Americans Need Patriotism

Patriotism in America used to mean something.  It wasn’t about just draping yourself in the flag, It wasn’t about being free to not vote. It wasn’t hating other countries, or hating anyone who was different. It wasn’t about hating and dismissing all elected representatives.

Patriotism was founded in this country, on the principle of self-governance. We were meant to have a say. We were meant to vote for who would represent our interests and the interests of our communities.  We were meant to tell our representatives how to represent us.  In this age of information, we have no excuse not to. Our country used to be thought of as the leader of the free world, yet our citizens spend a lot of time complaining about our government, and little action to do our part. A self-governing government can’t govern itself. Say that a few times. 

You would think we would have 90% or higher turnout, but instead, a local election year we see around 30%, depending on where you live (30% is generous for my community).

Monroe County,  New York Voter Turnout in 2015. Source: https://www2.monroecounty.gov/files/2015%20General%20Voter%20Turnout.pdf

In 2016, we had 65% turnout, among registered voters. It was 58% of eligible voters, according to this: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/voter-turnout-2016-elections

I am considered among those who know me, to be a politically engaged person. I work in IT, but that is my day job.  I have a BS in political science. I have worked on campaigns, run a campaign, and worked with the Democratic Committee in my county.  In 2016 I took election day off work. I volunteered at my county Democratic committee office helping people verify their voter registrations, find polling places, get a ride to the polls, and answer questions. It was a fantastic day engaging with voters and other volunteers committed to helping as many people vote as possible.

Now I’m volunteering with the Warren campaign.  I am someone who loves to talk about politics, and I love to engage with people on the issues.  I know most people hate politics, roll their eyes, and would rather do anything else.

The problem is, the only way we are ever going to fix our government and make sure it’s working for us, is if we make it a priority in our lives. I know everyone has too many priorities. The problem is, this affects every one of them.  Got kids in school?  Education. Drive on roads? Infrastructure. Military family? Military and veterans affairs.  Got a body? Health care. Over 65? Social security.

I hope I’m making my point.  

I did phone banking to voters in North Dakota, trying to help re-elect Heidi Heitkamp in the midterms. I have good Senators in NY, so I wanted to help other states. Even though she didn’t win, I had some really good conversations with people, and yes in the red, red state of North Dakota, Trump supporters would have a good conversation with me a life-long liberal Democratic voter.

Volunteering with the Warren campaign, I have received some of the same feedback as I did from voters in 2016, during the 2018 midterms, in last year’s local election, and on social media.  People have a few popular responses to a conversation about politics or an election. One common response is that all elected officials are bad.  Not only is it an excuse for not paying attention or voting, it’s a 100% false statement.  Before you dismiss me, who has met, volunteered, campaigned, and talked with more candidates and elected representatives, you or me? Hint: If it’s you, this isn’t meant for you.

For the rest of you. It’s time to make this a priority. You don’t have to make it your number 1 priority, like I do, but there are some things that I need you all to do this year, and going forward. These need to go on your to-do lists. A lot of them don’t take that much time.  

In order to start making this at least a priority, try to spend 15 minutes a day working on the list below. Imagine what we can get done, as a nation, if everyone does this.

  1. Verify you are registered to vote, and register if you are not: https://www.rockthevote.org/
  2. Look up your representatives. To do this, google the county you live in and “Board of Elections”, e.g. Cool County Board of Elections
  3. Get signed up on a tool that will let you be in contact with your reps in Congress.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to start paying attention.  I get that the news sucks, but not all of it is political, and the politics is what you need to pay attention to. It’s important you know what your reps are saying and how they are voting, or what they are signing into law, repealing, or vetoing. This is the civic duty of citizens in a self-governing democracy.  We all know it’s a democratic republic, but we have always cherished that our founding fathers wanted this country to be, if nothing else, a truly representative democracy. 

Use an app like countable, and you can see what bills are circulating in Congress. You can vote on the app, for which way you want them to vote and send them your comments on it. You can go straight to the House and Senate websites to see what they are voting on, and what’s in committee.

Now that you have gotten this far, I want you prepare for the election. Not just 2020, but every year.  This is real patriotism. Honor your civic duty.  Our government can only function if we run it.  Would you run a company, hire someone, and never check on their work? If the person you hired wasn’t doing what you asked them to do and what they said they would do, or acted in unethical and/or immoral way, would you keep them on or would you hire someone else? 

We talk a lot about how elected representatives aren’t doing their job, but we aren’t really doing ours. It feels like it would be a lot of work, but once you do it, once you really get informed and aware, there is a good reward to it.  There is service to our government. Not every elected official is corrupt or bad.  Some people dream of being doctors, some want to be athletes, or go into music, or be farmers.  Some people want to want to go into public service.  They want to represent people’s interests.  

I have met them, I have worked with them, I have supported their campaigns, and I am volunteering with one of them right now.  None are perfect, and yes there are a lot of bad apples, who self deal and have insidious aims. There are also many, who are good and decent people. There are people out there who believe that our government can cultivate a common wealth and common vision for the interests of every citizen.

The reality is that good representatives are accessible, accountable, and transparent with their constituents. They will hold town halls, and their staff are on hand to answer your questions and help you find resources when you are in need.

I know the idea of paying attention, being informed, making the tough choice of picking the best representative out of the candidates on the ballot, seems like a lot. Democracy, and being the leader of the free world, takes work. I am also only asking for 15 minutes. 15 minutes a day to see if we can do our part to make sure our government works for all of us, and not only for those who decided to show up and those with the most influence and money.

