What we can do locally

Taking action in our local communities is where resistance of Trump’s agenda begins. It is among the people to whom we are closest that we are likely to find our first allies if we begin to look.

Like the majority of the country, I’ve been reading and watching news about President-elect Donald Trump with a mix of trepidation and horror. The blatant ineptitude of him and his staff to do any of the duties that have befallen him is laid bare for all to see. Trump’s actions demonstrate a complete lack of respect for the press, for free speech, and of course for women and minorities. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t read the Constitution. Numbered among his supporters are neo-Nazis, white-power groups, angry neocons, and of course the economically disenfranchised and economically over-franchised who voted for him.

However, I have also seen lists from both Bernie Sanders and Robert Reich of actions we can take. I’m emboldened and comforted by these. I’ve used those lists as inspiration and foundation for the list below, focusing on actions we can take in our local communities.

  1. Get your town, city, or county officials to state their points of view about Trump’s election. Do they support him and his policies? Why or why not? Find out where they stand. If you can, urge them to declare or resolve that your community will be a safe haven for free speech and minorities.
  2. Get the necessary permits or permission and establish a 7-days a week presence on a corner with signs, megaphones, pamphlets. Speak your mind and be heard, even about local issues. Let the community know there are people who are aware and concerned.
  3. Write letters to the Editor of your local paper(s).
  4. Talk to your local business community or chamber of commerce. Are they willing to denounce Trump’s business practices and be public about it? Are they willing to stop carrying Trump merchandise?
  5. Look at your community’s voting data (your secretary of state will have this information). How many voted Trump, or Hillary Clinton, or wrote in someone else? If there are even 20 people who didn’t vote Trump, write a letter to your local newspaper asking them to reach out to you — even anonymously.
  6. Get organized through voter lists (they are usually at the Town Clerk’s office: you won’t see how people vote, but you will likely see party affiliations).
  7. Get to know your community or your neighbors. What are people worried about? How can those worries be addressed by your city council or select board?  Now is not the time for isolationism.
  8. We know that Trump is likely to target minorities, education, and women’s health care. Get connected with these in your community and understand the relevant concerns. Ask what you can do to help.
  9. Join a board or run for office if you can.
  10. Keep track of Trump’s policy decisions and ideas for the future. Work with local and state politicians to understand how they will impact your community. Publicize that information often (see number 2).

It’s easy to get lost in the national quagmire and feel overwhelmed. It’s easy to fall into the rut of swinging the pendulum the other way. If we focus locally and look to our families, friends, neighborhoods, and communities instead, we can become hubs of protection and action. We can make small differences where we live. If each of us makes a small difference, big differences begin to take shape.

Electoral college redesign proposal

Designed to ensure that urban centers didn’t have an unequal voice in the election of the president of the United States and that the president was elected by states not people, the Electoral College bears some re-examination in light of contemporary society.

Under the United States Constitution, the office of president was not intended to represent the people, but rather be a representative of the republic itself. The voice of the people is established in the House of Representatives and to a lesser degree the U.S. Senate. To that end, the electoral college was created as a compromise as part of Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, the states were left to their own devices as to the manner in which electors for president were chosen.

To be clear, when we vote for president, we are not voting for the person, but are in actuality voting for the electors who will then cast their vote for the person. In the same way that we vote for senators and representatives who cast their vote on our behalves regarding laws, budget, etc.

The problem with this method is that as the country has gotten larger, as the issues have become more complex,  the president has been looked at as a caretaker of the nation’s intentions and potential and the bi-party political system that is embedded in our process isn’t allowing for the wide spectrum of needs. Because of this, there is — and has been — a loud cry for a popular vote to elect president.

That might seem like the right answer, but in that case, control of the office would go to the largest population centers which systemically have different needs than the rest of the country. In this election, data shows that the majority of people in rural America do not feel that Clinton is the right person for the job. A popular vote would essentially eliminate their voices. It’s not democracy if it’s oppression by the majority (Madison, Federalist Papers No. 10).

Here’s what I am thinking about:

  1. Make all primaries open and non-party specific. Change them all to direct election rather than caucuses. Don’t let the political parties control primaries, let the primaries stem from the number of candidates. Allow the primaries to the opportunity to winnow the entire field, not just the candidates from major parties.
  2. Allow all winners of primaries to take part in national debates for president. Again, remove the influence of political parties. Let everyone debate so that the public is better informed.
  3. Make electoral votes in each state proportional (like Maine does, for instance).This ensures that dissenting voices are heard and that the electoral votes more accurately represent the people without giving complete control to large population centers. Each state would maintain the number of electoral votes (number of senators plus the number of representatives). The percent a candidate gets is the percent of the electoral votes they receive.
  4. If no majority of the electoral votes is received by any candidate, the process would work as today.

