Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “West Wing”

The Power of Power

If you have ever had a deeply spiritual moment when you just knew that all you believed in was in fact true…If you have ever looked at someone and known with absolute clarity that they are your soul mate…If you have ever stood in the presence of a great person, and known with total confidence that they are the real thing…

Such feelings rarely happen, but I am told that when they do, they are a moment of total clarity and that this is an awesomely powerful moment.

Last week, I was in Washington DC for work. We were able to sneak in a bit of sightseeing, a couple of monuments, and they were beautiful and poignant, even if I primarily discovered I possess a woeful ignorance of American history.

But when my work schedule had finished, a colleague invited me to meet a friend who works on Capitol Hill. We would get a tour and spend a few minutes chatting with him.

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Now I am no great admirer of this or any American government that I have experienced. But there was something incredibly powerful as we approached the Hill. We received a tour by a young tour guide, who was articulate and proud. He peppered his descriptions with caveats, jokes and stories. But he never strayed from the responsibility and the gravitas that he felt he was representing something sacred.

We were introduced to the new statue of Rosa Parks, which stands near a small room that contains a bathroom, library and I am not sure what else, but it is only for the women representatives. Is there a nearer, more convenient bathroom for women? Of course there is. Women have been leaders here for 97 years. A proper woman’s facility was installed in 2008. 

Then we met my friend’s friend, who works for a senator. He was a real-life West Wing person, only incredibly human. But between the jokes and the explanations, it became abundantly clear that he is deeply excited and honored to be a part of something special. He feels the thrill, every morning when he leaves the train station and sees the capitol building anew. He calls his senator ‘my boss,’ but does so with genuine love and reverence.

I would not consider myself someone impressed by beautiful domes, excited by statues and paintings, and especially not intrigued by men and women (but mostly men) in suits and ties with cell phones wrapped to their ears.

But there was something very powerful in the air: a sense of purpose, a sense of duty and responsibility. I know. I know, we are all so critical of these people and for good reason, but when you stand there under the great dome, in the marble halls, where numerous statues of great men and women stare down at you daring you to take courageous steps, you cannot but feel profoundly inspired.

 

You feel the presence of greatness, past and present, and it gives you hope for the future.

I have lived in the US for eight years, helped in two Presidential campaigns with only a twinge of remorse that I cannot vote. I have cheered my city’s team in the Superbowl and the baseball “world” (really?) championships without really understanding the rules or what we are eating.

I have criticized and campaigned against shameful flaws in this society. I have written novels where, under the guise of fiction, I have vented my anger at certain shameful traits of this society.

I have, I know, also seen beautiful mountains, lakes, forests, and oceans, but somehow they seem an act of God or something spiritual – beyond the realm of man.

But here on the Hill I met something built by the American nation. I experienced the heart of democracy and freedom, and for an hour, I truly felt its very pulse.

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And I want to feel more. My friend turned to me and said: ‘how can you not want to run for office, to be a part of this energy?’ He had felt it too and I told him on the spot that if he ran, I would write his speeches. We laughed, but a small part of me was serious (he would be – actually already is – a very good leader by the way). 

I am now back in California, in the city I love. But I have undergone a transformative change. I will campaign in the next Presidential election as a citizen and I will cast my vote. This month, I will begin the long path to citizenship.

After eight critical years, I no longer want to be an outsider looking in. I want to be a part. Even if that means learning American Football rules for when the ’49ers reach the Superbowl again next year.

I want to feel that heartbeat again, the exhilarating synergy of freedom and democracy. It makes what I write about, in my novels and my blog, all the more relevant. It makes me want to belong.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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Convention Season – The Mirror Never Lies

I have already admitted to being a recovering addict of West Wing. One of the side effects of this unfortunate illness is a consistent belief that our political leaders are intelligent and always strive to tell the truth as they see it. Congressman Todd Akin managed to dispel the first and promote the second with disturbing ease last week.

I’m watching snippets of the Republican Convention and I am struck by the desire to sell an illusion that is flawed at its base. I have lived in the US for seven years now and in that short time have come to love the country and absorb a deep respect for the values and decency that most of us share. I am excited by the freedom, the democracy, the ability to make change. But I am under no illusion that America is perfect, that it is No. 1 in the world (basketball aside), or that it is God’s own country.

Do the Republicans really believe that they are serving in the best interest of the nation by perpetuating the illusion that we are No. 1? And by the way, I have heard the same mantras from the other side. On NPR this morning, a panel analysed how Governor Romney distorted truths in his speech last night.

It’s so depressing. The best thing any leader can do is grab our nation by the shoulders and force us to take a good hard look in the mirror. Unfortunately, winning votes by inflating delusional egos is more of a priority. 

The hype – over the top.

Jeff Daniels and Aaron Sorkin did exactly this in this scene from The Newsroom. Apparently, honesty does not rock the ratings. (Warning: There is explicit language in the clip).

America can be great – if indeed that is our goal. But first, we must take a good hard look in the mirror and understand who is looking back at us and how we got to be where we are. The fatal flaw of our democracy is that it is built on blaming others, not admitting what needs to be fixed.

