So where do I go from here?

That’s your right as an American…

-My Father’s response to an email from my sister who was freaking out after Trump won.

 

On the morning of November 8th, I expected the following things:

  • A resounding Hillary Clinton victory.
  • The chance of a Democratic majority in Senate.
  • The fact that I would missing morning mass at work.
  • Long lines at the voting polls.
  • The shutting up of every Tea Party extremist and racist, misogynist and bigoted Trump voter (note that I didn’t say Republican; more on that later).
  • Popping champagne past midnight when they announced that Hillary was the projected winner on CNN and taking shots if Jason Kander actually pulled off the upset over Roy Blunt for Senate. (My friends and I actually had the champagne and liquor ready.)

But low and behold, here is how it actually turned out.

  • Hillary lost, including three key battleground states that cost her the election (Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania which had been solidly blue the last few elections).
  • The Republicans won both the Senate and House majority.
  • There was no morning mass apparently, so I missed nothing.
  • After early reports of long lines in Kansas City (including my own), the lines seemed to die off by mid-morning. A lot of polling centers in the afternoon and mid-day looked deserted in the urban areas of Kansas City from videos I saw on my friend’s Snapchat.
  • The Tea Party won…so you know how they’re handling it (let’s just say not modestly).
  • No champagne. No shots. Hillary and Kander both lost. Just depression and Black and Milds.

 

In the words of my sister, who called me twice on election night to share her displeasure and anger (all while drunk of course), “what…the…fuck.”

Never in my wildest dreams did I think Donald Trump would pull this off. Yes, he won the Republican primary. But I credited that less to him, and more to the hordes of shitty candidates they trotted out there (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz…that’s it I got to stop). If there was another Mitt Romney or John McCain or anybody legitimate, Trump would have not stood a chance. He would have been a celebrity “flash in the pan”, much like his short-lived candidacy for the Reform party presidential slot back in 2000.

Oh how I was wrong.

The signs were there. Bernie Sanders challenged her so hard in the Democratic Primary, and perhaps should have won. But the DNC had promised this thing to Hillary after she lost to Barack in 2008. It was her turn, and they weren’t going to let a Jewish senator out of the tiny state of Vermont fuck with that plan. And so we heard the rumors and read the WikiLeaks and witnessed the protests and the head scratching results during the primaries and caucuses. Most young and liberal Democrats felt Bernie had a better shot at beating Trump than Hillary did. I remember arguing about that in hookah lounges and bars on frequent occasion during those summer primary months.

And yet, Hillary was chosen to be the Democratic nominee. She was the nation’s best bet to prevent the xenophobia, and crazy policies of a potential Trump presidency. Yes, she was flawed. Yes, she had scandal with her e-mails. Yes, she and the Clinton Foundation represented the worst of a “corporate interests” affecting our Federal Government. Yes, she sucked with public speeches. Yes, she was so coached as a candidate that everything felt rather inauthentic at times from her.

But she was our nation’s best shot. And she was a woman. The first female president. That would be enough. Her experience would be enough. Her debate performance would be enough. Her name would be enough.

Oh how Democrats were wrong.

The morning of November 9th proved it.


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I grew up in a primarily Republican-voting family. My grandparents supported Ronald Reagan’s campaign not only for President in 1980, but also when he ran for governor of California in the 60’s. My great aunt on my dad’s side was so conservative and Republican that she voted for Richard Nixon in the presidential election over John F. Kennedy, even though he would eventually be the first Irish-American and Catholic president, traits she (and I) shared as well. My father voted for George W. Bush twice, and Mitt Romney in 2012 (though he did vote for Barack Obama in 2008). My mother has voted Republican in every presidential election since 2000, and actually registered as a Republican in 2000. And in the 2000 election, at my school, I represented George W. Bush in a mock debate to my middle school student body. (I had the vouchers and gun lock issues on point.)

Yes, my background was probably characteristic of any member of a Young or College Republican club.

But since graduating college, I have grown to adopt more liberal and Democrat stances. My experience in the Jesuit order of priests as a novice molded that. Working with migrant workers in East LA confirmed that we needed to change our immigration system in America. Working in the hospitals in South Central LA proved that “privately funded” health care wasn’t the answer, especially when people weren’t getting the care they desperately needed. Working in the juvenile hall in Sylmar, and at the Restorative Justice Initiative in downtown LA demonstrated to me that not only our prison system, but the way we treated African American and Hispanics in the justice system was extremely flawed. My job as a teacher’s aide on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation inspired my career path (teaching) and where I needed to be (in communities where there was high need, like the people of the Lakota tribe I taught for nearly three years). If my Jesuit schooling in high school and college nudged me more toward the left (as I have heard from people on frequent occasions who also are Jesuit education alums), my experience with the Jesuit priests and novices helped me jump without fear or doubt.

