“We the People of the United States….”
-Preamble, US Constitution
“…[G]overnment of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
I’ve been seeing a lot of folks in my Facebook newsfeed bemoaning, “the government.”
“Government is wasteful,” the argument goes.
“It’s inefficient,” it continues.
“It is a monopoly with no incentive to be innovative,” the argument often concludes.
Some of you might be nodding your head in agreement with this argument and, I’ll admit, when I worked for the government I could always get a new pen from the supply room when I needed one.
But humor me as I provide a brief civics lesson. The United States is a republic. A republic is a form of government in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives.
To put it in other words, the government is YOU and the people you then elect to represent your interests. I would hope that when it comes time to make decisions about what the role of government should be (including things like what taxes should be collected, how tax revenue should be spent, and what kinds of tasks we expect government to perform), we could have faith that the people we’ve elected have the information they need to make the best decision possible.
Now, let me tell you what this post is not. It is not a defense of the government as it currently functions. There is too much money in politics, and corporate personhood has eroded the meaning and significance of the rights granted all persons by the U.S. and state Constitutions.
Let me now be clear about what this post is. It is a call to action! If the government is YOU and you sit around criticizing the government, you should start your criticism by mocking your reflection in the mirror. Because, if you want the government to better reflect your values and if you want elected leaders to better respond to your needs and wants, then you need to stop complaining on social media and start getting involved in selecting the people who will represent you and make those important decisions about the role of government.
And you’re in luck, because the process of selecting our elected leaders starts anew on February 25, 2020. The GOP and DFL will be hosting their precinct caucuses, and it is from there that all party-related decisions flow, including who will bear a party’s endorsement on the general election ballot. If you want a say in who that person will be, then attend your caucus and become a convention delegate. After all, there’s more to elections than who is or is not running for president.
Maybe you think the party you’re most closely aligned with is off-base on a particular issue. Then offer a Resolution on Caucus Night and try to recruit people to support it and/or offer it themselves. If your resolution or issue has a critical mass of support, it could become part of your party’s platform, which is basically a document that states what a party’s values are.
Maybe you begrudge the two-party system and thirst for additional options. Well then ask the people who knock on your door how their candidate feels about making it easier to have third-party candidates on the ballot, or what they would do to reverse the judicial precedents that weigh heavily in favor of promoting the two-party system. Ask what the candidate is going to do to get money out of politics to level the playing field so that average citizens can run for office, and not just those who are wealthy or have time to sit and make fundraising phone calls.
You can also ask the candidates themselves! Go to a candidate forum or attend a meet-and-greet and hear straight from the candidate’s mouth what their opinions are on the issues that matter to you.
But, above everything, vote in the general election. We are empowered through voting to choose who will represent us and decide what the role of government should be.
Because, in case you forgot, the government is YOU. You hold the supreme power of the state. Either be involved in exercising the power of government or hush.
I attended Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids, Minnesota for grades 6 – 8 (Go Vikings!). I had joined a high school sport in the fall of 7th grade, so by the spring of 8th grade I was more than ready to move on from that weird, wall-less school.
Did I mention Northdale had no walls? Well, the science rooms had “walls” and some of the classrooms had dividers that went all the way to ceiling, but most of the school was open, with classrooms having dividers that went half-way to the ceiling on only three sides of the room. The idea was that the learning would flow from room to room, and kids in English would be influenced by the discussions happening next-door in Algebra. The reality was that it was highly distracting to a student population at an age to be restless anyway.
The lack of walls in my school had always been just an oddity; a slightly annoying factoid, but not really anything to think twice about. That is, until April 20, 1999. Because on that day, 2 kids opened fire on their classmates and teachers in Littleton, Colorado, killing 12 people and injuring 21 more. Stories came out about how people hid under tables, behind doors, inside classrooms…..
But where do you hide in a classroom with no walls? Because on that day, the no-walls situation at my school became more than an oddity. It became a threat.
No child should have to explore their own mortality. No child should have to consider how to react when death comes to stalk them. It’s time we stopped wringing our hands because the problem is so big and the solutions are complex. Sometimes things worth doing aren’t easy, but we shouldn’t let the difficulty of the task prevent us from taking that first step.
I typed, “First School Shooting US” into my search bar. The search engine pulled up a popular website, which provided a handy list of all the shootings that have occurred in the United States on or around school property.
- March 30, 1891. Liberty, Mississippi. 14 people are injured, some seriously, at a school exhibition when a gunman fires into the crowd.
- November 12, 1966. Mesa, Arizona. 5 people, including a 3-year-old child, are killed when a gunman enters a beauty school and shoots everyone present in the head. 2 people survive being shot.
- September 26, 1988. Greenwood, South Carolina. A 19-year-old wounds 8 and kills 2 in an elementary school. One of the injured persons was the school’s gym teacher, who confronted the gunman in the girls’ bathroom.
- April 20, 1999. Littleton, Colorado. 2 high school seniors kill 12 of their classmates and a teacher and wound 21 others, with an additional three suffering wounds as they tried to leave the school. The gunmen kill themselves at the end of their spree.
- March 21, 2005. Red Lake, Minnesota. A 16-year-old kills two people at home, then goes back to school to open fire, ultimately killing seven and wounding seven more before killing himself.
- December 14, 2012. Newtown, Connecticut. A 20-year-old kills his mother at home, and then drives to the local elementary school and kills 32 people and injures two more before killing himself.
- February 14, 2018. Parkland, Florida. A former student enters the high school, killing 17 and injuring 14 more.
I had half-expected the search engine to spit back, “Columbine,” since that was the first school shooting of my memory. It was there on the list, but I was surprised to learn that people have been shooting folks on school grounds since not long after this country was founded.
That got me thinking: Isn’t it time we stopped letting our children and those who dedicate their lives to our children’s education live in fear that their school could be the next to get added to the list?
