Some thoughts on privilege and allyship in a post-Trump world

OK, community. As a straight, white, progressive, single man without kids, I recognize that I’m experiencing this in a different way than a lot of you. Given that, I’ve been mulling and processing and thinking about what my place is in the new chapter of American history that we entered last night. This is definitely still an evolving line of thought for me–please call me out when needed, offer suggestions if you have them, and if you ever just want to grab coffee/a drink and talk further, I’ll buy the first round.
Here’s what I’ve got so far:

First, I commit to doing the work that needs to be done with other white men, both in the Seattle community that I’ve made my adopted home and in the rural Texas community (and beyond) in which I grew up.

Second, for all the folks in my life and my community who aren’t straight white men–women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, people of color, and anyone else who’s feeling the impacts of last night’s election in a much more personal and painful way than I am–I commit to providing support however I can be most useful. I have a lot of forms of privilege, all of which I’ve gotten from other people; to name but a few:

1.My father is Mexican, but because I’m very light-skinned and my parents raised me as a white man, my white identity was something I didn’t even have cause to think about until I realized that white privilege exists once I was already well into adulthood.
2. Thanks to Mike McGinn and all of the people that I connected with through my time on his campaign and working in his administration, I have the strongest, most robust social network that I could imagine.
3. And thanks to that social network, my career as a real estate agent has given me a level of financial independence that I never expected to be able to enjoy.

If my white privilege, my social network, or my financial privilege can be useful to you in the organizing work that you’re doing, please don’t hesitate to ask.

I love you all, and I hope that together we can create a world that respects us all and gives every one of us the ability to live our lives freely and without fear.

Hey Seattle! Have you voted in the August 4th primary yet? No? Let me help you with that…

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1. Make sure you’re registered

If you’re not registered to vote at your current address in Seattle, stop what you’re doing right now, go to the Secretary of State’s website, and register to vote. It’ll take you about 2 minutes, and we’re extremely fortunate to be able to register to vote online here, so you should take advantage of it. It’s too late to register for the primary (unless you register in person downtown — and you should tell me if you do, because there are few things in this world that would make me happier), but at least you’ll be able to vote in the general election in November.

2. Be sure you have your ballot

If you are registered to vote at your current address, you should receive your ballot in the mail this week; they’ll be going out in the mail starting tomorrow (Wednesday, July 15th). If you haven’t received your ballot by next Wednesday, July 22nd, go to King County’s replacement ballot request form to ask for a new one, or call King County Elections at 206–296–0100.

3. Remind yourself why this is important

This November’s election — with district elections for the first time since the 70′s and all 9 Councilmembers running simultaneously — is basically the local electoral equivalent of combining the Super Bowl with the World Cup and the Breaking Bad series finale, except that it only happens once every 40 years, and instead of watching from the sidelines, we all have a part to play in how it turns out. I know you already vote in Presidential elections, like 85% of Seattleites. But if you care about affordable housing, mass transit, traffic during rush hour, public safety, police reform, or zoning changes in our neighborhoods, guess who makes the policies that effect all of those issues? That’s right — all these City Councilmembers we’re going to be electing. And turnout for local elections (which take place in odd-numbered years) is generally around 30% in primaries and 50% in general elections.

Who are the 30% of us who are going to vote in this primary, you ask? I took a look, using the most current data from the 2008–2012 American Communities Survey for population numbers (as parsed by Wolfram Alpha — click on the “more details” button underneath the graph) and data on the makeup of the 2013 primary electorate from Ben Anderstone. These were the results, by age range:

  • 18–24: 13.8% of the voting population, 2% voter turnout (14.5% representation)
  • 25–34: 24.9% of the voting population, 11% voter turnout (44.2% representation)
  • 35–49: 26.6% of the voting population, 24% voter turnout (90.2% representation)
  • 50–64: 18.3% of the voting population, 32% voter turnout (148.1% representation)
  • 65+: 11.1% of the voting population, 31% voter turnout (236.6% representation)

As you can see, we can learn a lot from our elders. It’s important for everyone to vote, but if you’re in that 18–34 age bracket it’s especially critical — you’re going to be most affected by all of the changes that are happening to our city, but right now you’re the least represented when it comes to choosing the elected officials who are making those decisions. If you’re not registered to vote at your current address, go register right now so you can vote in the general. If you are registered to vote, be sure you actually do it! The August 4th primary is the election in which we’ll be narrowing the Council field down from the 47 candidates who are currently running to just the top 18 who will be on the ballot in November; it’s an important one.