As I’ve thought this through, I believe that we would see the following results:

  1. We would have a greater participation in the primary process.
  2. Party politics would have less of an effect on selection of candidates, thus also improving voter turnout.
  3. Third-party candidates would be given the voices they deserve in a democracy.
  4. We maintain the balance between rural and urban needs that the electoral college maintains, while also making individual votes matter more.
  5. We begin to erode the idea of “blue” and “red” states and binary thinking in general and our government becomes more representative of the actual population rather than political parties.

As a designer and systems philosopher, while I understand the need for a re-vamped electoral process, I think we cannot afford to just delete something we don’t like. We need to understand why it doesn’t work and for whom, how it can be made better, and move forward with an attitude of experimentation in order to truly fix it.

Lastly, I cannot stress enough the need for voter turnout to increase especially in the non-presidential cycle. The Constitution grants that the House and Senate are the direct voices of the people. They are our tools for keeping an unpopular president in check. While I believe that the electoral college can and should be redesigned, it won’t make things better if we don’t participate where it matters.

What do you think?

Affecting political change: a suggestion

Lately I’ve been getting into some debates on Facebook about the nature of political change. My position in this discussion has always been that we have to avail ourselves of the tools given to us — free speech, right to vote, access to government officials, etc. — and use every means necessary to get what we want. For some people I’ve discussed this with, my opinion is incorrigible because it includes participating in the government that they loathe so much. My point of view is that we are governed whether we like it or not, so we might as well learn the rules better than those who govern and make the changes we can. My reasoning is that this has worked before: civil rights amendment, black suffrage, women’s suffrage, poll taxes, etc. Their reasoning is that since the government is corrupt, nothing will change, so why bother participating.

As an aside, this position aggravates me to no end. Here’s why. Imagine that 100 people are all stuck in a burning building and are told that the only way to get out is to build a machine on the bottom floor and that at least 75 people have to work on the machine in order to finish it in time. Immediately, 25 people start protesting those who started the fire and refuse to help build the machine. While that’s happening, 33 people head down to the first floor to start building the machine that will be able to break them out. We’re now left with 42 people to help build the machine. If they all helped, then the machine could be built and everyone could escape. Unfortunately, 25 of those people didn’t pay attention to the rules (to remedy this in reality, please read “The Federalist Papers” and “The United States Constitution” and take particular note of the flexible structure that is in place and how change can be affected both from within and without) and head up to the top floor to build their own machine. The result? Everyone dies. That’s why I hate the “protest is the only way to change things” line of thinking: it doesn’t address the problem in the way that creates a solution.

So let’s take a look at this “protest only” method. It’s usually run by a professional protester or activist who has done this kind of thing before. It’s well-organized and scripted, and always presents a particular vibe to outside observers. All of this is tightly controlled. The emphasis with this method is on volume and presence. From my experience in participating, reporting on, and monitoring these kinds of gatherings there is usually a unifying goal bringing a number of people together in one area for the purpose of visually showing how many people agree with one thing. In some cases the participants may not be clear on why they are all there (later adopters of the “Occupy” movement), but support whatever they feel is the purpose. There is also plenty of thematic signage, uniform chanting, and hard-to-understand bullhorn-based speeches. Flash mobs, flyers, community food locations, and distrust of all government sources are also common. In some cases these protests can become violent and dangerous. This depends on the purpose and location of the protest, of course, and more of these kinds of gatherings are peaceful. Civil Disobedience and ending revolution are all possible outcomes of this approach.

I have nothing against protesting and activism. There is a strength and passion to this method that cannot be denied. The media loves images of people with signs sharing their discontent, and quick sound bytes can be easily generated from the groups’ slogans and chants (“Hell no, we won’t go!” etc). If you want quick attention to a current issue, this is a great method. Many movements were started this way, and many more will be as well. The problem with this method is contained in its very DNA: what gathers in one place must eventually disperse or keep doing something new to maintain its energy. Entropy ensues. The message gets lost. This is the flash mob of social progress. Today’s issue is tomorrow’s trivia question. The movement that arose like wildfire fanned by the hot breath of mass media dies by the same group’s smothering blanket of public attention and advertising dollars. Revolutions eventually become the next target of protest — French Revolution, Russian Student Revolt — and the heroes of the picket lines — Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin — are just as quickly demonized by future revolutionaries.

