Welcome (back) to The Bridge.
Last newsletter, we stewed in the simmering pot of misrepresentation and discussed the reality that our government is not always of the people, by the people and for the people. Gerrymandering and the Electoral College have us feeling like a big ole hanging chad—unaccounted for, discounted and very un-sexy. This week we pick up where the last newsletter left off. Let’s talk about the fun schoolhouse rhyme of No Representation without Participation.
Trump won the election by mobilizing the working class with the mantra that our system doesn’t work. That this system is not one that represents all Americans. He identified the right problem, a real problem, but the wrong solution. People from all walks of life are being left behind and/or cut out altogether. This problem is not just one of apathetic non-participation, but it is also a structural problem in our country and our democracy. Our democracy can only represent the people of our country if their voices and needs can be heard and that isn’t happening right now--whether by systematic design or by non-participation.
The ground rule for the this edition is this: in order to form a more perfect union, we must believe that the higher the voter turnout and the greater collective duty we feel to actively participate in our democracy, the healthier and stronger we will be as a country.
The Bridge will continue our discussion of participation or lack thereof, in our democracy.
If there was an objective truth we found at center of the 2016 campaign inferno it must have been this: neither the Republican nor the Democratic parties are capable of producing candidates that represent their electors. That holds doubly true for the U30 population. Red went orange, blue went up in flames and those of us still able to vote were left with unsettled stomachs and pinched nostrils. We have been failed, systematically, but rather than entertaining helplessness, let’s examine the pipes, find the leaks in this rusty, sometimes lead heavy, sewer system, and figure out how we can plug-up.
We have been divided for too long, on too many pointless contentions and it’s pretty clear the generation before us is too entrenched on their side to ever come together. Since it’s obvious the people in authority are incapable of leading that means it’s our time to step up, Bridge the gap, and take an active role in building the brighter future our parents always wanted for us.
Political apathy is a fundamental problem in American democracy: if the DNC deems this crisis serious, it will cooperate with, not conspire against their most ardent allies in the struggle to uphold liberal values. The refusal to harness the youthful energy of the progressive movement and channel it into party vision could exacerbate the left’s dispassion with political participation. Is this by design?
The ill-advised urge to not go left, and proceed with business as usual has many of us asking the obvious question, isn’t that how we were defeated at every level of government? The party must shift its allegiance away from appeasing big business (finance, defense, and extractive industries), at the expense of defending working class interests, and embrace causes like the Fight for $15. For progressives this is essential for both party and national success. As we witnessed with disheartened Bernie supporters and disaffected middle class voters, when cohorts feel ignored and cheated, their frustrations are usually expressed via either rebellion or indifference.
No one seems to be more delusional to this than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. These geriatric stalwarts of the DNC embody the other side of the schism in liberal America. Sure, they are currently in a precarious position, but it’s their stubbornness that created their current predicament in the first place. A step in the right direction would be for them to rebuke their longstanding neoliberal positions on the economy. They can do this by leading the resistance against Trump and the GOP’s reckless deregulatory agenda, fight against the privatization of government agencies, and resist the temptation of bipartisan cooperation on issues like infrastructure because progress should never come in the form of white nativism. This week, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, who co-chairs the congressional progressive caucus and is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress will compete against Obama’s former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, for party chair. The election will be an appropriate gauge for measuring how inclined the party is to listen to the more youthful tenor of its ranks.
The left is energized, and ripe for political mobilization. A “responsible” centrist, who is easily labeled D.C. establishment, isn’t the preferred option for the 2018 mid-term, and/or the 2020 presidential elections. However, if establishment loyalists persevere, and Einstein’s adage on insanity holds true, we shouldn’t expect candidates that encourage our participation, let alone delivery us victories. This strategy lost Democrats presidential elections for Gore in 2000, Kerry in 2004, and Clinton in 2016. If they don’t come to their collective senses, they risk missing out on the enthusiasm and ideas of young voters, us, at all levels of government nationwide—devastating the liberal cause, and diluting the democratic process. It’s a risk we can not afford to take.
