Living in Society

Clean Up Day and the Midterms

New Kale Plot

There is a better way to change our politics and it has nothing to do with wave elections.

“The 87th General Assembly of Iowa will be remembered as one that made life more difficult for many Iowans, made their work worth less, and guaranteed their freedoms only if they agreed with those in power,” Rep. Chris Hall (D-Sioux City) posted on social media.

A number of legislators took to social media after adjournment sine die yesterday afternoon. My favorite was from State Senator Joe Bolkcom.

“The nightmare of the 2018 legislative session has adjourned!” he posted. “Time for an election!”

Democrats should set aside the idea of a blue wave breaking against the State of Iowa to remedy what ails us about our politics. In a time of atmospheric global warming a blue wave may well be hard to differentiate from the warmer atmosphere driving increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes, typhoons and other extreme weather events responsible for damaging our only home. A real tsunami damages communities and so it has been with the Republican wave election of 2016. A Democratic wave election would present the same sorts of issues.

Electoral politics is less about Republicans and Democrats than it is about building a coalition of voters representing 50 percent plus one of the electorate. According to the Iowa Secretary of State, current active voter registrations are 1,960,006. Democratic registrations are 590,035 (30 percent), Republican registrations 638,565 (33 percent), and everyone else 731,406 (37 percent). No one political party has a majority.

The better question than how to activate Democrats to win the 2018 midterm elections in a blue wave is how do we take our politics to a place where communities can work toward solutions to common problems? If Democrats (or Republicans for that matter) can do that, we will bring people together and win the midterms, setting the stage for a long period of governance. It seems clear  from the last general assembly Republicans have no interest in that. It’s up to the rest of us.

Community organizing is the better way. While the Iowa Senate and House debated the tax bill I did things with neighbors where politics didn’t come into view. We trimmed trees, planted shrubbery and repaired a retaining wall in our common areas. Others took trash bags and walked community roads inspecting the roadway and policing up trash. (Roads are going to require work this year). While attendance was light the action of doing something together was appealing and accomplished something positive. Because I’m active in politics, I knew the voter registrations of everyone there, Republicans and Democrats.  It brought us together as a community.

In every community organization with which I have been associated, people of all political strips have been involved. Whether it is recruiting someone into the organization, maintaining a budget, working on a campaign or project, political party affiliation has not been as important as the willingness to lend a hand. We need more of that in our politics.

If Democratic values will prevail during the midterm elections registered Democratic voters can’t do it alone. It is a faulty assumption to make that because we believe we are right, others will go along with us. We require a foundational relationship with others in the electorate to advance our common goals, no different from the group of retirees mending the wall in our commons, or gardeners donating produce to the local food bank.

Why don’t we do more of that? Democrats particularly, and Republicans increasingly, are driven by the intensity and excitement of political campaigns. We want to win. It’s a zero sum gain and I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of losers in a society we all share.

A community has shared problems requiring work and our politics in recent years moved to break down our willingness to work on them together. It used to be as easy as falling off a log. Today no one’s there to catch us and we’ve been the worse for it.

Let’s forget about the blue wave and work toward community with neighbors to repair what ails us as a society. Republican elected officials have abdicated that role. It’s up to the rest of us to step up.