Don’t be a “political chump”

Allow me to get my political pundit on…

We’ll start at the top of the pyramid. The presidency. About 50% of Americans vote. 2 candidates then campaign for the majority of those ballots = the popular vote. Then there is the electors aka electoral college. But by the time you reached college age whether you attended or not you forgot, ignored or didn’t know at all that the electoral college has been in place basically since the beginning of this country. It probably didn’t matter to you as long as things went your way.

National politics is like religion and racism which un-ironically both play a major part in the founding and continuance of power in this country and this election cycle. Most of us are born into it. Most of us say we chose/choose but that’s arguable. You more than likely share the belief system of your parents. You are a democrat or republican because your parents are. You are a Baptist, protestant, or catholic because your parents raised you to be. You are most likely Jewish or Muslim because you were raised to be. Not in all cases but most. You’re a bigoted sexist because your grandfather, father and mother are/were as were their parents. This is how most belief systems are formed. Many don’t have the insight nor guts to challenge their belief systems so they either double down and subscribe to them or develop cognitive dissonance.

This was on full display this election cycle, especially exhibited similarly with those supporting Trump and Hillary. I know that stung a little.

On the one hand, “the deplorables” were seen exhibiting behavior that has been present in America since it’s inception. Race based attacks, religious intolerance, sexist behavior.

On the other hand “the moderates” were exhibiting the denial of these very same behaviors existing in our country until Trump’s popularity soared, while at times exhibiting behavior that have also been present and persistent throughout our history. We are not and have never been “post-racial”and if the only time your are this emotional about it is when you have skin in the game, then human rights might not really be your thing.

Most Trump supporters can only quote sound bites that have nothing to do with the policy or work of a president-elect Trump. They didn’t care that while suffering poverty for generations that the man promising to bring jobs back to America sends most of his to Mexico and China and represents the ruling wealthy class that does so also. As long as he spoke to their belief system which has been shaped since the English arrived in Virginia.

Most Clinton supporters could overlook a past that fought against civil rights as a college student. A FLOTUS position that called their children super predators and policy support that further tore apart the families in the very communities they live. The financial benefit from human tragedy in Haiti, the close ties to Wall Street and military action the world over including the assassination of heads of sovereign states which in America would be called terrorism.  As long as she spoke to their belief system that she was “progress” and the “lesser of two evils”.

Affirmation is much easier to accept than to have your belief system challenged. Especially if affirmation is your love language. And as Facebook has shown us, affirmation is a very popular love language. But my love is conditional and I cannot overlook certain behaviors and not see them for what they are.

When “progressives” are berating Bernie Sanders and 3rd party supporters for wasting votes. Calling them stupid, traitors, etc. That is intolerance. When folks are looking to blame another individual or group for them losing the fight, it is because those folks confidently stood opposed to their beliefs. They didn’t sit down and make a heartfelt case for Clinton, they took on the position of privilege and behaviors of the oppressor.

I was raised a democrat. I am registered as a democrat. I have served as a state legislator as a democrat. I have also shared many beliefs with republicans while in office and in my personal life. I don’t default democrat. I have listened to Malcolm X’s speech “Ballot or the Bullet” over a dozen times. I had to then challenge my belief system. (I am more independent than democrat.) And I’ve seen it in practice. In recent history, people of color and “progressives” default democrat. And because they do, it lowers the value of their political power reducing them to “political chumps” as Malcolm X put it. It also weakens the party. As a state representative, I have sat in meetings with candidates for US Congress and Senate who have almost no presence in my community ask colleagues and I to endorse them and ask our constituents to do the same. They pay $12 an hour for residents whom they’ve never spoken to and will never again to hold signs and wear t-shirts. For almost nothing in the way of political favor in return. It is this behavior that cost Martha Coakley her race to Scott Brown and it is what cost Hillary Clinton her race against Donald Trump. People get tired of being chumps. I know I did. To assume I will vote for you because of my party, because the black president asked me to, because my favorite rapper asked me to, to make history is insulting to me. I didn’t support the practice as a public official and I won’t as a private citizen.

I didn’t vote for Clinton, Trump, Johnson, Stein, Harambee or Hennessy. I blanked the presidential ballot. 1. Because I couldn’t in good faith over look the harm they have done or would do to me and my community. 2. They didn’t speak to me, or my love language, or even my community in a genuine way. 3. I understand that Massachusetts is not a swing state, that it will go democrat and my ballot will not swing the electoral college vote. If I lived in Florida or Ohio, I may have considered a different action but I don’t.

