The Importance Of Involvement

Why participation in local party politics is crucial to the Resistance.

Being involved in local politics and your local Democratic Party can be personally rewarding as well as politically effective. As  E.J. Dionne Jr.  points out “power in a democratic nation comes from winning elections…a two-party system…requires picking sides.” Partisanship and polarization are a real problem right now but that does not mean you have to eschew participation with your party. What I believe it means is that we have to be more engaged because part of our engagement can focus on breaking the polarization cycle.

Persuade

Being involved enough to participate in primaries (which is as easy as registering as a democrat) means that you have a chance to put a candidate on the ticket in a general election that will have broad appeal and may be better at bridging divides than creating them. Volunteering with your local party office might mean helping disseminate information to voters, in which case you’ll have an opportunity to close the gap by gently reassuring voters of the party’s commitment to the issues that they care about. If you’re a voting member of the county party, you will have a direct say in the platform that they support.

The ways in which direct involvement in the party process will help us win elections are numerous and varied. You are sure to find yourself some volunteer opportunities that fit your time, lifestyle, and personality. If you don’t have the time or inclination to get hands-on in the efforts, monetary donations are an important factor as well so a donation(s) would be a helpful gesture.

The localized activist groups like those created through the Indivisible Guide are doing some awesome work and have had a huge impact on civilian participation and attention. They have been instrumental in drawing attention to issues and galvanizing people toward action and participation. But we also need the structure and organization of a strong central party to start winning elections. No amount of activism will make much of a dent if we continue to lose elections both large and small. You can protest something till your voice runs out and you’re dead on your feet but if we don’t have the numbers in the legislatures and executive branches, none of it will matter much. As this article in The Nation mentions “organizations need to figure out how to persuade The Democratic Partyenough of the politically passive citizenry…to vote, and to vote democratic.”
Please help support strong candidates and get involved in voter education and turn-out efforts. I attended my first central committee meeting of the Democratic Party in my county last night and became a voting member by applying to be a PCP (Precinct Committee Person). I encourage similar actions for anybody like me who has never been vote-1319435_1280involved on that grassroots party level before and a deeper commitment for those already there. Let’s Resist by Persisting!

 

Bridging Divides

A look at the relationship between populism and polarization. Could reaching out and hearing each other be the key to our survival?

I wanted to tell a story but I’m going to condense it into something more succinct instead:

  1. I had a lifelong friend whose views became very contrary to my own over the last several years (as they relate to politics, religion, and social issues). We stayed friends despite these differences and our geographic divide (about 3000 miles) but mostly kept in contact through texts and FB.
  2. A couple years ago she unfriended me on FB because of an argument we were having about a meme she posted. She told me we could continue to be friends but not on FB and only if we agreed to never talk about politics, religion, or other socially important topics. I reluctantly went along with this.
  3. We continued our (in my opinion) extremely shallow friendship for another couple years. There was little depth to it and our conversations were very superficial.
  4. 2016 came in like a hurricane and the election was fast approaching. I was distraught over the possibility of a Trump win. I was having a crisis because more and more I felt I couldn’t be friends with someone who supported Trump. The differences in people who could or couldn’t back him seemed a complete roadblock to real connection.
  5. I finally just had to know if my friend was a Trump supporter. I decided to confront her about it and wrote up a text basically asking if she was supporting Trump and laying out a few reasons why that wouldn’t be something I’d be able to accept in a friend. It was pointed and probably sounded pretty adversarial, even though my intention was to express my deep dismay about it all. I resolved myself to this despite the pain it was causing me. I sent it.
  6. Our friendship ended in a fiery disaster. I mailed her a letter about a week later to apologize for the way I handled it, letting her know that I stood by my decision, but not the tone of my text. She returned it unopened.
  7. My uncle died in December and she and my mother are still in contact so she reached out to me so that we might support my mom together. I agreed, I told her about the letter I sent, and we had a few days of civility while we got my uncle’s stuff straightened out. We didn’t continue any contact after that.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I think it sets up the issue at hand pretty well. How do we talk to people we disagree with? How can we ever expect to find middle ground, shared views, or compromises if we literally will not speak or listen to those whose views differ from ours? And is it even important or necessary to do so?

