Don’t worry about winning!

This has been an incredible experience. And I was talking to someone the other day about how the campaign was going. They asked if I thought I would win.

Now, despite what you might have heard, I’m not psychic, so I don’t know.

But as I was talking about what my plans would be if I won vs if I didn’t, I had a few thoughts I wanted to share here about why it’s so important to run even if you don’t win. Even if you don’t think you have a chance to win.

Why?

Because even if you don’t win, in the process of campaigning you will have really important conversations with people who will remember what you said. The ideas that you campaign on become topics of conversation beyond the ones you participate in yourself, and that’s how change starts.

Because even if you don’t win, the issues you raise still have an impact on those who end up in those elected offices. Running gives you a platform and it amplifies your voice. It puts pressure on sitting elected officials and draws attention to issues they might otherwise want to distract from. Incumbents should have to defend their records, and campaign season puts the spotlight on the system.

Because even if you don’t win, you represent important minority voices. Even just in terms of minority political parties, it’s important to keep those messages visible, to fact-check opponents, to make sure the discussions are not one sided and distorted, and to make sure that those you represent aren’t pushed out of the dialog.

So please, consider running for something. And don’t talk yourself out of it on the grounds that a win might be unlikely.

You never know.

 

Advertisements

An important message about poverty

I talk a lot about poverty on the campaign trail, and it’s come to my attention that when I say things like “poverty is at the root of a lot of community problems” some people take that to mean that poor people cause community problems. 

No. Absolutely no.

First of all, poverty is a set of conditions in which a person lives, it’s not an identity. “Poor” is not a type of person, it’s just a description of economic reality.

I grew up poor. I’ve been poor off an on through my adult life. It didn’t ever decrease my value as a human being or my contribution to the community. It doesn’t invalidate my achievements. It doesn’t make me a different person. But it absolutely changes the basis on which decisions get made. How you manage your time, money, and relationships when you have steady and sufficient income, a reliable safety net, and a sense of security about those things remaining stable is completely different to how you manage things under financial stress, lack of stability, and minimal resources – not because poverty makes you do stupid things, but because the whole paradigm changes. “Now” becomes far more crucial than “later.” The amount of risk you’re willing to take changes. Priorities shift. Some things become essentially impossible and, therefore, not even worth worrying about – things like saving for retirement or improving a credit score or going to the dentist if it’s not an emergency.

The economic reality of poverty restricts opportunity. It restricts access to resources. It doesn’t define people, but it can drastically change the course of a person’s life. Our society measures people with numbers – credit scores, income brackets, account balances, years of residence, years on the job, available hours, amount of debt – and poverty weaponizes those numbers.

The same conditions which cause people to fall into poverty and struggle to escape it give rise to a majority of other problems in our communities.

Just one example: We talk about the decrease in homeownership, increase in neglectful landlords, the problem of nuisance properties and vacant homes. The same factors which cause people not to be able to qualify for mortgages and to need low cost housing also support the behaviors we’re trying to battle. If there wasn’t such a large portion of the population in Springfield who needed low-cost housing, the landlords in town wouldn’t be struggling to balance their financial commitment to upkeep with the much smaller profits cheap apartments bring in. Developers don’t want to build low cost housing because there’s less profit to be made there, and they seek to build apartments which attract the most profitable tenants. If landlords can cut corners and cut costs and otherwise maximize what money they can make off the most economically vulnerable, what incentive is there for them not to? Certainly we’ve not done a good job as a city of intervening on behalf of those citizens. And so it’s become more profitable to let properties rot and be vacant until they can be sold. Fewer people in lower income brackets can actually get mortgages, so low cost housing stock in less affluent neighborhoods end up as rentals (renting at more than the mortgage payment, of course) or vacant problem spots. And despite the fact that rent is almost always more expensive on a monthly basis than a mortgage, the circumstances which make low-cost rental housing necessary also make getting mortgage approval essentially impossible.

Another: Living in poverty conditions makes it more likely that a person will end up in violation of the law. It costs money to stay compliant with city ordinances. And the mechanism of poverty which makes it more likely for people to neglect legal obligations in order to meet more basic needs like keeping their job or paying their rent also make it exponentially more difficult to remedy the situation once they’re in trouble with the law. This becomes a cycle that jeopardizes a person’s housing and employment, further exacerbating poverty and making it more likely that future legal problems will be even more significant. The system which perpetuates poverty also perpetuates crime. It overstresses law enforcement, the courts, and overcrowds jails. It drives a thriving bail bond industry which takes further advantage of those in poverty. It impacts the children in those families, making it more likely that they will struggle. And since the standard response is to create MORE penalties and STRICTER legal requirements, it becomes more and more difficult to escape the system once a person becomes trapped in it.

The machinery of poverty doesn’t just make people poor. It makes the entire community suffer.

So, yeah, if we make changes to reduce the number of people living in poverty, we alleviate a lot of community issues because many of the same factors underlie both.

I’ve said before that solving any problem requires two things: incentivize the right choices and behaviors at the same time as you penalize the wrong ones.