I blanked president. I blanked congressman. (I like Capuano’s politics but want to send a message that he’s not speaking to my community). I blanked Governor’s council. Register of Deeds. (because they didn’t speak to my community which I find disrespectful). I voted for Sheriff, all 5 ballot questions and wrote my name in for State Representative in the 5th Suffolk because I’m Stillreppin.

I’m not here calling the play by play, just giving you my color commentary !

 

Heroin in Roxbury’s Clifford Park

Half a block away from the City of Boston’s 1010 Mass Ave location and Boston’s Public Health Commission sits Clifford Park.

Clifford Park is a wonderful expanse of land. On it sits 2 tot lots, 2 baseball diamonds, a tennis court, basketball court and practice football field. This field is used by many area residents and is also the home practice field for Roxbury’s own pop warner football team the Bengals.

For too long however, this park has been left unnattended by the city and as it now sits in what is known as the “methadone mile” has become a dangerous haven for open drug and alcohol abuse.

Coaches, parents, residents and most important the children, have seen too much of this for too long.

Today on October 12, 2016, over two dozen residents placed calls/issues with the city’s neighborhood services through 617-635-4500 / 311 / or the app BOS311. The reception of these calls ranged from “good” to “they seemed annoyed” to “rude”. Case numbers were assigned many prior to 1:30p. By 4:30p, some of these cases were being closed out due to “no findings”. This is very concerning because other residents and I visited Clifford Park today after 2:00p and found all of the things listed in complaints within 10 minutes of just walking through the park at different times. For a video of the walk, click here and here.

To me this says,

  • a. no one was sent
  • b. whoever was sent doesn’t/didn’t do their job
  • c. poor communication between city and residents
  • d. a mix of the above

Heroin needles, caps, baggies, human feces, alcohol bottles, broken glass, addicts actively sticking needles in their arm all easily seen in broad day light at 3:45pm today.

I have sent a letter to the the Office of Neighborhood services requesting an immediate and sustained plan of resolution that includes a full cleaning of the park, regular maintenance and increased policing.

Im interested in how long it takes them to respond and how efficient the response will be.

I thank the dozens of concerned residents who took swift action when made aware of the issue. You’re sustained engagement will make a difference in our community.

Question 2 = Parent vs. Parent – winner is guaranteed nothing !

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Let me say it again. Winner gets no guarantees like Joe and Chico DeBarge. Once again, the inactivity of some powerful politicians has allowed private interests to position them as fight promoters while putting their money on fighters in local elections in Roxbury, Cambridge, on TV during NFL football, radio, everywhere but in the classrooms.

The fight around question 2 is just shy of an exercise in futility. Now, I could get Neil Degrasse Tyson on you but I’m going to keep it simple because so many experts complicate it. A few facts.

The current formula that helps fund charter schools takes dollars from the BPS budget.

Most charter schools open in poor communities of color where schools are under performing and have been under performing.

Not enough has been done to keep the schools from under performing. See 1980s, 90s, 2000s, to today. Put that on whoever you like, politicians, teachers unions, parents, the case can be made. I’m not saying it’s right, but one can be made. You’ve heard them all.

Charters have been cleverly marketed as an alternative equalling quality schools.

Charters schools do not guarantee quality, even as they brag about how there is a waiting list. Sometimes there’s a line at McDonald’s but that doesn’t mean it’s for the high quality they are serving right ? Just hungry customers.

So, parents want what’s best for their children. Or at least what they believe to be best. So when staring at the choices of a lottery pick that will win their child a seat in a long time under performing school or the idea of a charter school that might give them 1 more shot at quality for their child, it may look appealing. How could it not ?

The catch. The charter school pays teachers less. You might see that as good or bad depending on your perspective. Their suspension rates in inner city areas and communities of color are definitely something to question. They do not do much to serve children with special needs. But they seem to be receiving alot of money from large corporate donors. You be the judge.

Full disclosure: as a Rep, I voted in 2011/12 to allow more (limited) charter schools with the idea to add some choice while we leveled the field with funding.

Now, 4 years later it is a ballot question. Because funding wasn’t fixed on Beacon Hill. Instead parents take time out of their day to fight other parents for the best shot at a chance for a high quality education for their child/ren. They either want to protect their child’s chances in BPS, especially if their child has special needs. Maybe even protect the majority of students which will remain at BPS as they are already short on resources, crowded classrooms and under performing.

