Counting Beans at the County Fair
by Donna Schoenkopf
Jo thought of it. Kenneth built it. And it’s beautiful.
Jo had seen it on the Internet. It was from the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and had been inspired by the Quakers. Being the extraordinarily creative person she is, she saw a way to reach out and empower people at the Pottawatomie County Free Fair—a gizmo to let people express their thoughts and feelings about how their tax money should be spent. Through beans.
The gizmo is a wooden box. It’s about 34"x30"x1". It has a front of Plexiglas. There are eight divisions at the top—Transportation, Foreign Aid, Interest on the Debt, Education, Defense/Veterans, Environment, Medicare, Medicaid. It looks like this:
Jo and Kenneth are quite a team. Jo thinks things up and Kenneth turns them into reality. And not only does Jo think things up, she puts in tons and tons of labor, too. She is the heart and soul of our feisty little Democratic Club. She writes letters and puts up billboards and makes phone calls and walks in parades and rents offices for headquarters and begs for volunteers and goes to conventions and meetings and all such things. And Kenneth is her right hand man.
Well, they put that gizmo together, painted it up real purdy, and hauled it to the nicely decorated Democratic Booth at the Pottawatomie County Free Fair. (Did I mention that all the stuff in the booth is designed and made by the two Davises? And hauled there in Kenneth’s pickup? Every year?)
Anyway, it was the day of my volunteering for the 5:00 to 7:00 PM slot on the last day of the Fair. Doyal was to be my partner. Doyal, with the leprechaun face. Doyal with tales of his life in Hawaii (33 years!) and of the Air Force and of his dog and of life as an Episcopalian deacon. That Doyal. I adore Doyal.
We relieved Cecil and Louise, who had had a really great time in the two hours before we arrived. Louise said that Cecil had had someone complaining bitterly about the fact that there wasn’t a Debt Payment column and another guy who complained about there being no Agriculture heading and another guy who liked the bean counter so much he thought the whole thing should be on television.
Kenneth and Doyal
And Doyal and I had a great time, too. I was the huckster who captured people as they walked by and drew them in to vote. Doyal was the bean counter, refilling little plastic cups of beans with exactly ten beans to be used in the voting, and also nabbed folks.
I guess you already know that the general population is skeptical when a complete stranger approaches them and offers them something good with no strings attached. Some are just plain not gonna go for it. No matter what. It kinda makes me feel sad when that happens, but we must carry on.
Even though some folks were reluctant, I managed to get almost everyone over to vote with their beans. Folks like to make their opinions known, even though they think they might be exposed to some kind of hard sell.
So I would say, “Come on over for a fantasy vote! You can decide exactly how our tax money is spent. Pretend you are the person who has the power. Here’s some beans! You can put all your beans in one category or spread them out anyway you want. Put them in categories that are important to you. And, yes, your kids can vote, too!”
The results of the Bean Count were very surprising. They were surprising because Oklahoma is the reddest state in the Union. Not one single county voted for Obama. It’s also a state that pays teachers poorly. As a substitute teacher, I was paid less than minimum wage. I’ve met people who have actually volunteered to substitute for free.
But Education was by far the winner in our Bean Count. Education had almost twice as many beans as the runner-up.
Oklahoma State Representative Josh Cockcroft didn’t vote for education. I saw him walking through and waved hello and invited him to vote. Being an elected official he was gracious and smiled and walked right over to our bean board and held his little plastic cup up and poured all his beans into the Defense/Veterans slot. All of them.
Here’s a little background on Josh. He’s very young (just old enough to vote), tall and blond, and wears a big silver cowboy belt buckle with a Christian cross on it. He was elected in 2010 as part of the wave of anti-Obama feeling in this state.
But it’s his education that is of interest. He was home-schooled. He is deeply, deeply, deeply Christian and when he was a teenager he attended TeenPact, which is a training school for young folks to learn how to get elected to public office so they could change our society, government, country into a Christian one, a theocracy. Seriously. Here’s a little blurb from the TeenPact website:
TeenPact continues to teach a hands on approach to government and leadership and encourages students to be involved at a time in their lives when, typically, they do not care about such things. We teach students that the answer to the problems in America is spiritual revival – not politics. [My italics.] That is the reason that our teaching of government is based on clear Biblical principles.
