Well, this has been rather a momentous day in this introvert’s mind. I am an incorrigible idealist in matters political. This makes me a chronically disappointed person, of course, barely able to cope with reality as it is. Still, this is a two-sided blade, as it were, and this very day it has cut both ways.
I began the day by meeting a young man from Yale. That’s right, in the heart of the Ivy League. Ah, but the plot thickens. This kid comes from a modest background, got into Yale on a scholarship, and then tried to get active in politics by volunteering to work on a campaign. A progressive campaign, let me point out.
Here he learned one of his lessons in life. In this country, political campaigns run on volunteer labor. Or in the case of young people, volunteer, i.e., unpaid, internships. He looked all around for a campaign that would at least give him a stipend, enough to make it through the campaign season. But this was not to be. Unpaid internships everywhere.
So a student group at Yale, no paid staff, all volunteers, is trying to change the picture. They are seeking donations, not very big ones, either, to ever so slightly change the landscape regarding these “unpaid internships.” By assembling donations of $2500 from individuals or groups, these internships suddenly become adequately paid. A $2500 stipend is enough to get a young person through a 10-week campaign. In other words a summer spent working for a candidate. No, it’s not enough for most job descriptions, but it turns out that campaigns are well supplied for things like travel, food, and often, overnight accommodation. As for the latter, under this Yale program, if a intern campaign organizer needs a place to crash, there is a budding network of guesthouses, people who offer beds, sofas, whatever.
Also, these paid interns are campaign organizers, not envelope stuffers. They get real jobs with real work. And frequently at the end of the summer, they get hired for the balance of the campaign season. In other words they have learned enough to make themselves valuable.
And early experience shows that they are valuable. In going door-to-door through neighborhoods like their own, they can actually talk to people. Sometimes in Spanish, for example. Sometimes in the regional lingo of places like the Rust Belt or the South. They have the vibes and the credibility of insiders. They are strong campaign staffers.
I loved hearing this story. It appeals to me in the best ways.
In total contrast, I just read a rather brilliant essay by a passenger rail advocate. He recounted the history of Amtrak. He explained the suicidal nature of Amtrak, its structure and its mission. And in a few words I saw the brutal truth. And I didn’t like it. And it made me something between angry and despairing. At least for these first minutes, it is also making me feel paralyzed.
What kind of world is this?
I need to take a deep breath and add it all up. It is the world of mendacious stupid people who care about nothing but their own short-term glory. And it is the world of these young people from Yale who are trying to change the landscape of political volunteering. It’s all these things. And if there is any secret to getting in sync with both truths, it is to keep breathing deeply.