Since 2011, I have grown more and more blue on the political spectrum. And that hasn’t been easy, especially considering my business and personal background. I studied economics in college (and journalism as well ironically). I am a big fan of limited regulation in a lot of cases, and was even more so when I was in college (I definitely leaned more toward the Milton Friedman school of Economics). I believe in globalization, free markets and competition, and getting rid of bailouts of big corporations who can’t get their shit together. I believe in limited taxes, especially when those tax dollars end up being abused or under-utilized. And I am a practicing Roman Catholic, a party whose congregation to the most part has gone from more blue to more red over the past decade due to the pro-choice/pro-life argument.

Those aren’t things people think of when they think of democrats, and yet those are some of my core economic beliefs (though in varying shades and modifications; I could write more but I don’t want this to be a fucking college thesis). So why do I identify as a Democrat rather than a Republican? Why did I vote for every Democratic candidate on the Missouri ballot this past Tuesday? Why am I campaigning for Democratic candidates and donating money to them as well and putting their bumper stickers on my car? My economic and religious background scream GOP.

It’s difficult to say. Perhaps because it’s the social issues that fuel my passion into politics, not economic ones. I don’t need to worry about jobs because I am a teacher: I punted the idea of a great retirement package and making six figures long ago. I don’t care about the global market beyond the economics class I teach to high school upperclassmen. Instead, I care about young people who fear their family members getting deported (including some I teach now or have taught in the past). I care about young people in the city not getting the same educational opportunities as those outside of it. I care about too many prisons being filled by people who shouldn’t be there, either literally or figuratively. If my political makeup is a sliding scale between social and economic, the social side will always weigh more than the economic side considerably, and as of now, that advantage is clearly blue.

As long as the Democrats stand for those listed social ideals, the ideals for social justice and protecting the rights of those who need protection and not just throwing them out to the dogs in a laissez faire fashion, I will continue to consider myself a Democrat, irregardless of the economic policies or pro-life announcements from the Catholic Archbishops that come my way.


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But Democrats lost.

We lost the house. We lost the senate. And we lost the Presidency…to him.

What do I do?

The easy solution would be to run. Go to a different country. Immigrate to Canada or some foreign country. I’m young. I’m a teacher. I have a master’s degree. I could teach abroad for four or more years and perhaps enter the country again if Trump is out of office by 2020.

But that’s a coward’s way out. I love my country, and I love where I live, Kansas City and the people within it. I am not moving because of the threat of one man.

Another solution would be to give up. Either accept a Trump presidency because he’s our president and we have no choice. I could give up on the issues I care about and see how I could mold my views to the Republican party for the sake of unity in the nation, and perhaps helping the party be seen in a more positive light.

But that would be another coward’s way out. I am not going to throw out everything I have grown to care and be passionate about due to “fitting in.”

Another solution would just be an anarchist and/or revolutionary. Quit my job and protest. Get arrested. Protest Trump at every turn.

But I have a life, a career I care about (students). And yelling only does so much. Protesting only does so much. Action, concrete, constructive, real society-forming action is what makes a difference, not just a sign or a blow horn. After all, what matters in change are “deeds, not words.”

So what’s the right solution?

I don’t know. I know it’s not the three above.

And honestly, I don’t know if I will uncover that right solution in a year, two years or by the end of the Trump presidency whether that is four more years or eight.

Because one “fix-all” solutions don’t exist. The problems I am facing as an American citizen and adopted Kansas City denizen are layers deep, like a Redwood Tree. The future is too murky; the solutions too disheartening; the people too unpredictable; and the world too evolving for one choice, no matter how bold or noble, to change things, be it myself or the community I live in.

But what can I do? I don’t want to live in a world where I have to accept some of the injustices I might see under this Trump presidency/Republican coup. I have to do something.

Well…

I could keep teaching. Keep promoting to students their importance and role in changing America and Kansas City, especially my students of color, which make up over 70 percent of the students at my school.

I could keep getting involved. Keep going to events and meeting people and organizations where constructive dialogue is encouraged to form plans and programs that bring more equality and opportunities for all in our country and in Kansas City.

