No, don’t run to Canada. Run for office.
If this election taught us anything, it is that you don’t have to be particularly intelligent or excessively compassionate — or, frankly, have any public service experience at all — to get a lot (A LOT!) of people to vote for you. So along with wearing your safety pin and giving money to the NAACP and anything else you plan to do to be the lit candle in the darkness, I hope you will also take this advice: Run for office — seriously.
And I’m not talking about the running for the presidency or Congress. Run for your local school board, town council or the state Legislature. Truth is, these bodies are way more nimble than the federal government and have way more potential to have quick and direct impact on your daily life (and to take action on the issues you care about).
Want your house to increase in value? Make your public schools strong. Want to prevent a chain store from bleeding customers from the family owned businesses downtown? Deny zoning requests that favor the big guys. Worried that your community could be the next Ferguson or Baltimore? Sit on the Police and Fire Commission and prevent problems before they occur.
Not big enough for you? Why not run for state office? In Wisconsin, 50 percent of state Senate and representative candidates ran unopposed in this election. That’s eight out of 16 Senate seats and 49 out of 99 Assembly seats in which citizens had no choice whatsoever. (In Wisconsin, you can write in a name, but unless that person files a campaign finance statement, your vote will not be tallied.) These are positions of influence ripe for the picking.
And if you think these offices don’t make a difference, think again. Below are three issues that matter to many progressives. In all cases, state legislatures aren’t waiting for the federal government to do the right thing. They are taking the lead.
Want to raise the minimum wage? In the 2016 election, citizens in Maine, Washington, Arizona and Colorado voted to raise their minimum wages. In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 14 states will begin the new year with minimum wages higher than the federally mandated $7.25, many with gradual phase-ins and/or tied to increases in cost of living. Since it’s obvious elected officials in Washington, D.C., are not motivated to make changes to the minimum wage, why not become a state elected official who helps leads the charge?
Want to slow climate change? States across the nation are adopting their own economy-wide emissions targets, climate action plans and greenhouse gas performance standards. When the federal government finally decides to do something real and effective on the matter, it will be following these states, not leading them.
And if your life won’t allow you to serve in the Legislature, why not spearhead a program like Envision Charlotte, a partnership between the city and the private sector “to strengthen economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability in Charlotte.”
Up to here with the influence of money on our elections? Two states, California and Washington, passed advisory resolutions Nov. 8 encouraging their representatives to work to overturn Citizens United, joining over a dozen other states that have already done so. Missouri and South Dakota voters passed laws that tighten campaign finance in their states. Conversely, in Wisconsin, citizens did not have the opportunity to vote on an advisory question on the matter because the state Assembly blocked putting it on the ballot. (Yes, the same body in which 50 percent of the candidates ran UNOPPOSED.)
Despite that obstacle, 96 Wisconsin communities, including 18 on Nov. 8, have voted for local referendums in favor of overturning Citizens United — that's nearly half the state's population. If your community isn't one of them, step up to start the process, and check out the state and/or national groups working on this issue.
Finally, I have a special plea to minorities and women — one of which I am, the other of which I am not: We can’t vote for minorities and women who aren’t on the ticket all the way down the ballot. We can’t claim our work is done now that we have had an African-American president, and we certainly can’t look to one presidential candidate to shatter the clichéd glass ceiling. We must give our daughters and sons millions of examples of minorities and women pushing out a first-floor window and scaling the building to the top.
I wish it weren’t so, but the reality is that until we replace people sitting in the Legislature with people who see the world as we do, we can write all the letters, sign all the petitions and share all the earnest Facebook posts we want, but those in power are still going to make decisions based upon their own view of the “greater good.” Believe me, many of the people sitting in those seats are no more intelligent or compassionate than you are, and, as for public service experience, none of them had it when they started out either. Run. Seriously.
Kim Suhr is a writer and small business owner who lives in Wales, Wis.
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