If you see that value, then having finished the to-do items above, please work on the following until you registered party’s primary election:

  1. Check when your primary is: https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/2020-state-primary-election-dates.aspx
  2. Research each candidate.  That’s right. At least know something about them. Not rumor. Not what you saw from some post on social media with no source. 15 minutes, getting to know 1 candidate a day for yourself. At least those polling in the top 5, if you are a Democratic voter or planning to vote in the Democratic primary this year.  Google them and go to their website. Look for their plans or agenda. Read up on what they want to do and decide if you think it’s the best approach for where we are right now.
  3. Pick a candidate. One of them will represent us, in this election and in office if they win.
  4. Vote in the primary.  Saying none are good is not an option. You are part of picking the nomine and these are the choices. One will be chosen. It’s up to you to pick who you think will be the best out of those who showed up to do the job.

Now we know who is running in the election. If you are supporting a candidate who doesn’t take PAC money or high donor contributions, know that they rely on small donations to run their campaign. They are up against massive dark money influence. If you can’t donate, consider volunteering some time.  Phone bank, text, canvass. Do something to ensure our government is run by someone who will serve our interests and not serve that which is not in our interests. Talk to friends and family, and make sure the people in your life know that you are taking your civic duty seriously, and they should too.

Pay attention to who has a plan and is using facts, figures, recorded factual information and who is making claims without any proof or solid information. Vet the information. Make sure the information is solid.  Remember 15 minutes a day.  

The more we pay attention, the more we can ensure our government isn’t just by people but for people.  It’s time we acknowledge that running the government is a big, complex job and it needs all of us to contribute for it to be a success. 

When we can do that, We can ensure everyone has health care. 18 countries have been able to do that, and there is no reason why we can’t. (https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=how+many+countries+have+universal+health+care

We can ensure everyone has a livable wage, and the resources to ensure our homeless are not abandoned on the streets. 

We can ensure secure elections, fair elections, and accessible elections for every eligible citizen.

We can ensure we have maintained roads, bridges and tunnels.

We can ensure excellent public education for every child and we can ensure child care.

We can ensure that our borders are safe, and so are immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers needing our help.

We can ensure a healthy and thriving environment, renewable energy, and the means to address pollution.

If we stand up and do the truly patriotic act of fulfilling our civic duty, we can ensure our government lives up to the legacy of our nation. We can ensure it lives on.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for your time. I hope this took less than 15 minutes. I hope it gave you something to think about. If you are willing to do the above, and give me 15 minutes a day, to be an informed member of the electorate, then I thank you as a fellow citizen of this country. If you have questions about any of the above, would like more or specific resources, or have feedback, please leave me a comment.

Once you do the above, you have just one more thing to do, in November:

  1. Vote.

Let Me Make This Simple Democratic Voters

A lot of Democratic voters wish the Democratic Party was stronger. So do I.  I have been a registered Democratic voter since I turned 18. The thing is most of our party, at least the average registered voter, does little to make the party strong. They complain and lob attacks at the leaders, the ones who bothered to show up. I fail to see how that helps.  I worked at the Board of Elections, and I worked as Director of Operations for the Monroe County Democratic Party. I can tell you how this works, based on voter registration and voter turnout.

More voters are registered with the Democratic party, than the Republican party.  Republican voters turn out in higher numbers.  This results in close races, and the Democratic party has to woo Democratic voters.  They have to convince them to turn up.  The Republicans use 2 obvious tactics and they work every time.  One method is, they suggest that the Democratic candidate is going to win, which causes Democratic voters to think they don’t have to turn out. The other tactic is, they convince Democrats that the Democratic candidate is no better than the Republican candidate. Thanks, Susan Sarandon.

So this is the deal.  We get what we put into our party and our government.  We can lament the corruption, but what do we expect?  Would you own a business, hire someone, and then not monitor their work to ensure they were faithfully doing the job you are paying them to do?  Would you keep paying them if they weren’t doing their job?  Would you keep them on if they weren’t transparent and accountable to you, in any conflicts of interest, or that they were behaving ethically and morally?

Our government can only be by the people and for the people, if the people are doing their part in the process.  That means not bemoaning elections and campaigns. It means vetting candidates, voting, and holding elected officials to the job of representing the interests of the community.

I get that we don’t all have time for that.  Between work, family, friends, responsibilities, it’s a lot.  We can’t afford not to pay attention, though.  There is too much at stake.  It’s not just health care, and education, and basic civil rights. It’s not just the environment, breathable air, and coastal erosion.  It’s the worst corruption attempting to strip our voting rights, stack the courts, and ensure that there is only power when the right party is in control.

This post is my attempt to make it a little easier for Democratic voters to compare the candidate’s plans on a variety of issues.  I made up a spreadsheet, listing different topics.  I then went to the top 3 candidates’ websites and looked for a plan or policy, or narrative on how they plan to “move the needle” on that issue.

This is what I came up with: 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate Front-runners – Comparison of Plans (Google Sheets)

I added columns at the end, so that I could grade each candidate on each topic. My goal is to review and grade each of them.  If instead of using A-F, I will use 1-10 (1 = low and 10 = high) then I should be able to total them up and see a clear winner.  I didn’t do that before posting this, because I’m not trying to sway Democratic voters.  My only goal is to make the information as accessible as possible, so voters will not sit this out. This is our opportunity and our responsibility, to choose the best candidate, from those who showed up to run, and then to vote for that candidate, in our state’s primary. 

I hope this information helps.  You will notice some holes in that list.  I reached out to both the Sanders and Biden campaigns to ask for links to the topics I wasn’t able to find info on. I emailed their general info/ Contact Us from their campaign sites. I have received no response from Sander’s campaign, but now I am receiving emails from Biden wanting me to join their team and donate to them:

 
I also tweeted to their Press Secretaries.  I am sure they are busy, but I figured they might be able to help.  Neither have responded.

If either campaign wants to fill in the holes, they are welcome to send me links and I will update the spreadsheet.

Is this helpful? Let me know in the comments. Thanks!

O-M-G The Democratic Party is Like So Weak

How many Democratic voters lament their party’s weakness in public or online?  I’m a life-long member of the Democratic Party. By that, I mean I was raised by progressive parents and once I turned 18 I was so excited to register as a Democratic voter and vote for progressive Democratic candidates.

