The End of the Easy Part

In light of right-wing trolls piling-on one of my recent posts, it seems appropriate to share this, a version of which I presented in a Live video the day before the Primary: I’d been planning to come on here this morning and talk about hope. About how our beautiful act of civic participation each Election Day demonstrates the steady, unbroken faith we hold in America. That each voice matters, that we all get a say in how we govern ourselves, that the people are the power that drives our nation,

I think we all know that’s what we want. Or that we all at least say we want. But we also have to acknowledge that many voices are not afforded the same space. Many votes are, in fact, discounted, gerrymandered away, suppressed through polling station closures and ID schemes and disenfranchisement that arrives with a false label of “reform” or “security.” Or, y’know, when someone decides to start railing with unsubstantiated lies about mail-in ballot fraud because he’s afraid the nation has awakened to recognize despotic ugliness in plain sight.

Bullies. I’m talking about political bullies that fear and threaten our democratic ideals.

But the value of elections as a mutual voice is still true. I believe that, and I believe in that. I still believe in us.

But, well, things have exploded in the last several weeks. We headed into this year’s delayed Primary at a moment of converging urgencies. Even as we struggle with the next steps in an ongoing pandemic, we struggle also with ongoing racial violence, and the literal burning of our cities. We see rage, and we see opportunistic rioters co-opting that rage to instigate violence and widen our divides, and we see state violence deployed indiscriminately against peaceful protestors and journalists. We see politicians denying that racism exists, and a president threatening the citizens of the country he ostensibly leads, and all sorts of people saying, yeah but … then offering some b.s. reason that victims are responsible for their own abuse. All of this is a way to silence righteous protest and discount the demand for changes that have long been promised and never delivered.

The day before the Primary, I participated in a community organized march for Black Lives Matter in Meadville. First of all, I want to commend the remarkable swiftness and skill of the young woman who put the event together. She rallied a sizeable crowd, and she helped the march maintain focus on its aim of peaceful protest throughout. Afterward, there was even a wonderful moment where a few remaining folks had a warm, serious discussion with the Meadville police chief and his assistant chief, who themselves offered respect and understanding. They all stood together in a moment of silence.

This is the story we need to be telling, and it’s a story we need to be able to tell without cynicism. This is civic action steeped in hope and good faith. Yet this is the story the bullies keep trying to hide. Mutual understanding and respect wreck the bullies’ goals, so they try to drown it out. They try to make us think peace isn’t possible.

We vote to resist the ugly world the bullies desire.

The bullies drive by peaceful marches, coal rolling in two diesel pickups, the black exhaust and roaring engines intending to drown out the collective voice of hope and justice. That happened during the Meadville march.

The bullies show up at the Diamond and shout willful ignorance during the march’s two minutes of silence, which were intended to honor the gasping end of George Floyd’s life. They are later quoted in the newspaper about having people on speed-dial for when the protest turns into a riot, because that’s all they see when people stand up for justice. All they see is violence when the hurt speak about their pain. Of course, there was no riot. The march came to resist violence, not offer it.

The bullies show up online these days, a lot, and they troll discussions about public health. Mock people for wearing masks. Call the virus “just a flu.”

The bullies vote again and again in state legislature for meaningless, doomed-to-fail resolutions they pretend are about liberty but, instead, are about undermining the Governor acting to keep the Commonwealth safe. They ignore the opportunity to legislate for ways that actually would have helped people stay safe, stay home, stay fed. Because bullies only know harm.

The bullies hurl insults and hurtful memes.

The bullies threaten violence.

The bullies send your friendly neighborhood PA House Rep candidate hateful, ignorant emails.

But we must tell the story of our marches, where people come together, when police officers can engage with protesters peacefully and respectfully, where there are only actually two bullies at the Diamond, and only one spoke. We have to recognize this: there were two hundred people lying on the grass in the memory of George Floyd. There were many more cars who honked their horns in solidarity than there were yahoos smoking the air. The bullies, as always, are vastly outnumbered.

But the yahoos are loud. They are always so loud. They wait for the moments of silence, then break it with their shouts or their revs, or with the online threats of violence that preceded the march. Or by always changing the subject to their own, narrow, often imbecilic interests: yeah but what about… Or by ignoring the reality in front of their noses and, instead, leaning into their own distorted fever dreams of government conspiracy.

This is how the bullies win. Or how they stay in positions of power. By convincing us through their loudness and bluster that they’re bigger than us, that they outnumber us, that it’s useless to try. That they’ll beat us up. That we’re the stupid ones. It is every junior high locker room, everywhere.

When we vote, we’re taking one of the many steps we can to demonstrate that it just isn’t true. That’s the power of the ballot box. That we do have the chance to speak in force.

But. Another but.

Around here, the bullying shouts affect the ballot box. You can’t imagine how often people tell me, a Democrat can’t win in Crawford County.

And partly because of that belief, Democrats don’t show up. Or, in general elections, the many reasonable Republicans we call neighbors find it hard to pull the lever for a D, because the shouters have convinced them through bullying lies that party matters over people, or that two issues irrelevant to state legislation should control all of their voting. Maybe those reasonable Republicans leave the line blank. Or maybe they hold their nose and vote for someone they know is a weak, ineffective, damaging-through-uselessness politician because the shouts make it hard to hear across the partisan divide. Or because they fear the bullies will turn on them, too.

This is what they want…the shouters. They want to bully and intimidate the reasonable and just. They do it with violence. Lies. Anti-science. Conspiracy theories. Racism veiled thinly, or not veiled at all. With online jeers and rudeness.

So we voted on June 2 in a primary that is by design partisan. If you were one of the more than 5,000 people who voted for me in a primary, well, thank you! But, not to take you for granted, this was the easy part…convincing fellow Democrats to vote for the only Democrat on the ballot.

So. We are now at the end of the easy part. The Primary is done, and we face five months of campaigning for the November election. The shouts will get louder. The bullies will try even harder to convince everyone that you can’t elect a Democrat in Crawford County.

I’m gonna need your help. I need you in my corner, on the ballots but also out there in the world. I need you to talk to your reasonable Republican friends, and independent friends, and third party friends. We need to help our neighbors hear that “us” includes them too. And to keep spreading the enthusiasm with your Democratic friends. Those coal-rolling yahoos are gonna be out there, though, drowning us out, making it seem like we’re the few, and that we should be ignored. They’ll gun those engines, and interrupt our reasonable discussions with shoutdowns and aggression. I mean this figuratively and, unfortunately, literally. My posts are going to be trolled again, probably harder. The bullies will try to shout us down.

Let’s rise to that challenge. Let’s take the Primary as our first act of restoring the grace and hope that Pennsylvania and America deserves. Let’s refuse to be quiet about what we need, what we all need, about who we are and what that can mean for our region. The bullies have been winning too much lately. It’s our turn. It’s our time. When we raise our voices, when we march together, when we demand that our politics reflect equity and social responsibility and the greater good and deep neighborliness, then we can have the Commonwealth we deserve. Join me in this quest. Step one is over. Now, we must meet the harder work to come.

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