Protest by itself as a method for changing policy doesn’t do anything. Protest is a means by which an issue gets noticed. Once that happens, there is still work to do in order to change policy. Our government is — like it or not — established by those who vote. And as such, the people in government are only beholden to those who voted for them, not the people in the park or street protesting. In fact, statistics are telling the government that those people don’t vote.

You want policy change? You contact your rep over and over again. You can even tell him you’ll be at the rally tomorrow, but you need to contact him. It doesn’t matter if you voted for him or not, you’re still beholden to his decisions. While your at it get everyone at your protest to contact their reps over and over again. If a representative’s constituents present an overwhelming — or even slightly-whelming — position, he has to listen if he wants to get elected again. And don’t give me that crap about corporations and bribery. If he doesn’t get votes, he won’t be there to get bribes. We’re still in control if we want to be.

Case in point: PIPA/SOPA became a massive issue started online. All of those people posting in forums, blacking out sites, creating comics also did something else: they called their representatives. The sponsor of PIPA pulled the bill. He pulled the bill he wrote because people from his district told him to. In the case of SOPA there’s still work to do, but the vote was delayed indefinitely as a direct result of the voting public contacting their representatives.

Counter-case in point: Scott Brown (R MA) was elected to the US Senate by a majority of voters during a low-turnout election. Republicans knew that in order to try and block the health insurance reform bill, Martha Coakley would need to lose. They turned out in droves, while the democrats from a democratic state assumed victory and stayed away — even though a bulk of them would have been participating in cheering for the health insurance reform. Brown won and voted no. Voter turnout had a direct impact on the process in Washington, DC.

There is nothing wrong with protesting, but going around insisting that it’s the only way to affect change in government is absurd at best and dangerous at worst. Apathy is what your opponents bank on. They assume that if you’re in a picket line, you’re not at the polls. Unfortunately that’s more often than not the case. How about surprising the bastards and doing both? Here’s why: effectiveness at the polls is achieved through mass participation. Protesting gets people’s attention, voting tells the system what they want. If we can use both together, then that’s something that could finally tip the scales in our favor.

As an example, let’s look at China and Iran. Protests in those countries have made the news, changed our minds about the nature of social media, gave us some shocking imagery, and maybe inspired some of us along the way. However, little in the way of progress can be reported as a direct result of those protests. Why? Because there’s no recourse for those protesting to directly control the actions of government. Because that’s what voting is: a group of people coming together to express their approval or dissent with issues and people. It only works if we all do it.

In closing, I’d like to point out that a vote-based system of government is very grass roots and egalitarian in nature. It requires broad communication of issues and ideas as well as coordination of efforts and people across social and financial divides. In short, voting en masse is a grass roots, people-powered method of governing. I’m constantly told, though, that the representative democracy we have is selfish and doesn’t account for a greater good. It’s pretty obvious to me that unless we all work together, the building’s going to burn down and we’re all going to die. How’s that for greater good?

Factionalization is killing our country

The United States Congress has betrayed its purpose: the representation of the ideals of its constituents is no longer a primary motive. Rather, the concerns of corporate entities, personal gain, and political favor have corrupted the work our government does and the general population is left to ponder the outcome and live in the aftermath.

This has not happened just this year, nor in the last decade, nor indeed over the last 50 years. It has been a slow and inevitable process brought on by the one weakness in the armor of the United States Constitution: it’s ability to become beholden to factional influence. It is a process described in the Federalist Papers, as well as in George Washington’s farewell address to congress. It is the reason why Washington was against the idea of political parties, and the primary reason why Thomas Jefferson believed that every citizen should be educated: to protect the country from factionization. Their warnings have not been heeded, and our country is failing. It is not the fault of our elected officials, however.

We, the people, have allowed the factions to elect those unscrupulous men and women who pervert their calling in the halls of congress. We have allowed it to happen by not participating in our own government. Congressional elections since the 1960’s have had participation in the 20 – 30 percent range. An average turnout of around 35% has been seen during those elections over the last 40 or so years. After accounting for the non-voting population, that is approximately 17% of our citizenry who are determining who remains a representative.

