Calling all aspiring female political candidates!

I just spent an inspiring first half of my day at the “political skills campaign school” put on by the Metropolitan Louisville Women’s Political Caucus. An array of workshops informed and counseled an ambitious crowd of attendees on the basics of running for office 101.

Our first keynote speaker was the well posed Dr. Leslie R. Wolfe, president of the Center for Women Policy Studies in Washington DC. Dr. Wolfe, like many of today’s speakers and panelists, told her compelling story of overcoming sexism of the 60’s to work her way up to now empower other women in her current role as president of the nonprofit feminist policy research and advocacy organization.

For any woman pondering the thought of running for political office, this seminar was an ideal opportunity to learn from, and network with, participants including:

  • Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Mary Noble
  • Mayor of Bowling Green, Ky Elaine N. Walker
  • David V. Hawpe, VP and editorial director of the Courier-Journal
  • Rick Howlett, host of WFPL‘s Morning Edition
  • Jim Cauley, campaign manager who ran Barack Obama’s successful bid for the US Senate, and current manager for the Beshear-Mongiardo campaign for Kentucky Governor
  • Kathryn Groob of The Women’s Network

Congressman John Yarmuth also stepped in at the end to offer words of encouragement to hopefully female political leaders. With the influence of major players in Yarmuth’s life such as his wife, speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi, and several of his work colleagues, he acknowledged the vital role of women in his own life and to society at large.

For anyone interested in finding out more info about the Metropolitan Louisville Women’s Political Caucus, I’m sorry to say that I’m not aware of any website they have up. But if you email me, I’ll be happy to put you in touch with the appropriate person.

Venezuela, part 6

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $220 ($50 donated to Witness for Peace, or a nonprofit of the buyer’s choice)

See all artwork available for sale.

Harsh criticism never gives anyone the warm fuzzies, and until I returned from Venezuela, this blog had only faced mere complaints about careless typos. I’ve certainly changed that. In my on-going efforts to tell more people about my artwork, I recently jumped in on other blog conversations related to Venezuelan issues. I was quickly reminded of how naive I can be when I was verbally jumped by bloggers and blog readers because of my “10 day tour of generalities.” My novice, although sincere, interest in Latin American issues of politics and humans rights were indicted by many with long standing personal experience in Venezuela. With a simple link to my website and two lines of text, I unleashed a Pandora’s box of emotion and fervor in others that made my palms sweat (here’s a rather mild example).

My greatest struggle has been surrounding myself with a group of people who share very similar beliefs and, without any previous point of contextual reference, I begin to mold to that group’s philosophy. Then, I intentionally immerse myself in another group with opposing views because I want to get both sides of the story and find that, again, my thoughts bend to that group’s opinion. As a result, two things have happened; 1) I’m overwhelmed and uncertain, and 2) I’ve really ticked some people off by simply entertaining ideas of people on the other side of the fence. Everyone has facts, statistics, and personal accounts, but as I taxi back and forth from one side to the next with new information, inevitably I’m met with equally substantial informative ammo once again.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave me anywhere especially productive, but I have a plan. I’m going to list just a couple of repeatedly mentioned talking points, and with extra prompting on my part (via sending emails), I hope to start a discussion in comments below.

  • Hugo Chavez has been decidedly democratically elected president three times by clear majorities, but have his election platforms been more talk than anything else? Some argue it has been unfilled propaganda to appeal to the poor majority; playing to their needs foremost to position himself in the authoritarian role he is now in. Others feel that Chavez has truthfully implemented many of his promises, such as social programs addressing literacy and job creation. For those agenda items left unfinished (or even not yet started), many believe he will come through in time and that anyone with such a monumental job of leading a revolution needs allowance for error and time for implementation.
  • Although Venezuela has a long history of being a country rich in natural resources, the distribution of this wealth has not been fairly distributed. Corruption has bred a great divide of classes that Chavez is supposedly tackling by nationalizing many companies and industries. Through small business loans and support of community cooperatives, Venezuelan poor are enabled to pull themselves out of poverty and develop a skill that sustains them and a community. Others argue that many such ventures are not sustainable. They rely on government aid for survival, reinforcing the dependency of the majority of Venezuelans on Chavez’s “hand outs” which keep him in office.