These are questions that have come up for me a lot lately. The divisiveness and discord in our country today are disturbing and I’ve been thinking about how that has affected election outcomes, friendships, and the general tone of life in the US (and elsewhere as it is not an exclusively American problem).

There’s been a lot of talk after the election about identity politics and the democrats apparent disregard for middle white America. I’ve done some soul searching of my own around this issue and have had to admit to myself that I may have been part of the problem. I’ve done little to bridge divides, but have instead clung to my own righteousness about my views, not allowing for differences of opinions. I won’t say I haven’t tried at some points to talk to people about their different views or their concerns but in most instances I probably didn’t help things with the tone I’ve taken or the words I’ve chosen. And more importantly, if I’m being completely honest, I haven’t wanted to reach out to “those people”. I’ve clung to my very negative views of them and concluded that they had nothing important, intelligent, or worthwhile to say.

How much has divisiveness and polarization contributed to our current situation? Based on a lot of the reading I’ve been doing and my own synthesis of circumstances: yugely. Trump can be accurately categorized as a populist, at least by my understanding. What exactly makes for a populist you might ask (as did I – since I didn’t know exactly what the term meant)? Well, this quote from  Andrés Miguel Rondón who has lived through a destructive populist regime in Venezuela put it plainly:

The recipe is universal. Find a wound common to many, someone to blame for it and a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Cartoon them. As vermin, evil masterminds, flavourless hipsters, you name it. Then paint yourself as the saviour. Capture their imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a good story. One that starts in anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.

In essence be the common man who will fight for the little guy against elites. It matters not that Trump himself is an elite billionaire because he was able to galvanize those who felt left behind and identify with them on some base level. They were angry, he was angry, he told them he could fix it. His almost childish communication style and branding worked wonders as well.

So how can polarization give rise to or aide populist leaders? Jan-Werner Mueller may have said it best in this interview : “The most important factor explaining the outcome of the election is partisanship — around 90 percent of self-identified Republicans voted for Trump. As a third-party populist candidate, Trump may have at most received 20 percent to 25 percent of the vote.” So essentially because the republicans are so loyal to the GOP they will vote for any candidate on the ticket that belongs to their party, even if it means voting for someone who they are repulsed by. In today’s vote-party-lines culture (which is apparently more pronounced on the right than the left) someone like Trump can swoop in with their populist message and make it to the top so long as they run on a major party ticket. If he wasn’t able to get on the party ticket, he would not have had enough support to win the general election.

Ok, you may say, but what now?? Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. And I’ve found some helpful answers, but more than anything only vague suggestions or warnings. And worse yet, some of what I’ve read is scary because it sounds as if much of the Resistance movement has been playing into the populists’ hands. Let’s think about what the rallying cries have generally been. Resist, persist, picket, protest, march, write, call, show-up. Sounds great right? Seems effective, influential, and energizing! And maybe it is or can be those things. But they could also have a damaging effect in the long run. And where are the cries of “vote!”, “learn about the political process”, “get informed about topics”, “recruit voters”, or “reach out and connect with those who felt left behind by you?” There may be a few quiet voices calling for those things, but the loudest voices seem much more bent on catchy slogans and calls for immediate, physical, and group responses.

“It is possible to worry so much about Trump’s America that you forget about Trump’s Americans.”