I didn’t get really engaged in politics online until about 2015. Once I did, there was a shocking amount of criticism about the Democratic party.  It wouldn’t have been shocking if it was from the Republican party and conservative voters, but it was seemingly from members of their own party.

Here’s the thing. Just because a candidate or elected official is registered with the party you are registered with, doesn’t mean you owe them allegiance. You have the right to criticize their actions, voting, and rhetoric. Of course you do. That’s democracy. You have a right to support challengers to incumbents within your own party.  That’s how we get a Rep like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which is what we need. We need people who care about the community they represent, and you know actually go to that community and listen to the constituents.

There is a difference though, between speaking your mind to a specific representative’s work to represent the people, and attacking the entire party. Painting them with a brush that says “the establishment is horrible and wrong and poopy”.  It’s a lazy cop-out and it neglects to account for what the attacker is doing to help.

People love to throw rocks from the outside, but how much are they working to make the party stronger? Most of them will respond with saying “I’m making them stronger by telling them how to get there.” Really?

tenor

 

Here is my challenge to Democratic voters, who wish their party was stronger. Ask yourself what you have done to roll up your sleeves and work to make your party as strong as it needs to be, to beat the bad faith actors in the GOP.  There are a number of ways to help:

  1. Pick a candidate and volunteer in their campaign
  2. Make phone calls
  3. Canvass to gather petitions to put them on the ballot
  4. Host a phone bank
  5. Host a rally or watch party
  6. Make small contributions to support their campaign, so they can run their campaign without owing lobbyists and wealthy execs
  7. Become a delegate for them at the convention
  8. Register people to vote
  9.  Talk to other voters about why they are the best candidate – remember how you respect people is a reflection on the candidate you support. You are representing them
  10. Do the hard work of putting together your top issues, and then go review the plans of each primary candidate on those issues, and grade them. Your grade. Who is the best?  Not perfect, but which candidate gets the highest grade? If none of them do, are you being realistic? Because the alternative is Trump, so grade him too.

My point is, if you have a beef with the Democratic party, each out to them directly, instead of trashing them online.  If you really want them to be stronger, reach out to the local committee (county level), the state party, or the DNC.  Become more active in the party, so that it can reflect more of what you want to see.

Expecting your party to work exactly as you want, with you doing nothing else than shouting at them, is like a toddler throwing a tantrum in the store, because their parent won’t buy them the toy. Well, the child hasn’t cleaned their room, doesn’t eat their vegetables, and the parents are on a fixed budget.

So this is my challenge to you.  Get involved. Start to look at each candidate and elected official individually. Don’t write them off because of one thing they said, or one vote. Take a real look at their record and give them a reasonable grade, knowing that the job of representing people is not as easy as it may seem.  If you still aren’t satisfied, then run for office and be the representative who will deliver on what you want.

We need Democratic voters off the sidelines in 2020 and going forward. We certainly need them to stop attacking their own party, as if that will help anyone but Trump and the Republican party. We get out what we put in to your party and to your democracy. It’s time we make some lasting investments.

Ugh Do I Have to Be Nice?

So recently I posted on a local Facebook group, because I was hosting a phone banking event for a candidate I’m supporting in the Democratic primary. Quite quickly there was a laughing reaction to my post, and a comment that said “good luck with that!”. I sensed, despite emotion being lost in social media, that the comment was likely meant sarcastically. I was dumbfounded as to why. I confirmed if it was indeed sarcastic and it was immediately confirmed. I wanted to post redacted print screens, but the admin of the group deleted my post. I’ve messaged them to confirm they did this, but it seems that they did. I so wish they hadn’t.

When I posted the phone banking event, I didn’t expect a bunch of people to sign up, but I also didn’t expect people to be rude about it. I’m on twitter and facebook enough to have dealt with my fair share of trolls and bots, but this is supposed to be a local group.  I follow the same group account on Twitter, and although I will admit I haven’t seen national politics coming from that account or page, I do see stuff about the community. It seems I misjudged the point of the page.  I thought the page on Facebook, and the account on Twitter, was meant to be a way to bring people in the community together. I thought it was a way to help us get to know each other, and maybe enable us to do what we can to make our community as good as it can be. To help us all thrive.

For me, being a member of a community means doing my part, and that includes participating in my democracy. I consider it my civic duty. To me it is the ultimate act of patriotism. The more citizens participate in our democracy, the more our democracy will represent the interests of our community. 

After the other person on the post started posting back, I started writing a knee-jerk response, and then I took a step back.  Not only would I reflect badly on the campaign I’m volunteering for, I wouldn’t make the situation better.  I’m annoyed this is the first response I got.  I would have so preferred no response, to that. Instead, I expressed that I was sorry they felt the need to insult me, and I wished them well.

They then started posting Trump/MAGA stuff and that re-affirmed my decision not to make it worse. It’s not just that the Trump/MAGA crowd is most commonly about racism and claiming everyone is out to get them and their way of life. It’s also that there was no need to go down that petty of a path. How does any of that build up our community or bring us closer together? I was trying to bring us closer together. I was not forcing my candidate on anyone. I was posting for those interested. Those not interested could have just ignored the post. I would have welcomed a respectful debate on any issue we might disagree on, but that wasn’t on the table here.

I didn’t share one of my political blog posts, or a meme. I posted a local event that I thought other people in my local community might be interested in. I wasn’t selling anything. I was volunteering my time, and inviting others to join. 

Being a liberal Democratic voter, I am used to getting called a snowflake, a smash-up between liberal and the R word (I don’t get how this makes anyone a better person, smashing up the R word with anything), and I get labeled with some sort of allegiance to a “deep state”/do-nothing Democratic Party.  Ironically, a “Do-Nothing” Congress has a specific meaning that most aren’t aware of (The ‘do-nothing Congress’ graduates to the ‘do-nothing-much Congress’: 12/20/2016) It’s not all of Congress, in the current session, and voters need to check that. Right now, the Senate is the problem, thanks to Mitch McConnell and every Senator not standing up to his corruption.