This is my enticement to encourage the behind the scenes messages that slam my inbox to come to the forefront by leaving comments here.

Am I too young to be so jaded?

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $220 ($50 donated to Democracy Matters)
See all paintings available for sale.

My dad and I try to get together when he is off on Fridays. So yesterday I ended up tagging along with him while he visited with old friends he worked with 30+ years ago when he first got into car sales. I wasn’t expecting that I would sit in the enormous plush office of the owner of the Walmart of car lots and talk at length about corporate corruption and politics and how it all effects the environment, the media, policy, and everyday people. This friend of my father’s admitted that he “wouldn’t last 2 weeks in the corporate world” where an individual’s voice may be compromised so as not to rock the boat. His assessment is based on years of first hand experience with various committees and boards. The behind the scenes struggle to balance social ethics and integrity when your multi-million dollar employer is dangling a secure and luxurious retirement before your eyes is more than many can resist. The conversation certainly wasn’t a capitalism bashing session; far from it actually. Although the three of us did speak frankly about motivates and self-serving human nature that seeps into not only the business world, but also into politics.

I’m painfully aware of how loudly money speaks. Grassroot level efforts represent the interests of those effected by a reality compelling them to rally for change. Unfortunately, it takes a disproportionate amount of the blood, sweat, and tears of the little guy to create equal results that large amounts of money can magically make happen before your eyes. It’s sad really, because I find the disparity in interest between many of those with the control and those with smaller voices is ethics and values.

Let me venture, for just a moment, into the wonderful world of Ashley’s ideological mind. What if monetary contributions to political campaigns, for example, did not play a part of the outcome of elections? I know; who’s going to cover the campaign costs? It’s a system I haven’t mentally attempted to restructure. Nonetheless, it’s no secret that those with the means (many of whom are in the corporate world) alter the outcomes with major contributions in favor of their own interests.

I try to keep my posts as concise as possible, so I will stagger the details of this topic for another day. But I want to tie this issue back to an organization that is putting a strong foot forward in bringing transparency and fairness to the election process with a focus on engaging youth.

“Democracy Matters informs and engages college students and communities in efforts to strengthen our democracy. With campus-based chapters throughout the country, we focus on the issue of private money in politics and other pro-democracy reforms. Democracy Matters in this way encourages the emergence of a new generation of reform-minded leaders.”

Although a bit long, their video is a fabulous description of their mission and work. Check it out and spread the word if you are someone you know can take advantage of organization.

Venezuela, part 2

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas
See all paintings available for sale.

The more I travel abroad, the more I realize how unaware many homebody Americans are of the horrible reputation we’re assigned by virtue of the Bush administration. There were many times while I was in Venezuela when I wished I could have taken my painfully obvious “whiteness” down a few notches while Latin Americans chatted about US policy and US interference. In other countries the complaint is often more vaguely along the lines of arrogance and snobbish superiority. Then I come home to answer the question, “How was your trip?” only to get a blank awkward face staring back at me in confusion, or maybe the statement, “but the Washington Post said…” It makes me feel like I’m watching an unruly child, who has never been taught appropriate behavior, throw a fit in a quiet crowd of strangers watching with raised eyebrows.

There is hope! Most people I’ve met on my travels either give me the benefit of the doubt from the start, or are open to changing their mind after they get to know me. Goodbyes usually then consist of “You know, the American people are good. It’s just your president that I don’t like. Why was he voted in a second time?” (please note that I’m just the messenger).

How does this rant specifically relate to Venezuela? I’m not under the illusion that non-Americans get an unbiased opinion of Americans anymore than we do of them, BUT what dilutes the conviction in my defense of fellow countrymen and women is that, as a whole, we are relatively far less involved in our own government and politics than citizens of others countries (Venezuela being a prime example). Never in my life have I seen so much politically focused public artwork, a general grasp of history and government structure among youth and the poor, and general community involvement. Political posters wallpaper every streetlight and retaining wall. A fifth grader in a rural community could tell you about Simon Bolivar, the National Assembly, what a coup is, and how much oil Venezuela exports. Some adult Americans don’t know who Condoleeza Rice is. It’s no wonder I was blown away by citizen engagement in Venezuela, and also ashamed that I knew nil about my own government until I decided to wake up in high school history class.

Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, it’s inspiring to witnessing a community come together in an organized manner as many Venezuelans do in public places such as the one shown above. It also gives me hope that here, in the crossroads of America, the guy next door, who has a lot in common with many Venezuelan communal council members, has the potential and opportunity to get involved in local government and be a part of change as he sees fit. I’m grateful that Witness for Peace organized the meetings for me in Venezuela to renew my sense of responsibility to be an engaged American and inspire others to do the same.

For as many gripes as we Americans have about our government, we often don’t utilize our own voices when we have the opportunity to be heard. Many people don’t have that liberty, so don’t take for granted what’s served to you on a silver platter while you watch American Idol.

Venezuela, part 1

7″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to Witness for Peace)

See all paintings available for sale.

The best possible approach I’ve come up with thus far for reporting on what I was exposed to in Venezuela is to simply play storyteller. I’m absolutely overwhelmed. I left for Caracas concerned that I was stretching the truth with my coverall statement, “It’s perfectly safe. I’ve done my homework.” Friends leaning left were eager for a report back, and some friends leaning right seemed insulted that I was even going.   Much of what was addressed in my exhaustive itinerary of various meetings touch on very polarized topics that tend to ignite intense debate like gasoline to a flame.   I’ve come back to Kentucky in a dumb-founded state of culture shock, and possibly more unsure on where I stand on political theory.   The experience has been akin to a college freshmen, lost for direction, going to a career fair in hopes of discovering, in one day, what career path defines them best.   I was happy to return to the comforts afforded me by a capitalist system that embraces proportionately rewarding the amount of effort, talent, and resources possessed by an individual.   On the flip side, I was painfully aware of the feathers in my comforter, the clean drinking water from my sink, the fact that my walls are brick and drywall, not corrugated sheet metal.   These are all luxuries that the majority of Venezuelans I met and stayed with did not have access to, and never would, regardless of their potential, if it were not for Hugo Chavez’s government.

So, in maintaining a neutral status by simple virtue of my own uncertainty, I want to share with you, over a series of paintings, what I witnessed.   I strongly encourage your thoughts and open these topics up for debate.   Hopefully, my personal records will stir questions in some of you.   If there is one thing I am certain of as a result of my visit, it’s to scrupulously question what you read in privately-owned, mainstream media.   Everyone has their version of the story, including our best known American news media.   For this reason, I will be making all of my usual donations to Witness For Peace, which is the organization I traveled with to see with my own eyes the “socialist democracy” of the Bolivarian Revolution.   Without Witness For Peace, I never would have had access to the organizations and individuals who eagerly spoke about their own personal and professional opinions of the Chavez government.   I heard from citizens on both sides of the fence and will be sharing all of it with you as I post new artwork of Venezuela in between my usual, American-focused pieces.

And thank you to all of my supporters who financially made this trip a reality.   I truly appreciate your support and look forward to sending my work to those of you who pre-purchased paintings.

Child Advocacy Day in Frankfort: a chance to speak up for Ky youth

7″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to Kentucky Youth Advocates)
See all paintings available for sale.

I expect my email inbox to be cluttered with messages of shock that my first blog post after returning from Venezuela is not about Venezuela. Sorry to surprise you, but I didn’t want to pass on this painting from earlier in the month. And to be honest, I am still digesting what I witnessed while on my trip. Additionally, there wasn’t one single free moment to paint while I was knee-deep in appointments and photo collecting. So, please be patient.

This piece is an illustration of Child Advocacy Day at the Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky. The annual event was “an opportunity for those interested in children’s issues to gather and show legislators that Kentucky cares about its children.” Activists from 41 counties around the state were welcomed by a class of singing pre-schoolers leaving a fresh impression as participants went on to speak to their legislators.

The large and diverse group also heard from some of these politicians and child advocacy groups. It was a great opportunity for anyone working for the benefit of children to network and promote their specific mission. Passion and commitment was as thick as smoke, hopefully drifting into the nearby offices of the legislators.

