By Amy Hunter
Two years ago this November, the American electorate performed a well practiced act of self-immolation. They stayed home from the polls, and even worse, voted against our collective interest by simply voting those in office, out, and putting in “the new guy”. In far too many cases, the new guys weren’t really a solution to what we perceived to be the problem; they were in fact, much worse.
In 2010, numerous states suffered from this tendency to vote without clear motivation. The unfortunate consequence of this “throw the bums out” mentality rapidly became far-ranging. The new guys, it seems, weren’t truly what had been bargained for. Within days of taking office, state legislatures from Wisconsin to Florida took up extreme measures and began rolling out radical-right social agendas which looked much more like 1950 than 2010.
With few exceptions, no state evidenced this willful regression better than Michigan. Here, into office, voters swept new-right majorities to the State Senate and House, and all of the critical statewide offices including Governor. The subsequent waves of restrictive policy and social legislation were horrors almost too difficult to bear. Bill after bill came to the house and senate floor attacking long given precepts of Michigan’s social structure and not least, making our proud state a case history of how democracy can be obviated by a determined, well funded majority.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes; we really DO need to throw the bums out. Sometimes, we really do NEED a referendum about who governs and how our interests are represented. This year is indeed, is one of those times. But – before we can do that responsibly, it’s worth taking a look at what we have allowed to become our advocacy and electoral modus operandi.
No matter who gets my vote, did I take a critical view of what that vote means beforehand? Will I be casting my vote for change? Ideology? Status quo? Am I prepared to back-up my choice with action? Am I willing to participate in our representative democracy beyond exercising my franchise to vote?
It is clear that we have become reliant on others to do most of the heavy lifting for us. We haven’t envisioned a social and political climate in which we all participate. We looked at our nation, our state and our interest groups and decided that they weren’t measuring up to our unrealistic notions about what our leadership is able to accomplish without popular support and more importantly, participatory accountability. So, 2010 became a “change” election fueled by unwarranted disillusionment, disappointment, dissatisfaction and a false sense of disenfranchisement – all manner of “dis” words that describe nothing more profound than self-absorption.
There is a lesson from the 2010 election that can be put to practical use before Nov. 6 – it isn’t too late.
We can and should fix the state of progressive politics in Michigan and by doing so, turn Michigan around. The effort will require that we all pull together on principled action – participation in the very system we love to blame. Our course we mustn’t merely seek an ideology we can agree with or that seems to fit what we believe – no matter how attractive that may be. Rather, we can and should agree on some basic principles about what comprises individual responsibilities as citizens in a republic and what those entail.
If we want our leaders to lead effectively in the environs to which we elevate them, then we cannot hold them accountable simply by voicing our dissatisfaction when they fail our standards of performance. We cannot simply tell them where we want them to be, and what we expect them to accomplish on their own. Certainly, we must hold our leaders accountable, but not by firing them every two, or four, or six years, without having first made well considered choices, showing them first; what we expect and then supporting their candidacy and their efforts on our behalf.
Michigan has some of the finest, most dedicated folks working in advocacy, policy and progressive politics I have ever been favored to meet. They have taken on the mantle of leadership in what is demonstrably one of the hardest states in the nation in which to be practicing progressivism. They need our help. They need our ideas and they need our willingness to participate in democracy above the level of self-interest.
Five easy things you can do:
* Find out who the candidates are in your area and check them out. Do they measure-up? If they haven’t been endorsed by the major players in lgbt and progressive politics across the state, find out why. (HINT: there is a nifty VOTER GUIDE published by BTL) go to http://www.MiVoterGuide.com.
* Go to a candidate forum and ASK well thought out pointed questions of these folks. (This is the beginning of accountability.)
* Volunteer for a campaign. They need you. It isn’t hard to make phone calls, knock on doors, or stuff envelopes. (They won’t take you hostage, I promise.)
* Contribute whatever you can in financial resources. You can give directly to a candidate or, to an entity like a lgbt or progressive PAC which endorses and supports candidates who represent the interests of our community. (I never met a campaign that would turn down a contribution because it’s too small)
* Be critical about your vote. Is this really the right person for the job? Will they be a leader for what I believe we need in Michigan?
After all the votes are counted on Nov. 6, after the victory party decorations and the yard signs are taken down, the hard work truly begins. Get on your winning candidates mailing lists and follow what they’re doing over in Lansing or down at the County Seat or up in the State Supreme Court. Give them your support along with your opinion. If you give it in the best interests of everyone in our state, I can guarantee – they’ll listen.