But what is wrong with those strategies? How could protests and marches backfire? Again from someone who has personally lived through the shitshow: “we failed. Because we lost sight that a hissy-fit is not a strategy. The people on the other side, and crucially Independents, will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind.” He also says “Your organizing principle is simple: don’t feed polarization, disarm it.” We have essentially been having our own hissy-fit, all the while bolstering disparity. There is some validity to these tactics for the problems of the moment or very immediate future but they could be somewhat detrimental if they encourage continued polarization. In the long run this has to be about Americans from all areas coming together, not just the big cities or coastal states. There is danger in turning inward, staying in our bubbles, and only reaching out to those who already feel like we do. There is talk of coming together, joining causes and forces, but they only include progressive or liberal causes. There’s little talk about Trump voters and how to reach them. “It is possible to worry so much about Trump’s America that you forget about Trump’s Americans,” so says Carlos Lozada writing for The Washington Post. To put it more crudely (which is my natural inclination) – it becomes one big circle jerk.

By mal3k, CC2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I’m now thinking of the immortal words of the great Ice Cube “You better check yo self before you wreck yo self.” I think we all need to take stock of our own prejudices, reluctance to speak to the opposition, and motivations. And really look at what will and won’t be effective and compassionate in the long run. If we are all gathering together, making common cause and showing force, will that lead us down a better road than we’ve been on in this country lately? In some ways, it may and has already had some positive effects. But if we continue to ignore those that have been feeling left behind, will they ever want to join our causes or even care about our views? I highlight the word feeling because we may believe, and it may even be factually true, that those people have not been left behind by us or by the democratic party as a whole, but if they feel that is true then we must first acknowledge and validate the feelings before trying to influence them in any way. And we may find that if we were in their shoes we may have some of the same beliefs.

Right now, we are the enemy to them. Our continued discounting of their feelings just drives more of a wedge between us and them. They will not be able to hear us because of the delivery of our message. We need them to feel that we are the same as they are or at least have the same fears, dreams, hopes, and needs. And that for most of us the accomplishments we’ve had (or that they perceive we’ve had) were not just handed to us (in most cases). They need to understand that we have a common enemy, and it’s not us. Policies that keep them down, also hold us back. Businesses that take advantage of them also take advantage of us. A shitty educational system is something we all want to fix. Just because we care about and fight for people who are less fortunate because of their skin color, gender, or nationality, does not mean we don’t fight for them too. Yes, they have white privilege even if they don’t realize it, but that doesn’t make their very real struggles somehow fictional.

But how do we go about that and is everybody even reachable? I’m not sure I have an answer to those questions. I have some feelings about them though. I personally believe some people are definitely not reachable. There are some people living on this planet that I will NEVER be able to, nor want to, make common cause with. There are some people who due to upbringing, education, or some other circumstance are never going to be able or willing to dig deep and find common ground. They are never going to want to hear what you have to say, trust you,  or share any of their own feelings or thoughts with you. Those people exist and we will probably never enlighten them. But I think those are a minority. In the right conditions, under the right circumstances I think people generally want to connect with one another, not create enemies. But sometimes that’s buried deep. Even for me it’s been hard to get to this place. I’m fairly oppositional and argumentative in nature and that can make connection difficult. And this election certainly brought out a fair amount of my own tribalism and disgust for people. It’s been a struggle to acknowledge the part I play in this and try to shift tactics. But that’s what I’m trying to do.

As for the “how”, I’m a bit more stymied. Not much of what I’ve read has been very helpful in the real nuts and bolts of such an idea. Reach out and connect sounds great and so simple, yet what does it really mean in practicality? How do you become a member of someones tribe if you have nowhere to start?

This now brings me all the way back to the beginning of my post. Remember my old friend who is no longer a friend? I got an idea in my head a bit ago about reaching out to her to try and bridge the divide. The purpose wasn’t to become friends again (I have no desire for that and it’s not strictly due to politics) but to try and understand each others positions and views. My hope was to grasp how she has formed her ideas and why, while providing the same to her. I was nervous about approaching her but wanted to try anyway. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the process and typing up a detailed email, trying to be careful about my wording and the system I was developing. I was hoping for it to be an ongoing exchange with a few simple rules and structures in place to keep it civil and informational.