4. Keep in mind how mind-numbingly easy voting is in Washington

It’s so easy that someone (your postman or postwoman) literally brings a ballot to your home; all you have to do is take 5 minutes to fill it out over a cup of coffee in your pajamas, put a stamp on it, and send it back in. If you prefer not to mail your ballot, you can also drop it off in person at one of 6 locations in Seattle. There’s honestly no excuse not to vote — unless of course you hate America, Seattle, and/or freedom.

5. Find your Seattle City Council district

To find your district, go to the City’s Council Districts page for maps of each district, or look up your address on the County’s lookup tool (note that this will also give you your state legislative district, your County Council district, your precinct, and your Congressional District). Now you know which of the 47 candidates running for City Council this year you’ll see on your ballot!

6. Figure out who you’re going to vote for

If you’re not sure which of them to vote for, there are a number of places you can go for assistance:

  • King County Elections has customized Voter’s Guide tool on their website, if you want to read the official candidate statements for the races in which you’ll actually be voting but you don’t want to dig through the paper voter’s guide you get in the mail with your ballot to find them.
  • The Progressive Voters Guide lists candidates they consider to be true progressives and tells you who they’ve been endorsed by, but in races with multiple progressive candidates they don’t tell you who individually you should vote for.
  • The Municipal League rates candidates on a scale of “Not qualified” to “Outstanding”. Their user interface isn’t great, but if you sort by “Locality”, it’s easy to go down the list of Seattle candidates. They’re more interested in competence than they are in political leanings.
  • The Stranger can always be counted on for severely biased, profanity-laced, and generally entertaining picks by their young, urbanist, progressive editorial staff.
  • The Seattle Times, whose ed board is decidedly older and more conservative than The Stranger’s, makes a nice counterweight if that’s more your scene.
  • KUOW did a series of short interviews with every candidate, if you want to hear them in their own words.
  • And there have already been a bunch of candidate forums this year; search your neighborhood blog or do a quick Google search for candidate forums in your district to see what’s out there.

7. Vote by August 4th!

In order to be counted, your ballot has to be either dropped off at a drop boxby 8 pm on Tuesday, August 4th, or put in the mail and postmarked by, again, Tuesday, August 4th. Generally speaking most blue Post Office drop boxes have their last pickup at 1:30, and most post offices have their last pickup at 5:00, so keep that in mind.

8. Way to go, Seattleite :)

Once your ballot is safely on its way to King County Elections, hold your head up high and be proud of yourself — by voting in a local primary election, you just did something that 70% of your fellow Seattleites won’t do this year!

Welcome to the club.

What #YesAllWomen means to me as a man

Like many men, I initially saw the shootings at UCSB last week as just another in a long string of incidents of gun violence perpetrated by another in a long string of lonely, mentally unstable men who were as far removed from me as it’s possible for two people to be. I braced myself for the usual cycle of mourning mixed with outrage, scattered calls for gun control legislation, inaction on the part of legislators and politicians in the face of one of the best-organized grassroots organizations in the country (the NRA), followed by a fading from the public consciousness after a set number of media cycles. What happened instead, though—the evolving conversation best encapsulated under the #YesAllWomen hashtag—blew a hole in the way that I, as a man, see the world and the other half of its inhabitants. It also made me realize that I have a lot more in common with this particular shooter than I would ever have been comfortable admitting at first glance.

Like most men probably do, I consider myself to be “one of the good guys,” so what’s been most eye-opening about this whole unfolding discussion is not only realizing that there’s a huge gap between the way that I see the world when I walk down the street and the way that a woman sees it, but also that it was possible for me to have and to have had so many close relationships with women over the course of my life and yet still be so ignorant of some of some of the most fundamental realities that half of the world’s population encounters on a daily basis. It felt like peeking through a doorway into a hidden world that was much more twisted and sinister than the one I’m used to seeing every day; I found that I couldn’t just ignore what I’d seen and go back to living my life without in some way reassessing my relationships to all of the women in my life, including the vast majority that I’ll only ever interact with tangentially.

