Election 2018: Hi, my name is Naomi, and I’d like to talk to you today about volunteering

In 2012, I was walking from my parking lot into the State Fair when someone with a clipboard stopped me to talk about the VOTE NO campaign. I assured her that I was absolutely, positively voting no. She said, “we’re actually out today looking for people to volunteer!” I hesitated, because I really didn’t want the constitutional amendment to pass, but I don’t like calling people up or knocking on doors. “We really need volunteers,” she said. “If the election were held today, we would lose. We really need volunteers.”

So, I signed up, and I did persuasion phone calling once a week until we switched over to GOTV at the end of October. It was hard but not impossible, and some days were incredibly satisfying, like the time I spoke with an older man who was a committed “yes” voter, but when I started to end the call interrupted me and asked how I was voting, and why. And as I talked to him about the people I love and care about, his voice got softer and less angry and confrontational. I could hear his mind opening and the sunlight coming in. It really felt pretty miraculous, frankly.

And not only did we defeat both the evil constitutional amendments that year (there was also a proposed Voter ID law on the ballot), we turned both the Minnesota House and the Minnesota Senate blue.

And I haven’t volunteered since, because I hate phone banking. But this year I signed up to do it, because … I feel kind of superstitious. In 2016, I assumed that everyone would be as motivated to get out and vote as I was, based just on how self-evidently horrifying Trump was, and I was clearly wrong.

So this year I’m volunteering. I went today to Take Action Minnesota’s office on Raymond Avenue and did phone banking from noon to three. (Well, 12:30 to 2:45. There was training, and then there was debriefing.) And I signed up to do more shifts of either phone banking or door knocking this week and next weekend.

It wasn’t terrible: lots of people thanked me for volunteering, even as they assured me that they would crawl over ground glass if they had to, to get to the polls. (Also, I spent a lot of time dialing and then getting people’s voicemail. That was super easy.) One woman said her mother would need a ride to the polls, and Take Action will set her up. I chatted with a really delightful student from Macalester who’s voting for the very first time.

Here I am with the group I phonebanked with:

If you’re interested in volunteering, there’s a website that appears to be sort of the ActBlue for Campaign Volunteering, MobilizeAmerica. Plug in your city and you’ll get a whole list of times and places to volunteer, with all sorts of options: door knocking, phone banking, text banking.

Here’s a list for Minneapolis.

Here’s a list for Saint Paul.

The TakeAction MN events are here, and that’s where I volunteered today. I liked them: they’re right on the Green Line (seriously, less than a five-minute walk from the Raymond Ave stop) or, if you want to drive (I drove) on-street parking is abundant and easy to find. It’s wheelchair accessible, they have snacks, and it’s set up to be a reasonably comfortable and well-organized office.

You can also sign up through individual candidates’ sites.

The blue wave will only happen if we make it happen. If you can find time, spoons, and emotional energy to volunteer, please consider doing so. (And if you get six calls from volunteers at two different organizations and four different campaigns, please consider not biting off the heads of caller #5 and #6 to be a contribution of emotional energy to a Democratic victory? I, too, wish there were better coordination! Ed and I have now been door-knocked twice. Once today, from Take Action MN, an hour after I got home from phone banking at Take Action MN! I told the canvasser as much and he laughed ruefully and said, “well, I guess … I don’t really need to worry about who you’re voting for and whether you’re committed to voting?”)

(If you hate the idea of calling people but desperately want to be useful, you could also look to see where the GOTV locations are and bring them all snacks. There’s also text banking, I’m pretty sure there are data entry volunteers at Take Action, there was someone who was checking everyone else in, there are volunteers who just call people who’ve committed to do a volunteer shift to remind them to come… there are a lot of options, some of which do not require talking to anyone.)

