Christen Varley Transcript

Interview with Christen Varley — leader of the Greater Boston Tea Party — conducted at Starbucks in Waban, Massachusetts on June 11, 2010.

Interview Time: 57:27 A.J. Bauer: So, let’s start out with a brief bio. I read the piece that the MetroWest Daily News did about you. Christen Varley: Yeah, I think that was pretty accurate [chuckles]. AB: Yeah, it was pretty basic. So I have a general gist of where you’re coming from — but kind of give a brief bio. You’re from Ohio right? CV: Right. I’ve been here almost six years. AB: How did you end up coming from Ohio to Boston? CV: It was a job transfer for my husband. We had no choice in it — well, we kind of had a choice in it. I mean we said ‘yes’ obviously. But, we knew politically it was going to be very different, but it was a great opportunity and my husband is from the UK actually and came here because it was a great opportunity — it was a tech start-up, and that’s who he normally works for, except in a crappy economy — where you’re a part of a small company growing, that kind of entrepreneurial spirit. He grew up in the same kind of entrepreneurial family that I did — where everybody owns their own business and works for themselves. AB: So, you say you came from an entrepreneurial family. What was your background there, what was your family’s background? CV: Well, my — I mean it really goes back to my grandparents. Both of my grandfathers owned their own businesses. Ironically, both in insurance. My one grandfather who’s still alive — well, actually my grandfather died, the one I’ve known my whole life, still goes to work three days a week. [laughter] At 87, or whatever he is. So he did, my mother and she was a nurse in her younger days, and then when my parents divorced it was a, ‘I can’t keep nursing; I need to be more available for my kids,’ and whatnot, and took her experience in nursing and turned it into a temp agency. Because, having been in the clinical end and the administrative end, she saw, and this was back in the ‘80s when there were huge shortages, that there was a need to appeal to people in the nursing industry without — they were required to work a full-time job, work holidays, there weren’t a lot of options — not a unionized industry [chuckles]. In the meantime her brother was also in insurance, not with my grandfather, kind of separately on his own. My father was an independent contractor in the tech industry for most of his career. Tim’s family owned businesses — like the shopkeepers in town in this small village in England. So we just kind of always grew up in that culture of working for yourself, but also working for your parents — I mean, I worked for my parents, my mother in high school and college. I went to school locally, so I worked for her two or three afternoons per week, I was the on-call girl on the weekends for their business — if someone called off then I was it. But the trade-off is, they paid for my education. I would endorse my checks and hand them over, and I had a little bit of spending money and a car. One year they sprang for an apartment — you know, paid my rent for a year so that I could experience that. And you just grow up with that independent, I’m working for myself attitude, which is very unique — it’s one of the reasons why my husband came here, there just weren’t opportunities in England to start your own shop. You couldn’t branch out. So when his company offered him — and he’d come here as a teenager to travel when he was 15 or 16 — and had said that was one of the things that struck him — all of the businesses. It’s not — and to me it wasn’t interesting until I got to the UK — when I traveled to the UK in the ‘90s, We joke here like a CVS on every corner, in every town, well yeah that’s what you have in England. The villages all have their own independent apothecary but unless you own that, and that’s your family business, there’s no opening a new one. AB: So you’re kind of stuck in your parents shadow. CV: It’s limiting — it’s very limiting. Tim tells this story of this whole attitude where, well, you’re the shopkeeper’s son why are you going to college when he started attending Oxford. And it was a horrible financial struggle for his family to send him. And it was just, I think that kind of attitude, at the same time that he was having an opportunity to travel here, really made an impression on him as well. And his dad was like, ‘yeah, definitely go to America.’ And his dad has migrated from the north of England to the south to get away from the same kind of thing. So, and you can see where, you might not recognize the ideology behind that point of view as a teenager or even as someone in your young 20s, but now that you’re older and you’re looking as a whole it’s like, yeah that system really does work well, where there’s freedom to go out and do your own thing. And when you’re investing in yourself you’re willing to put in the extra time and the extra effort, and take that risk on yourself, instead of trying to mitigate risk for everybody. AB: So, obviously very early entrepreneurial or business-type thoughts. What is your first political memory? What’s the first thing you remember as political, thinking back? CV: Well, I mean I remember when; I guess it would probably be — I mean I always remember the presidents. I was born in ‘70, so obviously Nixon was kind of off my radar. But I remember Ford, because his picture was in the classroom. I remember Carter — definitely Reagan is very clear, because my mom and dad were Reagan Democrats, and then by the end they were Reagan Republicans. But my first real one is when Reagan got shot, and that awareness that wow it’s not just the president, some people disagree with the president. And of course it was a nut, it wasn’t someone