I admit it. I am a political junkie. At least I used to be. But the political news of the last two years has worn me down. Major news outlets seem to spend all their time chasing down the latest outrageous tweet and ignoring what really matters. Republicans and Democrats have settled into a cartoonish tribal battle that prevents even small steps forward on a multitude of life-threatening issues.
At some point, I decided it was time to move on. I deleted my Facebook account, checked out the weather every morning instead of the news, played music after work instead of CNN, and took Stanley, my pit bull, for long walks in the woods. While these were all excellent alternatives to getting all worked up about the government, I didn’t feel 100% great about ignoring it all either.
One day my business partner called me over to his desk to check out a video called Unbreaking America. Jennifer Lawrence was talking about how to fix our broken political system. I watched the glitzy 12-minute presentation dispassionately. Our political system was corrupted by dark money—I had heard it before. Her message was tempting, but I had been burned by political optimism and besides, I wanted to get home and walk Stan before dark.
Later, I thought about the video some more. The group was non-partisan. The pie chart showing more independents than Democrats or Republicans was reassuring. There were a lot of us. It was hopeless to expect politicians at the federal level to change anything, but it was possible to start with towns, cities and states in order to effect national change. It had worked with women’s suffrage, interracial marriage, and same-sex marriage. Start locally, change state laws, then federal laws.
Maybe the video was worth a second look.
I watched it again and researched Represent.US and the American Anti-Corruption Act (AACA) they endorse. I discovered that the Act targets everything I’ve been complaining about for a long time. It aims to end gerrymandering, expose dark money, ban lobbyists, and make it possible for third party candidates to take on the duopoly, among other things.
I attended a meeting of the Western Mass. Represent.US chapter and learned that the group was instrumental in getting a resolution passed in 32 Massachusetts town meetings that calls on legislators address the issue of corruption in government. It was passed in all towns by wide margins – many unanimous. Plans were being made to do the same in larger towns with town councils. I learned that in local Represent.US chapters in many states, people were not obsessing about the government. Nor were they sinking into despair and withdrawing from politics. They were doing something.
For example, a Represent.US group in New Jersey testified on a bill to crackdown on secret campaign donations, resulting in a unanimous (12-0) passage in a state senate committee. In 2018, voters in Michigan and Utah passed anti-gerrymandering legislation that gives an independent commission the power to draw congressional district maps. Voters in Memphis stopped the City Council from overturning ranked-choice voting (aka instant runoff) that has been in effect since 2008. Voters in Denver passed a law to ban corporate contributions for city-wide office and created a public financing system for city candidates. In the 2018 election, 75% of all Connecticut politicians who ran for state-wide office opted for public financing, as opposed to corporate and lobbyist donations.
I also learned about Ellen Freidin, a very inspiring woman who led the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts movement in Florida in 2010. It resulted in a state supreme court decision throwing out illegal congressional district maps drawn by corrupt politicians and adopting maps created by a grassroots citizens’ group.
Ellen Freidin said this:
“The message is that our political system in this country can be fixed. My answer to somebody who would complain would be ‘Get out there and fix it.”
Represent.US has given me a chance to help fix it, along with new energy to do so. I now find myself leading discussions on the American Anti-Corruption Act, writing articles like this one, contacting legislators, and brainstorming on how to spread the word about Represent.US with other nice people who share my hopes and frustrations.
If you are fed up with a broken political system that ignores the priorities of the people it is supposed to serve, join us.
We all have to get out there and fix it.