Some people think it’s a gun issue; others will insist it’s a mental health issue; yet others will blame something else. That’s fine. This is not a zero-sum game. We can address multiple issues! Sometimes complex problems require a multi-pronged response – a little of this, a little of that, add a pinch of that other thing and voila! You have a sensible solution to a societal woe.
But whatever we do, we must do something. If the elected officials serving in office right now continue to lack the political will to try to solve this problem, we must express our discontent in the ballot box and elect new people to office. We could enact new requirements around background checks, prohibit those who commit domestic assault from purchasing firearms, and dust off the ol’ assault weapons ban in addition to providing full funding for public mental health programs and increasing patient access to mental health services by incentivizing medical professionals to enter the mental health field. If that doesn’t work to address the issue of school shootings, we can go back to the drawing board and try something else. No matter what we do, we’re bound to help people, and we may just stumble upon the formula that puts this horrifying era of school shootings behind us.
But no matter what, we cannot lose sight of the fact that children are being killed. It’s too important an issue to shrug our shoulders helplessly and do nothing. Let’s start by electing people who agree.
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It is disgusting when a group is singled out for being different. This is true whether we’re talking about women, LBGTQIA+ folks or people who practice a religion with which we are unfamiliar.
The recent attacks on Muslims by the 4th Congressional District GOP and, more recently, Jeff Johnson, are an example of disgusting behavior. Islam is the second largest and fastest growing religion in the world, with 1.8 billion followers. It is the third largest religion in the United States; there are an estimated 2.15 million Muslim adults in this country. Approximately 58% of America’s Muslims are immigrants, here because they chose to embrace an American Dream of their own.
We at the DFL, especially in DFL Senate District 41 with it’s many vibrant Islamic centers, welcome all people who are otherwise eligible to participate in the DFL Precinct Caucuses regardless of who, how or whether they worship. This includes our Muslim friends. The DFL is a welcoming place for all peoples, and we want our Muslim neighbors to know that they are welcome at DFL Precinct Caucuses or any other event that we host. The GOP may be willing to alienate this critically important portion of our population, but we welcome them with open arms.
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In 2008, I was a purple-haired law student in her second semester at what was then Hamline University School of Law. I was of course familiar with the DFL because my dad had always been a strong DFLer. I was also politically inclined, having registered voters on my college campus and served as an election judge. But I had not yet done anything for or on behalf of the DFL.
One Tuesday night in February, my dad told me that I should come with him to precinct caucuses, assuring me that it would be fun. Skeptical, I bundled myself up against the frigid February night and together we made our way to Fridley High School.
When the time came for caucuses to convene, a deluge of folks descended on the High School. No one could have planned for the sheer volume of humanity that had arrived to cast a preference ballot in that year’s presidential race. There was also an open US Senate seat, which was itself quite a big draw. And let’s be honest, there are never enough volunteers. Seeing that there was a need for someone to direct traffic, I jumped into the midst of the throng and started pointing people to the right classrooms.
“What precinct are you?”
“You’re in room 107!”
“What precinct are *you*?”
“You’re in the band room!”
These types of conversations played out over and over and over as people swarmed around me trying to find the right place to be. At one point, a woman I had directed advised a fellow attendee to, “Ask the girl with purple hair!” In the middle of that bustle, where I had found both place and purpose, I decided that I was hooked.
I landed in my own precinct just in time for resolutions. On a whim, I introduced a resolution of my own. I cannot remember the exact wording, but it was something like, “Therefore, be it resolved that the DFL supports legalizing marijuana.” My poor father was the caucus chair, and I’m sure he was embarrassed by his radical, hippie daughter who was almost certainly wearing tie-dye, but our neighbors dutifully debated the resolution and ultimately passed it on. Success!
I decided to become a delegate to the Senate District convention. The rules! The decorum! It was all so much. I had been to organized meetings so I had a passing familiarity with Robert’s Rules of Order, but conventions take “process” to a whole new level. It was overwhelming, but rather than give up, I embraced it and decided that I would learn everything there was to know about the process so that at our next convention, I was ready.
The time came to walking subcaucus in order to elect delegates to the state convention. There were a good 200 people crammed into the Columbia Heights High School cafeteria. Many were vying to be elected as one of the 15 or so delegates our Congressional District had been allotted, others were just there to help their preferred candidate/s earn more delegates. I chose a subcaucus to join and before long I was standing on a cafeteria table, calling to fellow attendees in an attempt to swoop up stragglers and, on the second round, the members of any subcaucus that hadn’t been viable.
When the proverbial dust settled, my subcaucus managed to have earned two delegates and I was elected to be one of them.
The State Convention was in Rochester that year, as it is this year. I met fellow young people who, like me, were interested in the inner workings of the political process. It was amazing! The energy of the delegates in the convention hall was electric! Ballot after ballot was cast in the US Senate race, and eventually the endorsement went to my candidate. Hooray!
By then I had been going to the monthly meetings and had joined the committee planning the picnic to be held that August. Within a couple of years, I was elected to serve as the senate district secretary. In 2012, which was my fourth year with the DFL, I was elected to serve as Senate District chair, a role I held for four years. I now serve as your Senate District Outreach Officer, and if you live in New Brighton (or any other part of Congressional District 4) I serve you on the State DFL Constitution, Bylaws and Rules Committee. I am also an alternate to the State Central Committee, which is the governing body of the DFL between conventions.
Even though my hair is now the brown color I was born with, I will never forget that for me, it all started with precinct caucuses. I became a DFLer by trudging through the snow on a cold, Tuesday night in February when I should probably really have been home doing my homework. But whatever class I was underprepared for that following Wednesday is long forgotten. However, 10 years later, I’m still hooked on the DFL.
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