Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An old fashioned political ritual: circulating petitions

In the age of the internet there is something beautifully anachronistic about this petition ritual, but it has its advantages—forcing candidates and their supporters to get out and talk to voters.

I’ve been doing petitions for decades –only missed when on sabbatical in 1999. The petition period always forces me to make choices about priorities. Whose petitions do I carry? Whose petitions do I care about enough to circulate in really cold weather? Or even in the rain? (I remember doing some for Cindy Bass on a rainy day just before the deadline.)Unfortunately the petition period occurs during the usually miserable weather of February and early March

This year I’ll be circulatingpetitions for candidate for controller Brett Mandel who probably doesn’t need my help as he appears to have assembled a really strong team.

Also, I will be circulating petitions for a progressive slate for traffic court—community activists Inja Coates and Marwan Kriedie. Yes, traffic court! It will probably be (and should be) eliminated but probably won’t happen overnight and we need thoughtful, honest people in these positions to help restore our city’s faith in our courts.

There are several other excellent candidates I would be happy to circulate petitions for but I’ve found that 3 is the maximum number you can ask people to sign without annoying them—and even that is pushing it.

The weather may be miserable, but I enjoy getting out and chatting with my neighbors and it’s a great way to find out what has been going on in the neighborhood. Sometimes it’s good news—e.g., a good friend’s delight in her new grandchild. Too often it’s news of a death. Since there are a lot of seniors in our neighborhood, there is always some sad news.

But petitions are part of the rhythm of life for political activists and for me February means petitions and early species crocuses!

Monday, February 18, 2013

How Republican efforts to suppress the vote have backfired and helped to create a growing citizen movement to safeguard voters’ rights

For someone like me who toils away in grassroots politics, the past few months have been very gratifying. The Philadelphia Chapters of the National Organization for Women and the Coalition of Labor Union Women, supported by a grant from the Bread and Roses Community Fund, on January 14 held a non-partisan workshop on Running for Election Board/Committeeperson. We focused on running for Electing Board offices which are on the 2013 primary ballot. The workshop much to our surprise drew a crowd of about 100 interested citizens. The audience was much larger than CLUW and NOW could have organized on our own and was mostly due to the stellar organizing skills of deputy City commissioner Tracey Gordon.

More surprising than the number of attendees was the intensity of their interest. They were seriously engaged by principal speaker Commissioner Stephanie Singer’s lively, informative, and inspirational presentation. Nobody dozed off, despite the amount of technical detail. People seemed really hungry to learn how the election system works. Commissioner Singer‘s office then organized three additional workshops in various locations round the city—all very well-attended.

Why the sudden interest in what had been very low profile positions—Judge of Elections and Inspector of Elections? From comments made at the workshops as well as from conversations I had with some of the attendees, it’s clear that Republican attempts at vote suppression have backfired and there is growing grassroots interest in safeguarding the right to vote. Thanks to Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law more and more citizens realize the critical importance of a well-run Election Board.

Pennsylvania citizens also are becoming increasingly aware of how hard it is to vote in Pennsylvania and and how poorly we compare to other states which have some form of early voting. There is a growing consensus that we have to make it easier to vote. The Brennan Center justice report How to Fix Long Lines recommends three specific reforms :

There are three reforms that would dramatically reduce the excessive lines that plague voting, and have the added benefit of creating a more efficient and secure electoral system: Modernizing voter registration Providing early voting during a fixed national time period Setting minimum standards for polling place access

The Brennan Center posts a detailed blueprint to make this happen.

Low voter turn-out in mid-term elections has had serious consequences . 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 as president Obama has said, no citizen should have to stand in line for hours to vote!!!

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. The President’s’ Commission has added to the momentum. This is the time to tackle voting rights issues!!

Monday, February 11, 2013

The long struggle to get an amendment to PA Democratic State Committee’s by-laws to guarantee due process for committee people.

This shouldn’t be so hard! In 2011, our Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus brought the issue of the Philadelphia Democratic Party’s failure to seat duly elected democratic committeeperson Tracey Gordon to the attention of the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus . We were gratified by the strong support we received. We learned that Philadelphia County is not the only place where party officials flout the will of the voters and that there is widespread support throughout the state for ensuring transparent, democratic processes and a grievance procedure for committeepeople who were treated unfairly.