disagreeing. But it brings about that whole discussion of different schools of thought, and what was I — 10 or 11 when that happened? And then a friend of mine’s brother was about 12 years older than her, her oldest brother, and he ran for city council a couple of times, and we always marched in his parades, in our T-shirts — we’d pull the wagon and hand out suckers. So I grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood and so we all just got recruited to do this, because that’s the thing you did — and of course all Democrats. That was in Columbus, Ohio. AB: Did you live in Columbus or in the suburbs? CV: We lived in Columbus, right there in the city. My parents both worked at [Ohio State University] for a while. So we were part of that OSU... AB: The OSU culture? CV: Well, not really the culture, because, I mean, they worked at the hospital. But, yeah we grew up on the campus. If they had to go in on Saturdays, if they both had to go in on Saturdays, if there was a game or something we would play in the morgue. AB: That’s a good image. CV: You know, with some of the doctors’ kids and — they’d literally lock us in the basement, because we couldn’t get out. And we’d run around the morgue, with the jars. It was more like the research end, not with, like, the dead bodies from the hospital. But I remember I have visions of running — you know the Harry Potter movie, where they’re running up and down the aisles? That’s what this was like — in a cold room with jars of specimens. AB: That’s fascinating. CV: Not really. Now I’m like, mom what were you thinking? And she’s like, ‘I don’t remember that at all.’ So I’m like asking my brother, did we sneak in? Someone’s got to verify for me. Trust but verify — did we break into the morgue or were we locked into the morgue? AB: I don’t know which one’s a better story — they’re equally good. CV: Yeah, they’re equally compelling. AB: That’s awesome. That’s great. CV: The irony of it was, when my mother re-married, he was an OSU grad, and there were five of us total in five years — none of us went to OSU. We’d moved up to the Cleveland area, and none of us went to OSU — my sister went to Kent State, which is kind of a smaller state school. But none of us went to anything like OSU. My brother and I and stepbrother all went to small liberal arts, private — well Jim ended up at the Citadel, which my step-father had gone there so it was kind of a family thing. AB: So, where did you go to school again? CV: Baldwin-Wallace College, it’s just a small liberal arts on the west side of Cleveland. AB: And what did you study? CV: Political science. Did a lot of eastern European — again, that was very hot in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. And my adviser in the department, her family was from Poland, and so it was just, that was kind of her focus. And part of my background is Czech so it was just kind of interesting. AB: Yeah, an interesting time to study that. CV: Yeah, it is. And we still have some family over there in what’s now the Czech Republic, as they bounce around in different formations. So yeah, so college was a blast — after college, well, actually, during college I guess I would say my sophomore year, I did an internship, well — I went for five years, I took a semester off here and there a couple of times. AB: I went to UT — some people take eight years, so it’s no thing. CV: I have a brother and sister — the ones that went to Kent — like seven, eight years. My sister never graduated. She had to go back when she was 40 — she was like, “what do you mean my credits don’t count?” And it’s like, lady, they’re 20 years old we don’t have those classes anymore. Anyway, it was during the First Gulf War — so I did an internship with SANE Freeze. There was a boy involved — he was very cute. And so I worked for them, just kind of part-time, not anything big — but really got immersed in the left, anti-war, green movement for a few months there, it was pretty intense. Lots of patchouli, lots of beads. Marched on Washington! I was a chaperone because, I would have been 20, so I ended up chaperoning a bus of college kids from Northeastern Ohio from my school, Cleveland State, John Carroll, Oberlin, to Washington, and the big march. AB: And this was against the Gulf War, you said? CV: Yeah, the first one. And, it was interesting, and it was interesting to see that perspective — I was not necessarily with it, but it was kind of an educational exercise kind of thing. As part of the internship I started an anti-war group at my college, that didn’t get really big. The story gets really interesting in about 12 months or six months, well 12 months. And it was fun. It was just kind of an experiment, the community organizer in my came out. It was interesting because my sister’s now husband was serving at the time in Saudi Arabia, with the Marines Corps. So there’s a little bit of tension family-wise, and we had a student on campus who was leaving, he was in the Reserves and got called up to active duty, and so we — it was just, I’m actually writing a book so I’ve been going through all this, it was interesting to have that kind of dichotomy of having this military experience in my family and having someone so close to my family be there, and then be in this other role at campus where we had kids in the group that were like, “we should help that guy get to Canada!” I mean, because that’s how 18 to 20 year olds think. Because I had a car they were like, “we could just go to Niagara Falls for the weekend, and we should just drive him up there.” And someone in our group actually approached him about that and he was like, “what is wrong with those people? I have not been drafted, I volunteered.” And we were so taken aback, we were like oh my gosh we’re so cool and