The New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

I went down a Minneapolis Issues List rabbit hole last night, trying to decide what I thought about the Loppet deal. (The MPRB signed a deal with the Loppet Foundation whereby the Loppet built a fancy new building at Theodore Wirth Park — although possibly the Park Board loaned them the money to do it? — and the Loppet Foundation will pay for a bunch of staffers for winter sports. On one hand, this is hopefully getting the parks a new building, nice trails, and staff they don’t have to pay for. On the other hand, those staffers won’t be unionized, unlike park employees, although they are supposed to be paid the “prevailing wage,” and the parks will be on the hook for all sorts of money if the Loppet Foundation realizes its pockets aren’t as deep as it expected, and there were some budget numbers that didn’t add up followed by no budget numbers at all, and their building didn’t use bird-safe glass. Since one of the candidates in District 5 voted for it and the other thinks it was an absolutely terrible idea, I felt like I needed to read up.)

Anyway, in browsing the Issues List archive, I ran across some bitter complaints from retiring commissioner Scott Vreeland that I wanted to explore:

They [meaning the young upstarts from Our Revolution who swept the endorsements] may be well intended, but what happens when the dog catches the car? … The political rhetoric of the ideology of the young Turks is that the Park Board is dysfunctional, racist and poisoning our children. What happens when THEY are the dysfunctional, racist, pesticide-using status quo? 

And, I mean, I think Scott can take comfort in the knowledge that either they will fail spectacularly and get voted out in four years, or they will likely hang around long enough to become the dysfunctional status quo themselves (whether it’s racism and pesticides people are mad about in 8, 12, or 16 years, or some other problem). Because that is always what happens, sometimes on a fairly short cycle. I mean, the last time people were furious about the Park Board’s dysfunctional status quo, they formed Park Watch (and then the dysfunctional status quo defenders of the day formed — I kid you not — Park Watch Watch. And they all showed up at Park Board meetings, angrily watching one another.) Park Watch is still around, and I think that’s literally where current board president Anita Tabb came from, and at some point they, too, pretty much became the status quo. (I’m pretty sure it was one of the co-founders of Park Watch who wrote a bunch of deeply irritable posts about “hecklers” — i.e., Nekima Levy-Pounds — showing up at Park Board meetings.)

I mean, there was a comparable dust-up related to WisCon (a feminist science fiction convention I attend.) At some point back in the 1990s it had started to shift more toward being a general SF con, and some women seized the reins, took over, and shifted it back toward more feminism. That set of organizers very much still saw themselves as revolutionaries and were horrified and hurt when a bunch of (younger, more racially diverse, less tolerant of sexual harassment…) women treated them as the problematic defenders of the status quo instead of as beloved elders. Somehow, when they weren’t looking, they’d turned into the bad guys, and no one wanted to listen to their explanations of why they definitely were not the bad guys.  (The young upstarts won the day; despite some dire predictions, the con’s still going.)

I mean, there are just a bunch of things that seem to inevitably happen once you’re the one in power. First, a bunch of people who were previously THE MAN turn into your colleagues, and unless you’re the world’s most toxic asshole, you make a bunch of friends and then because they’re friends and not THE MAN anymore you start seeing some things from their perspective. You also realize just how many competing demands there are on the person in your job — like, you’re getting phone calls from people yelling about stuff you had no idea anyone cared about — and you discover how little power you actually have over a bunch of stuff that you thought was going to be in your domain. (And this means you have inevitably made promises you find you can’t actually keep.) If you’re trying to make sweeping changes, the permanent staff are probably pushing back.

(I asked DFL and Our Revolution-endorsed At-Large candidate Russ Henry about how he plans to remove nests of wasps from locations like playgrounds, without the use of pesticides. He said that the safe alternative to pesticides for this is to have an employee put on a bee suit and remove the nest manually, using tools or high-pressure water. And, yep! That’s an option! That’s an option that a lot of employees may resist pretty strongly, given that bee suits are not magic force fields and wasps are both more aggressive than bees and able to sting you multiple times. Imagine that fight, then multiply it by all the other environmentally responsible options for dealing with problems that require a more-annoying variety of manual labor from staff and consider the fact that there’s a union contract and if you annoy them enough they may specify in their contract that if you want certain super-annoying jobs done, the person doing them has to be paid a whole lot of extra money.)