When it comes to volunteering for a campaign, or spending time paying attention to politics, our representatives, campaigns for office, and our elections, I just think this country needs to really consider our individual responsibility. I believe we get what we put into our democracy.  If we want our government to work better, we might just have to do some work ourselves.

Right now is the primary season for the Presidential elections.  If you are registered with a political party, this is your chance to have a say in who will run for President in your party. This is it. You can support candidates who you believe will represent your community for the better. 

I believe that sitting on the sidelines, painting all politicians and elected officials as bad people, is lazy. Our democracy takes more work than to moan and complain, from the cheap seats. It requires that we are part of it. We are meant to be an informed member of the electorate. We are meant to pay attention to how our representatives are representing us. We are supposed to call them and contact them and tell them how we want them to vote. We are supposed to challenge them. We are supposed to show up to town halls, and if they don’t hold town halls insist that they do. We should write, call, email, and get on social media. If we are up to it, we should run for office.

I will absolutely vote for the Democratic nominee, but more than that I will volunteer for them, I will campaign for them, and I will not sit on the sidelines, because our democracy demands that we all work for it. It’s up to us to make it as good as it can be, and the more that we participate, the more that we are involved, the more our democracy can deliver for us all. 

I believe it is a privilege that I have, this freedom to elect representatives who are bound to serve my interest. I believe it is my civic duty to make sure they do, and if they don’t, it’s my responsibility to call them out, and support a challenger if they don’t do right by my community. I cherish this right, this privilege, and this opportunity, to have a say in how my government works. I wish more would join me.

“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.”
—George Jean Nathan

Today and Tomorrow

Today the House impeached President Trump. During the debate, the Republicans failed their oaths, as they tried to distract from the proceedings. They stomped their feet, and refused to acknowledge that Trump asked for a favor in return for Congressionally approved aid. They made him out to be a martyr, suggesting he has been treated worse that Jesus. For some reason, that won’t offend Christians.  They don’t seem to care that Trump attempted to use our tax dollars, so to leverage dirt on a political opponent, because he wanted to rig the election in his favor. That is not respecting the will of the people, or his duty as a public servant.

Republicans claimed that Democratic voters and Congressional reps have wanted Trump gone since the beginning of his administration. They aren’t wrong, but why does that matter? I have wanted him gone for his refusal to be transparent and accountable to the people. Where are his tax returns? The people have a right to know what the President is hiding in them. President Carter had to sell his peanut farm, but Trump, who was just recently reported to have 2 sets of books for just one of his properties, and no one in the GOP seems at all concerned about the need for him to be transparent to the people.

He tears babies from their parent’s arms and locks them in cages, to be neglected and guarded by armed white supremacists, who don’t even have to pass background checks. The kids’ records aren’t kept and kids are being sold to private adoption agencies, while the parents are coerced into signing deportation papers they can’t read.

He is repealing environmental regulations meant to protect our planet, our breathable air, and our drinkable water.

He manufactured a trade war with China, so that he could have a reason to trigger a farm bailout, which didn’t help small family farms at all. Instead it went to corporate farms who donate to his campaign and GOP campaigns. Meanwhile massive numbers of smaller farms are ending in bankruptcy.  Just one in a number of kleptocratic grifts Trump is openly commmitting from the White House.

He is working tirelessly, not for the people, but in an effort to dismantle our health care so that only the wealthy can afford to get any care. This is one the GOP isn’t just ignoring, but are 100% on board with. They don’t want the government to ensure health care for every citizen. They want it privatized, because that ensures their campaign coffers stay fat.

Despite all of this, none of it has anything to do with why Trump was impeached today. He abused the power entrusted to him, by the people. When he took the oath of office, there isn’t any part of me that believes he understood what the oath meant, or cared about its meaning.

The thing is, ignorance is not an excuse. Whether he knows or cares, he chose to take a job that comes with requirements. He is not a king. He works for the people, and he swore an oath to uphold the constitution. So did Republicans in Congress. Attempting to extort a foreign leader, in an effort to find dirt on a political opponent and swing an election in his favor, is a high crime. It has to be. There is no basis for debating the merit. The transcript clearly shows that he attempted to bribe a leader with our tax dollars, for his own self-interest, in an effort to subvert the will of the people.

Republicans complained that he isn’t being given any chance to defend himself. This is an abject lie. The White House has received multiple requests for documents and for witnesses to testify. Trump and the White House have refused this opportunity to participate in the process, which no other White House has ever done. This obstruction flies in the face of Congressional oversight, and the checks and balances of our government. It is also not what any innocent person would do. It is not what someone who respects our constitution and laws would do.

When this is all over we will see whether the GOP in the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, will allow a fair trial or whether they too will obstruct justice in order to cover for Trump’s crimes. We the people must demand that our Senators call witnesses, including acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who said from the press briefing room that the President attempted a quid pro quo and that this happens all the time. He said we should get over it. I never will.

We must demand that the GOP not make a sham of this impeachment, simply because it hurts their political advantage. The constitution and our democracy demands they put the country ahead of their greed and desire for political power. We the people must also be ready to work in 2020. We have a big year ahead, and not just because of the Presidential election. If we do not unseat McConnell, he will keep stalling hundreds of House bills meant to help people, and he will just keep stacking the courts with wholly unqualified lifetime appointments. The GOP will keep trying to suppress voters and we must fight that with voter registrations and grassroots efforts to get out the vote. We must win in big margins, because we know Russia is hacking voting machines, and McConnell refuses to pass the election security bill on his desk. We need to be willing to vote, get friends to vote, and volunteer on campaigns to get the vote out in record high numbers.

