Questions of Civic Proportions Newsletter

March 8, 2020

My Fellow Citizens,

Big announcements of Democratic candidates dropping out of the 2020 presidential race have shaped the news this week. While the media has talked for some time about a contest that quickly excluded candidates of color, Elizabeth Warren was the last woman standing until this Thursday. 

Warren announced her decision to quit the 2020 race with a vow, “I guarantee I will stay in the fight.” 

She described a fight “for the hard-working folks across the country,” and said, “that’s been the fight of my life, and it will continue to be so.” There’s both clarity and purpose in knowing what the fight of your life is. 

What has been the fight of your life? The answer to this question might seem distant today. Whether it’s campaign news or coronavirus updates, a lot is weighing on our minds. 

Picking up a “fight of your life,” even if it only carries you through November, might be the best way to keep fighting forward. The question is a heavy one. It’s heavier than what issues concern you most in the next election or what causes you care about on all the days in between. 

When you carry a cause as the fight of your life, you take responsibility for what comes next. 

Dolores Huerta knows this kind of responsibility. Before the Obama campaign got anywhere with the slogan, “Sí se puede,” Huerta made it the rallying cry of the immigrant rights movement. She tells the story of working in 1972 to organize support for Arizona farmworkers. The state had made it illegal to say the words “boycott” or “strike.” People in the audience informed her that she had asked for support the state outlawed, “In Arizona no se puede— no you can’t.” 

We all know how this woman, fully engaged in the fight of her life, responded. Hopefully, you can hear the phrase in your head right now, at full volume.

In March 2018, Dolores Huerta took the stage during the Oscars. She stood with a chorus of other activists—Bryan Stevenson, Patrisse Cullors, Cecilie Richards, and José Andrés—as Andre Day and Common performed Day’s song, “Stand Up for Something.” 

The lyrics tell us:

You can have, you can have everything
What does it, what does it mean?
It all means nothing
If you don’t stand for something…

Take a stand, make a stand for what’s right
It’s always worth, it’s always worth the fight.   

Your favorite candidate may not make it to the ballot in November, but there’s plenty to stand for this year. Make one of these causes the fight of your life, and act like you’re responsible for what happens next.

Got problems to solve in November 2020? Sí se puede! 

This election year, I’m making voting rights the fight of my life. I thought that fight had been won, but we’re clearly dealing with a new version of an old game. Tell me what you’ve made the fight of your life. Let’s help one another charge forward with the persistence of Elizabeth and the resolve of Dolores. 

Last year, I heard Dolores lead another chant. She looked out at a crowd of undergraduate students and shouted, “Who has the power?” 

We have the power.

Now, let’s use it.

Shellee

Questions of Civic Proportions

“We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”

—Justice Thurgood Marshall speaking at Independence Hall on July 4, 1992

Will the coronavirus reveal just how shortsighted our government decision-making has become?

The response to the coronavirus is revealing the ugly shortcomings of how each country approaches public problems in the 21st Century. Even with far-reaching surveillance tech, China may have suffered what The Atlantic calls “authoritarian blindness.” Journalist Zeynep Tufekci explains that the “use of technology to ratchet up surveillance and censorship may have made things worse, by making it less likely that Xi [Jinping] would even know what was going on in his own country.” Amnesty International has a story about the special language developed on social media to share news about the virus.

Reminding readers that China’s strategies to contain the virus come with their persistent disregard for human rights, Science Magazine looked at whether or not China’s strategies can work elsewhere. Italy now has plans to test the theory. They have proposed a lockdown of a region where over 10 million people live. While stories elsewhere point to strategies for containing the virus, the U.S. hasn’t really started testing cases at a level that would help us see the scope of the problem.

A study conducted last year included a coronavirus simulation with a shortlist of lessons for those concerned to govern well through a pandemic. Their results? Communication makes a difference. Distrust of institutions makes it all very difficult.

 

Will we ever stop asking if a woman can win the presidency?

We’ve been exposed as a country with a severe concern for electability. Vox tried to help us see the problem with the question of electability—it ignores a whole lot of the data on who won in 2018. The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog tells us that the mere question of whether or not a woman can win the presidency works to discourage women from running. A New York Times op-ed ran with the headline: Elizabeth Warren Had a Good Run. Maybe Next Time, Ladies. In that piece, writer Michelle Cottle includes this data point:

 

“Last summer, a poll on perceived electability by Avalanche Strategies found that gender appeared to be a bigger issue than “age, race, ideology, or sexual orientation.” When voters were asked whom they’d pick if the primaries were held today, Mr. Biden came out ahead. When asked whom they would make president with the wave of a magic wand, without the candidate needing to win an election, voters went with Ms. Warren. Women were more likely than men to cite gender as a concern.”  

 

To listen to two campaign professionals discuss the “creeping electability” factor, watch Judy Woodruff on PBS’s NewsHour. And, if facts like that still sting too much, laugh and cry your way through New Yorker Magazine’s ideas about “The Electable Female Candidate.”

FiveThirtyEight has an excellent series with insights from real women who have run for office across the country. Check out their series “When Women Run.

 

What do we risk when we withdraw from politics?

“Life is political, not because the world cares about how you feel, but because the world reacts to what you do. The minor choices we make are themselves a kind of vote, making it more or less likely that free and fair elections will be held in the future. In the politics of the everyday, our words and gestures, or their absence, count very much.”

Found this in a chapter titled, “Take responsibility for the face of the world.”

 

Good Work: Harriet Tubman Highway

“We’ve got to change this,” Modesto Abety-Guiterrez wrote to his county commissioners. His 16-year-old granddaughter Isabella Banos had noticed a sign for Old Dixie Highway and suggested that it should be named after Harriet Tubman instead. The county commissioners decided she was right.

At a February meeting, the commissioners approved the change with a unanimous vote: 

“Dixie represents a troubling time in our nation’s past, marred by the inhumane celebration and unconscionable profit of the perils of racism, segregation, and the atrocities of slavery.”

The editorial board of the Miami Herald celebrated the proposal. After noting that Harriet Tubman’s life had recently been told in an Oscar-nominated film, the editorial offered that one of Harriet’s deployments with the Union Army brought her as far south as Florida. The editorial opinion concludes, “Erasing “Dixie” will never right a horrible wrong, but a new name will no longer celebrate America’s shame.”

Change doesn’t always come this easily, but isabella and her granddad remind us that change always requires one of us to take a stand.