The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus had tried repeatedly to contact Philadelphia Democratic City Committee re the Tracey Gordon case but we received no reply and our certified mail was refused. Furthermore, the Philadelphia Democratic Party did not respond to letters from Tracey Gordon’s lawyer Irv Acklesberg. Jim Burn’s response to Irv Ackelsberg was that the PA Democratic Party would not respond until Gordon had first taken up the matter with the Philadelphia Democratic Party. Burn was unmoved by Ackelsberg’s proof of repeated unsuccessful attemtps to contact Philadelphia Democratic City Committee.

In response to our concerns, the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus tried to get a motion supporting due process for aggrieved committeepeople to the floor for a vote at the September 2012 state committee meeting, but we were told that the motion had first to be approved by the by-laws committee. (A real concern or a delaying tactic?) However, the following motion was passed:

Therefore, be it resolved, that we the elected committee people of the Democratic State Party respectfully request that the leadership of the State Democratic Party commission the state by-laws committee to establish a review and recommendation process for a due process procedure of the removal of county committee people and to submit a draft to all state committee members for the Jan./Feb. 2013 30 day call.

The by-laws committee was then charged to develop a motion to address these concerns. The motion was to be voted on at the February state committee meeting. I decided to view this as a victory and that there would be a final resolution in February 2013. My belief that the Party was taking a real step towards ensuring due process has turned out to be premature.

The by-laws committee did propose an amendment which addressed our concerns; however, the PA Democratic Party’s Deputy Chair and legal counsel objected to the proposed motion on the grounds that these issues should be resolved at the County Committee level which is better situated to handle local matters involving local individuals and local collection of documentation.!!!!

The bylaws committee members understood that that this effectively leaves a committeeperson without any recourse and there must be some mechanism for an aggrieved committeeperson to appeal to state committee. This is so painfully obvious that it’s hard to believe that the PA Democratic Party’s Deputy Chair and its legal counsel were making such a specious argument.

I was unable to attend the by-laws committee meeting which (unlike previous by-laws committee meetings I attended) was closed to those who were not members of the committee. Apparently there was an agreement that the by-laws committee would work on language satisfactory to both the by-laws committee and the Party’s legal counsel and that the by-laws amendment will go to the general assembly to be voted on at the state committee meeting in June, 2013.

So this much needed amendment has been delayed once again. Progressive Caucus Chair Bruce Slater believes that Party Chair Jim Burn (who attended the closed by-laws committee meeting) was acting in good faith. I sure hope he’s right and that we are not being jerked around once again.

I find it hard to believe that getting an amendment to ensure something so integral to the operation of a party committed to democratic principles should be so controversial, so difficult to achieve.

If the Democratic Party is ever to attract idealistic young people with the energy and vision to build the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, it must have fair, transparent internal processes. What happened to Tracey Gordon must not happen again. (Fortunately there was a satisfactory resolution in the Tracey Gordon case, but we had to go to Court to achieve this. )

Some of my friends who see the Democratic Party as incapable of reform and are seeking alternatives to the Democratic Party think I’m borderline delusional and engaged in a hopeless, quixotic quest. Maybe. After this by-laws saga and a similar procedural derailment of the anti-fracking resolution, that little voice in the back of my head asking why I’m involved in this Sisyphean struggle becomes a little louder, a little more insistent. But there are some very good people involved on the grassroots level of the Democratic Party (if not on the top leadership level) and I have not yet given up hope.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Forcing Branches of Flowering Shrubs: One Way of Coping with the Winter Blues

Forsythia blooming on kitchen windowsill

I manage to deal with GWS (Gardening Withdrawal Syndrome) in January and February by bringing in shrubs to force. The easiest is Forsythia and this year the buds were beginning to swell in late December. A friend brought some forsythia to our New Year’s Party and by mid-January they were blooming inside.

I had planned to force some witch hazel which usually blooms early February. I usually bring in a branch for forcing in late January but this year my witch hazel beat me to it and started blooming outdoors the third week of January.

Witch Hazel blooming outdoors in mid-January

The sprigs of witch hazel which usual grace our breakfast room table in February were on the table in mid- January.

What other surprises does our changing climate have in store for me this season???