I could keep reading. Reading not just the Buzzfeed bits or shit I see on fivethirtyeight.com, but articles and studies written and conducted by people who really want to make a difference or who have done so in various ways through different approaches in educational or civic matters.

I could keep living life. My life. Not the life Republicans tell me to live, and not exactly the life Democrats tell me to live either.

Because we are people. Not Donkeys or Elephants.

I thought November 9th, a day ago when Donald Trump was elected president that this was the end of the world. I thought I would be depressed and give up on life. I thought that racism and sexism and prejudice won.

But I am motivated to do more. I am motivated to stay in teaching, which wasn’t exactly the case less than a month ago. I am motivated to be even more involved in my community, Jackson County, Wyandotte County and Kansas City in general more than ever, looking to advocate and aid in whatever area I can, in whatever aspect that would be a good fit for both me and whom I’m helping.

There is hope. Not just for me. But for Hillary voters. For Democrat voters.

We can and will be better. And the journey will be worth it, because people will say it won’t matter or will be a waste of time and effort. Trump won November 9th, remember? He got 279 electoral votes and counting.

That doesn’t mean he can decide how I can help people or tell me what issues I need to believe in.

Trump won an election. He won paper votes.

Winning over a person’s ideals takes a lot more than showing them the results of an election.

What am I thinking today, November 10th?

Optimism. Drive. Hope. The future. Our people. Kansas City. Social justice. Immigration reform. Health care reform. Optimism. Real change, not fear-mongering or vitriol. Catholic AND Muslim unity. The long, peaceful, arduous road. One day at a time.

All this DESPITE Trump and Trump surrogates and supporters pointing fingers, laughing and telling me “You lost!”

Damn. I wonder if I would have felt this way if Hillary won…

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Wyandotte County: the “Small, Off-Beat Town” within Kansas City

“Really…you work in Wyandotte?”

It’s a comment I hear all the time, but somebody uttered this statement to me a weekend ago at a community event I worked at in Johnson County. I found the comment to be rude and surprising, especially considering the event I worked at mostly involved people who were not born in this part of the country, let alone this country in general. And yet, despite their outsider status, that doesn’t prevent them from holding that negative opinion of Wyandotte County that most people in Johnson County (or other counties in Missouri or Kansas) have of people or places from Wyandotte.

To me, Wyandotte County is synonymous with Kansas City. There is no Kansas City experience without Wyandotte County for me. In my four years of living in Kansas City, only 1 year involved me not working or living in Wyandotte County, specifically Kansas City, Kansas. To me, Wyandotte County has a special place in my heart, in my mind and in my goals down the road. Yes, I am currently a Jackson County resident now, living in the MidTown area of Kansas City. But I have a feeling I will be moving back to KCK soon in the near future, especially now that I’m working again in the county, and realizing how much the area and the citizens of the county fascinate me and make me want to be a part of it again.

But for those who are unfamiliar (whether unwillingly or not), what do I need to know about Wyandotte County?


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Wyandotte County is the most northeast county of the state of Kansas, as its main city, Kansas City, Kansas, is just a stone’s throw across the river from Kansas City, Missouri (the 70 and 670 highways connect the downtown area of KCMO to KCK). The county is separated into 8 districts, with a commissioner seats for each district, as well as two at-large commissioners for Districts 1 and 2. The mayor/ceo currently is Mark Holland, who has been the mayor since April 2, 2013. In addition to Kansas City, Kansas, the county also includes neighborhood communities such as Bonner Springs and Edwardsville to the southwest of the county, the Piper and Legends/Speedway area to the northwest; Argentine, Armourdale, and Turner in the south; Rosedale in the southeast, right near the border on Southwest Boulevard; the KU Med area to the West; Quindaro to the Northeast; and Welborn in the North.

Demographically, Wyandotte county also remains a diverse county, especially in comparison to neighboring Kansas counties. The projected population of Wyandotte County in 2015 is 163,369, which would be a 3.7 percent increase from their population total recorded in the 2010 census. From the 2015 projections according to the census, the population within the county is 42.1 percent non-Latino white, 24.3 percent African-American, 27.7 percent Hispanic/Latino, 4.1 percent Asian, and 1.3 Native American. All of those populations are an increase from the 2010 census, with the exception of African-Americans, whose population went down from 25.2 percent to 24.3 percent, and non-Latino white, which went from 43.3 to 42.1 percent.

