Tag Archives: Kansas

Top of my Christmas list: Restoring the Right to Vote

The blog e.politics had a post a couple of months ago with a map that I find fairly haunting. (I can’t get it to embed, so click on it. Trust me.)

It shows the concentration of voter identification laws primarily in the states that, at one time, had poll taxes, plus Kansas, which purportedly has the highest concentration of ‘voter fraud’ cases in the country.

At 97 total cases, out of millions of votes cast.

Then, more recently, the Government Accountability Office released a report that failed to document any cases of voter fraud in any of the numerous states that have recently passed stricter voting regulations.

What the GAO did find was a substantial increase in voting requirements over the last 10 years. Twenty-one states passed new voter I.D. laws and seven heightened requirements, bringing the total number of states requiring restrictive identification to 31.

To address a virtually nonexistent problem.

Primarily in a part of the country still grappling with a legacy of restrictive voting laws that denied democracy to millions over generations.

It’s an abomination, and its epicenter, today, is in my home state.

The land of John Brown and Jayhawkers.

So, dear Santa Claus, what do I want for Christmas?

It to not be 1964 anymore.

I want people’s right to vote to be respected, not trampled on under the trumped-up guise of ‘voter fraud’. I want people to stop using totally specious arguments like “but you have to show ID to get into a rated R movie,” like watching a movie is in any way comparable to exercising one’s most fundamental constitutional right. I want us to tackle real problems–there are plenty from which to choose–instead of wringing our hands over mostly made-up statistics.

I want the man who is homeless and lacks a photo ID to be able to vote. Just like me.

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“I Am Kansas.” When the Advocacy Goal is just: Change the Conversation

I would be delighted to be wrong on this one, but I think we’re going to lose, quite a bit, in 2013.

On the immigrant rights front, from which I cannot extricate myself even if I try–I know the stories too well to be a dispassionate observer to the injustices on those front lines–it could be a very, very ugly year.

But that doesn’t mean that our only option is to bang our heads against the wall, or–heaven forbid–just to sit down and take it.

If we think about the entire framework of advocacy, and all of the different avenues that are available to us, then new arenas for change open up.

Maybe the Kansas Legislature won’t be a very fruitful venue for progressive change in 2013 (THAT was as nice a way of saying that as I can possibly muster!), but we can still think about engagement with the public, media advocacy, research and policy design, and community mobilization, among others, as paths we might take.

It may even be that, sometimes, direct policy change isn’t even the ‘end’ towards which our means are directed, at least not in the short-term.

It may be that what we need to do, and the ends towards which we are aimed, is to change the conversation, to begin to bring a fuller complement of ‘our’ issues into the dialogue, and to include a better representation of the voices that matter to us.

That’s essentially the thinking behind the “I Am Kansas” campaign, launched by an organization with which I’ve worked over the years, as part of a ‘welcoming’ initiative.

It’s about highlighting the contributions of immigrants, normalizing their experiences, and counteracting some of the negative and misleading information that is pumped into the debate, in order to artificially set the parameters of acceptable policy approaches.

This isn’t just ‘loosey-goosey’ touchy-feely stuff about helping people get to know each other better.

I tend not to get too into that.

It’s intentional, and it’s linked to a theory of change and a whole psychology of policymaking decisions, that holds that people are more inclined to be comfortable harming, through policy, those who they consider to be the ‘other’.

If immigrants are ‘us’, though, then our policy options are a bit more limited.

If we can change the conversation, and change the tone, then we change the context in which policies are enacted, and stopped.

And, then,

we can start winning again.

Means to an End

In a conversation with some nonprofit advocates a few weeks ago (where, yes, we were again talking about the framework!), one leader with a long history of working on civil rights and equity issues for people of color in Kansas questioned the utility of even showing up to provide testimony in the legislature or directly lobby members, given the unlikelihood of positive policy movement in the near future.

Again, this is an advocate with a track record of taking on racial inequality in a conservative state.

She’s no neophyte, and she doesn’t back down from a challenge.

Her question wasn’t, “what’s in it for me?” or even “what’s the use?”, but, instead, given the opportunity costs of engaging in any advocacy strategy, “is this the best use of my advocacy capacity?”

That conversation, and her honest accounting of when it’s better to walk away, led to my second sort of ‘aha!’ moment, in thinking about what our advocacy needs to look like in this context:

Sometimes, we can use legislative advocacy–or, really, any advocacy strategy–to generate outcomes elsewhere in the framework.

In other words, our policy analysis might, sometimes, primarily be a way to generate media attention. Our testimony might primarily be a way to energize our community mobilization work. Our efforts to develop elected official champions might be a vehicle through which to build public will, too, through the use of messages that will resonate with both audiences.

We don’t have to only ‘play’ in the area where we want results.

Stuff spills over. In good ways.

As long as we’re clear–to ourselves and to those who are walking alongside us–about what our aims are and what the strategy that links them to our activities is, we can use those ripples.

It’s like advocacy echoes, I think.

And, especially these days, I’ll take all the two-for-ones I can get.

Framework for a strong foundation

About a month ago, I posted about this framework for advocacy from the inimitable Tanya Beer with the Center for Evaluation Innovation.

I have used it several times since, to talk with organizations about how they conceptualize their advocacy–the targets towards which they are directed, the tactics they deploy, and the outcomes they can expect.

This week, then, I have three different (for me–hopefully they’ll translate for some of you!) epiphanies connected to this framework, one of which I owe directly to my good friend and awesome organizer Jake Lowen, of Kansas Grassroots.