Oh, how I wish I could tell you it has been a smashing success! But it was no success at all. She did at least send a reply and we had another exchange after that but she declined my invitation. I consider it a failure even though I did learn a few things. I learned that she really doesn’t trust me, my motivations, or even my ability to write (since she accused me of plagiarizing my email from “some website”, which of course I did not do at all). I also learned that she is completely closed to the idea of ever changing her mind, apparently about everything since she just made a grand declaration that she would “never change her mind.” I don’t know if there could have been a way this would have worked or if it was simply doomed no matter what. Maybe it was that I didn’t make it personal enough, instead deciding to use a more professional and aloof tone. Maybe she simply feels like her side won so why would she want to spend any time connecting with someone like me. Maybe she simply does not have the capacity for such dialogue, intellectually, emotionally, or otherwise. I don’t know the answers to these questions. If anyone cares to read the full text of the email exchanges, here is a link to them (with all identifying information erased of course).

So that was my first try at this whole tactic and unfortunately it didn’t turn out great. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile pursuit. I’m sure there are plenty of ways to reach out and try to hear the other side and maybe someday I’ll be able to write a post that talks about some of those more specifically. But for now at least I’m going to simply concentrate my efforts on being willing to listen and trying to clear the preconceived notions from my head and open my heart a bit wider. As for my efforts in the resistance, I’m going to continue being a “reluctant revolutionary” but a toned down version. I’m focusing my time and energy into learning how to influence government policy, increase voter turn-out, and talk about issues effectively. I’m going to become more involved at the party level and hope I can affect change in future elections. I hope everyone will find their own way to contribute and I encourage you to think about more than just protests and outrage. They are worthy endevours in their own right, but if we want to make long-term sweeping changes it may take a more nuanced approach.

If you have any stories you’d like to share about how you’ve been able to, or been unsuccessful at, bridging divides I’d love to hear them 🙂

I’ll leave you with a quote I heard on NPR the other day that really resonated with me. It comes from the Rev. Adam Hamilton talking on All Things Considered:

It’s easy to irritate people. It’s harder to influence people.

America: Home of the Rich, Land of Big Business

America tumbles into plutocracy. One cabinet member at a time.

Well folks it’s official: Exxon Mobil is our new Secretary of State. Yaaaay (I hope the sarcasm in my voice comes through). Of course there’s been almost no chance of nominees not making it through simply because the dems just don’t have the numbers to stop anything. But I sure had been hoping that a few might not make it simply on principle. That at least all the democrats and a few of the republicans would just have to say no way, this is crazy! But alas, not only did every republican vote for Tillerson, so did a few democrats, one independent, and one dem didn’t vote at all. So despite it being the most contentious vote on a Secretary of State in over 50 years he is still getting the position. I’m beyond disappointed in our government right now and it just keeps getting worse by the day.

Case in point: just hours after Tillerson was confirmed, House republicans rolled out a resolution to “repeal Securities and Exchange Commission’s extraction rule. This corporate giveaway to Exxon-Mobil makes it easier for oil companies to secretly funnel money to foreign governments.” – Elizabeth Warren. Check out Senator Warren’s blistering commentary from the senate floor.

It’s also yet to be seen if Mr. Tillerson will do anything to help dissidents from Russia who are being targeted. This story on the Rachel Maddow show (2/2/17) was about one such man who had already been poisoned in a (suspected) assassination attack in Russia several years ago and nearly died. He had been living in the US when this attack took place and our State Department stepped in to help bring him back to the states for medical care and to be with his family. Well, this poor guy has been poisoned again in Russia! Rachel is justifiably concerned about what our current State Department might do or not do. I tried to find info on the Secretary of State’s website about this and found nothing. There are no current press releases, or any other kind of communication that might contain anything about this story. I hope this poor guy who has been fighting against a corrupt and dictatorial regime in his home country makes it through.

 

Am I Psychic or Do I Just Have “Common Sense”?

A note I wrote on the eve of the election.