Our democracy requires that we the people get more involved. A representative democracy only works if we speak up about how we want to be represented. We need to be diligent and stay informed. We need to vet information, before sharing it online. We need to be ready to vote in our party primaries, so that we voice our say in who the nominees should be, for all offices on the ballot. We have to get past purity tests and compare the candidates on the ballot to ensure we make our votes count.  We have to convince people on the fence what the math comes down to. Democrats are generally registered in higher numbers, but Republicans vote in higher numbers.  This creates a lot of razor thin majorities. We need to be willing to have those conversations with our 3rd party friends, about the statistical reality. Voting for a Republican will mean the Republican wins. Voting 3rd party, will ensure the Republican wins. Not voting, helps the Republican win.  The only way we ensure the Republicans don’t win, is if we vote Democrat in high enough numbers, that we sweep the math.

We also need to help people understand the reality of which way the wind is actually blowing in this country. That starts with making sure maps show the populations that vote, instead of the land, which doesn’t vote.

This is a good way to show the reality:
Land Doesn’t Vote, People Do: This Electoral Map Tells the Real Story

Wired also covered this well:
Is the US Leaning Red or Blue? It All Depends on Your Map

I’m a fan of pointilism maps.  I feel they really show the political reality of our people very well.

All in all, we need to be in this for the long haul. We need to get non-voters engaged and we need to get citizens to keep voting in all elections. We should have 90% + turnout in every election, and until we do, we shouldn’t be surprised at why things are so dysfunctional. We get what we put in to our democracy, and right now we are in the red. It’s time for a serious investment in the health of our democracy. And yes, yes, I know. It’s a republic. It’s honestly a democratic republic, and it only works if we the people are running it.

Today we impeached. Tomorrow we move forward with upholding the law, and demanding that our government be accountable and transparent to the people.

By the people and for the people.

A Little Time for a lot of Freedom

There is a local election on Tuesday, November 5th. I’m not hopeful that turnout will be anything impressive, because it never is in local election years. View my post on that here: Who is Going to Fix the Potholes?

Because I follow news and elections closely, I can afford to be lax about looking up info to prepare myself for the election.  I didn’t sit down to do it until this weekend.  I needed to look up my registration, view my ballot, and look up info on the candidates.  This way, I will be an informed member of the electorate.  It sounds fancy, but it just means I won’t go into a voting booth blind.  I will do my research and know who is running, and who I want representing me.

First, I looked up my registration.  It took 4 minutes and 14 seconds.  I went to the Monroe County Board of Elections website.  I did that, because it’s my local county’s Board of Elections. They have my ballot, and they will tally my vote.  That way, I’m getting my information right from the source.

Now I’ve got my polling place and what number districts I’m in, for county legislature, state legislature, Congressional districts. What’s more, they have the option for me to view my ballot.  This lets me see what it will look like, when I vote on Tuesday. It shows me all the races, what candidates are on what party lines, and any propositions on the ballot.

I then grabbed all that info and put it in a spreadsheet.  That looks like this:

I’m not expecting everyone to do this, but if you do, it can help to really consider your options.  The ballot gave me the first 3 columns of info.  It took me about 19 minutes to do it. The reason I did this, is for the 4th column. I wanted to look up each candidate’s website or social media page, so I could learn a bit about their platform.  To do that, I went to the Monroe County Democratic Committee website and the Monroe County Republican Committee website.  They will have links to any candidate that they have endorsed. Any on a 3rd party line, and not endorse by either of those two parties, I googled.

Doing that took me 16 minutes.  So, from start to finish, I spent 40 minutes. That leaves me 20 minutes to look at each candidate’s site for a minute or so and see if they are for me.

Come Tuesday, people will be elected to those offices. If turnout is typical of a local election year, about 30% of registered voters will decide those races.  That means about 15%-20% of the population will show up to decide who represents 100% of us. That’s just not enough.  Elected officials will not have any incentive to work in the people’s interest, if the people aren’t even paying attention.

I don’t expect everyone to make spreadsheets, but we owe it to ourselves to know who wants to represent us. Take the 5 minutes to look up your registration, and grab your ballot.  Then you can look up the candidates, and know who the best choice is.  Abstaining means allowing your last choice to end up in power.

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
~ Elie Wiesel

As a country, we need to all make sure we don’t take our vote for granted. It is most certainly under attack.

 

Poll This

We need to get polls out of politics.

Watching the 1st Democratic debates last night, NBC had to take commercial breaks, and during some of them, an analyst was discussing polls during the 2016 election, and where these primary candidates are now, and what the polls need to look like for them to win.  It’s such a horrible time suck, that they were spending these precious minutes going over popularity as the most important factor of their candidacy, right in the middle of this debate, which I felt was full of so much substance.

Many people discussed the winners and losers of the first night, and I came away with such a different take.  Yes, Julian Castro got to show how excellent of a candidate he is, and how the press has completely ignored this heavy weight.  The rest of the candidates each had their highs and lows, but I only mean that in that it was a big stage and it was a big challenge to walk away from that 2 hours of debating back and forth with the most memorable sound bites and wording of their promises to lead.

But in point of fact, Julian Castro has been largely ignored in the polls. On the debate stage, we all got to hear how he communicated his ideas, his experience, and his intelligence.  Not everyone can do that.  Many brilliant people are horrible communicators.  Many people, who lack intelligence and morals, are somehow effective at selling what they want people to buy.

But now, talking heads are back to polling.  The candidates will do it to. They have to. If they didn’t do polling and pay attention to polls, they would be walking a tight rope, without looking.  I just envision an election cycle, where there is no polling.  I detest polling.

It’s not just that they generally only pull likely voters. It’s that we’re supposed to care who is leading in popularity, which is not always the best indication of who it has the best ideas, or who will be most effective at implementing their vision. Someone may be a lofty orator, and be capable of energizing a crowd, with an impassioned speech. That doesn’t mean they can get bipartisan support, or effectively pass the legislation that will put their plans into effect. If people were left just evaluating the qualities, their rhetoric, their resume of service, and they’re voting record if there is any, we might end up with better public servants. We shouldn’t treat our civic process like a popularity contest.

