Is it just me, or is fall every southerner's favorite season? It comes swooshing in like a superhero's cape, all whistling winds and crackling leaves. While I maintain a stubborn soft spot for winter (after all, I once lived in places that actually deliver a clean, white blanket of fresh snow), I have to admit, I'm looking forward to fall more than ever before.
For many people, fall means it is finally football season or sweater weather. For some people, it just means they finally aren't sweating constantly. For me, fall means a blessed respite from the dozens of mosquito bites covering my legs--I'm allergic, and yes, it is as miserable as you probably think, like living in a constant state of Mississitchy.
It means we're on the slide into the glorious holiday trifecta of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. It means I can dig out the old-man sweater made out of sheep's wool I bought in Ireland--it still smelled like a barnyard when I purchased it, and it might be my favorite item of clothing.
Fall also means art, festivals and holiday fairs. The cooler weather makes for a great time to get out and see that gallery you've been meaning to, take a walk through the museums downtown or hit up a new flea market or fair to stock up on holiday gifts. Our annual fall arts and events preview (see pages 16-35) is a great place to get inspired or find a great new event to make a yearly tradition.
There's one more thing that fall brings, at least every four years: the start of presidential campaign season.
I do not look forward to a campaign fall.
Actually, it feels absurd to be calling this the "start" of the campaign season after hearing Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, plus their supporters, take jabs at one another for months now. But as we officially get underway, it is becoming apparent that the nasty rhetoric we've heard so far is just the beginning.
It seems to me that the political machine in this country is broken. Already, we've got vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan spewing blatant mistruths in his first real speech as a VP hopeful--what kind of precedent does that set? (If you need better factcheckers, Mr. Ryan, we have a whole crop of interns here who do a better job than your people).
Big-money corporations and individuals throw cash at candidates right and left, in the hopes that they can sway policy--and all too often, it works. The whole concept of campaigning is a three-ring circus, with promises as big as elephants and speeches with barbs that fly like throwing knives.
To me, it's just exhausting. Television news (or "news," usually) fills up hours on end furthering the nonsense. Do we really need a 24-hour cable news cycle that fills an entire half hour on what Michelle Obama wore and how it affects her ability to be a good first lady, or analyzing some minute word choice in Barack Obama's speech rather than what his plans for health care really mean, or--what I cannot stand the most--with pundits just screaming at one another or at the audience?
But, for all the ridiculous hoopla that surrounds the campaign, it is a necessary evil. I'm going to pay attention, and I'm going to vote because I want my opinion on what kind of country we could be to matter. I want to live in a world where my niece and my future daughters can make their own decisions for their bodies and their sexual health; a world where rapists don't walk free because the government is too busy trying to decide what to do if the victim is pregnant.
I want to live in a world where my gay friends enjoy equality; a world where people realize that saying "I believe in gay rights but not gay marriage" is hypocritical hate speech; a world where kids aren't driven to self-harm because peers and parents and politicians are telling them they aren't worthy.
I want to live in a world where we don't hear about a new shooting every week, where violent or disturbed individuals have more access to treatment than to dangerous weapons.
I want to live in a world where education, science and medicine matter, where a new presidency means moving forward rather than forced back, undoing the progress from the president before just because it had someone else's name and party affiliation on it.
That's what I believe.
I know the issues are messy and complicated and will take a lot of work and compromise to sort out, but they are too important not to. We need politicians who are willing to actually listen to the whole American people, not just the handful of corporations and lobbyists padding their campaign budgets. We need members of Congress who are willing to have open, meaningful conversations and debates with the intention of getting things done, rather than putting them off until a session break (or worse, delaying until the party majority shifts). We need news and media organizations that cover the real issues responsibly, so citizens can make informed choices.
Most importantly, we need to demand these things of ourselves and our public officials. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted something that made me think: "Politicians lie not because they're evil, but because they say what voters want to hear. So it's we who are the problem." We can't accept just what we want to hear. We can't settle for less. We have to demand more.
So as I gear up for another fall, stocking up on apple cider and pulling out my old-man sweater, I'm also gearing up for a fight. Because there are rights on the line: mine, yours and those of countless future generations. And even as the whole thing borders on the absurd, the annoying and the idiotic, it's important.