One convention down, one to go. I will wait for a moment of honesty. To quote one of the special guests at the convention: Go on – make my day.

“He’s not there, Clint. You know that, right?”

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Life After West Wing? Post July 4th Blues

My wife has been an integral part of everything wonderful in my life. But what has she done now? Knowing I am a recovering addict of West Wing, she had no right to send me the following clip. Is anyone watching Jeff Daniels and Aaron Sorkin new series, The Newsroom? How is it? Please share in the comments below for those of us who live without HBO. 

Warning: There is explicit language in the clip.

Is this a good time to mention that I think we watch way too much TV?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

A Lesson From The West Wing

I don’t want this election to about the Bible or any other topic that doesn’t get our nation back on its feet. As the Republicans candidates fall over themselves to win the primary in a holier-than-thou competition, perhaps we need to turn to a source that has guided us through many White House crises.

Enjoy…

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

 

State of the Left Coast Union

Last week (at least at the time of writing), President Obama gave his State of the Union and I enjoyed it. I even subjected my sons to listening live as we ate dinner (PST) – actually I bribed them offering that they could watch The Simpsons after homework (reverse psychology – two teaching opportunities for the price of one – kids haven’t caught on yet).

Speaking as a new American, (the 49’ers run finally had me watching American football) I am still puzzled at how much power and attention this jewel of democracy gives its President. We elect representatives to Congress as our direct representatives. They are paid to protect and advance our interests. The judiciary, while a very important watchdog, is there to ensure that the laws are interpreted and enforced.

Now I am all for strong leadership and a steady fan of the President. I have one of his books on my iTunes and when a chapter randomly comes up (usually while I am at the gym) I listen. I should also confess at this point, and did a year ago, that I am a faithful devotee of West Wing.

However, I often feel that the media frenzy that dogs the Presidential trail (and that includes the Primary circus) provides a comfortable distraction for those we sent directly to Congress. The vast majority of laypeople, myself included, know more about the activities, thoughts and efforts of the President than we do of our representative. I wonder how many people of voting age even know who their representative is? I have read two books by the President, but have no idea if Representative Barbara Lee or Senators Boxer and Feinstein have even written any books.

The role of the President should be to represent our country and to have a strategic overview. Many have criticized President Obama as being too conciliatory with Republicans, but I admire his collaborative nature, even though I am frustrated that it cost us a serious health care bill.

While I believe that  Congress should be more prominent and accountable, I enjoy the State of the Union – certainly better than the Queen’s (bless ‘er) Christmas Address at 3pm every 12/25.

The President should be the communicator to the nation. The State of the Union should be a 10,000 foot view of our accomplishments and challenges over the past year and looking ahead, but it should never replace, or give the illusion that, the responsibility lies with all our leaders.

President Obama’s speech did give the impression of electioneering, but there was an important recurring message: Put it on my desk and I’ll sign it into law.

President Obama was addressing the nation, but he was also addressing Congress. Partisan stagnation has no place when our nation is suffering. So my State of the Left Coast Union is simple:

Electioneering be damned: Our nation is hurting. Stop the circus. One debate, one half hour uninterrupted prime time TV slot to each candidate and let’s go to the ballot.

The rest of our politician’s time should be spent doing what we pay them to do. I realize this will seriously hurt our media industry, but perhaps they might be inspired to focus on real news and analysis to empower the people to make informed decisions.

Too Radical?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Don’t Blame The President

Personally I don’t blame the President. I know, I know, I’ve just lost half my potential audience (at least those in the US). So let me just add, I’m not sure that the once owner of the Texas Rangers is to blame either (and now I’ve lost the Texans).


I blame Aaron Sorkin. You can’t create seven seasons of brilliance, of optimism, of government making progress. It is simply not fair. It was a tease. I am, of course, referring to West Wing. It was so easy to watch while you had stodgy Republican governance. West Wing was about a visionary liberal President, whose staff was able to maneuver through the intransigence of opposition.

Fast-forward a few years and fiction has become reality…well sort of. We have a liberal and visionary President, but reality has a tougher script. Now you find that it is not so easy to negotiate ideas in to law and implementation.

West Wing generated a huge following. We recognized that some episodes were brilliant while others were merely excellent. We learned that most of the characters were far from perfect and sometimes the plot didn’t always have a happy ending. But we never stopped following season after season.

I don’t understand how someone can vote in the Obama Administration one moment, showing their disgust and discontent for a recession built upon at least two terms of fiscal mismanagement and blatant greed. Then they watch as the party who held the reins for most of the past decade, do their best to sabotage any realistic economic strategy without suggesting any constructive alternatives. Finally, a mere 20 months afterwards, these memory-challenged citizens have now created the perfect government framework to lead us nowhere but to an age of stagnation.

West Wing is no more. Seven seasons is all we have.  Now it is just a question of reruns and fond memories. Unfortunately, TiVo-ing government is not a luxury that any of us can afford.


Here’s to a year of change we all need to move forward.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

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