On Leaving MiAmi(s) or Singing the Florida Blues

Please Note: The following is slightly “out of character” and not in the traditional style of this blog, focusing a little bit more on my personal experiences than my musical discoveries. However, I hope to provide a little insight into how these two worlds interwine(d) and, as always, some music with which to walk away.

Although I’ve left Miami many times, on this occasion I departed with greater reluctance. Getting on the all-too familiar I-95 North for a 1400 mile trek to Chicago (with some amusing and unexpected detours), I found myself struck by how slowly the car crawled along the highway. Spying Little Havana, Little Haiti, the pastel Art Deco rooftops of Miami Beach, and the ebb and flow of the Atlantic pelting the shores from the side and rearview mirrors, wondering for a split second, was I wrong about this city all along?

When I left Miami (the place I’d been raised) almost two decades ago (along the same exact and only road I needed to traverse to reach my alma mater), I swore I’d never be back. For a liberal-minded, non-religious, non-club kid like me, Miami was a bit of cultural black hole. (Please don’t cast aspersions just yet.) The scenery and seashore were serene but there was something lacking. After many visits (and a more mature perspective?), I see that perhaps the problem wasn’t Miami, but the filter through which I was viewing it. One rarely gets the opportunity to “go back” and see things through clearer and less judgmental eyes. But by chance and choice, I ventured back with a singular objective.

Over a month ago, during which time this space has been silent and bereft of words and music, I decided it was time to run down to South Florida to spend the latter days of the 2012 Presidential Campaign working to help get the President re-elected. It was not the first (and as a number of my friends have remarked unlikely the last) time I got caught in the world political campaigns. For the better part of a decade, I’ve dabbled in getting out the vote, raising funds, canvassing doors, cutting turf, and (now) protecting votes. Whatever your personal political persuasion (or apolitical bent), campaigns are fascinating social experiments and social dramas from a macro and micro level. At the top level, political pundits and bloggers galore will analyze and criticize the sub-atomic particle of every word, glance, or omission by candidates. Personally, I tend to pay little attention or interest in the top-down discussions – too distanced, too scripted, too distilled. I prefer the human element: the interaction with the people who will cast votes and volunteer their time and energy. Perception can be power but personal connection and passion will always trump a clever sound bite or turn of phrase – at least if you open yourself up to it.

A brief digression on politics: If you happen to have a different political inclination, I wouldn’t dissuade you from turning away from this post. Though I may differ in views with many, I do believe ultimately that however ostensibly different we are in the manifestation of our political views, we all (I believe) want the same underlying thing: the best of all possible worlds for our families, friends, and communities. And, this, to steal a phrase from the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy “is why we fight.”

Along the multiple campaign stops, I’ve fashioned some amazingly strong and lasting connections and friendships. Pulled from many divergent origins, locales, and stages of life, we all find common (personal and/or political) values around which to rally. And, yet, even though many of us are drawn to and driven by the cause, ideals, or candidates, what helps sustain and energize us (those who aren’t careerists but enthusiasts) are the people. The 2012 team in Miami (staff and volunteers) was no exception.

The Miami-Dade/Miami Beach team came from all corners of the country, leaving their homes, families, and projects in Atlanta, New York, Haiti, and Maryland, putting their lives and jobs in abeyance. In a few instances, people even came from overseas: Montreal, Sydney/Melbourne, and Dubai). The motivations were myriad but the passion and enthusiasm singular. Regardless, of your political pov, I think everyone would be impressed and moved putting one’s life on hold to pursuit a common goal.  (Not unlike musicians and artists going on the road/tour to share their art.) As a self-professed humanist with no religious affiliation, this manifestation of secular faith always awes me. While others have divinity, doctrine, and dogma to retreat to in darker times, those non-doctrinaires like me have to put our “faith” in people and causes, which are far too prone to fallibility and corruptibility. But, we continue to “believe” despite all the fissures and flaws in our heroes and ideals. (Sorry I tend to wax philosophical at times.)

It wasn’t just the staffers, but the hundreds of volunteers both from the Miami area and those who streamed in from all parts of the U.S. giving their enthusiasm, time, and energy to the cause:  the ladies of Atlanta, the firebrands of Texas, the councilman from Sonoma County, the Excel wiz from D.C., the van driving canvasser from SoCal, and the intrepid Mid-Atlantic and Northeasterners, who left their communities and loved ones in the wake of Sandy. But, the work and sacrifice of the out-of-towners would have been meaningless without the tireless efforts and welcoming smiles of the amazing denizens of Miami from the Beaches, Little Haiti, the Key, North and South Miami, the Grove and Gables, and far southern reaches of Pinecrest, Homestead and Florida City; a former P.D., who continues to fight for and protect people’s rights; the Haitian-American activists and community members who encouraged and assisted people waiting six hours in line to vote, #thatiswhatdemocracylookslike; the lawyers who drove hours around the City trying to discern how to increase efficiency, reduce redundancies and ensure that people could vote without waiting for hours. I cannot begin to express how awe-struck and moved I was that folks would willingly wait in lines for multiple hours and late into the evening to cast their votes; especially given that nearly 40% of eligible voters didn’t cast a single ballot. For once, I actually saw that there were, in the words of Denis Johnson (from Jesus’ Son), “All these weirdos… I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us” [in Miami].

To all the folks both within and without Miami-Dade who made the last month so rewarding and fulfilling, I offer my sincerest and most heartfelt thank you. For inspiring, energizing, and humbling me.

I extend that thank you to all those “foot-soldiers” (i.e., the door-knockers, the poll workers, the phone callers, the van drivers, etc.) on both sides of the political aisle and across the country in places like Ohio, Nevada, Virginia (to name a few) who labored tirelessly, striving for their vision of a better tomorrow. Not even the multiple days filled with lack of sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise (and sunlight), long hours with too many tasks and too little time, could overshadow or dim the brilliance of the people and their passion.

Thank You.  Gracias.  Mesi.

Along with my thank you, I offer you this mix of 29 songs that motivated, inspired and fueled me throughout:

Singing the Florida Blues (a Post-Election mix) (click ←) or listen below.

Most of the tracks are about things completely divorced from the political sphere but there are common themes within that resonate with me and with the ideas that led me back/down to Miami: imagining a better tomorrow, questioning traditionally accepted truths, passion, frustration, determination, reinvention, belief in something bigger than oneself and lofty ideals, collective striving, optimism, and overcoming obstacles in the face of adversity. No song better encapsulates the spirit of this mix than Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love”, written in support of the now passed Referendum 74 in Washington State:

No law is gonna change us, we have to change us
Whatever god we believe in we come from the same one.
Strip away the fear, underneath it’s all the Same Love.

In other words, the differences that divide us are not greater than the dreams, aspirations, desires, and communities that we share and unite us.

…and now what?

Well to quote another inspiration and brilliant writer, Tony Kushner, “the Great Work begins” AGAIN!

Gratefully, humbly and thankfully yours,


….on to the next adventure, wherever it may lead.

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