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The signs from the Jon Stewart rally were awesome. And Stewart's speech was pretty awesome too. And in one sense, I am very much FOR restoring sanity. Get the Teabaggers off the TV, out of our elections, and, really, can someone just get them the mental health care they need? I don't like living in a country where people are entitled to their own sets of facts, which they get from ideological media sources, some of which are sponsored by corporations that have agendas other than informing the public. It's impossible to have an honest, informed debate when a certain percent of the public subscribes to a different reality than, well, REALITY.

But the idea that most Americans really aren't on one extreme or the other, and in fact may just be trying to get through the day and cope with their lives, waiting in traffic during their nightly commute, trying to take care of young children, or perhaps looking forward to watching Oprah at the end of the day... that's not okay either. "Sane" Americans in the middle need to wake the F* up!

I don't see myself as part of an extreme. I'm informed. I care. And sadly, that PUTS me in an extreme in this country. And it SHOULDN'T.

This year I haven't spent too much time on this blog. Actually, I've spent an awful lot of time in other countries. I've been to places that don't have running water or bathroom facilities of any sort. I've visited families who live in homes with dirt floors, families who don't always have enough food to eat throughout the year, or who take their children out of school after 6th grade (even though they desperately want their children to be educated) because their choice is literally: Do I feed my children or send them to school? I've met people whose only source of cash income comes from digging wild mountain sweet potatoes, then transporting them to market on a donkey, selling them for a total of $2-$3 per day.

This year, as a fortunate resident of the USA, I've gotten immunized against typhoid, yellow fever, and tetanus. Then I got bit by a Bolivian dog near Lake Titicaca, and now I'm undergoing vaccinations for rabies. And, while I hate the preventative anti-malarial medicine I'm on because it makes me sick to my stomach, I'm lucky to have it.

This year I've met people who are already affected by the climate crisis in ways that impact their ability to survive. As an American, I fear that maybe I won't have the $450 or so it takes to get SCUBA certified in time to see what I want to see underwater before the oceans die off. That's tragic. But it's not as tragic as worrying that the changing climate will make my food crops unable to grow, forcing me to either move or starve.

When we advocate "sanity," we must make sure that we're not advocating "taking a smallish nap or two" as one of the signs at the rally said. Sanity is good. But it should include being AWAKE and AWARE of how our nation affects the world around us. It should involve feeling lucky for the privileges we have in this country and doing our part to help the rest of the world live as well as we do.

I just got home from Bolivia. It was the first time I've ever traveled anywhere and - as an American - faced questions and criticism that my country is not working to stop global warming. Bolivia is about as far off the beaten path as I've ever gone. You might - unknowingly - eat brazil nuts or quinoa or even chocolate from Bolivia. Or cocaine from Bolivia, for that matter. You probably cannot name a way in which Bolivia directly impacts you. But Bolivians all know how the U.S. impacts them.

At one time, one third of the entire Bolivian national budget came from the U.S. Bolivia, a country that did not grow any wheat, got hooked on refined wheat rolls as a result of U.S. food aid. Bolivia no longer allows the sale of DDT, but I saw it for sale in a store in a small town in the Andes. And you cannot drive through Bolivia without seeing signs announcing various USAID projects... and sometimes graffiti telling USAID to get out of Bolivia.

I've learned, through my travels, that it's not necessary to "blame America first." There's plenty done to Bolivians by Bolivians, or to Mexicans by Mexicans. It's not all our fault. But some of it is. We impact the rest of the world in ways that most of us don't know, because - unless someone tells us - we have to go to places where we might not have bathrooms or running water in order to see it for ourselves.

Right now, the number one thing we are doing - ALL OF US - whether we are crazy Teabaggers or normal Americans living our lives, is contributing to the climate crisis. There are other nasty things that U.S. taxpayer money and even Americans are doing around the world (DO NOT MISS Friday's Democracy Now report on Afghanistan), but global warming is by far the thing we contribute to the most, with the worst and largest impact... and the most permanent consequences.

Check out this recent Pew poll. Four years ago, half of Americans believed in a human-caused climate crisis. Today that number is down to one-third. And, among the Tea Party, it's a mere 8%. So do we need a return to sanity? YES. In fact, some of us can't return to sanity because we've never been there before in the first place. But I don't think a return to sanity means falling to the middle, nor does it mean giving up things you're passionate about and being quiet.

There is absolutely a good reason to be standing on a street corner with a protest sign. There's even more of a reason to get involved in other, more effective ways. Voting, for one. Informing yourself. Informing others around you. Getting active locally. Holding the media and politicians accountable. You can have a "smallish nap or two" if you need one, but you can't stay asleep.

For in-depth write-ups of my recent trip to Bolivia:

You can also see my diaries from my trip to Cuba and one trip to Mexico (there's going to be a second trip to a very different part of Mexico over Thanksgiving).

Originally posted to Jill Richardson on Mon Nov 01, 2010 at 04:10 PM PDT.

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