Or maybe they want to protect their most valuable possession by getting more choice for their child/ren by supporting the expansion of charter schools. Maybe they’ve had enough of the BPS shortcomings and are unwilling to risk it but can look the other way about the funding and other issues. Because let’s face it. Parents love their children like no others. Understandable.

In the end it’s parent vs. parent all for neither getting the guarantee of a high quality education for their offspring. As if parents don’t have enough to deal with in this city. On November 9th, the day after, maybe we will get back to improving the schools (BPS & charter) that children are already attending.

Everyone else has skin in the game, teachers and their unions, corporations, elected officials funded by these corporate interest groups, elected officials funded by unions, advocates, but the parents, parents are all in ! They deserve better. And so do their children.

To use parents like this brings up a scene from a favorite show of mine.

Galvanization, legislation & stagnation

The question was: What’s the inside scoop on galvanizing fellow legislators to push bills and pass legislation. What’s the low down on what you are not able to actually vote on. How much stuff from inner city legislators get kiboshed in committees? Why are some politicians in positions for decades and very rarely co/sponsor legislation (no *shade)

 

In 2006/7 separately I asked Mel King, Chuck Turner and Dianne Wilkerson about the “Black Political Task Force” because I heard about it growing up. I liked the idea of power in numbers. Their responses varied. Councilor Turner gave me an answer but he didn’t want to throw *shade, so he kept it light. Senator Wilkerson smiled and said, I’m paraphrasing…it’s harder than it looks to keep that group together. Representative King’s response is the most memorable. It’s 2007, I’m running against his mentee, Councilor Turner. I’m trying to impress upon him my goals and why I am in it. I’m not looking for an endorsement just to build so he knows I’m serious about our people and the struggle. On the park bench on Columbus Ave between his home and Tent City we sat. When I told him I’m looking to revive that kind of body and power to our community he said, “when you wake up in the morning what’s the very first thing you do to get up?” I said “put my feet on the floor.” He said “do that first and then work on the rest”. It would be years before I pulled that idea out of the parking lot again. But he was absolutely right.

2011, I enter the Massachusetts House of Representatives. I enter with freshman Representative Russell Holmes of the 6th Suffolk District (parts of Mattapan, Roslindale, Dorchester). We had spent some time as Reps-elect and built on this idea and the energy we would bring to the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. The caucus members are Black or Latino, sometimes Black and Latino. They represent districts where the majority of residents identify as the same. It included the Senate also. At the time, lone Senator Chang Diaz. 8-10 of us tops in the House out of 160. 1 of 40 in the Senate. After we would choose a small handful of bills out of the 20 or more we each believed to be important, proposed by us as individual legislators, we would have maybe 5-8 bills, “most critical”. Hold that. I’ll go deeper on another post. And it ain’t hopeless, just hard.

To pass a bill into law: file the bill. bill gets assigned to a committee. bill may or may not come before the committee for a hearing. that is determined by committee chair who is on the “leadership” team which means they were appointed by the Speaker of the House. So either the Speaker or Chairperson decides to have it heard or not, have testimony and hold a vote to decide if it makes it to House floor or if it gets sent to study. “study” = maybe next year kid. Or it could get voted down by colleagues on that committee = maybe next year. The mechanics of getting your bill through committee are deeply political and I would have to charge you to reveal them all.

Then the committee on 3rd reading. All bills stop here before the House floor. It’s like quality control. Checks for errors, defects, effects, etc. Powerful committee. Many bills stop here for ever.

If your bill makes it through committee and onto the floor, a few things could happen. I will explain it in laymen terms to not bore you. It can get debated and voted on in a formal session (it’s kind of a big deal) and voted up or down or sent to…you guessed it “study”. It can get bundled, put with other bills and passed on a vote or even a voice vote aka slipped through or voted down. And when I say slipped through, it’s not that no one sees it, just not all 160 Reps see it. It could be leadership of both parties and 20 Reps who took the time to go to an informal session. Big votes happen in formal session. I may have to charge for this post.

If it passes the House like the Check Cashing Bill that I sponsored with Alexandra Khaveci. Then all it has to do, is go through that whole process again in the Senate. Make it through that and it winds up on the Governor’s desk for the final John Hancock, if he chooses to sign it. Some bills start in the Senate and do the same process towards the House. The Check Cashing Bill has passed the House in a session. The Senate in the most recent. But not yet both in the same session.

