I encourage you to come to our next General Meeting on Jan. 14, which will feature a candidates forum and endorsement vote for the Community College Board of Trustees, Seats 1, 3, 5 and 7. All registered Democrats for each seat’s race have been invited to participate, so please spread the word and come with your questions for the candidates. Also at January’s meeting, the membership will vote for our club’s 2015 Executive Board: President, First Vice President, Second Vice President, Treasurer, Membership, Corresponding Secretary and Recording Secretary. You can see bios of the Executive Board candidates and the Community College Board candidates in this newsletter.
Now, a few words about education, since that is this month’s theme. I am the product of a public school education (except for a two-year stint at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication). I am very proud of that. I owe my ability to read, write, calculate and think critically to the teachers that imparted their knowledge and wisdom so that I could thrive as a well-rounded citizen. Many of us owe our success, in part, to our school teachers, and to that great, enlightened idea of universal, public education.
So it is with great alarm and sadness that I see public education, in general, and teachers, in particular, be disrespected and disparaged by certain elements in this country who see children as cogs to be exploited for profit, rather than as people to be molded into well-rounded citizens. America cannot thrive, innovate or compete adequately on the world stage without a well-educated citizenry, who can think - not just consume. Teachers should be given the same amount of esteem as doctors, lawyers and business people, and should be paid accordingly. Our public primary and secondary schools must be supported, and uplifted. Children from low- income families deserve a world-class education just as much as those from affluent families. Our public community colleges and universities should be funded well to the point where tuition is either free or inexpensive. And finally, America should not be afraid - or too arrogant - to consider educational methodologies from other countries (for e.g., I recommend reading the book, Finnish Lessons by Dr. Pasi Sahlberg). Let’s start truly treating a quality public education as a right for everyone.
The holiday season is always celebrated as a time to reflect on what we are thankful for, spend quality time with our families, and eat copious amounts of food. The holidays are also when many volunteer their time and/or money to help the less fortunate. However, the poor seem to get the most attention during the holidays, but indifference (or hostility) the rest of the year.
One reason for this disconnect is that most Americans consider themselves middle class, whether they’re too rich or poor to technically be in the category. In America, to be middle class is really a state of mind. We have an image of ourselves as a nation of strivers, constantly aspiring to financial success - the American Dream. According to academics, many Americans believe that poor people are in that situation because of bad choices, or that they simply didn’t work hard enough. However, outside of America, most believe that people become poor from back luck or outside forces. This cultural difference partly explains why poverty is stigmatized in the United States and why the social safety net in the is so paltry compared with other western industrialized countries. Poverty is seen as an individual - not a societal - failure. The poor are marginalized and invisible. The downwardly mobile - the long- term unemployed - suffer in silence and shame, but still cling to the “middle class” identity. Even our Democratic Party puts poverty issues in the background in favor of focusing on the struggles of the middle class.
Many of our Democratic leaders speak a lot about the plight of middle class families, who have been squeezed from 40 years of failed “trickle-down” economics and the Great Recession. Democrats like to talk about strengthening the middle class. We support unions and raising the minimum wage. We defend the Affordable Care Act. We want to help homeowners who are struggling with underwater mortgages. We want to make college more affordable. We support strengthening Social Security and other programs to help retirees. And we support clean energy to combat global warming. These are all worthy goals. But what about the concerns of people who can’t even get to the middle class? Rarely do our political leaders mention the poor, or talk about issues that directly affect them, other than the minimum wage and Medicaid. That should change. We need to focus on and organize around the following issues as well:
Unfortunately, many poor people don’t vote, and are too busy trying to survive than engage in civic culture. Therefore, their concerns are given less importance. So we must support efforts to politically empower the poor. That would be a great holiday gift.
Twenty fourteen marks yet another year where we Democrats are wringing our hands over whether enough of our supporters will turn out to vote this November. According to FairVote.org, voter turnout is about 60% in presidential elections, but plummets to about 40% in midterm elections. Why is it that every off-year election sees a precipitous drop off in voter participation when compared with presidential years? It seems that in midterm elections, the Democratic Party’s most reliable voters - young people, single women, people of color, low-income people - largely stay at home. Midterm electorates tend to be older, whiter and more affluent. It’s a conundrum, one that adversely affects our success as a party and our ability govern effectively when a Democrat is in the White House (see 2010). Already, Beltway prognosticators are predicting that the Republicans will keep their hold on the House of Representatives and have a better than average shot at retaking the Senate. So what explains the midterm slump? Theories abound. Some say it’s apathy. Others blame misinformation. Still others blame anger at both Democrats and Republicans. Some point to the fact that many people feel their votes don’t count. The relative difficulty of voting in the United States when compared with other democracies is another reason cited. All of these explanations have some validity. However, here’s one reason I’d like to see get more attention. Since presidential races are given the highest profile in our electoral system, most voters are going to pay the most attention to them and make picking the President their highest priority. Congressional, state and local races are secondary, even though Congress is a co-equal branch to the Presidency, and local issues directly affect people the most. Ask Americans who the President is, and 99% of them will say Barack Obama. But ask them the names of their congressperson, U.S. Senators, state representatives, county supervisor and city council people - many may greet you with blank stares. When people complain about the problems in America and want a politician to blame, it’s usually the President. The people who tend to know the names of all of their representatives are those who are the most politically active in their communities. They are also more likely to be homeowners, less likely to have moved frequently, and they have established roots in their communities. And these people tend to be, yes - older, whiter and more affluent. I believe the lack of understanding about how our government functions, the less value many voters place on congressional, state and local elections, and the indifferent attitude our society has toward the act of voting, all play a role in depressing turnout in midterm elections. This is the result of a massive failure of civics education in America. This is why Democrats must work doubly hard to ensure other Democrats know what’s at stake and that they get out to the polls in November.