Six Things You Can Do Now

electoral-map

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.

2016-legislative-party-control
Map of Party Control of State Legislatures.

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:

  1. Find a community group or nonprofit doing things that you care about. Attend a meeting or volunteer to help them out.
  2. If you don’t know who your main local elected representatives are, find out. This includes:
    1. Mayor or Selectmen
    2. City Councilor(s)
    3. State Representative
    4. State Senator
  3. 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.
  4. Find a committee or commission that deals with things you care about, and attend at least one meeting. Some common examples:
    1. Planning Commission
    2. School Committee
    3. Historic Commission
    4. Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee
    5. Cultural Council 
    6. Fair Housing Commission
    7. A whole, whole lot more.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

 

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We Need More Women in Politics

As the Democratic primary winds down, I’ve been noticing a crop of dismaying Hillary Clinton memes popping up on my Facebook feed that are focusing on her choice of clothing at some event:

hillary jacket

and:

clinton moomoo
“Even worse is that it looks like a burlap housecoat. It doesn’t even look more tailored than a moomoo from Big Lots.” 

 

Sure, there are plenty of things to question or critique Hillary Clinton on: her foreign policy record, her and her husband’s handling of welfare reform, her acceptance of big checks from big donors, etc.

But her jacket? Come on.

I am surprised to find that even people on the left are taking these misogynistic pot-shots at Hillary Clinton. Anyone who considers themselves a feminist (which I do, and strive to uphold feminist values) must recognize that Hillary Clinton’s nomination is a milestone in the feminist movement, making this kind of immature critique of her wardrobe all the more offensive and embarrassing.

Salon.com published an excellent piece about how you don’t need to like Hillary Clinton, but you should still celebrate her candidacy. Their article, Don’t call it a win for women: Hillary’s victory is a triumph for the women’s movement, and there’s a difference goes through the reasons why Clinton is a bad candidate, and the policies she has supported in the past probably weren’t good for American women in general (welfare reform in particular). But no matter how much you dislike her policies, she is no less of a victory in the women’s movement (just like, it might pain some to say, Sarah Palin’s nomination to Vice Presidency and Margaret Thatcher’s ascension to Prime Minister).

And so it should be little surprise to anyone, but most of all those on the left, that feminists are sensitive to criticisms of Clinton’s choice of clothing. A response I’ve heard defending such ad hominem attacks goes like, “Bernie Sanders gets criticized for his disheveled appearance all the time, so what’s the big deal?”

The big deal is that Bernie Sanders isn’t a milestone in the feminist movement, and that matters.

We Need More Female Politicians

Furthermore, this demeaning of female politicians’ appearances just reinforces the reluctance many women feel about pursuing public office. Making women feel unwelcome in these positions of power is problematic for a lot of reasons, but fundamentally I think it undermines the premise of our electoral system.

A representative republic, which we live in, demands having elected leaders who represent – and are representative of – those who elected them. A classic way in which this notion is undermined is through gerrymandering, or combining districts so as to reduce the impact of a particular group of people.

Women comprise roughly half of the population no matter where you are, but tend to represent nowhere near that number of elected officials. Looking just at the Pioneer Valley, I came up with the following maps (green is male, red is female; click to scroll through the maps):

The number of female electeds in the Pioneer Valley is anemic, particularly outside of Hampshire County. One city, Chicopee, didn’t even have a single female city councilor! Given that women are about half of the electorate, our representatives don’t seem very representative.

We can argue about whether women make better leaders, or whether they are able to work more cooperatively, or whether they are less partisan. For me, though, what it really comes down to is whether our politicians should actually represent the people. I don’t think we need to adhere strictly to identity politics where demographics decide everything. We should of course be primarily concerned with electing responsible, effective leaders. But when such a large segment of the Pioneer Valley (and country) is so drastically underrepresented in our elected leadership, that strikes me as a problem.

And that’s why mocking pictures about Hillary Clinton’s jacket are so offensive. They imply that the candidate doesn’t need to be taken seriously, that the candidate has failed as a woman (since fashion sense is such an essential feminine quality), and that we need not consider her any further.

Criticize Clinton, and any other politician, as much as you want on the issues. But leave her style choices out of it. We’re better than that.

 

From Paper to Whips – The Cities of Pioneer Valley

There are only nine cities in the Pioneer Valley: Westfield, West Springfield, Agawam, Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee, Easthampton, Greenfield, and Northampton. But there are a bunch of towns, like Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Granby, and on and on. And this distinction isn’t me being some sort of weird pedant; Massachusetts actually distinguishes between city and town forms of government. But more on that in a future blog post, maybe.

city map
Cities are in Green and Purple. Connecticut River in blue.

 

I’ve been looking up the nicknames to the cities in the valley. Here they are: Continue reading “From Paper to Whips – The Cities of Pioneer Valley”