Let me start by saying that what you are about to read are my thoughts and opinions and as always you have the choice to read, disagree, disregard, accept, believe what you want.
I’ve spent my 41.5 years calling Boston home. Politics/civics has been in my household since I was a child. I’ve worked for and with elected officials. I’ve worked with non-profit and service organizations across Boston as well as hundreds of people that make it all go. I’ve run for public office five times. I ran for Boston City Council District 7 seat in 2007 and 2009. I ran for State Representative for the 5th Suffolk District in 2010 in which I was elected. 2012, I ran successfully for re-election. And most recently for City Council in District 7 in 2017. I have in the period between 2007 and today, served in different capacity on campaigns ranging from Governor to Registrar of Deeds. I’ve been in and around politics in Boston and beyond.
In 2007, the only members of generation X that had run for office that looked like me at the time of my first run were Ego Ezedi and Emmanuel Bellengarde and former state rep and senator Linda Dorcena Forry. This was the beginning of seeing a generation begin to be more deeply involved as we reached our late 20s and early 30s. A trend seen all across the country. This trend led to political competition between generations as baby boomers, especially in communities lived in by people who identify as black. These communities traditionally were and are the most disconnected from political power and many of the electeds at the time were revered as “legends”. Some for their work, some for being the first to be able to win and hold positions deemed powerful that we (reads: black people) had never held before due to many reasons but mostly institutional racist practices, including but not limited to “gerrymandering”, which is in some ways what opened the seat for Linda Dorcena Forry’s election indirectly (she had nothing to do with the gerrymandering).
11 years later, the majority of elected seats in the city of Boston are held by members of generation X regardless of race or ethnicity. The City Council is younger. The Boston delegation at the State House is younger than it has been in the past.
Now new leaders continue to emerge.
I believe leaders are defined by their actions and you may not agree. I don’t believe all leaders are good, principled, fair, trustworthy, unbiased people. I don’t believe any being to be all those things all the time. For me, that is an ideal perspective that excludes reality. I just don’t operate in that space. Some leaders are elected, appointed, self anointed and this is in all fields that mingle with politics in Boston.
Lately, many of have witnessed some of the negative exchanges happening between activists at different levels around city politics.
I believe folks are entitled to feel however they feel. But feelings are not facts. They are not interchangeable with facts but at times I think that people blur the line. I’m going to walk that line.
I believe, if I and ten civically active friends, form a group and decide we are going to come up with relevant questions to ask candidates who campaign in our neighborhoods, so that we and those that follow our civic work can be better informed about the decision they make, I believe we are well within our rights as individuals.
If you receive that questionnaire as a candidate that has received over 12 others similar from other self formed civic groups to which you responded but this particular one you deem to be bullying, it raises concerns for me and makes me want to know why you feel that way. If supporters co-sign the campaign message adding slurs about the character of the people in that group and attach nefarious intentions without presenting any proof then I’m concerned and as part of civic groups like that, i’m bothered personally by baseless attacks. I’m bothered for a few reasons even as I am empathetic.
Allow me to digress, losing an election sucks. I’m 2-3*. I get it better than most I believe. You ask strangers for money, time, you give up almost 9 months if not more with friends and family in tow. But this is what it is. This is what you signed up to do and maybe no one told you, maybe you are not prepared for it, maybe it’s not for you, maybe you didn’t ask but criticism, opinions, losses, are all part of the risk of electoral politics.
I say that to say, if you are in local politics, there are personalities at work. Check your biases. You need to know that just because you are related to a candidate, that, by default , doesn’t make them the best candidate. Period. It’s the only the one you like best. You may believe they are the best but you’re biased. You would look funny if your aunt/uncle was running and you are campaigning for the other candidate. I get it. But if you push that bias towards others or me without even acknowledging your bias, don’t expect me to accept it without merit. I have friends who support candidates different from who I support. We respectfully disagree, work around each other and return without damaging each other because our friendship and the needs of our community are bigger than one person and their personality or those around them.
