Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Interesting Times Suck

Things just keep getting weirder and scarier, don't they? I had planned to write about our Family Fun List today, but I find that I need to write about the political situation instead. I hoping that if I get this out I'll be able to focus a bit more on the tax forms I need to fill out this afternoon. 

So anyway, our current political situation sucks. It really, really sucks.

I don't know if all of the allegations in that document Buzzfeed published are true, but I'm with Matt Yglesias on this one: we don't actually need to know if they are true to know what should happen next.

Donald Trump should release his tax returns. If he won't do that, an investigative committee or special prosecutor with subpoena power needs to be created. Like, for instance, the bipartisan commission proposed in the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which every single Democrat in the House now supports. 

Let's say Trump releases his tax returns and they just show the usual "rich person legally avoiding taxes" stuff and/or the investigation into the Russian hacking happens and Trump and his team come out clean. Great! Next, he needs to really and truly address the fact that he will be in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution from the moment he takes office.

He apparently laid out some useless plan at today's press conference. I'm not wasting my time listening to his lies, so I'll wait and read about what he said later. I did note that all the journalists I follow on Twitter and quite a few other people thought that what he actually did was a lay out a plan by which foreign governments could more easily bribe him. I need to do some paying work today, so I'll have to look into that later.

Meanwhile, he has nominated a man for Attorney General whose past actions and words make it clear he doesn't think Black people should have the same voting rights as white people. I'm with Jamelle Bouie on this one: we don't actually need to know (or care) if Jeff Sessions is personally biased against Black people. We just have to notice that he works to create racist outcomes. The Mother Jones report on how Sessions blocked Black judges is one example of this.

And that doesn't even touch on the other nominees. There is so much awful, it can be overwhelming. 

I've been giving a lot of thought to what to do now, and the short answer is "hell if I know."

But here is what I've decided to do. I don't know if it is the right thing, but it feels right to me. I've been judging my actions by this question: What would I wish I had done if it all goes to hell? That way, if it all goes to hell, I can at least skip the self-recriminations.

1. I am calling Congress a lot. 

I've read the Indivisible Guide, the tweets that led to the Call the Halls guide, and a bunch of other tweets about how to effectively lobby Congress. They all agree that the thing to do is to focus on your own representatives, so that is what I'm doing. I follow them all on Twitter now, and am figuring out what their pet issues are, and will push on them to do the right thing as needed. So far, though, my representatives are mostly ahead of me. So I'm calling to thank them and/or remind them about things.

I am also calling two other sets of numbers: Committees and Leadership. Former congressional staffers mostly say this won't matter. They may be right, but I don't see how it hurts, and I think we are in unusual times and so past experience isn't a perfect predictor of what will work. I suspect that at least some of the Congresspeople and their staff are a little freaked out by the weirdness of this historical moment, too, and are wondering if they are going to end up looking like Neville Chamberlain or worse. Maybe if they get enough phone calls encouraging them to act, they'll come down on the side of action. I don't know.

Also, the Committees do represent me, even if I don't have a direct representative on them, and I think that once someone accepts a leadership office in Congress, he or she can hear from all of us on things that he or she controls, like bringing a bill to the floor. And obviously, if Speaker Ryan or Majority Leader McConnell ask for public feedback about a key piece of legislation like the Affordable Care Act, I think they should hear from all of us.

However, I am swayed by Emily Elsworth's argument against calling the offices of Congresspeople who don't represent me. She worked for Jason Chaffetz (who you may know as the House Oversight Chair who still wants to investigate Hillary Clinton, but not necessarily Donald Trump) and said that when their phones lit up with calls from mostly out of district, they ended up so overwhelmed that they just turned off the phones, and then they couldn't hear from people in their district. I don't want to do that to anyone. There are people all over the country who are worried about what is happening right now, and I don't want to interfere with their ability to call their representative.

(And if you're sitting there thinking that you don't want to listen to someone who once worked for Chaffetz, I recommend listening to her interview with the 451 podcast. It is the "Never Give Up, Never Surrender" episode.)

So, I will call the number for the relevant committee (you can find this on the Committee's website) and I will call the Office of the Speaker of the House, but I won't call the offices of representatives on the committee unless they represent me and I won't call Speaker Ryan's Wisconsin offices. I call when there is something in their purview that I want to ask for: a change in hearing schedule or action to bring a bill to the floor. For support/opposition to specific bills or nominees, I stick to my representatives, because they have a vote in that.

But, this is just my opinion and what I am personally doing. Like I said, I don't actually know what the "right" thing to do is.

One thing I do know, though: I am unfailingly polite and respectful when I call. We can learn from the Tea Party's tactics, but we don't have to emulate their obnoxiousness.

2. I am focusing and relying on filters

I can't be completely up to date and informed on everything that is happening. So I've settled on this approach:

I have some issues I'm actively educating myself about. The big one is voter suppression. 