we’re so, this is — it was stupid! God, to be 20 again! So a year later, so I did the little internship, I wrote my paper and really the bloom was off the rose. I ended up at a Communist Party meeting once, at a Communist bookstore, about five minutes in I’m like “Oh God, I probably shouldn’t be here” and left. So that kind of soured the boy on me, because I wasn’t all in — I’m not really an all in kind of girl. So, that was the end of that. AB: So going back to that, how did you end up at a Communist meeting? CV: I was there with, I want to say Dave, but all I remember is long blond hair, it was the ‘80s. AB: That’s all that matters! CV: It was ‘91, it was very cool. For our group — there was some kind of event and for CLT we were there to speak about what we’d be doing. And, you know, the Che pictures, and I was like, “I don’t know who this guy is,” but it’s a cool image. Now I see it I just giggle myself — silly, but it’s very embarrassing. AB: That’s very interesting. CV: It is interesting to see just like the way of operating — and to be able to look at it now it was just so out of touch with what the realities are and what the real options actually are. It’s not like we were going to march on Washington and President Bush was going to go, “you know what? Oh my gosh you’re so right, I’m so wrong, we’re out.” You know? That was never going to happen. It was really compelling for me at the time as well because we, Bob Wallace had a large ESL program, and we had a lot of kids from Turkey, and a lot of people from Turkey have a lot of family in Iraq. And so we’re watching the bombing, it was all at night, the bombings and so they were doing — you know in dorms how they have the communal TV rooms? There would be 100 kids sitting up all night long watching this happen, and everybody would be looking at the kids from Turkey. And so we learned a whole lot about the Kurdish situation — there was a lot of education as well to be had, and so I look at it that way. That’s what brought it home, it wasn’t this kind of, “there should never be war” it was “look at what it does, look at what the results are, and here are people who are being effected by this, you know, who’ve lose family.” And the irony of it is, that never occurred to us, is that they were thrilled it was happening, that they saw this as “they’re going to get rid of Hussein” and we might actually be able to go home or whatever — so it was all very... AB: Making assumptions. CV: Yeah, being 20. AB: And so, would you say that that experience was a disillusioning type experience or more just formative? CV: The disillusion really came — more formative, you know, an education, just to experience different sides of it. Because my family has never been very politically active — I mean, conservative and we’re Catholic, but it was never made political. It was just, this is how we live our life, we’re Catholic. Didn’t do yard signs — and it’s funny because my stepfather, before we were in the picture, was on city council. But even he wasn’t really involved — never did fundraisers or anything like that at the house. So for me it was college. AB: So what led you to study political science, then? Had you gone to college wanting to study that? CV: I wanted to go to law school. It was the formula to go to law school. Because again, it was the ‘80s — everybody was going to law school, and driving BMWs. Of all the things you put on your list — I do have an American Express Gold Card; it’s my husband’s, which is very very sad, but I did get one with my name on it. So it made me kind of a known person on campus —only 4,000-some people; I developed quite the reputation, and was invited and became the darling of the political science department of course, because they were all flaming liberals. We had a guy on staff, a professor, who had been a part of the interior ministry of Guyana during the Jim Jones episode. He was a radical — at this point I would say he was a communist — and I had him for some classes. So, again, in hindsight it’s amazing. So flash forward a year later, it’s the LA riots and I’m sitting in class with this guy talking about the oppression of native culture, the oppression of — you can’t say developing cultures, by the white men. And I’m sitting there going, “They’re rioting and destroying their own towns; their cities, their businesses, their homes. How does this make sense?” And then I had to go to Washington — I’d been sent by my school to go to some sort of inter-faith conference on poverty where they brought kids from all over the Eastern United States, and we actually met and stuff at the Capitol, not in the building but in some of the office buildings, and heard from congressional representatives and whatnot, and did — it was basically like a go back to campus and spread the word that you’re way too wealthy and your generation needs to fix what we weren’t able to do. And on the last day, we’re sitting there and I was so proud because I drove myself to Washington in my own little car, I was staying in a hotel, my parents were very generous — well I stayed with a professor, but it was kind of a dud — so I ended up staying in a hotel by myself, and it was the J.W. Marriott, oh my god! Now I realize it was a really nice hotel — I could see the White House. And, we’re sitting there the last afternoon and just kind of having a de-briefing and kind of a what are you taking away from this kind of thing, and the moderator says, when it comes to my turn, that I basically need to go back to Ohio, I had my own apartment that year, and open my apartment to homeless people, sell my car and give the money away to said homeless people and I really should be pressuring my parents to hire more minorities, indigents, whatever. Got to up the payroll; I don’t need