If you’re a man reading this and you’re not already familiar with the hashtag, go spend a few minutes browsing around. The reason the thread is so powerful is that it reads like a support group for women to bare their souls about a small handful of the physical and psychological transgressions, large and small, that they suffer on a daily basis at the hands of men. Reading the stories and articles that started pouring out from every corner of the Internet made me begin to realize just how big a deal this is for all women—how essential harassment by men is to the basic experience of being a woman. It was a realization that, as a man, I’d been able to go 34 years of my life without ever being smacked in the face by. “I had no idea it was this bad” sounds like a weak excuse, but it’s the truth.

Like all of us do, I grew up in a world where women are highly sexualized in virtually all aspects of society, from advertising to movie plots to actual pornography. I became aware of the detrimental effect of all of that on myself and my relationships to women at some point early on, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I started really thinking about its impact on the women in my life. The biggest turning point for me was starting to work with the Youth Commission during my time in the Mayor’s Office.

The Youth Commission is a group of teenagers who advise the Mayor and the City Council on policy issues. I became their staff liaison/program manager in June of 2010, and over the course of the years that followed I got to know a lot of extraordinary young people who served as commissioners. One of my main goals with the Youth Commission was to get the students to realize their own ability to influence the political systems in which they live, and in order to do that I had to open my eyes to what the world looks like from the perspective of a teenager. As part of that process, for the first time in my life I started to think about what the world looks like to a teenage girl, what messages society has for her that are different than the ones they had for me when I was a teenage boy. I started paying more attention to reasons why girls decide not to run for political office thanks to organizations like the Washington Bus and the Women’s Funding Alliance, processing negative portrayals of women in the media thanks to organizations like Reel Grrls and Powerful Voices, and thinking about the world in which my friends’ infant daughters would be growing up whenever I would spend time with them. As my awareness grew I thought I was doing my part by fighting against the anonymized “other men” who were conspiring to keep women and girls down; I knew that I still objectified women more than I wanted to, but I saw that as something that really only affected me.

While I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, I like to think that I’m a much better male ally to the women and girls in my life now than I was four years ago…but until last week I’d still always thought of misogyny and violence against women as problems for other men but not for me. I would previously never have thought of checking out an attractive woman walking down the street as existing on the same spectrum as Elliott Rogers opening fire on a college campus. What I’ve realized they have in common, though, is that they’re both fundamentally rooted in a system in which women are viewed first and foremost as sex objects, which is what makes possible all of the objectification, infantilization, and abuse that #YesAllWomen is a testament to and a reaction against. Do I fight against that system and try to treat all women in my life with respect? Yes. But do I also contribute to it myself? Absolutely. And that, I think, has been the biggest takeaway for me from all of this: it’s all too easy to say that I belong in one bucket or another—good or bad, ally or enemy—but the truth is that both sides are a part of me. I’m used to focusing on the good, but it’s useful to shine a spotlight on the bad from time to time, too; as Justice Brandeis once said, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Even though I’m part of what I assume is the vast majority of men who’s never going to commit an act of abuse—sexual or otherwise—against a woman, that doesn’t mean that I’m not part of the problem. For the first time in my life I feel, viscerally, my own culpability in the perpetuation of a system in which not only are women made to feel uncomfortable and afraid solely because of who they are, but also one in which the emotion that’s been tapped by #YesAllWomen is such a universal but unspoken truth for women that learning about it, as a man, feels somewhat akin to a fish learning that water exists.

I’m not going to try to forecast what the long-term impact of this conversation is going to be in my life—I imagine it’ll be something I’ll look back on as a moment of awakening, but at the very least it’s highlighted the connection between my internal world and the world that women have to navigate on a daily basis, which is huge in and of itself. Going forward I’m going to have to hold myself to a higher standard of personal conduct in order to still be able to think of myself as one of the good guys.

Some thoughts on Brand vs. Paxman

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Many of you have probably seen the clip of the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman interviewing Russell Brand that’s been making the rounds on social media the last couple of days. If you haven’t, you can watch it here; it’s just over 10 minutes. The reason it’s gone viral is that Brand, while defending the fact that he was the celebrity guest editor of New Statesman for one week despite never having voted in his life, launches into a passionate tirade against the entire political structure of the UK for failing to address the major issues of the day and promotes the idea that people should stop voting and instead overthrow the current system in a socialist revolution. That’s the basic gist of it, and if I seem somewhat less than generous to Brand’s view of things, it’s because I am.