By deciding to not participate in congressional elections, we have handed our country to the entities that most desired it. Those entities and their bank accounts are now controlling how laws are written and which ones pass.

The cynical amongst you will come forth with some kind of “well, it would have happened anyway” or “my vote doesn’t count” quote. To you I say shut up. The reason your vote is slowly counting less and the reason this is happening is because of that very thought process. Our government only works when everybody participates in its operation. It’s not just a right, but a civic duty to follow, analyze, decide, and act on the decisions your representatives make — in your towns, states, and otherwise.

Whether you voted or not, the people from your district will work to determine your quality of life.

This is not a country for cynical people, unfortunately — a fact I have had to come to terms with myself. Cynics will look at a system and see how it has failed them, see the utter futility of trying to correct what seems so obviously wrong. Our country is designed, however, to be fixable. To provide us the view into what is wrong and the means by which we can repair it. All we need do is act.

The massive turn-out in the 2008 elections and its historic result — while not my personal choice — is an example of the voters trying to fix a system. That election was easy, though.  Can you do it in 2010 when it matters more, but will be far less glamorous? Will you turn out and discard those representatives who have failed you, your families, your neighbors and your towns without the television telling you to do so? Will you become the moral compass for those who have none even if your favorite news station disagrees with your ultimate decision?

We are not lost yet. The factions are winning, yes, but they are no longer a concern when we override them with sheer participation.  We can still reclaim the US Congress and give it back to those who would do a better job of representing the people of this country over corporations. It is, after all, our congress to control. The people who sit in those aisles are merely stewards of our rights. And as stewards, they are beholden to our disgust, our wrath, our choices.

Mass. House approves “Pandemic” bill

Mass. House approves bill allowing quarantines – Boston.com.

The article written by an AP journalist and published by the Boston Globe doesn’t mention when the vote took place on this bill or what the bill is. That lack of information is unacceptable since this bill has been around some time. Below is a brief history of the bill passed today with links to appropriate texts published by the Massachusetts government.

The two bills that make up this discussion are Senate bill number 2028 — nee, Senate 18 — and House bill number 108. In looking at the history of the Senate bill, you can see that the number was changed to House 4271 after it left the Committee on Ways and Means and was voted on today.

The next step is for the disagreements in the Senate and House versions of the bills to be hammered out, voted on and then sent to the Governor for signing. At this point, my guess is that it will go through with very little debate as the Senate and House bills are very very similar.

If you don’t want this to pass, this is your last chance to do something about it. Call your local representative and tell them why you don’t want this bill to go through. Make your argument very clear, though, and stay away from the “it’s unconstitutional” thing. There is a clause in the Massachusetts Constitution in the article on property rights that reads thusly (emphasis mine):

Article X. Each individual of the society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty and property, according to standing laws. He is obliged, consequently, to contribute his share to the expense of this protection; to give his personal service, or an equivalent, when necessary: but no part of the property of any individual can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of the representative body of the people. In fine, the people of this commonwealth are not controllable by any other laws than those to which their constitutional representative body have given their consent. And whenever the public exigencies require that the property of any individual should be appropriated to public uses, he shall receive a reasonable compensation therefor. [See Amendments, Arts. XXXIX, XLIII, XLVII, XLVIII, The Initiative, II, sec. 2, XLIX, L, LI and XCVII.]

As you can see, as long as Massachusetts citizens’ representatives give permission, the Constitution of this “Commonwealth” allows the removing of one’s property by the government. This bill is, in fact, constitutional according to the rules of the state. It may be unconstitutional at the federal level, but since it only affects state residents that’s a moot point.

You want my advice? Appeal to the more Libertarian nature of your representative and/or senator. Ask them whether they relish the idea of family members being forced to be vaccinated against their will. As them whether they trust future governors to understand exactly what a “statewide health emergency” entails. Is it the flu? An outbreak of the common cold? What about the vastly under-powered “Swine-flu”?

This bill only goes into effect as long as there’s a state of emergency. The logical question, then, is exactly what constitutes that state, and do we trust a single person — Governor — to declare it?

Follow up:

On further reading, the Massachusetts Constitution does allow for protections from search and seizure, however (Article XIV). That said, there is also a clause that allows for declarations of emergency (Article XX). There’s some fodder in there for an argument of unconstitutionality, I suppose, but I still say that the best arguments lie on other paths.