It is the way we make the process of our democracy, where we elect public servants, a game of politics and who is trending.  That’s what’s infested our government and it has caused rot in our institutions. It’s allowed disingenuous people rise to the top of a crowd, when they would be at the bottom, based on merit.

In suggesting that politics should have a place in the process of public service, is to suggest that we should make sport out of representing the people and living up to the promise we have yet to fulfill, as the leader of the free world.

Our promise is that every country can and should be one that guarantees the inherent right to be free. It’s also an ideal that we can achieve common ground from different backgrounds and peoples, based largely on the principle that we would be a living proof of this, as a country of citizens from all over the world. We are a country of countries. We were born that way.

Only those descended from Native Americans are natural born of this land. The rest of us came to be here, through a lineage that either willingly came here, fled oppression or violence, or in the case of People of Color, were imprisoned and enslaved, having been forced to immigrate to this land. Today, we are made up largely of immigrants and descendants of immigrants or survivors of human trafficking and slavery.

When it comes to public service in our democracy, debate is vital to the health of our democracy. We just saw that with the first Democratic debate, last night. It is possible for people to stand on the stage, and have different ideas on how to lead our country towards that promise.

They did this while showing respect for their fellow candidates, showing respect for all citizens, and showing respect for the institutions they are running to serve in and lead.

We also saw that candidates can agree, and that’s not something we typically see in political campaigns. It shouldn’t be considered bad strategy, to find consensus with each other, because you’re having to play politics. The more we can agree on solutions together, the more we can actually get done. That’s the end goal that we’ve gone away from, because in the world of politics, it’s about who’s idea it was, and who gets credit for it, and if you agree, then maybe you are just a follower and not a leader. It’s a false and damaging notion that takes us away from our greater mission. That is one of government service, public representation, and delivering on the right to a government that is truly by the people and for the people. It’s not meant to be by one person and only for the wealthy few. It’s not meant to be for one race, one religion, or one orientation.

Imagine if we had a campaign for public office, and an election cycle, with out polling. I know it doesn’t seem realistic to suggest such an idea. I’m certain polling exerts would enjoy ripping me a new one. Let’s just keep in mind that this notion of campaigns being a debate on the ideas, and not politics, that’s what our lauded founding fathers intended us to do.

It just seems that polling is so fickle and shallow. It’s about who’s trending or popular, but we don’t know why they are receiving support. It’s not black and white in any way, but completely gray and muddy. There is no one definitive reason a person’s poll numbers might go up. It could be because of something they said. It could be because of an allegation that is floated, which might later be dispelled. It literally could be because someone farted in public. Talk about which way the wind blows.

The problem is that once a poll is released, it now tends to push the next poll. Now we have polls pushing polls. But after that, now the public starts to see someone’s got the race in the bag, and that either depresses turn out because everybody is sure that person will win, or it just builds their momentum because now they’re the popular person so let’s jump on the bandwagon.

Maybe if we didn’t focus on this arbitrary and meaningless number, we might be able to focus on who is more authentic, has the facts, comes with the receipts, has the resume of public service and advocacy, conveys the depths of their experience, and whatever else you think should be factored in. I personally believe morals and ethics are tantamount.

That’s something you have to watch out for over time, by seeing how they vote which is why I think that when people run for office they shouldn’t start at the top. They should start local and work their way up. I value experience, and I also value seeing the proof in the pudding. I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve seen of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a committee hearing, and the byline of the video will say that she brought the receipts.

It’s the perfect metaphor because she is proving in her questioning that she’s prepared. She came to do the job, she’s fighting for the people, she’s using facts and reason to question these people on our behalf, and she’s proving why her district was right to elect her. She’s not taking PAC money. She’s not dealing in back rooms with lobbyists. She’s serving in a local restaurant, to bring attention to the unlivable wages of wait staff. She is engaging in government and grassroots activism. She is really in it for the people. We have a lot of these true, sincere public representatives in our Democratic Party. In Congress, at state levels, and I can at least say where I live, at the local level.

I just voted in our local primary, and the candidate I was supporting didn’t win. He would’ve been a real representative for our community. Instead we got the former TV personality, who I do not believe is in it for us. We shall see. You better believe I’ll be keeping my eye on her, and she better represent us well, or she’ll be gone in the next election.

As citizens, we generally have disdain for politics. Our voter turnout is abysmally low. I consider it the shame of this country that our citizens brag about being so patriotic, but in a local election year less than 30% of registered voters turn out to the polls.

I challenge every city in this country to organize and turnout the vote and show up for this year’s local election. Don’t just wait for 2020. We got a bump in 2018, but that doesn’t mean we are done. Voting and democracy is not a one time act. It must be maintained, and we must be diligent. We must demand transparency, and we must demand that our government is by the people and for the people, the way it is supposed to be.

We have a long way to go to get there. The only other option is that those in power stay in power, and refused to leave. Once it gets to that, we won’t be able to take it back. We need to have a government that is transparent, is accountable, and shows all the receipts. I want to see the facts, the math, science, and I want to have real debate on the moral imperative of our government to ensure our freedom and to serve us all equally.

We come together and pool our tax dollars for a common wealth, and people represent us in a commonwealth of ideas. Let’s not go broke, when we have every potential within us to fill the bank.

Who is Going to Fix the Potholes?

Early this year, candidates started announcing their intentions to run for the Democratic nomination for President, in the 2020 election. At first, I rolled my eyes. It’s that reflexive disdain for politics, that people often feel. The thing is, I have a B.S. in political science. I love this stuff. Nevertheless, I was annoyed that people were announcing so early. It’s like when the grocery store has Halloween candy in August. Do we have to start so early?

