22 April 2011

an ode to the lou

i've now been in st. louis for three months, observing, learning, getting the lay of the land, tasting the tids, drinking the suds, meeting the people, getting a job, and poking around into the political scene.

fer starters, folks'll tell you that everyone here is from here, that when people ask where you went to school, they mean high school. but so far my only friends (outside of my new family) are fellow transplants. and they all love it here. and i mean _LOVE_ it here.

and honestly, what's not to love? i mean, don't get me wrong, when i first learned that i would be uprooting my city life to settle into the burbs, i probably cried for a week. that it's the burbs of st. louis added another three weeks to the water works. and it wasn't until i helped pick her jaw off the ground, when she came to see for herself, that zip finally stopped asking, "are you sure you want to live in the suburbs?" the idea of the burbs is way worse than the actual place. i live in a mini-mansion with a yard and a pool, there's killer vietnamese food one suburb over, and as of the first week of may, i'll get the saving grace of a day job with views of both the arch and busch stadium (yeehaw for some city!).

politically, it's a real interesting place. there's old dems and old everything. obviously, the bulk of my network leans left, as do the bulks of theirs. but there's no real organization to it. from what i've been able to gather (without first hand witnessing the all too familiar phenomenon), the old dems rule with the same old iron fist as old dem clubs in other cities. change is real hard, especially for folks who've lived the exact same life every single day since birth.

and there is a lot of that in st. louis. people care where i went to high school because it's all they know. it's the simplest way of putting me into a category that makes sense. my story is that i skipped high school and went straight to college (it doesn't suck that people then assume i'm four years younger than i am), because the truth would mean i'm a hoosier (cuz that's what they call rednecks here). far more than the other places i've lived (as an adult), people here are pretty simple, with fairly simple dreams, vacations, and careers. and while it will never describe me, my dreams, vacations or career, i do not mean simple in a bad way - not for them.

there is something in the value system of the midwest that i missed terribly whilst gallivanting about the coasts. people here are genuine to their core, and they are all about accepting responsibility. i'm not suggesting that everyone here fits that description, as there are as many outliers here as anywhere, but that's what's in the genetic make-up of values here. and i like that. it's a much better fit for me than the la-tee-da-de-doo bullshit on the left coast and the me-me-me crap on the other.

being an outsider here is one of the most interesting social experiments of my life. in large part it's because i'm grateful i'm an outsider. i will never belong to this place (or really any place) and i will never be "simple," but i do love it here, i am quite pleased every time i'm pleasantly surprised by its food, people, and super fun times. and no lie, there's no place i'd rather have a family. it'll also make it easier to infiltrate the political scene - to the depth i'm willing to delve.

i'm starting a leadership development institute here. the new leaders council is a national organization, currently operating in 15 cities, committed to fostering emerging, progressive political entrepreneurs - influential leaders with a vision of a better world and a way to take us there. right now, i'm networking to build a board of advisors, and to raise awareness of who we are and what we're trying to accomplish, and eventually will set about recruiting these young ballers and turning them into leaders before setting them back out into the world. how is it the newbie on the scene thinks such can be accomplished?

on the one hand, it's hard trying to do something like this in a city where i've few friends and even fewer political connections. but on the other hand, it'll be brilliantly easy. because i've no preconceived notion of old-school st. louis politics. i've nary a favor owed to or by me. i don't have a dog in any of the fights playing out. i seek only an opportunity to start organizing a progressive movement that's segregated most simply by geography and an absence of a unifying force. and for all who know me, you all know just how unifying my force.

so here i am, in this land of nutty weather, dodging tornadoes, and building a community. the way i see it, st. louis and i are lucky to have each other. st. louis is a wonderful, laid back, genuinely warm (not meant in the temperate sense) place, the perfect place for me to be for this phase of my life. and for a small pond, it's got more political potential than i ever imagined, potential st. louis is lucky that i plan to see realized...


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