for this; Why are they paying for college? I could have gotten a loan or grant or whatever. We’re not doing enough. And I’m like, oh my god I volunteered at a soup kitchen two Saturdays a week [sic] with my peace group at college; I am co-president of the Hispanic American student association, because I was studying Spanish. And I was like, if I’m not doing enough, then — and this is before we had cell phones. So I leave, and the minute I hit the county I had a cell phone — it was like a brief case — that my mom had given to take with me, you know you could call 911 from it on the highway. And as soon as I hit the county I called her and said, “these people are crazy. Get me a job with the Republicans.” And I’ve never gone back. And it wasn’t that the motives were bad or the intentions were bad, it was the method. You can’t take and give — everyone’s got to go out and take it for themselves. And that’s when they value it, that’s when they work the hardest for it, that’s when they sleep the best at night. It just, and it’s yours, you own it — win or lose you own it. And I think that’s what the human condition is — you invest in yourself, you do what you have to do to take care of your family. When things go well you celebrate, and when things go back you pick yourself back up and you go out and you fix it. And I think that’s how we’re designed. And I just think it’s miraculous that our Constitution recognized that — you know, our founding documents recognize that human beings thrive in an environment where they rely on themselves, they have the opportunity to wildly excel or just happily go along with the flow. That’s the great thing about our system — you don’t have to be competing all of the time — like here’s my mother and step-father, who were go-getters, a match made in heaven, who started a business and got married and put five kids through college, married off two daughters with big huge weddings and own two homes and did a lot of traveling — and now it’s all like, oh my god we’re going to die poor, but you know they really secured a future. And I’ve got one brother with some disabilities, and they’ve been able to set aside some money so he’ll be taken care of. It’s all about living up to your responsibilities. And then I have my dad, who then found someone who was right for him who was like, I’m happy if I can pay the cable bill, because I like watching HBO and I live in my nice little row-house in Pittsburg, and I go to my 40-hour a week job and I don’t have to work too hard, and I don’t take it home with me and — you know, and now at 65 he signs out, he says I’m done and I’ll find a way to make it work. And he’s just as happy — which you could see why they didn’t work out, I mean you can’t have [laughs]. So what I ended up doing was working for the Cuyahoga county GOP in Cleveland, as an internship with them for the summer of ‘92 — I got to meet the president, the vice president, the vice president’s wife, Bob Dole, lots of people, it was a lot of fun. George Voynavich, the crier [laughs] god that broke my heart! Mike DeWine and John Glenn. So it was just a lot of fun to kind of mingle. And in the fall I got assigned — because that’s how it works, they have an opening and they move you — to a congressional campaign. And I was the volunteer coordinator for a congressional campaign — Martin Hoke. And it had like 4,000 volunteers, which was an unbelievable number and no cell phones, no computers, it was all done by telephone or post cards. And we had a blast — it was like Scott Brown all over again, because he was running against I think a 16-year incumbent, who was like the Ted Kennedy of Ohio, brought in the highway, brought in the big project that kept everyone employed for 20 years. I mean the irony is, six years later I ended up living in a warehouse building that looked out over that bridge. [laughs] But it was just, it was really an interesting experience, there was a lot of dirty politics, our cars got vandalized in the parking lot of the office building. I was one of the only young girls on staff so threats as we were walking around were just awful. And Martin was single so it was ugly in that. But he won! And it was a lot of fun to be a part of, and he turned out to be a real dirt bag, real sleazy, a real typical — and he lasted just the term. In that freshman class, when they all went to Washington, they were interviewing all of them and he had the infamous open mic, and it was his turn to be interviewed and he says into his mic something about how he, leaning over and getting to touch her endowments or something and she hears it off stage and is looking over like literally who is this boob I have to talk to next. And it broke in the papers in Cleveland and I’m like you’ve got to be kidding me — you’ve got to be kidding me. So again, a little bit of disillusionment — they’re all human and some of them are a little bit lower than human. I look back on it now and they needed a good candidate to run, and he had money — his parents had a lot of money so I’m sure they funded it a lot, they were at all the events. And whatever, it was a great experience though, it was interesting to see what people who really believe in a candidate are willing to do — show up in the pouring rain, tornados, thunderstorms whatever it takes to hold a stupid sign and just do that — so it was fun. AB: So that was the first election you ever worked in, was ‘92 ... CV: Yeah, I was actually a paid staffer. AB: And the first election you were able to vote in, was that also that year? CV: No, ‘88. AB: And did you vote that year, or do you remember? CV: I had an absentee ballot, I remember at college. And I know I voted, but I’ve been wondering and I don’t know if I ever sent it in. I should call. The guy that I worked