If you have a problem with a person, address it. If you have a problem with the process, address it. If you think someone is harming the community or people in it, address it. Just make sure you have something solid. For me to respect it, I need more than rhetoric or platitudes.
I have no problem with conflict. I believe conflict to be natural. I am writing to share what I think should be understood about these civic/political disagreements and the behavior that goes with it. So without belaboring the point, I’m going to name a few things I have personally witnessed in past and recent present that trouble me and I think trouble the community. I’m not claiming right or wrong. I’m talking about what’s problematic to me in no particular order. I share these with the hopes it will further a dialogue about things many of us speak about privately and have yet to resolve.
Pastors in politics – The clergy in black communities have historically been conveners. Churches being safe places and the center for civics when it was the only place black people could meet in groups. Those days are no more. But the clergy’s influence remains. I believe in many cases, they, whether intentionally or not, usurp authority from the black elected officials in the Boston. I believe they should encourage civic participation for their congregants. But, when I have witnessed pastors up to the dozens, endorse and support political candidates and campaigns, I think it can be damaging to the communities political power.
Not the mayor nor any other elected official in Boston can walk into a church and decide the best sermon to preach, which deacon should be promoted, what message to preach on Sunday and so on. But I’ve witnessed on numerous occasions, clergy without speaking to elected officials who represent the communities where the house of worship resides make those decisions. Does the clergy know policy better than the elected ? Does the clergy have a side by side working relationship around policy and/or budget ? Was there a process that they can point to in their selection ? Did their congregants participate ? I could go on but you get the point, hopefully. It is a conversation that I believe needs to be had. My belief is it needs to stop especially without cooperation or collaboration from the local elected leadership.
Another issue I’ve seen my father live through, that I live through and others I will share.
I watched my father serve his community giving to others even when it meant taking resources out of his own household creating real family stress. I remember the things some from the community said about him for working for Daniel Burke, a former member of the Boston School Committee. Similar things were said and whispered when I worked for Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty in 2005.
“He’s a sell out.” “He works for the white man.” “Can’t trust him.” “He ain’t as loud as he was before, his activism has changed” things like that. You’ve heard it before. These sentiments are being circulated now still. So let me be clear about my boundaries with my friends (both real and social media).
Sell outs exist, no doubt. But like I said, you have to have more than just calling someone a name. Speaking for self, if you think that my working for a non profit or administration or white person makes me a sell out, it’s best if we don’t speak and stay separate. If you believe that perceived “friends of your enemy” are your “enemy”, it’s probably best if we don’t speak and stay separate. I’m not sure when folks self selected themselves for moral authority but I do not accept it.
I will not accept that the tens of thousands of people who have worked in government and non profits and have spent their lives not only working but serving their community while they worked whether they are the chief of health and human services or a laborer at public works. I will not denigrate or diminish their work and slander their character by painting thousands with the same brush.
Is the activist the same when elected ? How bout as a parent ? How bout when sick ? No. Do you talk to your mother the same at 40 as you did at 14? No. Do you talk and move the same when children are around versus all adults ? No. – In activism, we are not all to act the same, but hopefully towards the same goal. But if you are telling me I have to do it the way you deem appropriate when you deem it appropriate or else you will diminish my work and reputation then you are operating on a different frequency than me and we cannot build together. And generally speaking I’m perfectly fine with that, for those that think we have to be “all together”.
I’m a mature adult black latino man with a history of service to my community and city at various levels. I expect those around me to engage me with maturity and intelligence. If you are unable to, one way or another we will separate. I do not believe in 100% unity around complex issues. So, to those who continue to engage in what I deem as destructive or non-constructive behavior, we will separate soon if we haven’t already.
If you are unable to acknowledge and check your biases. If you encourage this behavior you will notice the distance, or I may ask you directly why do you support that behavior if we are close enough to dialogue. No judgement, just dialogue and if deemed necessary, distance.