On most other issues, I rely on the reporting of the sites I find usefully and honestly filter signal from noise. I really like Talking Points Memo for this. It has a Democratic slant, but it is honest and the editor's analysis is smart. For a more right wing slant, I read the Economist. We get that in the mail because my husband likes it and again, I find them honest and their analyses smart, even when I don't agree with them. I also subscribed to The Washington Post, and use that to keep up on the news. I also made a Twitter list of journalists I find trustworthy, and my plan is to use that to help me figure out what I need to pay attention to at any given time.

I look at my filtered info and decide what calls I need to make. I am trying to restrict calls to Wednesdays, but sometimes I need to call on a different day to be part of a coordinated action or because something is happening before Wednesday. But I don't need to be 100% current, so I'm trying to let more things go past in the moment, and come back and catch up at the end of the day.

3. I am looking for the leaders whose voices I want to amplify

I made another Twitter list, of politicians whose voices I want to follow and amplify. I'll be checking that at least daily and sharing things from it. I may add activists to that list, too.

The opposition (cause, yeah that's what we are) isn't super organized yet. We may never be super organized. I can't fix that. But I can find the voices of the people I think are helping and amplify them. 

In addition to my reps, right now that list has Ruben Gallego, Jason Kander, Cory Booker, Katherine Clark, Elizabeth Warren, and Eric Swalwell. I'll be adding to it as I find more people speaking up in a way that goes beyond the standard talking points.

4. I'm trying to stay calm but resolute

We are in a Constitutional crisis. The open question is whether we come out of it with a Constitution that is more than just a piece of paper. 

I can't believe this is true, but I really do think it is. This scares the hell out of me. It makes me angry, because it did not have to be this way. But here we are.

I recently read a book about the student activists that helped end apartheid, When Lions Roared, by Manju Soni. It is novella-length, so I read it for my Tungsten Hippo project. It is in fact the book I posted about there today. I had to read it slowly. Reading about what those activists had to face and what the price they paid for their activism was too painful right now, so I took it in bits.

I think we are at a branch point. We can fight now with phone calls and maybe some protests, or we can find ourselves in a future where any fight will involve risking prison or death. I don't want that future, so I'll make the phone calls. 

I don't have any illusions that things will change quickly, though. I keep thinking back to the Evan Mecham nightmare I lived through in Arizona, and how he kept saying and doing jaw-dropping things and nothing seemed to happen... until all of the sudden, he was being impeached, under indictment, and facing a recall all at once. I also keep referring back to the Watergate timeline

So, I think my job as a citizen right now is to do what I can to keep the pressure up. If you have a Republican representative, your voice is particularly powerful right now. Like I said above, I have to believe that there are Republicans who are afraid this is going to end poorly. They need help finding their backbone to stand up for what is right and vote for an investigation. I honestly believe it is in the Congressional Republicans' best interest to join in this. The more damning information that comes out without them acting, the worse they are going to look. But for whatever reason, they haven't seen it this way yet. Maybe if enough constituents call them to urge them to reconsider, they'll decide to act.

As for the rest of us, we have to accept that it may take a new Congress to get the investigation and oversight of Trump that we deserve. If that is the case, I am ready to fight like hell to get as many Democrats as possible into Congress in 2018, and then hold my representatives accountable to investigate the crap out of this mess.  

5. I'm making my contingency plans

I really don't want a future for my children in which political dissent comes with a high cost. And so, I'm taking the idea that we might yet decide to leave seriously. I know that I am lucky to have that option so easily available to me. I am resolved not to take it lightly. But when I wrote my goals for my company this year, the idea that I might want to be able to move my business to New Zealand was always present. It informed my decisions about what I will focus on. 

But for now, I'm here, and I'm fighting. 

I am angry that I have to fight. I wish we had somehow avoided this mess. But we didn't. As I've said many times: I don't care who anyone voted for in the election. I just care what they will stand up for now. I think there are reasons to push for an investigation into the Russian hacking and oversight of the conflicts of interest that transcend party politics. I also think that we should all be concerned about voter suppression, and interested in expanding participation in our elections rather than shrinking it. Right now, many Republican leaders are on the other side of that issue, but I know from personal conversations that not all Republican voters are. That is because voting rights are also an issue that transcends party politics. I will happily welcome the support of people from every corner of the political spectrum in the fights for these issues.

I will also be fighting for the policies I believe in. If you disagree with me on these policies, we can still agree to fight to preserve our Constitutional democracy. That is how it should be. That is how it used to be. Let's work together to make it that way again. 


  1. We're fighting and getting organized in our red state. Things are finally starting to get together and we have seen our senators change their tunes on at least two issues, possibly based on our calls.

