Dear DNC

I am in receipt of your letter (undated) and the “Urgent Annual Renewal Statement.” I thought this would be a good opportunity to communicate with you about my concerns with the party.

The only chance in hell of uniting progressives is for the leadership of the DNC to start immediately with an outreach to enfranchise new voices. That means real grassroots outreach. Do you actually know how to do this? Because if you don’t, you need to hire some new people.

Grassroots outreach means not deciding what you’re going to do until you listen to what people are saying. How do you do that? The national party depends on local and state affiliates to do their own thing, and many are doing a great job. But appropriate leadership from the DNC means ensuring that all state and local affiliates are building strong grassroots participation. You don’t do that by sending out donation form letters with a token mention of what the party stands for.

You missed an opportunity with this mail-out soliciting my donation. Why wasn’t there a questionnaire seeking input on issues ranging from how to improve the DNC to how to address the problems of domestic terrorism? Such a questionnaire should be formulated by the best strategists money can buy, people with experience in building grassroots campaigns and in dissecting big problems into identifiable components. Why aren’t you thinking about things like that? Involve the people in constructive dialogue about the future of the party and money will follow.

Create a national forum on social media. Once you’ve organized a method of outreach, the responses in turn will inform leaders and help frame the party’s platform. With a coherent plan of questions/topics, the national party then provides those questions to state parties who present these questions on their Facebook pages, soliciting feedback and engaging with persons who post comments.

Maybe you think you already know the answers, and that’s a big problem. You’re missing the point. It is the process that matters, developing a dialogue, listening, negotiating, arbitrating. Building consensus among those who desperately want to move the nation forward and don’t know what to do next. You have to tap that energy, help funnel it toward constructive action.

Right now liberals are arguing among themselves, pro Bernie, anti Bernie, pro Jill Stein, revolution, stay the course. It’s sickening.

Plan for two questions/discussions per month, no less. On alternate weeks, present a new face with background info on the person. Once a month, the new face is a potential presidential candidate. For the other once-a-month person, state parties plug in a potential candidate for state office. Include links to each potential candidate’s Facebook page.

State Democratic Party Facebook pages should include postings from any local chapters in that state even if such material is being posted on individual local committee FB pages. Minutes of meetings would be useful posts, local and state. Nationally, the DNC should also post on state FB pages any news from their various committees. Let the state parties be the active link that voters come to rely on for news about local, state, and national Democratic Party plans, ideas, and activities.

This is a starting place.

Surely I don’t need to list all the topics in need of discussion, but here are a few to get you started.

How do we develop clear recommendations about how to make the Affordable Care Act more viable? We need to present that in opposition to the Republican efforts to repeal and replace.

We need to solicit effective statements on why climate change threatens our future – specifics for each locality and when those changes can be expected.

We need to develop clear data on domestic terrorism and how it is tied to white supremacy and racism and outline how this parallels the rise of groups like ISIS. We need to develop creative ways to dismantle extremism in all its forms, understand the role of poor health and lack of education and other factors that contribute to a person’s sense of threat that underlies prejudice.

We need to have a thorough vetting of the school voucher idea and lay out the ways such programs violate the First Amendment as well as how they undermine public schools. Address the problems with public schools that cause parents to want vouchers – how do we make schools better?

These are but a few of the many pressing issues facing us. Elected officials current and future need to hear from the grassroots, not only concerns and ideas for solutions, but also the roar of their support as Election Day nears. This is the ultimate task of the national party, to develop effective ways to hear from the people. Everything else follows from that.

You may say that social media is easily infiltrated by trolls who would disrupt and spread false information. Well, that’s already going on. As long as we have public appearances by Hillary Clinton and Tom Perez rehashing old news, we’re going nowhere. Enough already!

Here are some potential presidential candidates for the next election. Warning up front: no women appear on this list. Let me point out that I am a woman, have been active in NOW, and believe women are in many ways the future of politics in this nation. But my objective is to elect a Democratic president in 2020. A female this time around is like shooting yourself in the foot and then a week later shooting the other foot.

Among the men I’m listing are very few minorities. Please refer to the last sentence of the previous paragraph.

Current governors:

Jay Inslee, Washington State. Governor since 2013, 20 years in the U.S. Congress, state legislature before that. Born 1951.

Roy Cooper, North Carolina governor since January this year. Attorney general from 2001-2017, previously state senate. Born 1957. **Extra points for beating an incumbent Republican.

Steve Bullock, governor Montana since 2013. Attorney general 2009-2013. Born 1966.

