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Marissa Lingen

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Where it starts, where it winds up. [Dec. 4th, 2015|08:39 am]
Marissa Lingen

I’m not going to say if it upsets you when there’s a mass shooting or police brutality, because you’re human. You don’t have to do a performative dance of grief for every person killed, every city that has to rise up and say no, enough, for me to know that you feel it. But if you’re American. If this is your country, in which all this is happening. That if, not the first one. If you’re American and of voting age.

Vote in your local elections.

Every news outlet in the country is trying to sell us the next presidential election as a two-year story–as the two-year story–and if that works, they’ll pitch it to us for three next time. Not even senators–say nothing of representatives. Just presidents, presidents, presidents. And not presidential policy. Future possible presidential policy. Hypothetical presidents. That is The News Cycle; that is what Serious People Who Care About The News care about.


When it all goes down, when it’s your city or the city next door to it, the president can send in the National Guard if it comes to that, the president can make sad speeches on the TV and reach out to bereaved parents–and we are at a place, as a country, where we know that it’ll be time for another sad speech and some more bereaved parents next week. We know that their grief will be as real and as fresh and as meaningful as last week’s bereaved parents, and the president can reach out to them with five minutes between climate change talks and trying to get those Indonesian fires under control. Hey, remember those? Giant, rampaging fires ruining the air quality of much of the south end of Asia and destroying huge precious forests? No, never mind, in eleven months one of these yahoos might be on a major party ticket; we have to run footage of them at a pancake breakfast.

But when it all goes down–the part for which they’ll interrupt the pancake breakfast–the people who make the immediate decisions about what will happen in your city or the city next door–those people were either elected or their hiring or appointment was set up by elected people. For the most part, that is who runs your city and county government. By the time the presidential election rolls around, you have a pretty good guess which way your state will swing, although you should vote anyway. But who will your ward want for alderman? Who will be your rep on the city council? In many places you will be voting on sheriffs. Sheriffs, come on, we have all seen how important they are. You will be voting on judges–even if it’s just to retain or deny them their seat. Think about that. The judges, the people who issue warrants or quash them? YOU CAN VOTE FOR THEM. You.

The people who decide in budget meetings whether your police force should spend its money on community relationship training and a little trailer to haul around a speed detector sign, or whether that money should go to riot gear. You elect those people. Or you don’t. Or you say, oh well, there’s nothing important to vote on this time. Meaning: it’s not a presidential election. Meaning: I have not been force-fed years of coverage of these people eating pancakes. They are slightly lumpy and do not spam me with glossy ads of themselves and their glossy children. They have improbable names and there are lots of them. This part of participatory democracy is work.

Wail your anguish on social media, by all means, or don’t. I trust that you have a human heart, that you feel that anguish either way. But if you only have $20 to give, or you only have an hour to volunteer, is it going to matter more to the presidential candidate or the person who wants to make sure your city has a good council member? And if it all goes down in your city next time, God forbid, don’t you want to look at the people who are making the decisions and think, well, I did the best I could to get good ones? Because sometimes there’s not much a good mayor or a good alderman or a good sheriff can do. But then there are those other times, and we’ve seen too much of them lately. I’d like to hope we’ve seen too much of them to keep ignoring the most immediate scale of action we have.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


[User Picture]From: whswhs
2015-12-04 04:39 pm (UTC)
Do you have any recommendations on where to look for information on how particular judges have conducted themselves? Especially for judges in the lower courts, there doesn't seem to be a lot of news about their activities. When it's a competitive race, I can follow the heuristic of voting against the candidate who used to be a prosecuting attorney, but it would be good to have more information.
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[User Picture]From: therck
2015-12-05 12:41 am (UTC)
I tend to kind of cheat-- I have a friend who's an attorney who works for the county doing family law/friend of the court/probate stuff. I ask her to tell me about the candidates. I don't ask her to tell me who to vote for, but, if she endorses someone, I consider that heavily. And the one time she said, "Vote for absolutely anyone except the incumbent," I took her very seriously indeed.

I find, though, that a lawyer has to be a pretty good friend to give this sort of information because they still have to work with whoever gets elected. That leads to a fair number of missed stairs.
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2015-12-05 04:37 am (UTC)
Another good alternative (for judges and other offices) is to take a reporter from your local paper, or a reporter who used to work for your local paper when you had one, out to lunch. Local reporters always need lunch, and always know which candidates are vicious or corrupt and which can empathize their way out of a paper bag.

(We live with ours. He is useful, and we do our best to consistently provide him with lunch. But the principle holds, and honestly my experience is that local reporters are always happy to gossip, free food or no free food.)

Neighborhood listservs, where they exist, are also helpful. Like many other people, much can be discerned of a candidate's character from how they behave online.
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[User Picture]From: whswhs
2015-12-05 06:52 am (UTC)
I think you guys are assuming both that I have a much different social circle than I have, and that I have a much higher budget than I have. Spending money to buy a stranger lunch in the hope of getting information on how to vote is not an expense I can justify. Nor can I imagine being able to steer the conversation to that particular topic—I can't even imagine how to present such an invitation without coming across as presumptuous and offensive.