Considering how strongly the United States has clung to the idea of being the standard- bearer of Western Democracy, the way we conduct Presidential elections is shockingly undemocratic. The terrors of gerrymandering and the Electoral College are becoming more well-understood, but choosing between the lesser of two evils can only happen after those evils have been selected in the first place, during the primaries. Closed primaries, low voter turnout, and the schedule of the primaries themselves pushes the GOP to the right and substantially lowers the chances that a moderate Republican can make it to the top of the ticket.
Twenty eight states hold closed Republican Primaries, including Iowa and New Hampshire. Closed primaries limit participation to only those voters who are formally affiliated with the party. This leaves Independent, Libertarian, and Unaffiliated voters out of the Republican contests, meaning that the Republican candidates do not have to make any effort to appeal to those voters. Republicans are left pandering to their base, but it isn’t even their whole base that shows up to vote: In 2016 only 28.5% of eligible voters voted in the primaries, and Republican primary voters tend to be older and whiter than general election voters.
Though low turnout and closed primaries do shape the campaigns of Republican candidates, there may be nothing more crucial than the primary schedule. In a grueling, four and a half month long primary process, momentum is everything, therefore carrying early states is necessary for victory. In 2016, three states (Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina) voted before “Super Tuesday” and 13 states held Republican Primaries on “Super Tuesday”.
In 2015, the Public Religion Research Institute conducted a massive poll in order to determine the “cultural conservatism” of individual states and the United States in general. They focused primarily on gay marriage, abortion, and immigration- three important issues to social conservatives. Their results are telling: South Carolina has a population that is demonstrably more socially conservative than the United States as a whole, and Republicans in Iowa and South Carolina are far more socially conservative than the average Republican. This trend doesn’t stop in early primary states. In fact, of the 13 Super Tuesday states, 8 are more conservative than the US as a whole, and only 4 are more liberal. Additionally, the divide between the more conservative states and the average is greater than the divide between the more liberal states and the average. Of the seven states in which a majority of respondents had negative views on gay marriage, five held primaries on or before Super Tuesday.
The Republican Primary schedule is so heavily front- loaded with socially conservative voters that a Republican candidate must take far- right stances on social issues in order to be electorally viable. Moderates do not stand a chance to win the nomination, let alone enough states on Super Tuesday to stay in the race. The Republican candidate for President of the United States is selected by a relatively small group of voters that is older, whiter, and more conservative than not just the average American, but also the average Republican.
The Republican party must abandon this fervent adherence to socially conservative ideals. Not only is this fading as an electorally viable tactic, it is simply wrong. The GOP cannot be a party hijacked by religious zealots who push hate and take any opposition to them as an affront to their God. There is no logical, moral, or electoral reason why the Republican Party cannot be inclusive. Though there is an incredible amount of progress that can and should be made, fixing the primary process would undoubtedly be a step in the right direction.
The solution is simple- hold all of the primaries simultaneously. If every state held open primaries on the same day, then the candidates would have to appeal to a much broader spectrum of voters. An additional benefit of a national primary would be that a lower degree of “burn-out” from four and a half months of state- by - state primaries and the greater importance of the primary (both perceived and actual) would increase voter turnout (it is hard to blame voters from those states who hold their primaries in May for being apathetic- more often than not, their vote actually doesn’t matter). An actual, democratic representation of the will of the people. The American way.
So How Did We Get Here?
Voter Suppression - Jake Tonkel
What do we mean, by voter suppression? Techniques for implementing disenfranchisement take form via inconvenient voting times and locations, strict voter ID and registration laws, stripping felons of their right to vote, and cleansing voter registration rolls. These methods threaten our democracy by allowing political power to be unaccountable to the will of the citizen--something we all agreed on earlier was, categorically, not a good look. Now, because most of us generally don’t like to think the injustices of our society are of our making, let’s take the DNC’s lead and blame it all on RUSSIA. After all, responsibility sucks.
So to start, on Nov. 8th 2016, Russia forced the U.S. to go to work--there are no days off in Russia--and no protections for workers who need to take time off to vote. But what about early voting? Nope. The Sunday before, they had poor Ohio citizens wait an average of two hours in the November cold to vote, because it was ordered that there only be one polling station per county, to be clear, Cuyahoga County’s population in Cleveland is over 1.2 million people. I don’t think they like Ohioans very much. The simple fact of the matter is the wealthiest nation in history with a rising population has a deflating number of polling stations (868 fewer, in fact, from 2012). In America we get a day off to celebrate the veterans who protected our democracy and our freedoms, but on the day you are supposed to exercise that most basic, fundamental freedom--better not be at work a minute past nine.