Then I started seeing what a stellar list of candidates there were, and the level of debate that was forming. Elizabeth Warren is a huge reason for this, and she’s not even my first pick. She’s put forward so much policy, she has made her candidacy the one to beat, on merit. She is the gold standard candidate, as far as I’m concern. She has plans and a platform, for her Presidency. Every candidate should be aiming for that bar.

The reason I rolled my eyes, at first, wasn’t the candidates. They weren’t the problem. It was because I don’t want the 2020 Democratic primary to drown out the election we have before that. If anyone is confused at what I’m talking about, I mean the 2019 election. If anyone is wondering what freaking election there is in 2019, you are not alone.

According to this – In the U.S., Almost No One Votes in Local Elections only about 15% – 30% vote in local elections. I live in Rochester, NY, and I usually see returns around 31% in a good year. 

Understand that this is a percentage of registered voters. There is a significant amount of our population, that is eligible to vote and are not registered. People complain about potholes, and they complain about corruption, but when we look to blame the politicians, we might want to save some blame for ourselves.

This country is a baby, compared to a lot of other countries. When we talk about the promise of our country, our potential, we are really talking about proving our democracy can work. We have yet to do that. We have yet to successfully guarantee that our democracy protects our citizens equally, and cares for the common good in a measured and real way. Part of that is because we are not doing our jobs as citizens. The entire idea of representation, when our forefathers were forming this nation, was to ensure that the people would tell the representatives how to represent their interests. It was never meant to run on auto-pilot.

Last year, we got a really good bump in turnout. We elected a record number of women to Congress and we made strides in state elections. I’m not just talking about Democrats. I’m talking about the country. We made strides in getting people to turn out and vote; to participate in our democracy.

Despite that, we have a lot of work ahead of us. Democracy is not a one-time thing, and we can’t just think we did pretty good showing up for that one vote, and now things should get better. Democracy is incumbent upon a participating citizenry. It is our civic duty, to ensure that laws are upheld It is also our job to ensure that representatives are accountable, transparent, and working for us, the people. 

There is a good check list of things, every citizen should be doing, if they are to be upholding their personal civic duty: 

1. Be Registered to Vote 

    • This includes periodically checking and confirming that you registration is in good standing.
    • If you need any information about registering, checking your registration, polling place, or to see who is on your ballot, google your county’s Board of Elections (BOE). For instance, I live in Monroe County, New York. I would google “Monroe County Board of Elections, New York” and I would get their website. From there I can call them or just search the site for what I need. 
    • Election laws are different in each state. It is important to register as early as possible, because some states have deadlines. Some might require ID. Look this stuff up now, so you know it and can plan accordingly. 
    • If you’re a super nerd (like me) you can go here on election night to see the returns, as they come in. They will be unofficial until the BOE certifies the results, which happens after election night. 

2. Identify Your Representatives 

    • President and Congress is good, but this is important at all levels of government. Put their contact info in your phone, if you want to be super dialed in 
    • Some apps will looks this stuff up for you, like https://www.countable.us/ and https://ballotpedia.org 
    • Local officials you can look up by going to your county, city and town websites, or calling them and asking them to tell you. Remember they work for you. Remember, they are good people and be nice to them. (Sincerely, someone who used to work for the BOE) 

3. Pay Attention to Your Representatives 

    • Pay attention to the news, or check the appropriate government sites, to see how your officials are voting on legislation. 
    • If you want your rep to propose legislation or vote a certain way, contact them. Otherwise, the only people talking to them, will be lobbyists, and the lobbyists will write them checks to get them re-elected. The only way to combat that, is a bunch of citizens calling them, to respectfully state, that they will vote them out, if they do not vote in the interest of the community. 
    • Use apps like https://resist.bot/ and https://www.countable.us/ to stay in touch, by sending them emails on issues that are important to you. 
    • If you really need their help on something, call their office and ask if you can make an appointment. If they are in Congress, remember that they split their time with being local and in DC, so it might be some time before you can get an appointment. Remember that whether you like your rep or not, their aides are government workers. Be kind to them, and remember they are just doing their job. 

4. Vote 

    • This should be number 1, but it comes after you do 1-3. 
    • Go with friends, volunteer to help elderly get to the polls, encourage fellow citizens to remember to vote. 
    • Support every citizen’s inalienable right to vote. Fight any voter suppression in your state. Every vote should count, and every vote should count equal to every other vote. 

5. Rinse and Repeat, All Year, Every Year 

I’m actually excited about the 2020 Democratic candidates (most of them). I think debate is good and challenging each other to be better is good. I think hearing different ideas is good. I think diverse plans and people, are good. 

I still want us to focus on the election at hand, and right now, that is the 2019 local election. The wins we have, in 2019, will build local coalitions across this country, for the 2020 election. Every year, we end up stronger or weaker, by the outcome of the previous year’s election. This is true for each political party, and it’s true for the country. 

I think our country will deliver on the promise of our democracy, when we can consistently get real turnout. I want to say 100% but I know people will call me naïve and a dreamer. If I say 90% some will say that is still too high to expect, but I think it’s necessary. Let’s at least try to improve on the last election at the same level. If 30% is the best we do for local elections, let’s shoot for 40% this year. Is that a lot? I would argue it’s not, but I also want 100%. Let’s say it would be a huge improvement. 

I commit to getting out the vote this year, and encouraging better voter turnout, even though is a local election year. I hope you will too. At least commit to the basics of civic duty, if you agree with me. Be registered, know your state’s election laws, know the candidates, and vote. 

Then maybe we can fix some of these damn pot holes, literally and proverbially.

In Duty to Public Service

Governor Northam,

I get that desire to put the past in the past, but this isn’t something that can just be forgiven and forgotten. A truly responsible candidate should be expected to disclose this kind of abhorrent behavior, and find some way to explain it to the public. Anyone seeking to serve the public, cannot dodge hard stuff like this. They must lead by example and do the hard things.