Education-wise there are four districts that serve citizens in Wyandotte County: Tuner USD 202, Piper USD 203, Bonner Springs USD 204 and Kansas City USD 500. In addition, the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas has five K-8 elementary schools (Resurrection, Our Lady of Unity, Christ the King, St. Patrick’s and Holy Name) and one high school (Bishop Ward High School), which is one of the oldest high schools in the state of Kansas (it was established in 1908). In terms of post-secondary education, Kansas City Kansas Community College is the main junior college for secondary graduates in Wyandotte County, and the University of Kansas Medical Center (right on the border of Missouri and Kansas) also provides medical studies for students, in addition to medical services for people in the area.

One of the most interesting aspects of Wyandotte County is its economic and educational status, as well as where it stands politically in comparison to the state overall. In terms of economic and educational statistics,  65.9 percent of the population in Wyandotte County 16 and over is in the workforce, with the household median income low at $39, 326. The poverty population in Wyandotte County is at 24.4 percent, 18.9 percent of the population is without health care, and and the percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher is only 15.8 percent (to put things further into context, those with a high school diploma is 78.4 percent).

Compare this with statistics of those same categories in neighboring Johnson County: 72.9 percent of the population 16 and over is in the civilian workforce; the household median income $75,017; the poverty population is only 6.6 percent, and only 7.6 percent of the population is without health care; and 52.1 percent of the county population has a college degree (and 95.7 percent of the population has a high school diploma). When you look at the whole picture, not only is Johnson County a wealthier county, but they dwarf Wyandotte in so many categories. It’s crazy to think that just a few miles south, a person is three times more likely to have a college degree, and will make almost twice more than someone. And that’s where the bias and prejudice steps in: because of their higher incomes, more education and less people in poverty, Johnson County naturally has this bias over their Wyandotte County neighbors. The stats overall prove it in their mind, and those stats prove why people who get more money or education are more than apt to move south beyond the county lines.

The story of Wyandotte County’s economic and educational woes in comparison to the larger neighboring suburb of Johnson County is one thing, but what makes it even more interesting is how different both counties are politically: while Johnson county tends to be more of a red county, falling in line with what is typical voting wise throughout the state of Kansas (i.e. conservative republican), Wyandotte County tends to fall in the opposite category.

Of the elected state senators representing Wyandotte County, two of the four senators (as of 2015), David Haley (4th District) and Pat Pettey (6th District) are democrats. All seven state representatives representing the county are democrats. And all 16 judges as well as the district attorney, are democrats. And this political affiliation was even stronger represented in the last presidential election, as Wyandotte County was one of two counties in all of Kansas to vote for Barack Obama by a wide margin as he earned 67.3 percent of the vote in Wyandotte County (compare this to Johnson, which saw a 58-40 split in favor of Mitt Romney). Even Douglas County, which includes Lawrence and students from the University of Kansas (college towns tend to be more democrat leaning due to students being more liberal), didn’t have as high a percentage (60.3 percent) for Obama in the latest elections.

So, Wyandotte County is heavily democrat and lags in terms of education as well as economically to some of the neighboring counties. For most people in the Midwest, this may sound like a cruddy place to live.

On the other hand, I would argue otherwise, and I would credit it’s intimate population that are actually HELPING the county over the past five years, and make it even more prime for positive growth.


“The one thing about Wyandotte county is that it’s a small town…and everyone knows your business in one way or the other.”

My principal, who originally was from New York and moved here for school, told me this during my first year in Kansas City, Kansas. I didn’t know if she meant it in a bad or good way, but while there is some obvious negative aspects to this statement (like people can be big time gossip hounds), one could look at this statement in a positive way.

One of the main positives of living in Wyandotte County is that if you get involved in a group or network, that network can grow incredibly fast and be incredibly supportive. I have been in Kansas City for four years, and some of my closest connections stem from people I know who live or work in Wyandotte County. As a business teacher, I have already gotten multitudes of offers from local business people to help speak in classes or help students with connections. I taught in a school in Kansas City, Missouri, and though we had some help here and there, people were not as eager to help or provide the same kind of assistance. That’s not to say people on the Missouri side didn’t give a shit. But there are so many schools in KCMO. One charter school is just another in the whole grand mix of things. And with so many schools closing within 10 year periods in Missouri, people can be suspect of “newer” schools: will it even be around in 20 years and is my time to help worth it if the school won’t even be around?

In Kansas City, Kansas there is a stability here that KCMO doesn’t necessarily enjoy. Yes businesses change, but they take new identities rather than demolished or abandoned. There is a certain pride in the diversity of the population displayed through community celebrations, be it a parish ice cream social or a neighborhood fall parade, that seems organic and genuine and not put together solely for economic purposes. And the schools, though struggling in some ways, are still accredited, still producing an education that means something. Despite KCMO and other districts on the Missouri side’s struggles with keeping accreditation, KCKPS has continued to keep theirs and continued to keep high student populations despite wild changes in racial and economic backgrounds of students attending their schools from decades ago.