In Animal Farm, the pigs turn into the farmers because the pigs, for the most part, were evil motherfuckers all along. The fictional example of this that’s probably my personal favorite is the Deep Space 9 episode in which former-terrorist Kira Nerys realizes she’s turned into precisely the sort of collaborator she spent so many years resisting/killing during the previous occupation. What I love is that it’s clear in that episode that she didn’t reach this point because she was evil; she genuinely has good intentions. (And then she realizes how far down the road to hell she’s walked, and turns around, because she’s one of the protagonists of the show.)

And, I mean, the stuff that’s gone on with the Park Board is not anything like “we’re going to collaborate with the Dominion to oppress Bajorans” — like most city issues it’s less Good vs. Evil and more We Have Infinite Possible Opportunities and a Limited Budget, Where Do We Spend It and Where Do We Make Compromises. How many noxious weeds are tolerable in park fields? How much pesticide use? “We’ll just cut the useless administrative positions to pay for all the stuff we want” is another thing that looks different from the inside. Quoting Scott Vreeland again:

At the convention debate I asked, “How are you going to pay for that?” Russ Rooster Henry said his plan to fully fund neighborhood parks, would be paid for by eliminating the park planning department. BTW, That is a really bad idea. (Without planning there would have been no 20 year plan to fix our neighborhood parks or playgrounds or wading pools)

There’s a value in institutional memory. There’s a value in knowing what solutions got tried in the past, and how they failed. There’s also a value in a fresh perspective. I’ve endorsed a lot of the new, fresh-perspective people even though people I’ve liked and respected in the past (Scott Vreeland, John Erwin, Annie Young) endorsed the other person in that race because they want the person they think will provide stability.

But the difference between “providing stability” and “preserving the status quo” is largely a difference in perspective.

We’ll see, I guess?

There are areas where I solidly sympathize with the board: Vreeland is pretty outraged that he got called out for pointing out (ACCURATELY) that Hashim Yonis was convicted of a crime. (Yonis insists he was framed by Vreeland and I just. don’t. buy it. I’m sorry. That story does not add up. Do I believe that Minneapolis politicians would engage in dirty tricks? Sure. Do I believe that a couple of Park Board Commissioners would go so far as to frame a candidate in a ten-person race, someone who was a long-shot to win anyway, when one of the DFL-endorsed candidates hadn’t even gone to the effort of setting up a website that year? I mean, putting together a website is really freaking easy and Tom Nordyke had the DFL endorsement so it really seems like if they wanted to conspire to keep Yonis out of a Park Board seat, volunteering to set up a website for Tom Nordyke would have been a whole lot less work than an elaborate multi-person frame job.)

 

But the fact that Yonis was involved in the protests regarding equity does not invalidate the other protesters’ complaints. One of the candidates for District 5 commissioner notes that when he started working for the Park Board, 80% of the people working in the “good” jobs — full time, with benefits — were white. Years later, it’s 75%. White people make up about 64% of the Minneapolis population — and apparently that’s reflected more accurately in the makeup of people in the part-time, low-paid jobs that don’t offer benefits. This stuff doesn’t happen randomly. It doesn’t mean that hiring managers are setting out to discriminate, but at some point, when you’re sure you’re just hiring the best applicant and yet you’re hiring 75% white people you need to take a look at yourself and your criteria and ask whether you’re hiring people who make you feel comfortable, or if you’ve got a bunch of gatekeeping criteria that are keeping out high-quality candidates. One of the suggestions that’s been made in this cycle is that park management jobs should not be reserved for those with a four-year degree; that years of experience working in the parks should count for more. A four-year degree requirement with no “or equivalent experience” is a really good way of perpetuating systemic inequities.