It being exposed, shows you hoped it wouldn’t come out, or you didn’t think it required any explanation or amends. You betrayed the trust of the people.
I am not from Virginia.
I am an American.
I am a lifelong Democrat.
I am not a person of color.
I am Jewish.
I am an ally to people of color.
It’s not enough to just apologize. A willingness to embrace hate, comes with consequences. It hurts real people. It encourages prejudiced people to attack minorities, to lie & marginalize them. If this country will ever live up to its potential, we must agree on a few things.
Our country has a core constitutional ideal, that every citizen has a right to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Our founding fathers stated that in our Declaration of Independence, & it was the framework for our Constitution & Bill of Rights. This is our promise.
We have yet to live up to it. We can, and that is our great promise, but we have yet to live up to it. Our founding fathers came up with this ideal, but they were also flawed men. We need not glorify them, as much as we need to tell their truth. We can’t rewrite the past.
Our founding fathers were white men, who massacred, kidnapped, tortured, and enslaved Africans and Native Americans. We slaughtered Mexicans, and interred Japanese. We continue to damage, threaten and attack people of color, Muslims, people of Islamic faith, Jewish, LGBT….

I cannot support someone as a candidate or elected official, who spreads hate, nor one who would fail to disclose past acts of hate & prejudice. It is a failing of the oath our officials swear, to defend the equal rights of every citizen.

Governor Northam, you must resign. If you are committed to repairing the damage, you must accept these consequences and work to repair the damage, as a private citizen.

Sincerely,
A Citizen Committed to Equality for People of Color

What a Pain

Governor Cuomo,
I need to ask you and the NY State Legislature to address the prohibitive laws on medical marijuana in our state. This is my experience, as a New York state resident, who has a current prescription for medical marijuana.
First off, I have fibromyalgia and lupus. These are the diseases that include widespread neuropathy and make me a candidate for a medical marijuana prescription. I had to see a doctor, separate from all the doctors I already see, because doctors have to jump through hoops just to be able to prescribe the medication.  It’s not being treated like any other medical prescription in so many ways, and the result is that the burden is being put on patients.
It took me about a month to get the card, having had to send all my records to this new doctor, just to get approved. The 1 visit to see that doctor cost me $200.  I have a $2,600 high deductible for my insurance, and that’s important to note. Every expense I undertake will either go toward that, or it will end up going against my $2,850 out of network deductible, or not count toward anything. My prescription card is only valid for 1 year, so I have to do this again every year. I don’t have to do this for any other medication I take. Not for gabapentin, which has many bad side effects. Not for flexil, prilosec; none of them.
Once I could finally get this prescription, I had to make an appointment online, with the only dispensary in my entire city, across the county. They are only open at times I am at work, and I can only go to them. They will deliver the prescription, but they charge $20 more for that service. I believe they have a monopoly in our state, and is the only option for New York residents, to get medical marijuana.
When I went to the dispensary, I had to put my prescription card, certificate and license, up to a camera, to even get let in the door. That let me into a double doorway. From here, I had to slide all the aforementioned identification and cards into a bank tellers slot, before I would be let into the waiting room.  Once in the waiting room, I am given a laminated list of things I cannot do at the dispensary, including recording anything on your phone. An armed guard takes your identification and cards, and escorts you into another room with the pharmacists, where you can get your prescription filled.
This isn’t oxycontin, it’s not an opioid. It doesn’t even get you high. It’s mostly an anti-inflammatory remedy and is completely mild. If there were commercials for medical marijuana the side effects would be so few, most wouldn’t think it was a commercial for prescription medicine.
There are 3 blends, and that is it. The pharmacists will recommend you try all 3, to find the one that helps you the most, and that’s it. I opted for the tincture version and a 50/50 blend to start.  The tincture is the dropper that you put under your tongue. There is a pill form, but that is more expensive and takes longer to take effect.  There is also a vape pen, but the pain relief doesn’t last as long, so you may end up using it more often.  The suggested (max) dose is .5 ml 2 x a day.  The tincture bottle is 7 ml and that means 1 bottle will last 1 week.  A bottle is around $50. That means costs around $200 a month.
Of course, I have insurance and I’m responsible, so I contribute $2,000 a year to my HSA. But none of that makes a difference.  At this only dispensary, this only choice I have to get my prescription filled, I can only pay cash or debit card. I can’t use my HSA.  They just started allowing users to use their care credit card, which is great. Now I can get a credit card, and rack up debt.  Thanks for that. But I can’t use my HSA card, and the cost doesn’t get processed through my insurance and it won’t count against my $2,600 deductible.
The reason I’m bringing this to your attention, is that the medical marijuana does help a lot.  I have taken to only using it sparingly, because the cost and the process to refill is so prohibitive. I use it on the weekends, or when I want to get some house work done.  I used it yesterday, to re-arrange my bedroom. After about 4 or so hours, my pain started to creep back in, and I knew the meds had worn off. If the medicine was more affordable, and easier to refill, I would have taken another dose, so that the residual pain from living a quality life, didn’t have to be so bad.
This is not an addictive drug. It doesn’t even alter your mind. It eases pain and allows people with chronic pain to live a fuller life. Yet for some reason, it is treated like a dangerous narcotic. I had surgery last year, and was given a script of 40 opioid pills. I still have more than 35 of them.  No doctor took any steps to make sure I didn’t over use them. They were handed out like candy.
Medicine is being prescribed and controlled in a backwards fashion in this country, and this state.  I’m bringing this to you, because you can improve this at the state level. You can make it so that the burden and expense isn’t being placed on the patient. You can make it so that this is more affordable, gets processed through my insurance, can be processed through HSA, that more dispensaries and more competition are allowed and encouraged in our state, and that people like me don’t have to ration what is primarily a completely non-addictive, anti-pain and anti-inflammatory med.
Please make this a priority. Cut the red tape, and help New Yorkers with chronic pain.