for as an intern in 1992 for the county GOP is on the board of election in Cuyahoga County — I should call him and see if I ever turned in a ballot that year. AB: You might need to for the book, right? CV: But I turned 18 in October, and you could pre-register to vote. AB: Yeah, I had the same situation. CV: And then I did that. When’s your birthday? AB: The 15th. CV: Oh, I’m the 12th! [laughs] AB: Libras, very good. CV: Yeah! So then I finished off college. Oh, and in ‘92, which would have been my senior year, I was president of the College Republicans on campus. So I went two years later — so it was funny and it surprised a lot of people. AB: When you say it surprised a lot of people — did that change the circles you ran in? Or how did that affect your professors? CV: A little bit. I had a lot of run-ins that year. When I was in Washington on that trip, that professor made a couple of comments about me in the classes, you know. We were back-to-back with him, there were two different classes but they ran back-to-back, and it was 300-, 400-level classes so it was all the same people. And he had made a comment that he had looked up where I was from because his wife worked in the administration, and he found out that I worked in a pretty wealthy suburb and then — because he had seen me on campus one day driving a Mercedes, because it was my step-father’s car and I needed a car to drive to school one day. It was a 1978, old diesel — it was not.... But he made a comment that I was just some rich white kid from the suburbs that drove a Mercedes, what could I possibly know about living in the slums of LA. And, so I kind of got word of that when I got home and I didn’t go to class the next day because I was meeting with other people about how do I handle this, and he ended up attempting to fail me in both classes because I missed to many — because I was signed out to miss four and I missed five, and so I hit the threshold and it was an automatic fail. And so I had to withdraw, because I got the notice and I showed up on Monday and he was like, “what are you doing here?” You failed the class — both of them. And one was mandatory — it was political theory, it was a mandatory class. And so I ended up working out a deal where I had to re-take them and pay and they would erase the ‘F’s, but I had to threaten litigation based on what he said about me when I was gone. So, again kind of any eye opener that this difference in thought — and I was like, wait, weren’t we debating, isn’t that what we were doing in class that day? All I did was set out a point of view and most people agreed with me and you don’t get to just fail me because of it. So it was kind of interesting to come up against it — and that would have been in ‘92, which at the time it wasn’t like oh all college campuses in the United States are ultra liberal, you know, incubators. But now, I’m like yeah! So. Funny. I mean there were other issues there was a program at our school — this is what really solidified it all — where young women who had children, who ended up graduating high school or getting a GED but were not going on to college could enter a special program, where if they got accepted, took the entrance exams, the ACT or SAT or whatever and got accepted, they could live on campus in these homes where they had these little suites where they could live with their kids — some of them with multiple children — the kids went to daycare on campus, they had food cards, they were going to school on grants, and some of these girls were graduating and couldn’t read. I mean one of them, literally, could not read. She graduated with me, with honors, went on to law school at Cleveland Marshall School of Law, was going off that summer after graduation to work in the D.A.’s office of Cuyahoga County, she was the darling of our little Caribbean guy — and he had broken his foot in the middle of the winter and couldn’t walk to campus, he lived in a campus house, couldn’t get to school everyday so she was reading his notes — she couldn’t read typed lectures, could not read them. And we’re all sitting there — are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? She’s already pre-accepted into law school. It’s February, she’s already got a job lined up while we’re all scrambling. So it was a real awakening. But the whole incident with Martin in the primary, it really turned me off to the political — like working in it. I mean, I could have gone off and worked with him and gone off to Washington and done that whole thing, but really chose not to because... So I graduated in June of ‘93 and worked my tail off for six months and went to Europe for a year — to Prague, Eastern Europe. And I ended up running a bar for a partnership of accountants who had no idea what they were doing, and I had just spent six months working at a coffee house, bar tending, waitressing to make the money — was given an airline ticket for college graduation, anywhere in the world open-ended for a year. AB: Wow. That’s awesome. CV: I know. I know, my mother was furious. My uncle had miles that were expiring. And I was like, you know what, I’m out. I’m out. And that was like another, to see what was happening there with people my age that were just hungry and to come into a business that was doing very well but didn’t quite — these guys didn’t quite get the whole hospitality thing and didn’t see the opportunity because they were bean counters. I mean they knew enough that there was an opportunity to set up a business to serve the ex-pats, but they didn’t really see what was coming with the summer tourist season, with all the Americans that were going to be trucking across. And we developed a couple — we were giving away t-shirts, if you drank 10 beers in like one day we’d give you the 11th