Miller-Maze in the race for Kentucky Governor and Lt Governor

Just weeks ago Ky State Treasure, Jonathan Miller, announced that he would be running for Governor of Kentucky. Quickly following the announcement he and his running-mate, Jefferson County Attorney, Irv Maze, began their campaign efforts. Last night I attended a “Miller-Maze meet up” at a Louisville ale house where the two gentlemen address an audience eager to hear their promises of fresh leadership for the bluegrass state.

One of my fellow bloggers, Jim Pence of the, was there doing his YouTube thing. So, instead of re-creating the highlights of the evening with text, I’ll direct you to Jim’s blog where you can watch interviews with both Jonathan Miller and Irv Maze (left and right above respectively). Thanks Jim!

Election day

8″ x 11″ oil on masonite, $200 ($50 donated to CASA).
See all paintings available for sale.

What a day it’s been! The polls seemed to have a steady flow of traffic. Fido waited outside my polling station in the rain this morning while its owner cast his vote.

Get all of the latest national news at CNN and local results here.

Technorati tags: Kentucky election, election, voting.

Bill Clinton helps Kentucky Democrats

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $200 ($50 donated to CASA)
See all paintings available for sale.

Bill Clinton spoke last night to a sea of Kentuckians who, fortunately for the democratic candidates, came with fat wallets. I met a fellow blogger in the press area who devotes his time to politically geared vlogging, when most men his age would be fishing with grandchildren. I was inspired by his devotion to citizen journalism and truly impressed by his tech savvy. He video records events, such as this, in extended versions to supplement the short snippets fed to us by TV media. He and I both were curiously glared at by reporters and camera crews wondering, “how did they get press passes?” Times are changing.

Prior to Clinton’s talk, the event was a crash course in 2006 democratic candidates 101. The massive audience cheered to “Are you ready for change?!” from various speakers like high schoolers at a pep rally. The enthusiasm was strong and all ears were attentive to the election issues. A few of the speakers included Jerry Abramson (Louisville Mayor), Jerry Lundergan (Kentucky Democratic Chairman), and John Yarmuth (Ky Democratic candidate for US Congress).

In addition to attending this unique event, I also finally answered a question plaguing my mind for years. Estimated from the number of mouths moving during the singalong to “My Old Kentucky Home”, I would guess that just over 50% percent of well educated Kentucky residents know the lyrics to the state song (or maybe some just don’t like singing anywhere but their own shower). Odds are in your favor for being able to join in on the Stephen Fosters number if you are 60 years of age and up. Now I don’t feel so shamed by staring at my feet at derby while those around me bellow mint-julep-intensified lyrics.

Congressional candidate fundraiser

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $250 ($100 donated to John Yarmuth’s campaign)
See all paintings available for sale.

Last night I attended a fundraising dinner for Kentucky congressional Democratic candidate, John Yarmuth. I accepted the last minute invitation with a resounding “yes” and immediately began to think about possible compositions for the painting I would create for today’s post.

If you ever feel dulled by a lack of individuals to engage in intellectually rigorous conversation with, I suggest you frequent political fundraisers. It was an inspiring evening with no lack of enthusiastic proponents for positive change and growth in Kentucky. I was surprised to find that some of the attendees were republicans. There doesn’t seem to be much grey space for the “undecided” voters to stand in nowadays, but apparently even some firm republicans are looking for a new voice for Kentucky in congress.

I will admit that, although I lean left, this election has often left me inclined to bite my tongue when I’m surrounded by my democratic friends. The issue that personally leaves me on the fence is healthcare. I am sorely reminded of my self-employment when my friends talk about their employers’ health benefit packages and I feel at a disadvantage. Given my OCD involvement in my own healthcare, I’m a huge advocate of consumer driven healthcare and Health Savings Account (here’s a great blog post about HSAs). But at the same time, my volunteer work with disadvantaged people, especially children, pulls my heart towards the universal healthcare model that Yarmuth stands for. Clearly, I’m not certain where I stand. Having said that, I will add that I have met John on several occasions and feel confident about his sincerity and competency.

If you’re interested, here is John Yarmuth’s site, his opponent’s (Anne Northup) site, and further info on all the candidates running for office in Kentucky.