They, the Russians of course, wrote laws requiring U.S. voters to bring a photo ID to the polls, not to cull vodka sales but to cull the vote of people that can’t afford a passport ($135 bucks) or have ever had a driver’s license/driven a car (i.e. poor people and city dwellers, and often poor city dwellers). If they are going to require ID’s to vote, maybe said ID’s should be categorically free. Now, despite the constitution guaranteeing the right to vote, they have made it so once you are 18 everyone must then register, possibly claim a party, and do it all months in advance if they want to participate. Is this why a campaign season has to be 18 months?
What about free citizens, whose debt was paid to society after years of imprisonment? Nope, not in today’s world, in ten states, a crime can still mean never voting again. We cry out, hooraw, but don’t like talking about how other countries let their incarcerated vote.
Roughly 1.1 million voters showed up to the polls, often in swing states, only to find out that an anti-voter fraud system removed their registration and instead were only legally allowed to receive provisional ballots (what you and I might call training-wheel-ballots, almost the real thing). Russia has a Crosscheck program in 30 states to prevent voter fraud but really just prevents voting (particularly for minorities). It also happens that that same voter-fraud system pays particular attention to african-american names--Russia looks pretty racist. It’s not even remotely hard to see that the majority of these programs focus their efforts on high density populations, urban environments, often people of color, with minimal political clout but overwhelmingly vote for the blue team.
In arguably the most controversial election ever, 2016, only 58% of eligible voters cast their vote. Data from 2012 shows that at least 84% of people eligible were registered to vote. Does this tell us something? In order to make our democracy better shouldn’t that number be nineties, or eighties, or h*ll, the seventies?
Now, let’s be honest, we did this to ourselves. These barriers to voting? Under the guise of protecting the integrity of the vote, we really just discouraged and outright blocked voters from voting.
If we are so wonderful, and our technology is so powerful, why is it clearly getting harder to cast a vote? If we are so wealthy as a nation, why is it you need more and more cash to be able to cast a ballot? It is pretty clear we have such a suppressed voting system not because we can’t fix it, but because we won’t, because we don’t want to. Maybe it has to do with not wanting to be subject to the will of the people that have the hardest time voting, the minority, the poor, the incarcerated--populations, it just so happens, that are generally the most affected by the government’s policies in the first place.
It’s baffling. It’s shameful. It’s hard to stomach watching those with power holding up the integrity of our democracy as the thing most in need of preserving in one hand, only to actively suppress participation, the piece that makes it work, with the other hand. If I could do a sleazy, tangerine, 70 year old New York accent, I might say it like this: You know some people say it’s necessary to make it hard to vote to make sure our democracy is strong and legitimate, but I’ma tell you what folks, it’s the exact opposite. The exact opposite.
Law of Attraction
via North Carolina - Anooj Bhandari
In the spirit of defending democracy and deploring the politicians trying to thwart it, let’s all take a quick look at North Carolina (remember, that state that now needs to redraw its 12th district).
Before we jump right in, however, I want to say first, I believe in the Law of Attraction. That is, the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on. It’s not necessarily some world synergy, but rather a belief that when one knows they are worthy, their actions reflect that sense of worth. I want us to think together for a moment about why this Law can be important in a Democracy.
It’s important to acknowledge the Law of Attraction because it addresses our position in society. For as long as any objective History Book (do those exist?) can date, there has been a YUUGE gap between the government and its people. This may be banal to some, but I bring it up because historically, our elected officials have been put behind glass, in an unreachable space, like Pop-Tarts in a vending machine. Technically they’re there, but only if you got the money, and if you really wanted to spend that money on the worst snack in the machine. We need to bridge this gap, and to bridge the gap we need to take the empowering step into social engagement by realizing that our government is not above us, or behind some imaginary glass. If we are ever going to come closer to an actually representative democracy, that government must actually, become us. It’s a mental shift, necessary if we are going to make lasting impacts in our communities, states, and nation.