What Brand should be advocating, in my opinion—what would get him to the socialist paradise he envisions—is more people who feel disenfranchised by the current political system not only voting but also getting organized and running for office. Creating political change is incredibly difficult, but he seems to want a magical revolutionary shortcut–and even if there were a revolution in the UK or the US tomorrow, the ones who would win would be the organized forces who took power after the dust settled, not the disaffected masses who cleared the way for them (see: Egypt post-Tahrir). I don’t think this is just a publicity stunt for him—he’s clearly very angry—but in order to be constructive in improving our political system, anger has to be channeled into some sort of system that can accept it and use it to move the ball down the field.

I’m concerned myself about the trajectory that American democracy is on right now, but without infusions of new blood into the existing system I don’t see it getting significantly better in the near future. I agree with Russell Brand that we need a revolution, but it’s a revolution of young people engaging in politics instead of disengaging. The Occupy movement was the closest to true popular revolution that we’ve come in America for awhile, but it was incredibly inefficient in terms of creating any kind of durable political change, and anecdotally at least it seems to have had the effect of causing a lot of its participants to become less engaged politically rather than more engaged. There are some new voices that came out of the movement—a very small handful like Kshama Sawant saw the political opportunity and ran with it, which I still maintain is the biggest concrete change that we could have hoped for from it—but Brand really just seems to be advocating Occupy 2.0 without acknowledging that the first round didn’t go so well. Most of us can agree that we’re frustrated by aspects of our government, but the only thing that’s going to change that, in my opinion, is greater political engagement by people who feel disenfranchised by the system right now.

I’ll also add, for anyone who’s considering taking Brand’s advice and not voting, that if you’re really opposed to the 1% who control the country, prevent us from addressing global warming, have rigged the economic and political systems in their favor, etc, not voting is the single best thing you can do to ensure that they remain in power. It’s what they want—what do you think is behind the Republicans’ systematic disenfranchisement campaign? If you really want to do something to stick it to the man, I’ve got two great suggestions for you:

1)      Vote—not just in presidential elections, but in local ones too (they happen every year here in Washington State, so all you have to do is get in the habit of mailing in your primary ballot in early August and your general election ballot in early November); the issues that affect your daily life the most probably come from the local or state level instead of the federal level anyway.

2)      Run for office yourself, or encourage someone you know to run—and even better, encourage a girl you know to run for office; research shows that girls who are encouraged to run for office are more likely to do so, whereas boys often don’t need any encouragement. Running Start is a great organization to get involved with at the national level, and Progressive Majority and the Washington Bus are fantastic at the local and state level.

And for those of you in Seattle, don’t forget to send in your ballots by November 5th :)

I’m taking the next week and a half off from work to knock on doors and make phone calls for McGinn. Here’s why.

SECB cheat sheet

As you can probably tell, I’m supporting Mayor McGinn again this year–and while it may be tempting to assume that I’m supporting him because I work for him, I can assure you that quite the opposite is actually true: the only reason I’m working for the City right now is because of how much I personally believe in Mike McGinn (see here for my reasons, if you’re not convinced yet).

I’m taking that support one step further effective today by taking the next week and a half off of work to canvass and make phone calls full-time between now and the election. For those of you who aren’t familiar with campaign mechanics, there are two primary ways to get votes: with money or with volunteers. Money pays for TV ads and mailers (aka paid voter contact), but volunteers get you something infinitely more valuable: direct, voter-to-voter interaction, which is pound-for-pound the most effective thing that you can do with your time if you want to see Mike McGinn re-elected as much as I do.

If you care about better transit, gigabit-speed broadband, race and social justice, environmental sustainability, or any of the Mayor’s other priority issues, this is the time to get out there and make a difference. In the 2009 primary—which wasn’t as crowded as this year’s—there were only 3,316 votes separating McGinn in first place from Nickels in third place. It’s likely to be an even closer primary this year, and frankly it’s impossible to tell at this point which two candidates are going to make it through.

I try to put my money where my mouth is (and vacation time is much more valuable to me than money), so today I’m leading by example and asking you to join me in volunteering for McGinn between now and election day. You don’t have to take a week off from work to do it, either—the McGinn for Mayor ground game that you read so much about back in 2009 is up and running again full force, and we can get you plugged in 7 days a week as your schedule allows between now and August 6th.