John Hickenlooper, governor Colorado since 2011, mayor of Denver CO 2003-2011. Born 1952.

Currently in U. S. Senate:

Michael Bennett, Colorado. Born 1964. Long track record in government office.

Chris Murphy, Connecticut. Born 1973. Long track record in state government.

Cory Booker, New Jersey. Born 1969. Previously Newark mayor, active outreach ongoing.

Sherrod Brown, Ohio. Born 1952. Long career in elected positions.

Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island. Born 1955. US Attorney 1993-1998; attorney general 1999-2003

Bob Casey, Pennsylvania. Born 1960. Government office since 1996. ***Extra points for defeating a Republican.

Mark Warner, Virginia. Born 1954. Lots of elected positions

House of Representatives:

Tim Ryan, Ohio

Jim Crowley, New York

Eric Swalwell, California

Ruben Gallego, Arizona

Joe Kennedy III, Massachusetts

Seth Moulton, Massachusetts

State Offices:

Pete Buttigeig, Mayor South Bend, Indiana

Joaquin Castro, Texas

Julian Castro, Texas (twins)

Jason Kander, Missouri

Of all these, I’ve seen only a few mentioned in media or Facebook posts. This is the point in time when voters need to consider possible candidates and rule them in or out. These decisions need to come from the bottom up.

Speaking for my home state, our Democratic Party Facebook page has seen about twenty posts since Trump took office. I’ve not seen any potential 2018 candidates put forth. Our local party is active, and in our region we’ve seen one potential Congressional candidate throw his hat in the ring. This is completely unacceptable. MORE!

As far as Bernie supporters go, the bitching needs to stop about what happened last year. That’s a good example of living in the past. It’s over. Now what? Let’s realize that plans to forge ahead as a Bernie/Independent Party has about as much chance to get a president elected as the success enjoyed by the American Independent Party candidate George Wallace, Reform Party candidate Ross Perot, or last year’s Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

The DNC must make a bigger demonstration of how it is incorporating Bernie ideas and people into the party. Bernie has a responsibility to bring his supporters to engagement with the Democratic Party. Where are his innovative ideas about how to do that? What ideas do his supporters have that could move the Democratic Party closer to positions they could embrace? It can’t just be about big banks and warmongering and money from billionaires and all those other old worn-out leftist rants. What are concrete, realistic steps that party needs to make to get Bernie supporters on board?

My hopes for the future remain invested in the Democratic Party. It hurts me to see how much we’ve lost over the last several election cycles. It’s the DNC’s job to figure out why and develop solutions to reverse this trend. You won’t figure that out with consultants or policy wonks. The PEOPLE have the answers. Ask us.

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The Homeschool Plague

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Last week the Arkansas Department of Education announced a public comment period on the implementation of new rules regarding home schooled students. The comment period ends June 29. If you haven’t commented already, don’t worry. Your comment won’t make much difference. These rules are mere housekeeping details in the wake of legislation enacted over the last few years which remove any accountability in home schooling.

Previously the state paid for standardized testing to assess student progress at specified points along the educational path, including home schooled students. But the teeth were removed from that effort when the state failed to institute any meaningful follow-up if the student performed badly on those tests. Now even the testing will cease to exist.

Touted as a money saving measure, the legislation actually satisfies a long-sought goal of the religious right. That is, nobody is going to tell my kid we’re descended from monkeys. And so forth.

As recently attested in a Texas court case, “…A lower court ruling allowed for Texas homeschoolers to legally teach their children absolutely zilch if they believe their family is waiting to be raptured.” Texas counts over 300,000 homeschooled students. There, in a nutshell, is the problem with Texas.[1]

An Arkansas family wishing to home school is able to choose their own curricula, accredited or not, pursue the education at whatever pace they wish, and accept whatever outcome suits their personal whim. The Arkansas law still stands that a child between the ages of five and seventeen must be educated, but for homeschooling devotees, this is sidestepped very easily.  Parents must sign a form stating they will homeschool. Period.

Currently in Arkansas, over 18,000 students are homeschooled. Undoubtedly not all 18,000 homeschooled students are failed utterly by the state’s willful abandonment of oversight. Some parents have reasons other than fundamentalist religion to homeschool—a child’s disabilities, perhaps, or the conviction that non-traditional education better serves their parental goals. Many parents may work hard to ensure their homeschooled child gains skills needed to enter college and/or otherwise pursue a successful life. Many homeschooling parents choose standardized tests to measure their children’s progress.