As for the other option, what's a listserv?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-12-05 01:23 pm (UTC)
A listserv is an electronic mailing list, usually on a particular topic of interest. Some of them allow you to choose whether to receive posts one at a time or in digest form. They have been around the internet since--um, the expression I would usually use for "forever" here is "since Fido was a pup," but I have no idea how they compare to Fidonet.
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2015-12-05 03:34 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry--I didn't intend to assume privilege, and I clearly did. Sleep deprivation apparently does my social simulation skills no favors. It was mostly privileged information, I think, rather than privilege of resources, so let me try to unpack a little:

- Local reporters are the only reporters left who consistently care about reporting news that affects people rather than fearmongering and entertainment, or at least who are consistently permitted to write about the "boring stuff."

- Local reporters make poverty-level wages, because their papers have generally been bought out by big media corporations who don't value what they do.

- In the DC area, where I live, "buy someone lunch" is shorthand for having an informal conversation with them; it doesn't necessarily involve paying for anything. "Buy someone a drink" means the same thing.

Also DC privilege--learning how to talk to strangers about their jobs, even when everyone involved is an introvert. It turns out not to be a difficult thing to learn--and I say that as an introvert with at least mild social anxiety.

For local reporters, I would look in the local paper (assuming it exists, for all this stuff) for what boring meetings get covered--school board, friends of the library, mayoral press conference, whatever--and go to the next one. (I would also check out the byline and read a couple of their longer articles, which will exist because they're writing somewhere between a third of the paper and the whole thing.) The reporter will be there; they will be identifiable because they ask reporterish questions and probably still carry one of those little notepads.

If you wait around until the end (and until they're done asking the questions that they didn't want to interrupt the meeting with), you can say something along the lines of "Thanks for all your great coverage. Are you guys planning to do a run-down of the local candidates for the upcoming election?"

This will get you 1) information on when they're going to do a run-down of all the candidates, and 2) high likelihood of extra information about said candidates, because most reporters love to gossip.

They will not be offended or upset, because you just expressed appreciation for their work, and because reporters talk to strangers for a living and have a lot of experience with the ones who are *actually* assholes. They *like* talking to the ones who are not assholes, a lot, or they would be writing corporate newsletters by now.

I hope that's helpful? These aren't highfalluting circles, more ones that most people avoid because they look duller than they actually are.
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[User Picture]From: whswhs
2015-12-06 03:46 am (UTC)
I appreciate the considerable effort you went to, but no, I'm afraid none of that is anything I would be prepared to do. I have the impulse to analyze why in detail, but really it's not your job to solve my problems, and that's the only thing that would justify going on at length.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-12-05 01:25 pm (UTC)
It depends on the judge re-election. Sometimes they issue statements about themselves/their cases, and you can read them. Other times you can google them. Their cases often are a matter of public record--very few are sealed.

Also, if someone is running against a seated judge, looking at the positions of the person running against them is often very instructive.
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[User Picture]From: whswhs
2015-12-05 03:51 pm (UTC)
You know, I routinely google candidates for the more usual elective offices—Senate, House of Representatives, state senate, state assembly, city council—but for some reason I hadn't thought of doing it with judicial candidates.
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[User Picture]From: therck
2015-12-05 04:28 pm (UTC)
Our local chapter of the League of Women Voters tends to do candidate forums (and sometimes issue forums) and to put some candidate provided information online. I don't know that they do so much with judges, but they have done the school board and the city council candidates.

The difficulty, for me, tends to be that most candidates won't state publicly what they believe in. Most of them seem to use code words that are opaque to me. Our local elections are such that the Democratic candidate always wins, so even people who would normally run as Republicans run as Democrats. I haven't completely figured out how to tell the folks I more or less agree with from the folks I don't. (I do tend to vote against the people who keep saying that having parking structures downtown is a waste of valuable real estate that could be commercially developed. Downtown won't do at all well financially if people can't park. Our bus system isn't all that great, and most of these candidates don't want to put money into the buses anyway.)

Our last school board election was very challenging because we had ten to twelve candidates for two open positions. Some of the candidates actively refused to answer questions about their positions, and all of the people asking questions asked general stuff. I couldn't tell, for example, if any of the candidates endorsed intelligent design (I don't) or were climate change deniers or... I did not vote for the candidate who said that he thought the schools had more money than they needed, but most of the candidates were less outspoken.
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[User Picture]From: markgritter
2015-12-05 06:03 pm (UTC)
"Don't vote for the ones that don't answer questions" is an incredibly good rule of thumb.

Local candidates will often answer emails, if you are polite and don't make it clear which answer you prefer. :) The ones who are wingnuts often believe "everybody" is really on their side.

Local candidates may not have a web page, but often they use their Facebook accounts for campaigning, or can be found on LinkedIn.

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From: sheff_dogs
2015-12-04 05:30 pm (UTC)
Bravo! And this is true whether you are in America or elsewhere. Your local elected authority spend your taxes, your money, so try to elect people who will use them wisely.
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[User Picture]From: mkille
2015-12-06 12:37 am (UTC)
Yes. Between local government and the Rotary Club (not just them, but shorthand for that class of organizations), in my experience, almost all the decisions that shape what life in a community will really be like get made.
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