If you want to increase quality low-cost housing, you have to make it rewarding for developers and landlords to build and manage low-cost housing, not just penalize them for failing. If you want tenants to be more invested in their communities, you have to make it easy and tangibly rewarding to get involved (for instance, by making it more certain that complaints will be satisfactorily addressed, to start with), not just expect that poor neighborhood conditions will be penalty enough to drive action.

The fact of the matter is that poverty is a measure of the functionality of the systems on which our city is built. High rates of poverty in a community mean that a large portion of residents are unable to access necessary resources, either because there are too many barriers or too few resources. It doesn’t mean people in poverty aren’t making the right decisions – we’re all doing the best we can within the system that exists around us. It means those in charge of the system need to make serious changes in order to increase available resources and ease access to them.

And if we work to do that, we’ll also change the dynamics which give rise to so many other community problems.

Integrity, accountability, and support of police

As we were all talking to people after the forum yesterday, I spoke with one of the candidates for another seat, and I wanted to elaborate here on my comment to Mr. Snelson regarding his pro-police platform.

In many of my platform positions, the key idea is that big entities like government and business hold a great deal of power over individual citizens, and that power is easily abused. That’s why I spend so much campaign time talking about the unreasonable concentration of power in Springfield city government, the ability of those on Council to protect their own and exclude those they don’t want to work with, and the barriers which keep average citizens out of the process. It’s why I side with neighborhoods over developers and big businesses. It’s why I think Council needs to be held to high ethical standards by outside forces and not at its own discretion.

Integrity is a huge thing for me. I am proud to have been endorsed by the Greene County Democratic Central Committee, but I am always quick to tell people I have no party loyalty. The reason for that is that, too often, loyalty to groups like parties or teams or organizations leads people to place that loyalty above the ethical principles that would otherwise guide them, especially when it means the difference between winning and losing.

That’s how we get a City Council who drags its feet on investigating policy violations by a member they don’t want to lose. That’s how we get political parties (all of them, let’s be honest) covering up unethical behavior to preserve electoral influence rather than hold their own to the standards they expect of the opposition.

And that’s what I see when I hear a candidate say they are “pro-police.” I see someone likely to willfully turn a blind eye to problems within the SPD out of loyalty to their cohorts.

I support the police in the same way I support all departments of government. Legislators make laws, and law enforcement exists to do exactly as their title would suggest: enforce laws. I believe we need laws, so I believe we need law enforcement. I have a lot of respect for those who sign up to do such a difficult and dangerous job to benefit the community and who do so with integrity and compassion.  

We can’t forget that police departments aren’t mythical bands of heroes, they are government entities. They, just like City Council, exist to serve the community, and the community has the right to hold them accountable. Yet when the people start calling for accountability, they are framed as “anti-police.” There was no Blue Lives Matter until AFTER there was Black Lives Matter. Communities stood up to protest police brutality and the lack of equity in the system, and the pro-police movement exists as a pushback against that call for accountability.

Everyone should be held accountable when their actions are out of integrity or when they abuse their power. No one should be exempt, especially those to whom we’ve given the power to use lethal force. And expecting police departments and individual police officers to answer for each and every time they fire their weapon, injure a citizen, destroy a rape kit, pressure a victim, ignore a report, or protect those who have violated the law it is not anti-police. It’s pro-accountability and pro-community.

If you’re pro-police, you should support that kind of accountability. You should support removing racist and dishonest officers from the force and holding them responsible for their actions. You should be as quick to call out violations and errors as you are to praise a job well done.

But that’s not what people mean when they say they’re pro-police. Let’s not pretend.

FAQs, Volume 2

Based on comments to the page and things I get asked on the campaign trail, here are a few more answers to common questions:

  1. WHAT WILL YOU DO AS A COUNCIL MEMBER TO ADDRESS THE ISSUES YOU TALK ABOUT?
    Here’s the thing about legislative bodies like City Council: no one person can win a seat and then begin forcing their own agenda through. Decisions are made collaboratively, and so it is much more important to vote for candidates who give priority to the issues that matter to the community and who have the ability to work collaboratively with other legislators. So that’s what I intend to do: be a voice for the issues and interests I’ve been speaking about, and work with other council members to make the most progress on those issues.
    As far as specific bills or programs, I don’t pretend to have perfect answers. It sounds nice for candidates to talk about the legislation they think will best solve whatever problems they’re most concerned about, but I’m not going to pretend that I have perfect answers. I’m not going to pretend that I am aware of all the important issues or that I know how various demographics and groups in Springfield feel or think about things. What I intend to do is to remain open to the input of the people of Springfield, to seek out the voices of the underrepresented and bring their message into the legislative process, and to work with the rest of council to find and implement the best ideas and programs.
    If you agree with my stance on the issues, rest assured I’ll be working to further those priorities. But no, I’m not proposing specific solutions. I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep.
  2. CAN YOU FIX (INSERT SPECIFIC PROBLEM)?
    I will always be open to being informed about issues in the city which are impacting Springfield in negative ways. I think the system by which the city governs leaves a lot of cracks for issues which greatly impact certain areas or certain groups of people to fall through. So yes, I’m open to hearing about the issues you face which might have been overlooked or poorly addressed. Knowing the experiences of residents who are impacted by systemic problems is a valuable tool to legislators.
    But it is not the job of City Council to address individual grievances. I remember a council meeting not too long ago where a current council member took the opportunity to publicly relay the complaint of a developer about noise ordinance violations to the city manager, which I thought was a misuse of council power. It’s no better for council members to get personally involved in interactions between individual citizens and city agencies. We should have better mechanisms for citizens to contact the city and address grievances, but doing so through members of council is not the solution.
  3. HOW CAN I HELP YOUR CAMPAIGN?
    a. The biggest need of any campaign is money, first of all. Unlike some other candidates in this election, I’d don’t have (and am not asking for) the backing of PACs or prominent area donors with deep pockets. I could always use donations – even $10 is a help: https://www.crowdpac.com/contribute/338759
    b. The second biggest need is networking opportunities. I’m always open to speaking at local community groups of all kinds, so if you are a member of a group who would be open to a visit from a local progressive candidate, please put us in contact. Better than that, even, is hosting a house party event. It’s very simple: you invite your friends and colleagues over and host a gathering so I can meet them. It can be as casual or formal as you and your friends like, and it’s a great way for me to meet and talk to people in the community. Contact me if you’d like to host one.
    c. Otherwise, campaigns are all about getting visibility. Share my Facebook page, Twitter feed, or this website. Talk to your friends. Contact me to get a yard sign. Let me know of places I could post campaign materials that I might not be aware of (not just community boards and such – most don’t allow political materials). Any way you can think of to get my name and logo out in front of voters!

It’s not representation if we have no choices!

Like I said in my FB video the other day, we’re all facing the frustrating reality of having four of six council seats go uncontested. What happened with the petition verification process that resulted in Larry Flenoid being un-certified is a symptom of a larger problem. I don’t know what happened behind closed doors in city offices over a holiday weekend, but if the City of Springfield wants residents to trust the system, it would be a great idea not to do things in a way that looks suspicious and manipulative.

But it goes beyond that.

Richard Ollis is defending a seat he was appointed to, and now (conveniently) doesn’t have an opposing candidate running against him.
(Side note: I also applied for that vacancy. I wasn’t called for an interview. My rejection letter was addressed to “Jake”.)

Abe McGull has been quoted saying that he was specifically asked to run by current members of council. He is also running unopposed.

Matthew Simpson was appointed to council as well. He now also runs unopposed.

Regardless of the outcome of the elections in April, nearly half the members of council will have been selected by other members of council without city residents having given any input into those choices.

That is not representation.

It doesn’t matter if you like these candidates or not. The system is clearly broken.

It should also be noted that both Ferguson and Prater were originally appointed to their seats as well, though they both won re-election in 2017 in what was more a rejection of Fulnecky/Montgomery than an affirmation of the candidates who won.

It clearly pays to be appointed to council – and we all know that not just anyone stands a chance of getting appointed to anything. Remember how current council was so pleased to see so much diversity in the applicant pool for Seat C, but then appointed Andrew Lear – yet another wealthy, influential, white businessman? They don’t appoint people who might rock the boat or disagree too much. Why would they?

And it’s downright infuriating how often council seats seem to come open, allowing council to hand-pick their cohorts rather than allow the citizens to choose.

So, what do we do now?

  1. Get to the polls in April and vote in the two races where we do have a choice. Make it clear that we don’t want the status quo. We don’t want to be represented by elected officials who feel that such a system is okay. Ask candidates if they will support an overhaul of the process not just for electing and appointing council members, but also city commissions (which advise council and are filled by appointment with the direction of, yes, city council).
    (Additional side note: I’ve TWICE applied to be considered for numerous openings to city commissions, and have never once gotten as much a an acknowledgment or rejection letter. I had no idea how commissioners were selected until I talked to people who’ve served. The brokenness of the system goes far beyond council.)
    Council should not be making appointments to council or to commissions which report to and advise council. Representative government should be representative government. If an elected official can’t or won’t serve out their term, the people should choose their replacement. The system as it stands is just a revolving door of appointed council members appointing new council members, with complete power to simply ignore applications for whatever reason they want.
  2. Make your voices heard. Loud and often. When things happen in the state legislature or in Congress that we don’t like, we call and write and fax and email to make sure they hear us. Yes, it’s easier to reach them because they’ve got offices and staff and we have tools like Resistbot. But City Council is local. If you want change, they all have official emails and phone numbers. Anyone can address council at the biweekly meetings. Write letters to the editor. Frankly, I’d love to see a committee form to gather signatures to get the issue on a ballot and make changing the system a grassroots campaign.
  3. There will be another election in two years. Prepare to run.

Bottom line: We are not powerless. This is important. We should be able to choose our representation.

I’ve got a lot of concerns for Springfield: poverty, equity, etc. But as this campaign moves forward, the basic issue of representation and transparency in city government is emerging as the biggest fire in need of attention. The future of Springfield depends on putting the power back in the hands of the people.