Yep. Defense. War. Killing. Our good Christian (with a capital “C”) representative didn’t think the government should be involved in health care, education, transportation, or any of the other things our government is involved in. The only thing good Christian conservatives think is in the purview of the federal government is ... war.
(I love working in the Democratic Booth. It’s my favorite. You really see America. And I do not mean that sarcastically.)
Here are some other interesting highlights:
A handsome, but kind of worn-out looking father and his probably nine- or ten-year-old son came by. Dad was very, very angry. No, he didn’t see anything up on the board that he’d vote for. Where was the column for Second Amendment rights? You know, gun ownership?
“Well,” I said, “that’s already guaranteed by the Constitution and doesn’t need federal tax money.”
That led to the most intense discussion of the evening, which made his son feel really embarrassed. But I kept my mouth shut after the Constitution comment.
Dad went on and on about how Obama is taking away everyone’s guns, that Obama is destroying our country, Obama is going to have everyone starving to death because he hates America and then he said that he wasn’t going to use these beans to vote with, he was going to take them home to eat, because he was surely going to starve soon.
And he stuck them in his pocket and walked away.
His son sheepishly handed me his little plastic cup with the ten beans in it and followed his dad through the crowd.
I mean, you can’t get any more real than that, Ladies and Gentlemen.
And then there was the little group of three teenage boys. Two brothers and a friend, I am supposing. The two brothers eagerly distributed their beans, but the friend held his plastic cup and looked at the board a long time and then looked at me.
“Where’s the agriculture column?” he asked.
“You’re the second person who’s asked that question,” I replied.
“You know agriculture is important and the federal government wants to destroy agriculture in this country.”
Now that statement was a truly original thought. I bit. “The government wants to destroy agriculture?”
“Yeah, they’re trying to stop plowing and all kinds of things.”
Images of the Dust Bowl of the ’30s filled my head, quickly followed by images of the dust storms this year in Arizona.
I started to talk about the Dust Bowl and how my hero, Masanobu Fukuoka, was able to grow huge amounts of food on his unplowed, unweeded, completely natural plots of ground.
He smiled a little superior smile, handed me back the plastic cup of beans, and walked smugly away.
I realized I sounded like a crazy person. Too much for that young man to swallow. And my heart loved him. That poor little guy had never heard of the Dust Bowl. He had no idea of what happens during a drought when you plow. None. Whatsoever.
And then there was the woman whose daughter poured all her beans into Education and when I laughed and said, “She must be a straight A student,” her mom said, “She sure is! Straight As.”
Then the mother poured all her beans into Medicaid.
I said, “Protecting Medicaid, I see.”
She told me she’d been unemployed for two years, was diabetic, had congenital heart disease, and had cancer problems. No one would hire her. No one wanted her. But Medicaid kept her body and soul together. I wanted to take her home with me. And, Ladies and Gentlemen, that woman did our country a huge favor. Her daughter was a straight A student.
Lots of people voted for Defense/Veterans, I think because they either were veterans or liked them and they liked war. War made them feel strong and in control.
Most children voted for education and the environment, which thrilled me, and some adults did, too. When the adults poured those beans in, they told me that if we didn’t have a healthy environment none of the other stuff would mean much. But one father disagreed with his son’s environmental choice. When his son started to put beans into the Environment slot, he angrily said, “Not in there!” And pointed to Defense. I surmise he was a climate change denier.
Some people got really angry when they saw Foreign Aid. Several mentioned Haiti and all the money and celebrities going over there when we needed help here. I could not help but think about the particularly strong strain of racism and xenophobia in Oklahoma. You know, when you have a really homogeneous culture, people who are not like you are something to either fear or hate. Maybe fear and hate are the same thing. But that’s not to say that people in Oklahoma are particularly bad. It’s just a human trait to fear The Other. In my humble opinion, we need a major influx of different ethnic groups in this state—now! We’d all intermarry and ... problem solved!
The two hours flew by. Doyal and I enjoyed it all. And we Democrats made our mark once again on the people of Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma.
(By the way, most people in Oklahoma are Democrats. They’ve been Democrats or their parents have been Democrats from way back in the Dust Bowl days when Franklin Delano Roosevelt saved their butts. Ironic, huh?)