10 reps galvanized moving policy amongst 200 who do not all share the same values or priority, it is hard to pass a law. The average is 6 years. Sound ridiculous? It probably is in some regard. Much of it gets the kibosh in committees. As a matter of fact:

At the end of this session in Aug 2016. 3-4 criminal justice reform bills that would address the issues we are seeing nationally with police were “sent to study” – We will come back to this. Did you know that ? Did your Rep or Senator tell you about that ? I heard Representative Russell Holmes mention it on WCVB during the #raceinBoston discussion.

So everything above this sentence is fact. Below it you will find my opinion mixed in.

In my opinion, more info needs to come from the Senators & Reps at the State House around bills and process in general but specifically these bills I just mentioned, much more. And more needs to be done in the community to bring these bills forward, but nothing moves there until January so we have time to build but not much.

Politicians are in positions for decades in short because the voters put them there and keep them there. I would say all sponsor/cosponsor legislation. I would say most of their constituents have no idea on what and that comment cuts both ways. As detailed above, it’s not easy to cross the goal line. However, in Congress and state levels in most cases seniority gets you rises in rank and influence, as in, you should be chairing committees. Representative Rushing has been in since ’83, he is the majority WHIP. He is on the Speaker’s leadership team, towards the top of that team. But that is not always the case. At the city level, chairs are chosen by council president and seniority is not a factor, it’s all politics there, that’ll be covered in “The Boston 5”.

I believe the majority of voters don’t know the details and intricacies of what I have detailed in this post. And there’s so much more. So, no tangible, measurable expectation is set. It becomes very subjective. Do they support your events, come to your cookout, are they in the paper, knocking your door, do you see them, gender, nationality, does pastor support them, what’s their last name, whose kid is that, did they speak to you, down to hair and clothes. And I’m not saying those things aren’t real but those shouldn’t supersede deliverables like proposing and passing legislation, increasing budgets, educating and organizing districts, changing policy and codes. . .So you get used to a name. They come to your event, they’re accessible, you like being on the winning team and knowing the winner, next thing you know 20 years have passed and a generation of political talent has left for the DMV or further or been disenfranchised.

*footnotes:

“shade” is slang for saying something negative

“session” = a legislative session (Jan- Aug on election years) possibly 2 during non election years

 

Legalese for your ease.

Summary of the question posed was; why are many of the bills that are sometimes detrimental to our community written in such complicated legal language, which makes it hard to decipher.

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It wasn’t until I became a state legislator did I gain a new respect/understanding for lawyers and law school. The saying, “the devil is in the details” is definitely applicable.

Law is written is a coded language that most untrained eyes struggle to decipher.

When you are writing a bill/law it must be very specific and defined to do its job and hold up in court.

However, all legislators get a summary of each bill. They can also do the often required work to dig deeper and learn the effects of these bills and communicate that summary to their constituents. Legislators in both the House and Senate have not only the clerk but a legal office at their disposal to go line by line to learn how each ammendment/bill works.

They can, as I did bring in constituents like Alex Khaveci who wrote the “Check cashing bill” which if passed would limit what you can be charged. Or Jamarhl Crawford who has been working on legislation for the rights of fathers. Together you can write, or learn the legal language of the bill.

In my opinion, this is not done enough. Not only is it not done enough but like I stated without then communicating it to those you represent, those impacted, you are not doing enough in my opinion.

Now, that’s not necessarily easy but I’ll come back to that. There are other resources available. Your local NAACP chapter has a legal committee hopefully staffed with lawyers who volunteer to read critical bills that impact communities of color. If you or a legislator has a good working relationship that is another good Avenue.

The habitual offender bill aka “3 strikes bill” followed a course like this. Plenty of legalese. I and others had worries of its impact to the residents in our districts as well as tax payers across Massachusetts. I learned the bill. I met with law office and other legal experts including a member of Boston NAACP legal committee. When explained in laymens terms, I clearly saw what I considered dangerous and harmful flaws.

The next steps were to work with community leaders, advocates and residents to inform, educate and organize changes to the bill. And in my opinion even that wasn’t enough. There are 160 Reps and 40 Senators. Most of them did not come from nor represent communities like mine. So after informing like minded, like district colleagues, I organized an info session for my colleagues in the House with legislators from South Carolina and Texas I believe, who had been down this road of criminal justice reform, former wardens, Rashaan Hall (ACLU at the time), Stephanie Soriano Mills (NAACP at the time) and others who could speak to the real impact of the bill as it stood.