Anyway. I guess my point here is that I sympathize with Scott’s frustration but I also sympathize with those who concluded that it was time to give a new set of people the opportunity to make the changes they wanted to see. If they’re catastrophic failures, they’ll have angry crowds at their own meetings soon enough. If they’re not, they’ll make their own incremental progress which will eventually be deemed insufficient and they’ll all be out on their ear, because that is the political CIRCLE OF LIFE.

 

 

Mpls Mayoral Race: Rosenfeld, Simpson, Sparrow, Wilson

You get two batches in one day because this last batch, well, yeah. This is the last four! For anyone who’s seeing just this post, I’m doing the Minneapolis mayoral candidates in batches of four, alphabetically. (Mostly. I screwed up the order in one post.)

David Rosenfeld SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY
Ian Simpson THE IDEA PARTY
Captain Jack Sparrow BASIC INCOME GUARANTEE
David John Wilson RAINBOWS BUTTERFLIES UNICORNS

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Mpls Mayoral Race: Levy-Pounds, Lischeid, Nik, Rahman

Reminder: I’m writing about these candidates in batches, alphabetically. So if your fave isn’t in this batch, check the other posts.

Nekima Levy-Pounds DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
Ronald Lischeid PEOPLE OVER POLITICS
L.A. Nik INDEPENDENT
Aswar Rahman DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

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Caucuses are terrible.

Of all the weird things I would have predicted for 2017, “caucuses are awesome and we should switch to them!” as a national movement would not have been on the list. I feel pretty confident in asserting that the bulk of the people currently agitating for caucuses are doing so 100% because their preferred candidate did better in caucus states, and not because they live in a caucus state.

Minnesota has caucuses. I’ve been going to them for years. THEY ARE TERRIBLE.

Let’s assume just as a baseline that you love going to meetings. (Because that’s what caucuses are: meetings.) Do you love enormous, overcrowded meetings where you can’t hear and have only a vague idea of what’s going on? What if the room is too warm because there are about five times as many people in it as are supposed to be in it?

Do you like having to park a mile away and walk the rest of the way to your meeting? Do you like having to stand outside in a long line just to get into the building, which turns out to be people just trying to look at maps to determine which meeting they’re supposed to go to, and once you’ve done that, would you like to stand in yet ANOTHER line to get into your specific room, where you’ll then have to stand because they ran out of chairs?

Do you love it when the people running things are inexperienced volunteers who have held meetings before, but they were the sort of meeting that only 15 people came to, and now there are people spilling out of every doorway? (No one ever gets good at running these because presidential caucuses happen every 4 years. And if there’s a Democratic incumbent they’re pretty much a formality.)

Because, I mean, if you’re a fan of all this — even if your state doesn’t hold caucuses for the presidential race, they probably do hold party meetings of some kind and you could still go. (The horrible traffic snarls and parking hassles might be harder to arrange, but you could simulate them by driving very slowly to your destination and parking a mile away and walking, if that’s an important part of the experience for you.)

Minnesotans have done caucuses basically forever and we are so fed up with them that we passed a law this spring switching to a primary for 2020. It passed with overwhelming majorities in both houses of the legislature, because after the 2016 caucuses, legislators were inundated with irate phone calls and e-mails from constituents saying, “THIS SYSTEM IS TERRIBLE. WE WANT A PRIMARY.”

In 2016, Minnesota had 204,000 Democrats show up to caucus, and 114,245 Republicans. In Wisconsin, which has a similar population and general voting turnout, they held a primary a month later. 1,000,000 people cast a Democratic ballot, and 1,000,000 cast a Republican ballot.

Caucuses suppress turnout. (That’s obvious to everyone, I hope?)

But more than that: caucuses rely on suppressed turnout.

Because two million Minnesotan cannot caucus.

