I’ve been working on this piece for over a week, trying to decide what to say (or whether to), but the actions of this last weekend with the Executive Order and the public reaction to it shows we are in a historic moment, even if we don’t recognize it.
Whether you realize it or not, we are at what will probably be seen as a historic moment in time for the United States, assuming it survives the current problems. Not since the Civil War has there been such strong and destructive disagreements across the population and its government.
We’ve been at this point before. The ratification of the replacement of the articles of Confederation and adoption of our current Constitution was a grave crisis not taught in most history classes, and we almost didn’t become what we became (if you’re curious, reading Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography will give you a fascinating look into this time and place). The Civil War was a time when the ability to find a compromise position failed and the country had to settle it with war and bloodshed. The Civil Rights movement of the 60s is another of these crisis points where violence and death were minimized but not avoided — and now here we are today.
Yes, I see the current situation as that serious and as critical a crisis as the one that led us into the Civil War.
The impact of the immigration ban over the weekend was horrible but the reaction of the crowds that stood up to is was amazing. One of the things I’ve been trying to figure out — and implement — is what I need to do to do my part in making sure the damage to all of us caused by Trump’s presidency is minimized, and where to commit my resources to help make sure we move forward from this in the appropriate direction.
So here’s what I’ve decided and what I’m doing, which I’m posting in public to both give all of you things to think about and consider doing as well, but also to encourage feedback on other things I can add to my list. This is certainly “not enough” but it’s a start.
I should note a couple of things up front: First, I feel strongly that I can’t abandon my existing causes and priorities, especially given that they are also in the line of attack of the Trump Administration. And second, my time for joining the marches is past, at least for now, thanks to my knees and the issues they bring me. So I won’t be in the streets, but I sure can support those that do and try to have their back and look for ways to help them be successful and safe.
The first thing I did when Trump was elected was double my donations to my key organizations: the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society. Those are two of the organizations doing a lot of work to protect and enhance many of the things that are important in my life: birds, nature and outdoor spaces, and they can’t be forgotten just because Trump hasn’t gotten around to attacking them yet. We know it’s coming.
But that’s not enough. The next thing I did was identify the groups I wanted to add to my support network, and I chose two: The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. That latter ended up front and center in the fight against the immigration ban over the weekend and deployed lawyers and staff to airports around the country to try to help, and so this weekend I doubled my donation to them. I expect to add to that donation as the year progresses.
That’s a good start and those are in many ways easy decisions and acts. I encourage all of you to support these organizations as well, or find the organizations that best support the causes you feel are worth your time and money.
It wasn’t enough for me, however. I feel in many ways our government has broken, become too divisive and unable to find the kind of compromises necessary for government to function. This has come to a head with the emergence of the Tea Party and the shift of the Republican party from being a conservative party to being a reactionary one that chooses blowing things up instead of finding compromises both sides can live with.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems within the Democratic party as well; we can start with a distinct lack of leadership within Congress in both the Senate and the House and far too much appeasement of the Republicans rather than taking stands on important issues.
I’ve thought a lot about how I want to see Congress fixed, and here’s what I’m going to work to see it changed. My bottom line: there are too damned many old white guys in Congress who need to either step aside and make room for the younger generation that should be taking up the reins and providing our leadership moving forward. Don’t believe me? The average age of the 114th House is 57 and the Average age of the 2016 Senate is 61.
To me, that’s not close to representative of the country today. So one of my goals is to find people working to overturn this age disparity and to help some of the new, younger people stepping up to run for Congress in 2018.
I want to see anyone older than 55 retiring or voted out of Congress, and replaced with someone younger: 25-45 and with as wide a gender and cultural diversity as we can make happen. Let’s make government represent the country again, not just the white guys who feel they are entitles to tell everyone what to do.
The first act I’ve taken to support this goal is that I’ve donated money to Brianna Wu’s candidacy, and why I’ll be doing the same with other congressional candidates taking on the status quo. I’m doing this for two reasons: First, Brianna is exactly the kind of person I want to see elected to Congress, and second, she’s committed to using her campaign to help springboard other like candidates into successful campaigns as well.
Fix voter registration
I want to see a shift to national voting standards, and in fact, a national voter registry rather than the state wide voting setups. There are too many cases of state and local interference in people’s rights to vote and the implementation of rules that try to remove a person’s right to vote, especially against non-white populations.