Just kidding! Since there is no such thing (or so my husband tells me), I guess I just have what’s known as “common sense” and the “ability to think and reason”.  I’m not going to write directly about any current news stories in this post. There are so many, and so many people writing about them, I’m not sure I have anything unique to say at the moment. But I did want to post something. This is a FB post I wrote on November 7th, right before election day. I thought I’d share it here for a trip down memory lane. Back when there was still a possibility of saving this country. But, I think I was pretty prophetic in my predictions of what a Trump presidency would bring. Like I said though, it was really just common sense and I certainly was not the only one thinking it.


So, one more day till election day. I wrote one last long plea for people to do the right thing. I wrote it more for myself perhaps than for any other reason though. I just want my last thoughts about this election to be out there in the ether, on record for as long as fb or the internet are a thing. So feel free to read or not, but I’ve said my peace (my DH has pointed out that I used the wrong spelling here and that it should be “piece” but I’ve decided to keep it the way it is because I like it better. So, suck it Trebek! Haha, love you babe!).

I’m going to start with why I voted for Hillary, based on her own merits. Since so often people like to say, tell me who you’re voting for and why without talking about the other candidate, I figured I’d start with that. Hillary Clinton isn’t a figure I ever particularly cared for or even really had any opinion about. It’s not that I didn’t like her, I guess I just felt sort of neutral about her. There may have even been some distrust because even the best of us can be lured into believing, however loosely, that she’s somehow crooked. If you only pay attention to sound bites, headlines, or news crawlers and don’t dig any further, it’s easy to fall into that trap. But an interesting thing has happened to me over the course of this nasty election season. Ironically, perhaps, I’ve actually come to like and respect her more as time has gone on. I started paying closer attention, digging just a tiny bit further than those headlines lead us to believe. Sometimes, it literally only takes reading past a headline into the actual article to have a different view of the story. This deeper inquisitiveness itself changed my opinions of her. Then I started to learn a bit more about her history, the positions she’s held and work she’s done and that also further increased my positive view of her. She’s always fought for women and children, minorities, people with disabilities, and hasn’t wavered in those causes. She’s highly educated, has worked as a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund, and has held several public offices. She’s generally regarded as competent, dedicated, and is viewed in a positive light by many people on both sides of the aisle whom she’s worked with (of course there are exceptions). She’s highly qualified for this position based on quantifiable criteria. Continue reading “Am I Psychic or Do I Just Have “Common Sense”?”

Samantha Bee is My Spirit Animal!

Why Samantha Bee is one of the best things on television these days.

If you are not watching Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, you are missing one of the greatest things on television these days! Her political commentary and wit, coupled with her fast talking take-downs are a thing to behold. She has definitely done a superior job recruiting writers to fuel her monologues.

It seems every time I watch I’m laughing hysterically, while also feeling called to action. At times (as was the case with this clip of the #ICan’tKeepQuiet Choir, starting around minute 4) I end up in tears. I have yet to watch one of her shows and think “It wasn’t that good” or not agree with pretty much every stance she takes. Several times now I’ve exclaimed to my husband that “Sam Bee is my spirit animal!” or “my soul mate!”. I feel like she is a more realized, better version of my inner self. She is the person I wish I were 🙂

I have no financial or personal stake in whether or not anyone takes my advice and watches her show. But I do believe you’re missing out on comedy gold and some great information. If you want to check her out, the show is on Wednesday’s at 10pm on TBS. But you can get most of the clips from her show online as well.

I’ll leave you with this description of the inauguration, from her show on 1/25/17:

We are “swearing in the concept of white male mediocrity”

A New Year’s Resolution on Civics

A look at my transformation from political avoidance, fear, and apathy to passion, knowledge, and action.

I haven’t even tried to make a new years resolution in ages. What’s the point really? You can resolve at any point in time to do things, why does the 1st of the year make it any different? It doesn’t, but people like to look at it as a time of new beginnings therefore a good time to make resolutions.

Well this year I am making a resolution. I resolve to be a more active and informed citizen. I’ve voted throughout most of my adult life, but have not gotten involved past reading or watching news, and making commentary on social media. Continue reading “A New Year’s Resolution on Civics”