As it was, on March 1, 2016, traffic backed up more than a mile on Snelling Ave an hour before the caucus was convened because people were trying to get to the site. A bunch of my friends in Minneapolis stood in line for an hour before they were even able to get into the building. If you multiplied the number of people attending by five, it would completely shut down Minneapolis and St. Paul.

When your system relies on people not showing up, it’s not a functional system.

(Finally, regarding the claim that they’re cheaper: in Minnesota, the parties had to cover the cost of the caucuses, so yes, they were cheaper for the state. You know what? If you put every precinct in a ward in one location, and reduce voting hours from 13 hours to 1.5, that’ll be cheaper. You know what we call it when it happens in a general election? VOTER SUPPRESSION.)

For more on caucuses, please see the series of posts I wrote last year, doing my part to explain this somewhat mysterious system to novice users:

Do you want to be in the room where it happens?
How to find your caucus location.

Minnesota Caucuses: The Basics
Location and time, who can caucus, how the presidential preference ballot works (new in 2016: it was actually binding on both parties), accessibility, obstacles.

Minnesota Caucuses: What Actually Happens
Signing in, parliamentary procedure, resolutions, guest speakers, recruitment, delegates, counting the ballots.

Minnesota Caucuses: FAQ
How to minimize the time spent at your caucus if all you want to do is cast a goddamn ballot; just how does the whole “party” thing work anyway; what does it mean if it’s a mess and everything goes wrong; CAUCUSES ARE TERRIBLE, HOW DO I DEMAND A PRIMARY LIKE NORMAL STATES HAVE?

 

A note on political posting

I’ve had a couple of friends ask me if I’m going to do any political blogging ahead of the City DFL Conventions.

The answer: no. I look at the DFL Conventions and the endorsement process as a useful winnowing process that cuts down on the amount of work I have to do. If you volunteer as a delegate or alternate, you actually have access to a lot of information, or you should — campaigns should be calling you up. Candidates themselves should be talking to you and trying to win your support. You know what your own priorities are, right? You (hopefully) have the opportunity, as a delegate, to say directly to the person running for mayor, “please tell me what you’re going to do to increase the supply of affordable housing” or “Tell me about your philosophy of how a mayor should work with a police department” or “how much money do you hope to spend on bike paths?”

I am not a delegate to any conventions this year — the St. Paul convention happened while I was out of town (they didn’t endorse anyone — so much for winnowing) and obviously I’m not a Minneapolis delegate (but I wouldn’t have been anyway as I’m going to be a GoH at CONvergence that weekend).

Anyway. Regardless of the Minneapolis outcome, both Minneapolis and St. Paul will have multiple candidates on a ranked-choice ballot this fall. (Even if there’s an endorsement in Minneapolis, someone’s going to ignore it. Plus a few of the flakes will be on there.) So you’ll get plenty of analysis from me, just not yet. Sorry!

 

Triangulation and Resistance

I saw a post linked on Twitter the other day about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Education Secretary. Like everyone chosen for Trump’s cabinet, there’s a long list of reasons to loathe her, although I’d say she’s basically a normal conservative pick, as these things go, unlike Sessions, who’s far more horrifying than any likely AG pick we might have seen from Jeb or Rubio. (Probably. I mean, you never know.)

But, she also provides a good example of something I want to encourage people to think about.

Hopefully you’ve seen the Indivisible guide (if not, you can download it here), which talks about harnessing some of the tactics used by conservatives against Obama to resist the GOP agenda. They talk about calling your Representative and your Senators, and beyond that, finding out about town hall meetings and other opportunities to show up and make things difficult.

If you have Democratic representation (like me: I’m represented by Betty McCollum in the House, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken in the Senate) you want to encourage them to stand firm. They’re less likely to cave if they know their constituents are on their side. Especially if you know the other side is mobilizing to pressure them, call and say thank you. Let them know you have their back. Show up at their town hall meetings and be the opposite of difficult. Etc.