The 2004 Presidential election was my original impetus for getting involved in politics back in 2008. I’m sure you can remember where you were when the results were finalized and how it felt to have lost the Presidency by such a slim margin—if you want to avoid having that same feeling about the mayor’s race on August 6th, now’s the time to do something about it while you still can. Ping me directly, or go to mcginnformayor.com/volunteer to sign up via Google form…and if you want to deck out your social media accounts in McGinn paraphernalia, take a quick trip to mcginnformayor.com/social for some ready-made images.

I’ll look forward to seeing you out there :)

Some thoughts about last week

1. The election last week was an interesting case study on a lot of levels, but one of the most interesting aspects of it to me was how clearly it illustrated the old maxim that history is written by the winners. The Obama campaign’s ground game and superior technology/data/media tactics are certainly what put him over the top, but it was the personal failings of Mitt Romney that put Obama within what was ultimately a field margin in four key swing states that, had he lost them, would have swung the election in the other direction: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Colorado. It’s entirely possible that the narrative about the death of the Republican party at the hands of millions of new voters that we’re all getting overly excited about now would have been a story about the continued strength of the Republican base instead if the Republicans had fielded another George W. Bush/Karl Rove combo this time around instead of a candidate with virtually no emotional appeal to anyone in either party.

I really want to believe that the demographics of our country are trending in a direction that will force the Republican party to fundamentally change over the course of the next two election cycles, but as John Sides points out, “the growth of pro-Democratic constituencies is happening far too slowly to insulate the party from the natural swings that occur because of economic fundamentals.” In the same vein, the void that Obama and his history-making campaign operation leaves in 2016 is going to more than offset any demographic advantage that accrues to Democrats from increased Latino turnout after comprehensive immigration reform passes sometime next year. Who we run next cycle, and who runs against her (or him), will have more of an impact on who our next President is than how Republicans respond to the demographic cues that were contained in this year’s exit polls…although I have no doubt that they will respond to them, and that public policy will benefit as a result.

2. There’s been an amazing amount of ink spilled, both electronic and otherwise, in pursuit of exposing all the tawdry details and subplots that comprise the downfall of David Petraeus, but the most interesting moment to me will almost certainly never be brought out into the light of day. It’s the moment in time when one of the most celebrated generals of the modern era, a man who personally represents the future of modern warfare more fully than perhaps any other living human being and who was on virtually everyone’s short list for Republican Presidential candidates in 2016–a man who was the head of the CIA at the time and was on the succession list for America’s nuclear strike codes–decided that it was worth risking it all for the sake of having sex with a woman who wasn’t his wife.

Somewhere in his personal history there’s now a choice point that represents the moment in time at which his story and America’s story became forever separate, a single millisecond of intention that overrode the entirety of his long, storied, and far from over career. That’s the real story, in my book, and behind it lie whole sub-stories about his relationship to his wife and his relationship to himself that a) are being completely overpowered by the traditional knee-jerk “shame the women” media impulse and b) are far more relevant to the his life story than how many pages of printed-out emails General Allen sent to Jill Kelley.

There is, indeed, a fine line between success and failure, with strict conditions for the former (including quite a bit of luck, which as my used car manager once taught me is what results when opportunity meets preparation) and no shortage of opportunities to succumb to the latter. On that theme, there are several additional things that jump out at me from the stories above:

  • Over the course of a life and a career any reasonable person is very likely to experience both successes and failures in good measure, only the most sensational of which we’re eventually remembered for by people outside our close personal circles
  • Being a human being is fundamentally about being related in varying degrees to other human beings, and it’s the quality and nature of those personal and professional relationships that ultimately accounts for how we spend our lives and what we get out of them in return
  • If General Petraeus had been more honest with his wife before he ever met Paula Broadwell he might well have eventually become the next President of the United States

History, as Don DeLillo says in Underworld, is “what happens when you connect the dots”–it’s a story that we assemble from the parts we have at hand and the ones we choose in hindsight to keep vs. discard. The most important judgment of your own failures and successes is ultimately your own story about yourself, the personal history you create when you connect the dots that make up your life. That story is all we’re left with in the end, when each of us lies dying in a street or a hospital room or a destroyed, sinking battleship, alone or surrounded by loved ones. Luckily there’s still plenty of time for all of us, Obama and Petraeus included, to make it a story we can be proud of.

Happy Thanksgiving.