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.

Alcoholism and its ugly symptoms including domestic violence were our distant cousin often visiting unannounced. The threat of violence and poverty were 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 if 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 single 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


Redefining the party of my youth

What is our responsibility for the well-being of others? Is it possible for us to live in harmony with those who don’t share our religious or social beliefs? At a certain age the call to answer universal questions becomes harder to ignore or place in the hands of those we believe are a bit smarter or more powerful.CIMG7491.jpg



Among the more pressing involves the legacy we leave our children and defining the care and respect we must focus on our elders, people with disabilities and those who have been beaten down simply because of the color of their skin or country of origin. In a perfect world— a hard day’s work is enough to finance a family’s basic needs with more than a few dollars left over to educate our kids, take an occasional vacation and set aside for a rainy day. But in the real world the rain never seems to stop.

Many Northlanders live pay check to pay check and shop for bargains at big box stores or the local dollar store. When the check doesn’t stretch ’til the end of the month… a visit to the food shelf is the only thing preventing a child from going to bed hungry. While many of us work hard to make ends meet with an ever shrinking dollar—- foreign interests and powerful corporations reap the rewards provided by hard workers in the Northland. The power of the “one percenters” continues to grown as they  grow richer. Sadly while we focus on work—the strength of our unions is also being chipped away along with the power of our voices. Redistricting, voter suppression and apathy have tipped the balance of our representation in Washington in support of a Republican Party it’s founders would not recognize today. Choosing to exercise our vote for either party seems an exercise in disillusionment.

In our hearts we know building a wall is not the answer—nor is demonizing others. We question whether proposed tax cuts will really help the average Northland Family and why the majority in Washington seems relentless in its effort to weaken our current health care system (the backbone of rural health care.)

Our foot soldiers in the battle for justice and the war on poverty grow weary, beaten down by those who argue— giving a hand up or creating an even playing field—gives rise to socialism. Struggling to redefine itself— the Democratic Party must also take responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves today. Inspired as a kid by President John F. Kennedy I’ve always thought of myself as a Democrat.

I’m not ready to give up that thought. But I know the party of my youth can no longer conduct business as usual. It too must redefine itself as the party of new ideas; one willing to boldly fight the opposition on its terms—quarterbacked by new leadership with convictions mirroring its members. It must be done quickly.

Faced with the probability of multi-million dollar mid-term campaigns, lack of money in the high stakes game of politics must not be a barrier for qualified leaders of the future. Nor should our gender, sexual orientation, race or religious belief.

A woman’s place is in the house and senate

When my mother was raising seven children she took part-time work to help fill the financial gaps during a time when a woman’s place was in the home child rearing, homemaking and budgeting the income provided by the man of the house.

Mom was also the referee, nurse and teacher of right and wrong.bettycookie

While others in our small rural community may have considered us poor, we never went to bed hungry, regularly scrubbed clean and sent off to Sunday School most weeks.

A child of the Great Depression she carefully guarded money and knew how much we had right down to the nickel.

When I was five years old I learned the value of that nickel and the dangers of foolish spending on a hot summer day.  The neighborhood kids were headed to the store to buy frozen pops and I wanted to join them on their adventure.  For weeks these kids had taunted me that their folks had threatened to call the “welfare” on my family.  I didn’t know what the welfare was… but there had been lots of talk at home about the poor house and how people who didn’t have money were sent to that terrible place.

My mom kept her big black purse on the highest kitchen shelf.  Somehow I managed to move a chair to the counter, climb up and take the money without being caught.

That precious nickel was spent on that long ago summer day and helped me feel like a normal kid as my tongue became stained by the ill-gotten frozen pop.  When I got home I was caught red-handed. (or should I say purple tongued.)  Mom grilled me and explained in no uncertain terms stealing was wrong and hurt everyone. She sent me to the living room to await my punishment when Dad came home.  Sobbing and filled with guilt it seemed as if hours passed until I learned my fate.

When Dad did come home he said not a word.  Mom’s punishment had been enough.  I had learned stealing was bad and a nickel meant something for a family struggling to make ends meet. 

This is just one childhood memory of a time when a woman’s place was in the home and one of the many lessons defining  who I’ve become.   

Pulling up my news feed today and reading about Senator Susan Collins and her courageous stand against the latest Trump Care proposal  I cannot help but think about my mom. She would have made a hell of a politician.

Can we at least agree on something?

Americans come in all sizes, shapes, ages and colors.  We are rich, poor or just getting by. We love our families and care about our neighbors. We worry about our futures and the generations that will follow us.

If you find you are regularly driving your car on a pothole filled street or you cannot afford to even own a car….you  have children or grandchildren who are going into debt while earning a college degree for a future job that may or may not help them pay down that debt…or if you are  just one paycheck way from disaster –you do not need someone to tell you there is something wrong in America.

President Donald Trump road to victory on the slogan  “Make America Great Again.”  I have always thought America was pretty great, but I am willing to work to make it even better. So how about we  wait on building that wall and start building bridges (our infrastructure) instead?

Mr. President, please work with our congress ( Republicans, Democrats and Independents) to rebuild our country. Here is a short list to start.

-Rebuild and upgrade our  water and sewer treatment plants.


-Take the blue prints and extensive planning for high-speed and commuter rail systems and get them into the hands of builders and construction workers.

-Expand high-speed internet to rural areas.

-Rebuild our power grid.

And while I am at it, please use American made steel, pay workers a fair wage with benefits that include insurance, paid vacations, maternity leave and respect for their labor.