Important, But Exhausting

Public discourse is important, but also exhausting. There are limits to my patience. I think I can take about another hour of responding to the same basic comment repeated over and over by people who clearly didn’t read my responses to the previous ones.

If any locals want to take over for me re: conversations about defunding the police (and what we mean by that for Oak Park), when I go into meetings at noon, head over to the Oak Park Development Watch group.

ADMIN POST RE: LOCAL ELECTIONS

Locals, I posted this just now in the Oak Park Area Neighbors group, which I run, possibly of general interest, esp. the info re: candidate forums and guides.

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ADMIN POST RE: LOCAL ELECTIONS

Hey, folks, group owner and admin here. So, a recent post was reported as spam. I don’t think it was spam, exactly, but I do think it was closer to a campaign ad than a general community post, especially because it was repeated across multiple groups; it probably wasn’t really appropriate for this board.

I didn’t want to just delete it, because it serves as a useful example of what to do and what not to do as a candidate for local elections. Candidates, if you’re going to talk about your campaign in this group, it would be better if you tailored your post to the specific interests of the group; that would also help to make such posts less like an ad.

This group was created for neighbors to help each other, especially in terms of resource-sharing, support and advice, and general positive neighborliness. If you wrote a post for us talking about those elements (which I do think are all aspects you should be thinking about, as candidates for local elections), that would feel more appropriate to me.

I’d be very hesitant to ban general discussion of local elections from a community board, especially during a pandemic, when it’s much harder to just get together with your neighbors and talk to them about candidates as we normally would. Who we elect and how they govern overlaps hugely with the purpose of this board, in terms of being good neighbors.

That said, I may be a bit biased here; I currently serve on the library board, and I’m running for the D200 (high school) board. It’s a little tricky, managing these kinds of things locally — the truth is that people running for local boards (most of which are completely volunteer positions) are ALSO the kind of people likely to end up volunteering to admin or moderate large message boards. So you get messy overlap.

I think I have to leave this to my co-admins (Lynette Hish, Carollina Song, and Lailani Natividad Workman) to decide on, going forward; I’m going to recuse myself from making any moderator-type decisions on whether such posts are appropriate until April, since I’m a candidate myself.

I’m going to ask my co-admins to handle all local politics-related posts (including my own) for the next few months.

A non-partisan Voters’ Guide will be coming out soon (one of our co-admins, Carollina Song, is working on that), and the League of Women Voters will start hosting their big forums soon — I’d point you to those two resources for a good guide to the upcoming local elections.

The League forums will be hosted on Zoom, and you’ll be able to register to attend live and ask questions, and will also be available to view after the event: http://www.lwvoprf.org/candidate-forums-2.html

The Chicago Tribune has listed most of the candidates for local elections — for some reason, they missed Township (an important office which handles community services, such as elder and disability services).

https://www.chicagotribune.com/…/ct-oak-park-2021…

Thank you all for your patience with this. As a general reminder — political discussions can get heated. The internet magnifies that effect, making the people you’re arguing with seem a little less real — as a result, people say things from behind a computer screen that they’d never say in person, if they were in someone’s living room, or meeting at the farmer’s market. Please keep that in mind. The moderators of this group will not tolerate abusive language or personal attacks, so please keep discussion to the issues.

We want to foster an environment here where even if we disagree (and we surely will sometimes), we can talk about it in productive, and dare I say, *neighborly*, ways.

Thanks.

No Conclusions Tonight

Maybe it’s the glass of wine I just drank — I’m not sure all this makes sense. I’m thinking about King Arthur having the babies killed because of the prophecy about Mordred, in order to preserve his vision of what Camelot could be, and Jed Bartlett lying about his MS because he was afraid the voters wouldn’t elect him if they knew, and he hoped to do so much good.

That’s the temptation, isn’t it, for someone who runs for office out of a need to do good, that it can become easy to justify all kinds of compromises if that’s your end goal.

And on the one hand, it’s not reasonable to expect our leaders to be perfect people. It just isn’t. If that’s the standard, no one would ever deserve to be elected.

And on the other hand, there has to be a line, I think. Where the line should be drawn — that’s the hard part. Sometimes it’s clear to me; sometimes, not so much.

No conclusions tonight.

A Great Loss

I was saddened and angered to see that Anthony Clark has been removed from the ballot for Oak Park Village Trustee. The residency challenge brought against his candidacy may have technically been within the letter of the law, but was very far from the spirit of it; both the challenge and the ruling knocking him off the ballot, in my opinion, fundamentally violate the actual goals of what election residency law was designed to support.

Clark is a resident; he has been an integral part of this community. He lives, works, and is incredibly active in community service here. In 2017, he was named a Villager of the Year. Clark would have been a powerful and needed voice on the Village Board.

There are a lot of inside politics at play here, which I honestly don’t have the energy to explain to out-of-towners — locals, there are several current threads on Oak Park Residents and other community forums that can catch you up on the specifics.

But I want to say this. A few days ago, I attended a Village trustee candidate forum with three Black candidates: Anthony Clark, Chibuike Enyia, and Juanta Bennett Griffin. They spoke about their vision for Oak Park and about why they wanted to run for Village trustee.

Listening to them, I realized once again that I was glad I had decided not to run for Village trustee. I realized that it was more important that their voices – their Black voices – be heard at the board level. They said many things in that meeting that spoke to me, that moved me, but there’s one aspect in particular that I want to bring out, something that wasn’t clear to me before, though it should have been.

All of them talked, often with great passion and emotion, about Oak Park as a dream of safety. Which startled me. Safety wasn’t actually what my family was dreaming of when we moved here; we had been safe living in the city, we had been safe living all over the country previously.