beer and a t-shirt for free. And then they would wear these t-shirts back across Europe and people would be like, where is that? And they would come to Prague just to come to our bar, because we served breakfast — we were almost open 24 hours a day. Because I had brothers, I knew how to cook too. We had hamburgers, like real hamburgers, peanut butter. We were importing peanut butter. I was selling stacks of peanut butter sandwiches for like five bucks each, cost me like 20 cents. We were selling beer that costs us 7 cents, that you could buy anywhere else in town for the equivalent of 30 cents, for a buck. Because we had satellite TV, and I had my parents and my brothers taping Seinfeld and Letterman and the Simpsons and FedExing me the tapes — we’d have them within three days. So we’d be playing them like in the middle of the night we’d have a full bar, we could sit like 60 in our bar, watching television. It was just... AB: What did that experience being over there... CV: It just really solidified to me, that our system brings out the best. Here I had 19, 20, 21 year olds working for us that couldn’t believe the money they were making in tips. In tips! And, you know, a lot of kids — this was all illegal — we were hiring Americans, we were hiring kids escaping from the Balkans. Because that was during the whole... AB: Kosovo. CV: Yeah, so we would basically put them to work for a week doing whatever, cleaning, dishes. We’d let them sleep in the bar — because we had locker rooms and showers and we’d actually lock them in at night — I was, I would be like if the place burns down they’re going to die — and then at the end of the week we’d pay them and feed them all week, and at the end of the week we’d give them literally a $100 bill, which would get them, and a train ticket — I would literally take all these kids over to the train station and buy them all tickets and put them on a train to Germany, and they’d hit in the middle of the night, they’d hit customs at the line with like a ticket to Frankfurt, and they’d hand them the 100 bucks, because they didn’t have papers and couldn’t have passports on them or they’d be sent back. We had a couple of people who knew German, we’d teach them what they had to say and they would pay their $100 and they were gone. And some of these kids were like 16, 17, just trying to escape being conscripted. And at the time it’s oh I’m doing this great thing, but now it’s like oh my god. You don’t realize you’re a part of something like that. And you don’t recognize what you have, and how really precious it is. Again, now I totally get it. I mean that stuff is wasted on people in their 20s — no offense. AB: No. That’s fascinating. CV: It really was. And there was like another — I got there in January and there was no food, nothing fresh except in the French Market, which nobody can afford, and I’m living in this beautiful apartment in what was the old Jewish neighborhood of town. I’d shop at my little market where they had turnips, carrots, cabbage, potatoes — and everything else was canned — not even frozen, because they didn’t have freezers. And one day I walk in and there was all this noise and it’s one-third the size of this room, it’s the corner market. And there’s all this noise all this hubbub back in the corner, and I smell oranges. And I’m like oh my gosh there are oranges here! And at the time it didn’t even hit me, you have the people my age like 23 and younger eating the oranges right there in the store, pealing them and then taking the peal to be weighed, and the shopkeeper is furious. And then you have the 70 and 80 year olds who are [treating them] like golden eggs — smelling them, treating them like I want the best one I can find. And I get there in January and this is like a month later — and they’re all from Spain, which I don’t know why you wouldn’t be able to get them in Spain — but it was like a Little House on the Prairie moment, well you’re too young to know that even. AB: I’ve seen the show — don’t remember the episode though. CV: It’s like scurvy — you eat the orange to prevent the scurvy. Or the lemons. And then you have people like my parents age, in their 50s — or what was then my parents’ age — walking by, like tunnel vision they didn’t see them. Because they’ve never experienced those little tiny — and that brought home, wow, because communism, if you grew up in the ‘80s it was like oooh communism’s evil and no choices and no food. But that really, I was like wow why don’t they see the oranges, don’t they see the oranges? And of course I bought more than anybody — I bought like 25 and fed everybody because of scurvy. [big laughter] But it’s little things like that. I didn’t remember that until like a year ago — that was totally gone. But it really just all comes back — when you look at what’s happening right now. But first, real quick, the 15 years in between, not a lot political. I came back and thought, oh I’m pretty good at this restaurant management thing. So I worked in restaurant management and catering. Got married, had a baby and was home. So from 1998 until this year, I’ve been home full time. AB: So just so I get the dates right. Prague was in? CV: ‘93 — I couldn’t even last a year. I couldn’t do it; it was too hard. And I traveled a little bit around as well. When I came home — I’d been gone about 10 months — and the customs guy was like oh you’ve been gone a long time. And I was like [fake crying voice] oh my god, I’m so happy to be home, and crying. And he was like what the hell were you doing? And looking through all my stamps, what were you doing you missed the party, it’s the ‘90s and everybody’s got money. And I’m like, I know I’m back, I wanted to hug him, you know? So yeah, so I did little issue things here and there. I volunteered