Unfortunately for the future, recent surveys show that the “most important reason” parents give to homeschool is “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction (36%). Typically the religious belief being represented is evangelical Christian.”  In these homeschool situations, modern scientific knowledge—geologic age of the planet, for example—is disregarded. Math and critical thinking are not highly prized. The objective is that the child obtain minimal literacy so he or she can read the Bible.

Or, put another way, the Koran.

Arkansas students in public schools are regularly tested so that if they are failing to learn, their school can provide remediation. No such option exists for homeschooled students. If they are failing to learn, the state doesn’t know or care.

The problem is bigger than homeschooled students. Non-accredited private and parochial schools also escape state oversight. If a school is not receiving tax dollars, it does not have to meet state standards. Whatever they teach and whatever the students may know or not know at the point of ‘graduation’ is beyond the state’s purview.

All this irrational fear of compulsory state education feeds the rising plague of intentional ignorance. It undergirds the success of extremist conservative politics. These folks don’t believe in global warming because they have no comprehension of science. To them, state standards are part of a humanist conspiracy to stamp out religion.

If only.

As far back as Ancient Greece, leaders advocated for compulsory education that started kids learning at age six. By the 16th century, European church leaders enforced compulsory education to ensure that people could read the Scriptures. Colonial governments in early American settlements required education as well, a practice that spread with the growth of the nation. These were largely private, tuition supported efforts. As more immigrants arrived through the 19th century, support grew for tax-supported schools that could provide education for rich and poor alike. The last state to pass compulsory education laws was Mississippi (1919), a circumstance perhaps reflected even today in that state’s continuing struggle to move out of last place in just about everything.

Compulsory education was good while it lasted.

The first challenge arose in 1925 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while the state had the right to enforce certain standards, it could not eliminate the right of parents to place their children in parochial or private schools. Generally, however, it was upheld through this and other legal actions that while states may grant exemptions for home schooling, that schooling must meet the standards required of public and state-accredited private schools.

This is no longer the case in Arkansas, one of fifteen states which require only notification of intent to preschool. As long as a parent signs that one form, they are free to home school in any way they desire. There is no follow-up, no checkpoint, no tests. Nobody looks in to see if the parents are teaching anything. There is no safety net.

While one might assume that parents want the best for their children and that any well-intentioned parent understands that education holds the key to a child’s successful future, one might be wrong. Some parents do not care and may select the homeschool route simply to avoid waking up early and getting the kid ready for school. Some parents may embark on homeschooling for vague reasons and fail utterly in selecting and teaching adequate curricula.

Worst of all are parents who intentionally subvert their child’s education in order to satisfy reactionary belief systems based on religious faith. Such parents are deluded with the idea that God is coming soon, or God tells them whatever they need to know, or that the holy scriptures are all the education anyone needs. (Feel free to substitute ‘Allah’ for ‘God’ in the preceding sentence.) The results are staggering: young adults unable to function even in minimum wage jobs, unable to reason through simple logical processes, and incapable of thinking past whatever dogma is imposed on them.

Which is—sadly—the objective.

That the State of Arkansas has disgraced itself by falling to such a low non-standard in its education of young people correlates exactly with the rise of extremist Republican government. It does not bode well for the state’s future. The greater the number of intentionally ignorant citizens, the higher the likelihood of more extremists being elected to public office. It’s difficult to imagine how far the state might fall.

But wait! We may not fall that far. We’re already damn near the bottom.

Surely there is legal remedy for this descent into religious lunacy. I propose that would-be voters be required to have obtained a GED or high school diploma. Literacy tests were ruled unconstitutional when used in southern states as a racial barrier, but if the standard were applied equally to all races, that objection would fail.

Democracy depends on reasoned political discourse and informed voters. It’s in the national interest that elections be conducted fairly. Neither bribes nor brainwashing nor willful ignorance should be allowed to subvert the democratic process.

We all suffer when young people aren’t taught to read, think, and process information in ways that are necessary in most types of employment. We suffer when people don’t understand and respect differences of race, ethnicity, or gender. We suffer when extremist religion dominates all other aspects of life.

We can see what the rule of extremist religion accomplishes for a nation by looking at the Middle East and even at the acts of extremists here at home. Fear is the first reaction in someone confronted with something he or she doesn’t understand. The next reaction after fear is hate. After hate comes violence.

With violence comes the downfall of civilization.

~~~

[1] Texas is one of nine states where parents are required to give no notice to the state as to their intention to homeschool. Arkansas is one of fifteen states where parents must only give notice of their intent. For a map showing all states and homeschool requirements, visit here.

Photo credit: Credit: ID 6706052 © Ron Sumners | Dreamstime.com