have a unique opportunity to create the future we want for our children and grandchildren.  To give hope to the generations that will inherit our legacy.

Our first step must be reclaiming the title as the party of family values; DFL, the Party of Family Values 2.0

   

Why I support the union movement in America

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If there is any doubt about the importance of unions just ask my 92-year-old mother.  Her husband was a proud member of the 49’ers and knew there was value and power in numbers.  He gladly paid his dues knowing his union fought for workers rights and on the job safety.  It also made sure its retirees could live with dignity thanks to pensions and healthcare.

My step-father has been gone for ten years, but my mother continues to reap the benefits of his union membership.  While the pension is small the health benefits pack a powerful punch in paying for needed care not covered by medicare.

I spoke with my mom today and we agreed that life would be a lot difference for her, had it not been for the 49’ers.  She lives comfortably in her own home and receives the care she requires to remain independent.

Today I am thankful for unions and the efforts they have made to protect working men and women and their families in America.

 

We must stop being played

 

 

This week’s  presidential tweet aimed at Senator Gillibrand makes me yearn for “Once upon a time” when Donald Trump was a television celebrity and wasn’t our Tweeter-in-Chief.

Frankly I find his latest effort of presidential shame tweeting involving powerful women sad.

Once upon a time in towns and cities across America  little girls were told to be nice, don’t fight, or get angry.  They were told heaven forbid don’t make waves–or question a male authority figure– because honey it’s a man’s world.

Back in the not too distant past girls were taught early on that boys grow up to rule the world. Girls grow up to help make their future husband a success.

Women have made inroads since I first read story books to my child that began with the phrase, Once Upon a Time.  We have become CEO’s, ranking officers in the military and successes in dozens of other professions once thought to be man’s work.

We are slowly seeing women move up the ranks to fill seats in local, county and national government. We are also joining forces and building coalitions to raise and resolve serious issues impacting our families, friends and neighbors.

Many of us have married men who believe we are their equal.  They are men who also believe their wives and daughters have every right to take a seat at the table of power.  Yet every day I am reminded there are still  men in power who  draw and redraw the line that women must not cross.

Scrolling through Twitter since Donald Trump won the presidency— it’s hard to miss his  attacks against the news media, our sports figures and our women lawmakers.  If fear mongering were a talent, the President would win bigly on America’s got talent.  We must stop being played.

 

 

 

 

Womens’ Work

 

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We have

Given birth to, set the table and  fed a nation.  We have fought in wars; domestic and

foreign.

We hold down jobs, bring home the bacon (cook it) and raised families.

We have sacrificed our health and well-being so that others may thrive.

We have learned from our experiences and we, the women survive.

We’ve been told

We are not smart enough.  We are not strong enough.  We are too young. We are too old.

Wait your turn.

We have been beaten. We have been sexually harassed and abused.

We’ve been told be good. Don’t tell.

We do not

Value the measure of a person simply by the balance of their  investment portfolio or the

power they hold.

Nor  do we pre-judge a person by age, the color of their skin, religious beliefs or sexual

orientation.

We  know every human has worth.

 

We Must 

Work to ensure our government is reflective of all the people it serves.

We must step up and become those people in every level of government.

 

 

It is time 

Women take a seat at the table.

 

 

My body—my story

When I was eight months pregnant I developed a pulmonary embolism and was rushed to the hospital.  At the time, I seriously thought that chest pain, severe shortness of breath and swollen extremities were standard operating procedure, right along with baby showers, weight gain and a glowing complexion.

A mad dash to the emergency room in Duluth and two weeks in the hospital convinced me otherwise.

I will always be grateful to the doctors and nurses who saved my life during a very frightening time in our lives. 

In my 9th month, I gave birth to a robust baby boy.

Before we left the hospital the doctor told my husband— that in no uncertain terms—-we should never be pregnant again.

Faced with a potential life or death situation… the issue of birth control moved front and center in our lives.  Luckily future pregnancy prevention was available and I am  here today to celebrate joyous and life affirming events including our son’s wedding this summer to a wonderful woman…. with the hope that one day I will live long enough to be a grandma.

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My story is mine and has a happy ending.  But over the years I have listened to the heart-rending stories of other women who have been faced with more difficult decisions involving birth control and pregnancy termination.

Their stories have strengthened my belief that our government and politicians should stand down and defer to the decisions made between a woman and her doctor.   

Coming of age in the 1970’s–I cannot imagine a time when family planning options are not available.  Yet, it seems there are those who are willing to chip away at a woman’s right to own and control our bodies. In honor of the women who fought to make choice a reality I will fight to maintain the right for other women to access affordable birth control and access  to reproductive healthcare.