a lot in those elections, which would have been ‘94 when I was there. AB: So you were there for the ‘94 elections or you missed them? CV: I came back like two weeks ahead of time, so I volunteered — somebody I knew was running for city council in Cleveland, I did some volunteer work for him. He didn’t win. Martin lost. And yeah, I just wasn’t into the culture — it was still just really sleazy to me. And so, and I just really wasn’t involved. But after we moved in 99 to Summit County, bought a house, and now I’m mom, lived in a pretty affluent township, kind of rural, did some issue things there with the township, like the library [inaudible], and that’s all county government in Ohio, there’s a lot of county government — the zoo. And even in Ohio, I was never a registered Republican, I was always un-enrolled, and then we moved here in 2004. By 2006 I couldn’t take it anymore and I started blogging. AB: GOPmom right? CV: Yeah. Which we’re pulling by the way, so get there. AB: Yeah, I’ll have to grab some screen shots. CV: Yeah, I never do anything on it — I haven’t been on it in months. So it’s just kind of, it’s all archived but. So that was a lot of fun, and my husband did a lot of blogging on it as well in the ‘08 election. AB: Yeah, I got a chance to look through some of it — not all of it, I basically just skimmed but. CV: Yeah, in the Fall of ‘08 we were like in the top 10, top 20 political blogs in the country; it was really kind of fun and addicting and relentless. AB: Well, it never stops. You have to keep going right? CV: Yeah, you can’t. I don’t know how people do it. I mean one person, you can’t. You can’t do it. AB: One thing that keeps coming up is our system here in the United States and everything; I guess one thing I’m hoping to do is kind of a word association thing that I won’t get into now, but I’ll shoot you an e-mail and maybe we can follow up. CV: Yeah, sure. I know, I’m sorry, I’m a talker. AB: No it’s great. It’s been very great. But, so what do you understand when you say ‘American?’ What is an American? I know that’s kind of esoteric. CV: A person? AB: I mean, what does it mean to be American I guess? What are the values behind that? CV: I think it goes to self-reliance and personal responsibility — like a belief that those are virtuous. And that what those mean, to be self-reliant and to be able to take responsibility for yourself means to have the ability to succeed wildly — to go out and make your mark on the world. I don’t think that you have to be born here — obviously, my husband wasn’t. There are people that are like that and people that aren’t, but I think the architecture of our government provides for that, for people of that ilk to really kind of run with it. And that means prosperity and the more prosperous individuals you have the more prosperous your society can be as a whole. You know, because in the end it goes to economics at that point — money, jobs, business, work, make money, create jobs, you know. So for me it’s unfortunate that it’s all about money — I’d love for it all to just be about rainbows and free stuff, because I’m really cheap. AB: I like that, “rainbows and free stuff” I’ll try to use that. CV: [Lightheartedly] Rainbows and free stuff [laughter]. I’m fascinated by rainbows. But there’s a distinct difference in getting something — and like I see it in my own family; my older sister is the kind of person who will say no don’t do this. I need 20 bucks and will just take it. And I’m like, oh my god “I need 20 dollars” I don’t even want to ask. And I remember as a kid being like, we’re Libras so we’re very — so why they hell does she have new closes, new this, new that — because she asked! Instead of waiting to go out and earn it — I wanted a bike when I was 12 and my sister got a bike because she needed a new bike so my parents went out and bought her a bike. And I got her old one, because I grew into hers. And I wanted one like hers. And it was 1982, ‘83. So we’re talking a $200 bike. How does a 12 year old in 1983 earn $200? You baby-sit your ass off. And that’s exactly what I did — and I went, and I bought that bike, and my parents didn’t go with me and, you know the guy at the shop was like, “why are you paying me in all $5 bills” and I’m like that’s the bike I want. AB: Handing him pennies and nickels. CV: No, I was such a good babysitter I was making 5 bucks an hour, don’t get me wrong — and in ‘83. And I shoveled snow — I just wanted it. And then six months later my stupid brother rode it one day and didn’t lock it up and it got stolen — and I just, like the injustice of that. That someone would just take something and lose it and never recognize what went into providing it in the first place. That’s probably my brother and sister’s fault — ah, middle child syndrome. But it’s — bring that out to a national and global perspective. Yeah, if you have something and someone doesn’t and they need it to survive then you’re going to give them yourself. I mean I grew up Catholic — we weren’t wealthy, we actually were kind of poor for a while — there was always another family at school that got our hand-me-downs, you know. Like we took very good care of our uniforms because they had been given to us from another family, because the jumpers the girls wear, so we could hand them down to another family. It was just, there was that understanding and I just don’t get that how people are different from that. But you just have to realize that some people are different, they literally must be wired differently, but I also — my experience in Eastern Europe is that it can all be taken away. Because to see an entire population just, an entire generation that never experienced — like Czechoslovakia between the two wars was a boom period — I have china from