Changes were made. Not enough. I still voted against it but the changes that were made, made the bill much less harmful than it would’ve been had those steps not been taken.

It is the job of your representative to make the legalese easy for you. If they are not…I recommend you check your representation.

A footnote: not all legislators have a law background some were teachers, salesperson, organizers, etc. Legislators with legal backgrounds don’t necessarily make good either. They may be law and order or may not understand what it means or takes to do the job. But either way. The tools are there, the job is theirs to do. The community must decide if they’re happy with what they are getting.

Earlier I said it wasn’t easy. As a Rep, I had one paid staff person full time. Interns were a bonus that you had to get and manage on your own if you saw fit. How you create capacity in your office, through colleagues, caucuses and community isn’t easy but in my opinion possible and a must. Or you’re just not reppin it right.

1 leg up aka put your weight on ’em

Those block captains aka bosses are who elected official seek out during campaigns.

Politics like many things is a game of numbers. In essence everyone is a politician of some sort. Whether its your family, friends, congregation, union, or supper club, you have a constituency. The larger your influence is over your group the more valuable electeds and other leaders will find you. In Boston’s communities of color, pastors for good or bad get involved in politics (favor, grants, power) aside. The reason they wield influence isn’t for their moral stewardship of the community or for their sage advice. They have a steady constituency. Each Sunday, a couple of hundred folks gather. This is influence. If I can get in front of your congregation and earn what sounds and feels like an endorsement from pastor but of course isn’t, because that would be in violation of their non profit status, that sways congregants.

In my time as an elected, I was uncomfortable with this particular trade off. First because I found it intrusive to those going to church for fellowship and the good word. I rather engage you on the sidewalk outside in the community streets. I told you I’m 10 toes down in these streets. Secondly, I think pastors in Boston’s communities of color usurp alot of influence from the electeds. But I’ll get to that at a later date. But I get it. Historically, in communities of color, church was the only sanctuary to meet so almost all community business was done there. Besides, where else can you find a couple of hundred folks gathered weekly in these same communities in fellowship ? No where else. Another topic for another time.

Unions endorse because you agree to support them and they agree to support you. They grade you, track you, lobby you, protest you if you go rogue. They wield their power publicly. You’ve been following the BPD union and their statements around body cameras and militarized equipment recently? The leaders speak for their membership.

Some pay tithes, some pay dues, some pay both.

My point was before I digressed was that the larger your constituency, the larger your influence on this group, the more desireable you are politically and the more influence you may wield for the benefit of your group, your community or even your own selfish sinister goals. I’m just keeping it 300 with you.

Unions have political influence because of organized numbers. Pastors have influence because of organized numbers. Civic leaders have influence because of organized numbers.

You want to get a leg up ? Get organized. Grow your numbers.

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local 26 photo above

The ground floor aka 10 toes down

This is where I got on. 1991, 15 years old, a community organizer, going to meetings to hear and share how to create, plan for and control my community into a vibrant, diverse, high quality neighborhood.

Boston is a city of neighborhoods. 18. No time to name them all. You know where you live. In each of these 18 neighborhoods, there are several civic/street associations. Some are run by local non profit organizations. Some are led by residents of the community. They are all unique in style and design, function and effectiveness. The point of them however is to share information with residents and exert control over some of the activities in the neighborhood. I encourage you to join one or create one. If you’d like, I can help you with either.

Some of these activities are “zoning/building development”. Which is who builds/operates what, where, how tall and open during what hours..? Another is public safety and public services. Police districts send a liaison officer to update you on crime and prevention and give you a chance to do the same. Elected officials or their staff also attend these meetings, or at least should to keep in contact with residents they represent.

Sometimes these street associations will band together with others to strengthen their numbers to address common issues that affect the community. For example a large development that no one wants. A problem property address where crime and disturbances often occur. These are the people on the ground floor, the soldiers, they make it happen. They get the pothole and street light fixed, They get the police presence increased. They get the park resurfaced. They also put in the phone calls, emails to city councilors and mayors office to create the consistent pressure to make sure these things happen.

Think of this as your squad. 10-20 neighbors you can roll with. A working committee, knights of the round table. Each squad has a boss aka a board chair aka a block captain or lead organizer. Don’t get caught up in the name though. Get caught up in the work. Either lead or follow a good leader, after all the crew represents you !

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above photo  July 2007- serving as DSNI board member with the late, great Julio Henriquez also a board member.