Saturday, January 12, 2013

Getting more citizens involved in grassroots politics!

During my working years I always hated January. The holidays were over and it was back to the daily grind. Now that I’m retired, January still means back to work, but it's work that I’ve chosen, work on my timetable.

One of the joys of living in a deep blue city with many progressive organizations is that there are many options for social justice work. Working for social change gives me some sense of being part of the future and having some forward momentum in my life. When I was teaching I felt that I was going round and round in the same groove I had been in for years. The thrill was gone.

My passion at this stage in my life is civic participation. For me and for many other progressive activists, Republican attempts to suppress the vote have been the galvanizing force--there are state wide groups working to overturn the Voter ID law and to make voting easier in PA. Also, the Voter ID law (slated to be implemented in 2013) has drawn attention to what has been a very low profile position—-the Judge of Elections. In each division, the Judge of Elections resolves disputes and makes determinations about voter eligibility in areas where the law is ambiguous. This has been an under the radar position with very few citizens actually running for the job. The Majority and Minority Inspectors also play an important role in ensuring fair, well-run elections. With the enactment of the Voter ID law, having a fair, knowledgeable election board matters more than ever.

The organization I care the most about,Philadelphia NOW, in partnership with Philadelphia CLUW, has prepared a handbook and is running a workshop on running for the Election Board ; at a later point we will hold a workshop on running for committeeperson. Thanks to a grant from Bread and Roses Community Fund, Philadelphia NOW did this in the past. Once again supported by Bread and Roses, we are running the workshop but we should be more successful this time. We are working in partnership with CLUW and we are also part of a broader movement, thePhiladelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus which will encourage civic and community groups to run workshops for their members to encourage them to run for Election Board and committeeperson.

So I am putting my energy into getting more citizens involved in grassroots politics, trying to make the Democratic Party more democratic , fighting voter suppression and making voting easier. If the people who came out in November 2012 had come out in 2010, we’d have a different congress and a different state legislature with major consequences for redistricting.

I think the only way to get more people to vote in mid-term elections is to make it easier to vote. People may be willing to wait in line for hours to vote for the President, but this generally doesn’t carry over to state legislators. And no citizen should have to stand in line for hours to vote!!! Many of our NOW members consider this a women’s issue as women are the ones most likely to be juggling work and family and having trouble getting to the polls—especially when their work place is far from their home.

I have friends on the left who question my focus on electoral politics and in particular the value of trying to reform the Democratic Party, but I’m convinced that for the rest of my activist life the only hope for progressive change lies in making it easier for people to vote and in building the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

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