Czechoslovakia, which is a nation that doesn’t even exist — it’s fascinating to me to have just in the whole government thing. I grew up saying my family was from Czechoslovakia when they were really from Bohemia, they came over in the 1860s, and from then on it never existed again. It’s just this, to see this whole generation of people when I’m there not get it, and you know to see that they’re sandwiched in between the 70 and 80 year olds, who lived through the boom times, understand and lost everything and were seeing it coming back. We were having 70-year-old people coming into our bar because they wanted to come, and there were other American places, but we had a great location right downtown, because they heard about American hamburgers or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and what is it. And to see some toothless, 80-year-old babushka lady eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — it’s like oh my god, this is incredible! I can’t charge her a dollar! Just to see that joy. And then other people of this 30 to 60, not even — like the 30-year-olds to those like 60 or 65 would come in to watch the television, they would stay all day, mostly men — there was a betting place around the corner, so they would come in to watch the games and the races or whatever, because it was less crowded. They would sit at the bar all day and never eat or drink anything. So I had to kick them out. I’d be like, “it’s summertime, I need these seats, you can stand or you can go.” And they were furious with me. And I’m like you got to buy something — and we had rules, where every hour you had to buy, I don’t care if it’s a 10 cent cup of coffee, you have to buy something if you’re going to sit in our seats, or you can stand. We had one guy who brought in his own chair! I was like, ‘no’. No. Come back in January when nobody’s in town but not in July. So it exists, but it can get stamped down. I mean most people do what it takes to provide food for themselves — most, not all. [chuckles] And of course there are some people who just can’t — my brother for example is always going to need some assistance, some supervision, some extra money every month because he can’t earn, he can’t keep a job. You know, it’s just he’s basically like he’s 13 or 14, very functioning but at a young age. And so you get that, and he’s my step brother I didn’t even know him until I was 16 years old, but I’m the trustee of his whatever his trust will be. But it’s like, this is my brother and this is my responsibility. I don’t get where that doesn’t exist in other people. And what I see this as — because I’ve got to go — is we’re at this point where there are more people who think that there’s rainbows and free stuff out there than there are people that know you have to go out and create it in order for it to exist. I don’t know, for me the Tea Party is not about electing people, it’s about helping get this ship — I mean right now it’s about getting people to work for candidates to get elected — but it’s also about informing and educating people as to what the opportunities are if they’re in it. If you’re just sitting on the sidelines then you don’t have a role, you’re not a decision maker. And our system requires people taking an active role and making decisions and being a part of it because it’s best for everybody — and not just here in the nation, because I’m sorry but whether you like it or not we have a role to play, and whether it’s symbolic or whether it’s literal like we’re doing in Afghanistan — we now have a role that we play. And I tell people, if we crash babies in Africa die first. We’ll be the last ones to starve to death — we may starve to death like everybody else, but we’re the last ones. And that to me is a sin — to not recognize that we have this responsibility as well. AB: So that’s a literal thing. But you said we also have a symbolic role, and I know you don’t have a lot of time, but what do you mean by symbolic role? CV: Yeah, kind of this beacon — like my husband, coming here for a couple of weeks one summer and going, “I want that,” going home and realizing he can’t get it and working to set himself up in a way where he could get here. When his company said we’re going to America he said, “I’m in” “I’ll go” but most people wouldn’t go. He said there were like 60 people in the room and five raised their hands — and I’m like, that’s remarkable. AB: Why do you think those people didn’t want to leave? CV: I mean, you can live a very nice lifestyle in England if you don’t know any differently. You know. And the same thing in, you know, in Prague. I made friends with someone who had been a state musician, and had traveled all over Europe playing the violin in some little orchestra representing his nation. And just, like, and I met this guy, playing this guy playing for coins on the Charles Bridge, because the country disbanded and the orchestra fell apart and he lived in this literal one-room apartment where there was a curtain between his bed and the toilet and the bathtub was in the kitchen — and that was great, because he always had a place to live and he could make enough coins to feed and drink — and I’m like, yeah but you’re 30, 35, maybe 40 — he was very young, looked like he was 40 but I think he was like 32 or 33. And I’m like, there’s a whole world out there. Did you see anything while you were traveling Europe? I mean, but it is a different level of, what I’m willing to settle for. And I think that to say that we all have to settle is just inherently unfair. That was pretty good — I’ve got to go I’m going to get a ticket — in Newton they’re awful. AB: If you do let me know and I’ll pay for it. I appreciate it. — Interview conducted by A.J. Bauer —

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