    This national push may also affect things locally as we're starting to get informed about state bills early on. And if we're paying attention we can act.

    But I'm still really worried about Russia. My colleague from the W admin told me that much of the Rs in congress are too for all their talk. And that there are 6 books that claim Putin was an assassin for the KGB and killed people.

    1. I have multifaceted worries about Russia! If I think about them too long I start looking at job postings in NZ.

  2. Alexicographer7:03 PM

    Like you, I am trying to remember that things. take. time. It is not easy (nor am I sure time will work, this time. But all the same.).

    I am in a red state (though not a red district. But still: both Senators). I am calling. I am being polite (I am allowing my politeness to lead to the calls taking longer than the staffers, surely, want them to. "Hello, my name is [], and I am a constituent of Senator X/Y calling because I want to share my views about some of what's coming up in Washington." Longish pause...I sit silent. Staffer asks, "What would you like to tell me about?" I say, "Issue issue issue [I probably get bits wrong, but oh well]." Staffer says, "Thank you, I'll let Senator know." I say, "No, no, thank you. I appreciate your taking the time to record my comments, I know they're probably not what you were hoping to hear. I hope you'll have a nice day, and that it's not too cold where you are." And so on. Not ad nauseum, but every moment of delaying effective action on the part of Republican MCs and their staff helps, as far as I'm concerned.

    I'm also trying at times to phrase my calls to appeal to the thought that there is an effective and sensible segment of the Republican party and that Trump (et. al.'s) behavior is going to ruin it. So I sometimes work in phrases like, "The effect this is having on my image of the Republican party is horrific. [Action] is an embarrassment to the principles of the G.O.P." While I have long not been a fan of the GOP, I do actually nonetheless believe that statement is often true, even from my perspective -- it's one thing to endorse dreadful social-net policies, another entirely to want to disenfranchise Americans and eliminate our civil rights -- so I am actually able to say with an entirely straight face and serious tone.


    1. You should listen to the interview with the Call the Halls author on the 451 podcast I linked above. She talks about how interacting with constituents as a staffer is part of what changed her political views.

    2. Alexicographer5:45 PM

      Will do!

  3. Anonymous9:02 PM

    Also, thank you again for all you do and for being my news filter!

    1. I am a somewhat haphazard filter, but I'm happy to do it!

  4. Oh my word, the Evan Mecham thing. We're about the same age so I'm guessing we had similar experiences in being just on the threshold of voting adulthood when that all went down, and it was really what tipped me over from a casual follower of the news to obsessively reading both the morning and evening newspapers and watching as much local TV coverage as I could manage. And the current national mess does remind me of it a bit, but it's a lot scarier on a national scale.

    2/3 of my congressional reps (one senator and one congressperson) are on your list of people who are helping; I've been feeling a little stuck on actions because yes, they're mostly way ahead of me on these things. Thanks for the reminders of other useful actions to take.

    1. I was already a news junkie! I had to go off to college with that fresh in everyone's minds. I got so much grief about it. In retrospect, that was good practice for traveling abroad in the Bush years....

      And we did get a couple of great U2 concerts out of the deal.

      You are right, it is a lot scarier on a national scale.

  5. Angela (@Aferg22)7:25 AM

    Thank you for discussing your plans. So far today, I have called both of my red state senators and my congressman. I don't know if it will do any good, but at least I registered my opinions with them.

    1. Hooray! Keep calling. Look at it this way: we already saved the House Ethics Office and made them slow down confirmation hearings so that the nominees would finish their Office of Governmental Ethics filings. We won't win all our fights, but we'll win some, and the fact that we're fighting will make them think twice about some things, too.

    2. Our job is to stem the damage being done. The more we push back, the less @#$^ they'll try. We can't save all lives, but we are saving lives.

      Those of us in red states are particularly important because, I don't know about you, but I've always figured my lone voice wasn't important so I've never called. Right now it isn't my lone voice. Lots of blue voices are calling in for the first time and we're keeping phone lines busy and vm boxes full. We're organizing. It's amazing. My senators have changed from supporting repeal before replace to giving lip service to repeal and replace over the course of a week (and are bragging about how they've given themselves 2 years to figure things out, which they will do in a piecemeal fashion despite economic theory saying that's not possible without destroying coverage, but they don't care, but maybe if we keep pushing they'll do comprehensive reform, maybe based on the Heritage plan that formed the ACA and they'll just rebrand it TrumpCare or RyanCare or PenceCare).

      Angela-- since you're in a red state, if you haven't already, check to see what the indivisible groups in your area are. There's one on my state that is city based (not my city) that is doing an amazing job and helping me to figure out where to target locally. There's also several fantastic list-serves that provide action items each week that you could sign up for. They take the legwork out of trying to figure out who to call about what. (We're listing them on our blog's "Activism" tab.)



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