In NC. Roy Cooper, Democrat, recently took the governor's office in North Carolina after beating the previous governor, Pat McCrory, in a close race. Two others took office right before the start of his recent swearing in as governor of NC: Senate Bill 4 (SB4) and House Bill 17 (HB17). One (SB4), was enshrining republican control of the election board during election years and the other (HB17), removed some standard powers of the office to appoint trustees for the state’s university system--seems kinda crooked. Is there anything more blatantly disrespectful to the will of the voter, than taking power away from an elected official that just won the popular vote?
Beyond the implications of these bills, North Carolina continues to follow a dangerous precedent that works to override representational democracy. Passing bills to maintain power after an official from a different party has been elected by the people is, dare I say, unconstitutional. To put stipulations, as one party, on the actions of another right before an elected governor takes office is an obvious attempt to that override the people’s choice. It’s deplorable, no matter the party. While this is not the first example of this happening and will certainly not be the last, we need our Law of Attraction, or belief in our power, belief that our representatives are closer to us than they want to be. We need to start living and acting from an ideological framework that can combatant a single party taking wild control of political bodies. North Carolina has a long history of lacking bipartisanship between its political parties and instead has harnessed that deep tension between them.
The people of North Carolina currently epitomize a broader issue. The issue that representation is continuing to be severely overridden by the lack of shared vision between the people elected to make decisions for them. Moving forward, we need to all ask ourselves some serious questions as to what accountability looks like, both in terms of calling and campaigning to what the Democratic and Republican parties’ relationships look like to each other. However, what is clear, is we can’t let them battle it out themselves. It is us who must step up; We are the ones who need to define this relationship--between the parties, and between ourselves. Our vision is a part of the equation of change.
Take the Wheel
FairVote.org - Kabir Moss
Even without the politicians trying to keep people from voting, we wouldn’t even be close to a hundred percent voting participation. The idea that a nation of 320 million can be split cleanly into two camps--red or blue, doesn’t allow for political ingenuity. This leaves all that diversity in race and gender and sexuality and thought to vote for one of two brands--bud or coors. It is particularly apparent on the national level, but even down at state and local levels, voters are often left with shockingly few choices. Whether that’s because there is only a single incumbent running (nearly ⅓ of all state legislators run unopposed), or a district is gerrymandered to the point of being noncompetitive or because a third-party candidate is so inviable you’re afraid that a vote for them will only benefit the person you want the least. In this case, people vote for the person they think can win, rather than the person they believe would represent their view the best.
So who benefits from this ‘lesser of two evil’ system? Not the voters, or democracy, clearly, but what about the two parties that derive their power, revenue and influence by limiting the voter’s choice? There’s a reason why Budweiser lobbyists fight microbreweries, not Keystone or Miller.
Democracy and governance can never be perfect. However, Maine, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and cities all across the U.S. have made at least one significant improvement to their democratic process. As opposed to the simplistic one vote, winner takes all system, these countries and cities have changed to a Ranked-Choice voting system. This system allows the voter to “rank” the candidate pool (for example, first through third) and requires the winner to receive 50% of the vote.
The Minnesota Public Radio does a great job of explaining the system through post-its but the gist is this: if no candidate, i.e, Trump or Clinton, received 50% initially (which they didn’t), then they go to the second vote of the people whose initial vote went to Jill Stein because Stein came in last. Say most of those went to Clinton but not enough to get her over the 50% threshold, then they go to the next vote of those who initially (or secondly) went for Gary Johnson, because now Gary is in last place. Now, there is a winner, either Trump or Clinton, because someone has hit that 50%, majority, limit, and the people that initially voted outside of the two favorites can’t be blamed as spoilers or feel like they helped the candidate they wanted least to actually get elected.
We have decided to be a binary system, it is of our making, and we can decide not to be as well. We have options, why limit ourselves in the name of tradition? Fairvote.org is fighting for legislation all across the country that would introduce the Ranked-Choice Voting and relinquish the dreadful grip of the two-parties currently relishing in their control of our democracy. At their website, FairVote, they have a number of ways for you to get involved--from petitions, to easy letter sending, to volunteering. You can help us all Take The Wheel!