If you have Republican representation, though, the goal is to get them to break with their party, at least some of the time. The thing is, this really will be more successful when you can frame the issue in a way that has the potential to make them look bad to their base, and not just the Democrats. I mean, they already look bad to Democrats and they don’t, generally, care. “I want you to support Planned Parenthood because women should have the right to choose” is not going to sway someone who campaigned on an anti-abortion platform. “Your plan to refuse to let Planned Parenthood provide non-abortion-related health services will cost the Federal government $130 million. Whose taxes will be raised to cover this extra cost?” is the sort of question that might make them sweat.

So that’s my first point: when possible, find ways to frame things that threatens to make your Republican representatives look bad to their supporters. (I’m not saying you should give up on pressuring them when you can’t do that. But when you CAN, embrace it.)

My second point, though, is that you need to follow one additional rule: do not beat up on an already-marginalized group. Especially a group that’s being attacked by the Trump administration already. Do not go after Republicans by demonizing trans people. Or Muslims. Or immigrants. Find another option.

Back to Betsy DeVos. She’s a proponent of vouchers — giving public money to religious schools. Most voucher proponents imagine children attending Christian schools of one sort or another on the public dime, with maybe the occasional Jewish school for variety. They are not picturing Muslim schools receiving public money, but in fact, there are some Muslim schools around doing just that through voucher programs.

Loudly pointing that out, however, breaks that second rule. The last thing Muslim-Americans need right now is Democrats shouting at Senate hearings about the lurking danger of Madrassas. (Fun fact: “madrassa” is just the Arabic word for “school.” I heard a radio piece some years back by an American woman who’d taught somewhere like Jordan and had been really taken aback when she heard people referring to madrassas in tones of horror and hatred. Imagine hearing people saying school the way you hear people say madrassa and you’ll probably get the picture.)

Also, there is a terrific alternate bogeyman out there. They don’t have any schools right now but if Trump starts trying to push voucher programs nationwide I bet they would be overjoyed to set one up. After all, they crowdfunded an awesome statue and started a lovely afterschool program a year or so back… I am referring, of course, to the Satanic Temple.

As far as I can tell, the Satanic Temple was started more or less for the purpose of demonstrating to pushy Christians why “separation of Church and State” is in their interests, as well. So demonizing them (heh) is not only fair game but something I expect they would embrace wholeheartedly. Especially if you promise to donate to the project if they do start crowdfunding a school. (I bet it would be an awesome school.)

“Senator Johnson, why did you vote to confirm Betsy DeVos, who supports giving taxpayer dollars to schools run by Satanists?” (Pause to allow him briefly to yammer about parent choice, but don’t give up mic.) “But you didn’t answer my question about Satanists, Senator. Why do you support giving taxpayer dollars to Satanic schools?

There are plenty of other topics which I think may turn out to be less partisan than Paul Ryan assumes – Medicare, the ACA (my sympathy for the people who are dependent on the ACA but voted for Trump is limited, but I’m all for mobilizing them whenever we can), banking regulations.

But there’s another benefit to this sort of triangulation that’s worth thinking about. The Republican coalition has held together as long as it has because it’s been a long time since they’ve tried to accomplish anything. In addition to blocking the Trump agenda at every opportunity, I think our broader goal should be to burn down the Big Tent. Turn Republicans against Republicans at every opportunity. The Republican party has shown itself willing to lie, cheat, and obstruct. They’re willing to give aid and comfort and alliance to literal Nazis. They’re willing to side with a Russian dictator against American democracy. These are not the actions of good and decent people who care about America. That’s a political party that cares about nothing but power. That’s a party that needs to go.

The ultimate purpose of triangulation is to turn your opponents against each other. Turn Republicans against Republicans and get out of the way. If the Big Tent is burning, evacuate the vulnerable but do not get a fire extinguisher. (I mean that metaphorically, to be clear. Obviously if you’ve, say, decided to visit a Republican gathering to encourage productive discourse, and a literal fire gets started while you’re there, grab an extinguisher and put it out. Literal fires are super dangerous!)