A week or so ago, I sent an e-mail to Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley asking him to do what he could to oppose the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Today, I got a response!

Dear Spencer,

Thank you for contacting me to share your support for repealing the military’s current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It is an honor to serve as your Senator, and I appreciate hearing from you.

Like you, I strongly support repealing this misdirected policy that prevents openly gay Americans from serving in the United States Armed Forces. I believe every American should have the opportunity to serve this country, and for too long, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has undermined that fundamental right. For this reason, I am proud to be an original cosponsor of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (S. 3065), which would repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the armed forces.

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy not only compromises equal rights, but it unnecessarily limits the capacity of our military to draw upon America’s best and brightest. For the United States to have the strongest armed forces in the world, we must recruit and retain those who have the knowledge and skills necessary to enhance military effectiveness. The private lives of our troops should have no bearing on their willingness or ability to serve. This legislation would overturn an injustice that has kept far too many Americans from serving our country.

This bill is currently pending in the Senate Armed Services Committee. While I am not a member of that Committee, I want to assure you that I will be closely following the progress of this bill. Please know I will continue to fight for the equal rights of all Americans on this issue and others.

All my best,

Jeff Merkley
United States Senate

While it sounds a little like a form letter, I greatly appreciate his response and his opposition to the policy. It’s good to see a clear perspective on this issue.

Three cheers for partaking in the democratic process!

To the few people who read this blog, here’s a challenge for you.

As I wrote about in my last entry, I’ve been going out every couple of days and picking up trash off of the streets. It needs to be done, unfortunately, but it’s not that hard to do, and it’s incredibly rewarding. You can get an immense sense of satisfaction from doing the right thing, and if you’re careful enough, you can make a visible impact. I could walk my route and notice the spots that are cleaner– but maybe that just means I have a dirty neighborhood.

Since I can’t clean up the entire Milwaukie area by myself, though, my challenge is thus: In the next week, spend a little bit of time and pick up trash around your neighborhood. It doesn’t need to take long. Half an hour will even make a difference. You don’t need any fancy stuff, either– I wear gardening gloves and take along a black plastic garbage bag, though I’ve done it with a grocery bag and no gloves, as well. The important part of this challenge is that you just do it.

Here are some tips:

  • Gloves are a good idea, but regardless of whether or not you wear them, be mindful of what you’re picking up. Always be sure to wash your hands when you’re done, even if you were wearing gloves.
  • Be mindful of other people’s property. Try not to stray more than five feet from the edge of the road, and less if you can help it.
  • If you might encounter blackberry bushes, long pants are recommended.
  • I also recommend close-toed shoes. I’ve had to step into piles of dry twigs and leaves and kick down renegade blackberry vines– things that aren’t too fun to do with open shoes.
  • Try to pick up everything you see– even cigarette butts or things that are slightly buried. As a rule of thumb, I tell myself that if I see trash, I will pick it up unless it’s too far on someone else’s property or is too dangerous/ridiculous to pick up (such as a bunch of tiny shards of glass).
  • Obviously, do this while it’s light. I really don’t think this town’s a very dangerous place at night, but it is safer to be out during day. Besides, how well can you pick up trash when it’s dark out?

When I was in Japan, my group met with a man named Mr. Imai, who lived on the beach and made salt. He told us that we are all connected by the oceans; what we put in to our seas washes up on someone else’s shores. No one in this world is isolated– the Pepsi cup on the side of the road may wash into a drain, where it may flow to a river. Perhaps that cup will wash up on the banks of a forest. Maybe it will float to sea.

Every little thing counts. If you walk somewhere– to a friend’s house, perhaps, or to the store (becoming less and less likely, I’m aware, as more of us get our licenses and cars)– take a spare grocery bag in your back pocket and pick stuff up as you walk along. The aim of this challenge is twofold; picking up trash cleans the world we live in and helps the environment, but hopefully we’ll help others realize that they can take action and make a difference.