Sunday, April 24, 2016

Primaries, Parties, Power, Please . . .

I won’t be voting in our Pennsylvania primary on Tuesday. I’ve been promoting voter registration for months now, inviting attention to the League of Women Voters’ Vote411, which offers sample ballots and voter information, and posting winning videos from our League of Women Voters 2016 video contest: Your Voice, Your Vote, Be Heard!

But I won’t be voting myself, because I’m registered as unaffiliated, and PA’s primaries are closed to unaffiliated voters.

In January, Gallup reported that forty-two percent of Americans identify as political independents. That percent is much lower in PA, due to our closed primaries, but still more than 1.1 million choose not to identify with one of the two major parties.

I consider our closed primaries a form of taxation without representation.

Yes, I could register with a party to exercise my right to vote in the primary Tuesday.

Except, honestly, I can’t.

There are parts of both parties’ platforms I agree with. (Here are both: Republican, Democrat)

There are major parts in both I think are wrong-headed, counterproductive, unsustainable.

I could compromise on those. Maybe.

But my concern goes past platform and policy to practice and power.

I read an essay recently by Os Guinness (an excerpt from his 2002 book, Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype and Spin, published in the Veritas Forum's A Place for Truth):
If there's no truth and everything is only power, ours is a world of brutal manipulation in which the strong will win and the weak will always go to the wall – and that's a horrendous world. 
I fear the horrendous world he describes is hurrying toward us.

And I fear our political parties have lost sight of core values like truth, justice, the common good, and instead depend on manipulation to maintain power and justify control.

Not everyone: there are good people in both parties. I've met some. I know of others.

But the parties themselves, the power structures within them, the games they play: I am appalled by much I see and hear.

Listen to the discussion surrounding primaries, delegates, conventions, dark money, donors: anything approaching real democracy died a long time ago.

Yes, I know: anyone attempting to accomplish anything at all faces the challenge of balancing the desire to forward reasonable ends with the need to influence in appropriate ways.

This is true at the most elemental level: caring for my favorite toddler, I want to move us toward hands washed, lunch on the table, food delivered to open mouths.

There’s a point where the end may justify a small application of both force and reward (picking him up and setting him in his seat; withholding more juice until cheese and fruit are eaten). But even in the smallest drama, there’s a dangerous desire to have things go my way just because: because I’m in charge. Because I don’t like aggravation. Because I said so. Because.

On the political level, yes, it makes sense for parties to work toward agreed on goals, applying appropriate influence in reasonable ways.

Unfortunately, the more I see of our two major parties, the clearer it is that desire for power long superseded any interest in reasonable goals or appropriate methods.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been working on redistricting reform. Every ten years, the federal census paves the way for reapportionment of congressional seats: states that grow get more seats in the House of Representatives; those that lose population may have less. That necessitates changes in congressional electoral districts, but most states also adjust state legislative districts at the same time to keep districts relatively even in size.

Most democratic countries do something similar, and in most, the redistricting process is handled by independent redistricting commissions composed of impartial demographers, mapmakers, retired judges or other citizens, with strict rules for how lines are to be drawn and clear standards of evaluation.

In Pennsylvania, as in most American states, the legislators draw and approve the maps that determine their elections, an obvious conflict of interest.

The result has been, since early in our democracy, lines drawn to favor the party in power. Another word for it: gerrymandering.

I described this in much more detail back in 2014.

But here’s what I’ve learned since:

Our two major parties have spent millions trying to capture legislatures in redistricting years in order to control the redistricting process in order to control Congress and state legislatures.

Yes, of course, I get it: parties exist to help their candidates win elections, in hopes of controlling the processes, in hopes of getting their own bills enacted.

What I’m describing goes way beyond that. Essentially, it’s legal voter fraud. Manipulation of processes to guarantee that voters’ voices are discounted.

In North Carolina, that meant corralling minority candidates into two strangely drawn districts to restrict their influence across a wider area.  

In Virginia, a similar move is under Supreme Court review.

In Pennsylvania, partisan redistricting divided post-industrial cities into surrounding suburbs or farmland to ensure the voices of poor, urban communities have little influence in policy or funding.

Both parties play the game, but the Republicans have been more organized and better funded. They’ve already announced plans for the 2020 redistricting process: RedMap 2020. 

Manipulation of maps is a cynical, insidious form of voter fraud. It deprives voters of choice, pushes parties toward extremes, ensures legislative gridlock and undermines voter engagement.

I put together a simple graphic to help explain the dynamic I’m describing. I’ve been using it to promote a petition in support of redistricting reform.

I hear people complain about candidates who lie, stretch the truth, manipulate, take dark money, promise things they can’t possibly provide.

It’s always the other candidate: the one they don’t support.

And I hear people explain their vote because any other vote would allow the opposition to win. Or would put party control in jeopardy.

I go back to that quote I’ve been carrying with me: 
If there's no truth and everything is only power, ours is a world of brutal manipulation... 
I posted last week about this time of unraveling we’re living in.

The idea of truth itself is unraveling, has been unraveling, is now as thin as a gossamer strand of spider web, floating on the unsettled air.

If truth no longer matters, what we have left is manipulation.

And a brutal game of chess in which we are all, only, pawns. 

I have been praying about my own role in this unfolding story.

For now, I feel called to work on redistricting reform, to look for other ways to strengthen the voice of those shut out of our political process. And I feel called to say, as clearly and often as I can, I believe truth matters. 

This post is my vote for real democracy. The vote I’m not able to cast on Tuesday.

I admire others I know whose callings lead them in other ways: living and working in tough urban neighborhoods. Protesting and praying on capital steps in DC and Harrisburg. Writing, teaching, volunteering. Working the polls. Walking with the poor. Running for office. Writing policy.

Here’s my please:

Please don’t fall for manipulation. Don’t look past the lies. Don’t excuse the game.

Don’t just pray that the best person win.

Pray for your own role in that. Your own vote. Your own voice.

Please don’t watch in silence as the best manipulator wins.