Tuesday was crushing, and I think I’ll be crushed by it for a long time to come. It increasingly looks like most of the things I care about – social justice, healthy communities, climate change – are going to be taking a back seat to defense spending, tax cuts, trade wars, gutting the ACA, and fossil fuel extraction, for at least the next two years, and possibly much longer.
In the wake of this colossal psychological trauma, a lot of my friends on social media have been saying, “Now what?” It’s hard to stare into the abyss of everything that could go horribly wrong and not feel lost. But I go back to an earlier post of mine to help light a single candle in these dark times.
We live in a federal system, and the authority of the federal government is derived from the states. Some of that authority is granted to the federal government as outlined in the constitution. But a whole lot of that authority still remains with the states, and the communities within them. That’s where we should look. We should go local.
Conservatives have dominated state legislatures and governorships for years, meaning that they have been able to draw electoral maps which secure their districts (AKA gerrymandering – see this is a great article outlining their strategy and success.) This was most evident in 2014, when the GOP maintained a 33 seat majority in the House of Representatives despite getting 1.4 million fewer votes than Democrats nationally.
Furthermore, Governing Magazine reported conservative domination of state governments is at its highest point ever. Creating and sustaining that dominance in thousands of state representative and senate districts is hard work, but crucial to the continued conservative majority in Congress. It’s the Republican Party’s greatest strength.
I don’t want to make this a post about one political party versus the other, but rather one about values. The question I am concerned with is, “How do we instill humane, compassionate, evidence-based values into the American political system?” The rhetoric espoused by our now-president elect has appalled me, and demonstrated that the Republican party is unequivocally not the party that represents my values (I’m struggling really hard not to go on a long, rambling rant, so instead I’ll casually leave this link to vox.com right here).
To set the national course straight again, I believe now more than ever that reversing the damage must start locally.
So if the election results have you frightened, anxious, at a loss for what to do, here is a list of suggestions:
- Find a community group or nonprofit doing things that you care about. Attend a meeting or volunteer to help them out.
- If you don’t know who your main local elected representatives are, find out. This includes:
- Mayor or Selectmen
- City Councilor(s)
- State Representative
- State Senator
- Get to know at least one main local elected official listed above. This sounds daunting, but it isn’t. Local electeds are extremely approachable and, generally, love meeting constituents. Invite them out for a coffee or a beer, or meet them at their office. Often they have office hours around the community. Even better if you have issues to discuss. Email or call them often on the issues that concern you.
- Find a committee or commission that deals with things you care about, and attend at least one meeting. Some common examples:
- Planning Commission
- School Committee
- Historic Commission
- Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee
- Cultural Council
- Fair Housing Commission
- A whole, whole lot more.
- If you like the committee, try to join it. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes this is hard – but find out how to get on it, and work toward that goal.
- If you don’t like a local elected official, get actively involved in a campaign (or run yourself) to oust him or her.
Finally, and this is most important, find others and work together. This might be getting involved in your town’s Democratic Committee. Or maybe that local nonprofit. Or it could be starting up a weekly “Progressives Happy Hour” at a local pub on meetup.com. Whatever it is, turning your civic involvement from a chore to a social event makes it so much easier to stay engaged.
Again, I don’t mean for this to be a hyper-partisan post, because I really do think that issues of environmental quality, climate change, social justice, recreation and greenspace, and public safety impact everyone, regardless of political affiliation. But Tuesday demonstrated to me that fear, bigotry, and a rejection of facts are dominating America’s politics from top to bottom. Creating a civic sphere of diversity, acceptance, and intellectual discourse is a generational project. We’ve got to start now, and I believe it starts at home.
Let’s get to work.
If you want to get more involved and would like some suggestions, you can contact me on Twitter at @pricearmstrong.