And I think that is what makes Wyandotte the “small town” worth admiring in the Kansas City metro area. They know their population isn’t as big as on the Missouri side or even south of them in Johnson County. They don’t have the economic advantages down south either, or the educational advantage. That being said, they make do, they get things done, and they rally behind people in their community that are trying to do good. The city government tries things to help build the economy and promote entrepreneurship. “A Cup on the Hill” is the latest example of such progressive thinking. Yes, it’s a coffee shop, but it’s a coffee shop that is run by the Community Housing Authority of Wyandotte County that looks to help with employment, while also promoting the positive of Kansas City, Kansas and Wyandotte County not just by selling coffee, but also by displaying art in their shop local artists. It’s similar to what “Homeboy Industries” is doing in Los Angeles: giving those in need in the community a chance to make steps in the right direction personally, while helping the local economy as well. (After all, how many coffee shops are there in KCK? Not a lot, and “A Cup on the Hill” will help bring in more independent coffee houses who may find it tough to compete in MidTown KC’s over-saturated market.)

And Wyandotte County’s population is growing, which just goes to show you how people are starting to recognize the positives in living in such a community with a genuine “small town” feel. The 3.7 percent jump is a major bright spot for a county that had suffered a decrease in population according to their last census in 2010. And the reasons to come to Wyandotte County are plenty: it’s still close to the city (especially if you live in Strawberry Hill), the downtown economy is growing, and the real estate is a lot cheaper than what most would find not just in Johnson County, but especially in comparison to MidTown and Downtown Kansas City. Young people are realizing that living in KCK, especially Strawberry Hill or Rosedale is a better deal, and you aren’t far off from it all either.

Of course, there has to be a bit of caution with such growth. We have seen how gentrification can have “inverse” effects on cities and communities. Even in Kansas City we have seen it. 15 years ago, living in the Westside and MidTown off of Armour was a bargain. Now, thanks to gentrification, people have been priced out of their respective neighborhoods. Yes, there are more restaurants and bars and shops and nicer houses and apartment complexes. However, the soul of the communities are dwindling, nearly gone. Just look at the Westside, as it struggles to fight for the spirit of their neighborhood against developers who are trying to mold it more for economic purposes rather than community ones. That is a risk KCK could experience, especially as a younger population starts to migrate toward that downtown area.

But I think what will make KCK push up against that “community blunting” from gentrification is their community spirit. The neighborhoods in KCMO are part of a huge whole, and really, one district is going to struggle to have a voice in the midst of so many other voices in the big city. The greater good (in the city’s mind) will trump the desires of the small, as is natural in any big city. In KCK, the population is still intimate, and those neighborhoods can have their voice. And we have seen it. There has been an embrace of the changing diversity of the KCK population. It has grown from a primarily Slavic population to mostly Latino one, but you know what? People are still active, and I think the Latino population in KCK is about as active as any in the KC Metro (though the Westside and Northeast certainly are also active). Even with this latest election coming up, we are seeing advocates against some of the new Kansas registration policies that could be deemed as “racist” and “prejudiced” in nature, in order to sway the election toward a party’s “candidate” (you know who I am referring to). These kind of actions demonstrate not only the change in Wyandotte County, but how the community continues to supports one another despite the difference in race and cultural. The old supporting the new is the prime characteristic of a strong community, no matter what the population size or part of the country.

I don’t live in Wyandotte County currently. I work there and if I continue to stay in Kansas City, I plan to move back soon. Wyandotte County is different. It’s a blue dot in a sea of red. The people are working class who offer a stark diversity to what is typical of most communities in the Kansas City metro. There is pride in the work being done within the county, even if most of the stories and reputation of the county tends to focus on the bad, the crime, the poverty and all the other negative noise. And lastly, there seems to be a sense of hope on the horizon. The population and the economic growth in parts of the county where “naysayers” thought it couldn’t be done showcases that rise.

The looks and questions still abound when I tell people I work and used to live in Wyandotte County. I don’t think I will ever shake them.

But they don’t know. They don’t know about the “small town” community of Wyandotte County. They don’t know about the support, the charm, or hidden opportunities this area of Kansas City provides.

I’m glad they’re missing out. Wyandotte County doesn’t need them anyways.