When Jake and I were discussing this framework with some organizations, someone asked whether it is like a menu that organizations can choose from.

After listening and thinking (both things he does very well), Jake responded with a reference to (seriously) an obscure book about architectural theory, relating to the idea that, theoretically, the only factor that limits how tall a skyscraper can be is how wide you can build the base. He suggested, then, that we think about the different elements of this framework, or of our advocacy efforts, not as discrete items to be selected from a menu and cobbled together, but, instead, as bricks in a strong foundation. In this analogy, then, all of the ways in which we advance our issues–policy and research, community organizing, champion development–are essential, although we might emphasize one or another at different points.

And, extending this architectural reference to the current political environment, in Kansas and many parts of the country, our discussion raised the question that, since we essentially have a need for taller buildings today–the ‘shortcuts’ that were more possible in advocacy when the climate was more favorable and we had more champions on the inside to carry our messages–we need, then, an even stronger foundation.

Hence, more bricks.

That means, in applied advocacy language (since my knowledge of architectural theory is now, officially, exhausted), I think this means that we have to stretch ourselves into areas of the framework that might be less comfortable for us, in order to weather the storms that are undeniably part of the advocacy reality today. In some cases, we might be slowly approaching from one corner, in order to ease into policy change. In other cases, we might be surrounding our decision maker targets with information, public will, and pressure from influentials.

In essence, while we can’t ignore the poetic necessity to, sometimes, just speak truth to power and bang our heads against brick walls, there are often ways over and around the obstacles that we confront in one quadrant…

If we are nimble enough to build in another.

Where, and how, are you building advocacy strategies in this political reality that might differ from years past? How are these other efforts complementing your direct lobbying? How do they build you a stronger foundation?

Voting, and “our interests”

In class a few weeks ago, I acknowledged, in a discussion about the massive tax cuts enacted in Kansas this year, that my family’s own tax bill will be reduced–probably pretty considerably–under the new legislation. Combined, we make enough to be in an upper-income bracket, and what we pay each April will drop.

One of my students, then, asked, “So why don’t you support the tax change, if it’s going to mean more money for your family?”

I started to answer my student with a somewhat reflexive response about the importance of the infrastructure, and why I am ideologically committed to public education, and even what the erosion of public support for higher education would mean for a sizable piece of my employment.

But then I stopped.

And thought.

About economic ‘self-interest’. And social work values. And why I vote the way I do.

And, really, it’s about this:

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life” (Jane Addams).

I chose it as the header for this blog for a reason.

I don’t believe in a ‘last one in shut the door behind you mentality”.

I don’t think that providing a ‘good quality-of-life’ for my kids is just about making sure they have money in the bank. Or even food on the table.

It’s about what we stand for together, what we consider ‘ours’, and who we consider to be part of our ‘we’.

It’s about what we’re willing to give up, in order to help others get what they need.

Not because we want to be ‘nice’ or generous, not really.

But because I believe that’s where real security and comfort and health come from.

Even if it costs me.

Pendulums, and giving them a nudge

Kansas’ political situation today can practically be described as ‘apocalyptic’.

After the August 7, 2012 primaries (a date that will be burned in my brain forever, I think), the Kansas Senate, long a moderate chamber, is now overwhelmingly (their phrase, not mine) “ultra-conservative”. Several moderate Republicans were defeated in the House, too, but it’s the Senate that was completely dramatic, nearly revolutionary.

And the reverberations will be felt for a long time.

While there are those who describe the outcome of the election as a ‘mandate’ for conservatism, it was mainly the old story of very low turnout in a closed primary, such that a pretty small percentage of Kansans are responsible for the dramatic shift.

And advocates–in healthy care, child welfare, immigrant rights, housing, civil rights, women’s issues, just about everything–are scrambling to figure out what this means, how we cope, and what the fallout will be.

In a discussion with some nonprofit advocates a few weeks ago, the talk turned immediately to the (pretty euphemistically titled) “new landscape”. (The term makes me think of a post-zombie attack New York City or a desolate wasteland.)

One of my colleagues, who has a long career in and around public health and government service, as well as advocacy, referenced Schlesinger’s The Cycles of American History, which is now on my nightstand, although I haven’t made it through it yet.

But the reason for this post is that, while I don’t take issue with the fact that politics swing on a pendulum, and that we can expect that this particular swing to one extreme will temper back down…

I don’t think that we should content ourselves to wait.

I don’t want to just ride the pendulum to the ‘other side’. I want to put it in motion. And I want you to do it with me.

There are precipitating incidents, after all, that start the pendulum shift. And there’s no reason that we can’t be them. Or create them.

My oldest son is pretty fascinated by the Newton’s Cradles and loves to pull back one of the balls to start a chain reaction. That’s why I chose that image for this post. It reminds me of what we need.

There are many things that could provide that momentum, in this time and place.

  • Making vivid, for Kansans, the impact of the tax cuts passed in 2012
  • Starting a movement around our public schools, given people’s passions about their kids
  • Organizing public sector workers, a la Wisconsin
  • Making women’s rights a centerpiece, given the likely drastic implications for reproductive choice, in particular
  • Galvanizing caregivers around cuts to Medicaid and older adult services (particularly through the planned move to Medicaid managed care)

And probably others that I haven’t even thought of.

Yes, I believe that pendulums swing.

But I also know that they can be pushed.

And that’s what I’m counting on.