If you’re an American citizen you ought to have a right to vote, but many states still play Jim Crow games, and I’m convinced the only way to solve this is to shift voter registration standards — and the actual registration of voters — from the state to the federal government.
There’s no reason if you’re an American citizen eligible to vote why there shouldn’t be a central system to register, and if you move, the registration moves with you to your new address.
Let’s even take this one step further: Why do you need to register to vote at all? Shouldn’t it be automatic, and you should be registered at your legal address automatically, unless you’ve done something to lose your right like a felony conviction? So why can’t we simply tie your registration into something like the tax systems where your legal address is your voting address and your ability to vote comes automatically with your citizenship?
Beyond that, the other big game politicians play to guarantee their seats in Congress and at the local level is gerrymandering districts into safe ones for the incumbent and to create pockets of the opposition population that effectively neuters their vote.
So I’m looking for ways I can support a shift to national non-partisan districting for at least Congress, and whether I can push for that same kind of non-partisan districting down to the local level.
I see the problem here
Of course, these last two ideas will walk straight into the problem that so many of the current internal conflicts are tied up with: federal power vs. states rights. But I think I good argument can be made that too many states have abused their power to reduce or deny democracy, and that it’s time for a change.
This is a non-trivial problem to fight and fraught with problems and challenges, but one I feel we need to grapple with. This same issue was at the core of the fight over the Constitution back in the Hamilton/Madison age, and was the core of the fight that led to the split that created the Civil War. In both of those times, the States Rights coalition was the group bent on protecting the right to maintain slavery. One might argue (and I do) that the immigration ban and some of the rights rollbacks we’re seeing in the Trump administration and being supported by the reactionary GOP membership shows less has changed than we want to believe. And it’s brought our country to crisis again.
I would love to work to put these conflicts to an end permanently, but I honestly see no way to do so. Instead, I think we need to look for ways to mend the current conflict, remove the more reactionary and divisive people from Congress, and see that as the first (or next) step in what is a long, painful and ongoing conflict within the country.
But as we can see from the adoption of the Constitution and the ability to pull back together (fighting like a bickering married couple) after the Civil War, this country is able to muddle its way through somehow and make it mostly work most of the time. And that gives me hope.
But the current crisis really worries me, and so it’s not time for complacency.
Un-elect Dianne Feinstein
One other thing I plan to get involved in. As a native californian, I’ve decided it’s time for Diane Feinstein to be replaced in the Senate. Her term is up in 2018, and while I’ve been overall a moderate supporter of her work over the years, I’ve been increasingly unhappy at her support of various issues, especially around privacy and security, and her lack of leadership that a person in her position and tenure ought to be providing.
So I am now starting to evaluate what other candidates are looking to run for her seat. It’s far too early for me to make a recommendation or endorsement, but at some point I will. But I want to see that Senate seat turned over to a new, younger senator in 2018 and I’ll be donating money and time to help make that happen.
The good news is that in the last election, Barbara Boxer retired and has been replaced by Kamala Harris, who has long impressed me as the kind of person we want in Congress, and I’m hoping we can do the same for our other seat in the State.
My marching orders
So those are my marching orders for 2017. It’s time for the next generation to take up the leadership role in Congress, which means it’s time for us to get rid of all those old white fart white guys who don’t know it’s time to leave.
It’s time to get involved with the organizations that are trying to protect the people and places that are at risk from this new administration that is clearly interested in destroying the future in the name of short term profit and their own ideological motivations. And it’s time to try to revamp how we choose our elected officials to try to reduce or remove their ability to create for themselves political positions isolated from their constituency and any responsibility to them for their actions and decisions.
That’s what I’m going to try to work towards. Agree with me? Get involved and lets do it together. Have other ideas? Then go get involved in those and make them happen.
Because if there’s one thing I’m convinced of, it’s that as a country too many of us have gotten into the habit of just assuming it’s going to continue happening without our involvement, and what we see unfolding before us is the reality that we have to stop taking it for granted, and that what makes this country great can’t survive if we treat it like a spectator sport.
And that’s our marching orders. I’m don’t particularly care how you get involved, I just want you to understand it’s time to get off the sidelines and get involved.
That’s how we’ll get past this crisis and start moving things forward again.