There’s a woman we all know.
Happily married… or so she thought.
The marriage used to be tumultuous, even hostile at times, but lively and comfortable. They were a popular couple. Smart, rich and beautiful movers and shakers, Mr. and Mrs. All-America. But now, years on, she realizes that, not only is her formerly okay-but-bickery marriage not working (in which she did, after all, eagerly participate in the mutual hostilities), but there’s little chance of her spouse listening to her problems. And that not only is her spouse not going to listen ("I bring food to the table! Now shaddap!"), but nobody else in the family is going to encourage her to change her situation.
She used to have her own job, but now she’s just a housebound drudge. And without any job skills — indeed, without even the money for a nice interview suit or the faintest idea of where or how to obtain one, much less the confidence to do it — the future looks miserable and one-way. And worse, there are signs that her husband is more interested in a newer and flashier femme fatale.
Her dilemma is similar to that of an older person who loses their spouse (through death or divorce), and suddenly after a lifetime of really not having contacts outside of their spouse or immediate family, she (or he) is at a loss as to who to ask for help. If she was a homemaker all her life, and didn’t work outside the home, then there’s job training, maybe going back to school. If she just didn’t make any circle of supportive friends during the marriage, fortunately, there are social services, church groups, and other social networks for this person to plug into.
But geopolitics and economics are not so kind, not even on a micro or state-internal level. A region that has not cultivated any contacts "outside the family" — in upstate New York’s case, that family would be the two major parties in Albany, plus all the minor parties who are just consigliere-wannabees — is going to find itself at a real loss the day it finally wakes up and detects a problem in its current arrangement. Everything that was supposed to provide for the region in its post-industrial maturity is falling apart, and the partnership doesn’t seem to work any more. The partner (in this case, downstate) doesn’t find her sexy any more, and he’s in love with a slim new hottie who’s in real estate (who is, in disguise, a fat sheik from Dubai). And the family (Da Family, in Albany) doesn’t care about her loss of dignity, loss of business contacts and the general waste of her and her talents and resources.
Leaving this metaphor to focus on the specific NYRI situation I have been monitoring, which affects specific people in a specific part of upstate, it’s not such a cute story. "Who do we know who could help us, who’s not in Albany or New York?" "I know! We’ll petition the federal government!" "Oh, by the way, they’re in on the scam too…" "Oh. Well… who else do we know?"
What’s a girl to do? Who’s she gonna call?
In some ways, upstate New York is like a Shangri-La. Not economically, obviously, but in a way it’s like the Land that Time Forgot. Republicans and Democrats are civil to one another, we aren’t inundated with annoying campaign commercials every four years, churches are not excessively politicized the way they are in more prosperous areas, there’s not so much sprawl, not so much difference between rich and poor (since everyone’s getting poorer, albeit at different rates according to class and status). Even the local uber-wingnut is essentially honorable — he did walk the talk and join the military, after all.
But in this Shangri-La (of sorts), the grim reality is that we also haven’t made any outside contacts. In a time of trouble, such as the NYRI opponents are facing, there are precious few alternative sources or networks of political energy to tap into, when both Albany and the federal government are against you. Unions? Dead or dying. Dig deeper. How about the Catholic Church? With schools and parishes closing every year, and upstate’s church statues and pews being sold off as trinkets for bars in Prosperityland, it’s hard to imagine the Church as an organized force for change, much less defense. How about other churches? Alas, the Megachurches (of various prosperity-based faiths popular in the South) don’t even want to come up here and expand, since there are no riches in the congregations to be plundered, and pretty much they’ve been co-opted anyway by the same Bushista-friendly people who want to build NYRI.
The local business community? If they’re not the select few in the Treehouse, they’re weakened and too busy fighting to keep themselves alive because of the bad business climate. New York’s fusion parties? Their reason for existence is to snap up the crumbs from the Democrat and Republican tables, and they tend to only want to back sure winners for that reason. (Yeah, I’m talking about you, WFP.) The Green Party? Can they tear themselves away from their celebrity-candidates-du-jour and do real party-building field work on local issues? Until then, it’s hard to take them seriously. OK, think, think! Who’s left? The Haudenosaunee? ("Don’t be silly!" "Well, Ray has that casino, and I hear they all got invited to the UN’s summer party last month!") Oh wait — Da Family is busy squashing them flat.
Upstate New York, which used to be a crossroads of people and ideas and powerful institutions, is now a place where political energy is largely dormant. This in part is thanks to Electoral College dynamics which mean that, if we’re lucky, if Joe Candidate’s second cousin feels like making a quick whistle stop up here for the New York primary. The closet door opens for a quick moment, you see a bright sliver of a glimpse of political energy or ideas from outside, and then the door closes again, leaving the mushrooms to just keep growing in the dark. (Heck, even Eliot Spitzer doesn’t seem to really feel like peeking in all that much.)
Sometimes, though, Upstate makes new "friends." Every once in a while (as with Bob Congel) someone in Da Family feels sorry for her, and sets her up on a blind date with a guy with roaming hands, thinking she could use a few sweet nothings and a good tumble in the hay. ("Hey, she’s not ugly — and it’s not like you hafta marry her!") They really think they’re doing her a kindness by arranging this, as well — which is why they’re so aghast and contemptuous when sometimes that small voice in her head tells her "No, this is disgusting!" when the skirts are already hiked up. (At least Bob isn’t quite as thuggish as NYRI, who has never heard of "No means no," even when a lady is screaming it as loud as she can to any passerby she thinks might come to her rescue.)
So those are the current prospects. Older and wiser, she knows she’s in a pickle partly of her own making.
The grim news for NYRI opponents, in particular, is that all they really have to tap into is a fairly self-contained network that, at this point, could very well be whistling past the graveyard. It’s not for their lack of intelligence, commitment, or grasp of the situation; it’s for a simple lack of friends in stable networks that aren’t also bosom buddies with Da Family and Dear Husband. Now, it could be that pluck and spunk are enough to get you noticed by people who could help. So where are these other stable networks? Are some of the ones mentioned previously, better prospects than one would think? Others not thought of? And what do people in Syracuse, or along the NYRI route (for example) have to offer to those other networks?
I hope you have enjoyed this special screening of Married to the Mob. We close with our heroine fidgeting with her ring, contemplating enrolling in night school and making the effort to get her hair done at a new place. (Or, at least, investing in some litter tongs.)
Upstate New York: If she can’t get ever get a divorce, then she should at least have herself an affair to remember. Without anyone’s permission.