I’m brown (South Asian) and my husband is white; our children are mixed race. We came to Oak Park looking for a diverse place, somewhere we could raise our children and have them not stand out in a sea of whiteness. (I was the only South Asian child at my very white elementary school. At times, that wasn’t easy.) There are other towns nearby that have large South Asian populations, but they lack in general ethnic diversity compared to Oak Park.

Those places also tend to be overall wealthier, and one of the things I personally love about Oak Park is its historic commitment to mixed income housing. It’s incredibly important that we have great schools here, and that the single mom with two kids in a two-bedroom apartment gets to send her kids to the same terrific school that the family in the 4000 sq. ft. Victorian or Frank Lloyd Wright home attends.

And as a bisexual woman who has dated women in the past, and who had no idea what sexual orientation her children would eventually reveal, it was very important to live in a queer-friendly place, where my daughter wouldn’t face stigma if she ended up with a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend. Oak Park is known to be welcoming on that front, far more so than most suburbs.

All of these are important. It is good to dream of ethnic diversity, of equitable schools, of a level playing field for all our children, for the ability to be open about who you are and whom you love.

But those Black candidates – they talked about safety. And by safety, they meant that they had come from, or they had friends and family in, places that were very much not safe. Places not so many blocks away from Oak Park that suffered from so much endemic violence (exacerbated by generations of poverty) that parents were frightened for their children’s walk to school.

When their parents fought and scrabbled to somehow manage to move to Oak Park, that’s what they were fighting for — the chance for their children to grow up safe. To grow up at all.

So when Chibuike and Juanta and Anthony talk about affordability of Oak Park, they’re not talking about whether someone can afford a house in Oak Park AND a lake house in Wisconsin.

They’re talking about whether we can keep rents low enough (almost fifty percent of Oak Parkers live in mixed income housing) so that people with a dream of raising their kids somewhere that is diverse, and welcoming, and safe, have a chance of making that dream happen. No parent should have to worry about their child being shot as he walks to school. Or being shot IN school. Never.

It’s easy for me to get distracted sometimes by all the myriad smaller issues that arise — the Village board faces constant complaints about parking, for just one example. Having candidates like these three, having people like them actually elected to the board, helps keep our eyes on the bigger picture, the big problems that we HAVE to solve.

It is a great loss, not having Anthony Clark on the ticket, and I am angry that Oak Parkers have had their chance to vote for him taken away.

Wednesday Journal report on the ruling: https://www.oakpark.com/…/Anthony-Clark-off-Oak…/…

Represent Oak Park coalition page: https://www.facebook.com/RepresentOP/

Much Ground to Claim

My assignment for the morning is reading — Benjamin Rosenbaum and I are going to be interviewing Cory Doctorow on the podcast at 1 p.m. today, and I asked him if there’s any particular book of his that he’d like us to talk about, and he said _Attack Surface_, which follows on in the world of _Little Brother_. I’m not positive I’ll finish it in 3.5 hrs, esp. as I’ll undoubtedly be distracted by Facebook a time or two in there, but I should be able to sink into it pretty deep.

This is part of my secret plan to get myself to read more contemporary fiction — now that we’ve started regularly scheduling guests on the podcast, if I read a new novel for each of them, that should go a long way towards keeping me caught up with what’s happening in the lit world. 🙂 It’ll be good for my teaching too, in both fiction and contemporary lit. Win-win. We’ll be interviewing Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman soon, so I get to read their new books too, WHEE!!! (Ellen and Delia, feel free to tell me now what books of yours you’d most like to talk about on the podcast. I owe you a scheduling e-mail!)

Darius Vinesar is continuing to edit the podcast episodes for us, and I think we have a March 15th launch date. Exciting. We did record one recently that wasn’t so lit-focused; we were talking about the incident at the capitol, as well as the racist incident at L!ve Cafe last week (was it only last week? gah.), plus what happened to Dima Ali, with Matt Baron (OPRF board trustee) and his Wednesday Journal column.

I’ll try to write something more coherent about all that along with posting the podcast / video. Possibly mostly of interest to locals, but maybe not — it speaks to how we deal with this kind of thing generally in our communities.

Just because we have a Democrat president now, that doesn’t mean it’s time to rest on our laurels. We have so much ground to reclaim…and then so much further to go.

It’ll be a while before the episode is fully edited for the podcast, but I’m planning to put the raw video up today and will just link to it. (Darius, if you have time to upload it to my YouTube channel this morning, that’d be great — if not, I can do it later.) The podcast may not have that episode posted until April or May, and I want do what I can to surface this issue a little more locally before the April election.

This Will Be Interesting

Someone asked if I was the only woman running for the D200 board, and while I don’t know the other candidates to say for certain, my best guess from their names and webpages, etc. is yes.

“Four seats will be up on the Oak Park and River Forest High School board, with incumbents Craig D. Iseli and Thomas F. Cofsky being joined on the ballot by Frederick D. Arkin, David Schrodt, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Kebreab Henry and Elias Ortega.”

Well, this will be interesting.

Back to Hybrid

Our schools are planning to go back to hybrid on Feb 1 (both elementary/middle and high school), and parents are deciding whether to send their kids in person or not. I wrote up this for a community mom group, reposting it here, in case it’s helpful.

We’re staying remote. My husband and I are both professors, and have the luxury of being able to work from home this semester — much sympathy to those who are facing much harder choices. No judgement here for families who choose to go back.

A few additional thoughts (sorry for the length):

• Kevin and I are unhappy that teachers are being asked to go back before vaccinations, especially with community spread so high, the new more contagious strains arriving in America, and vaccinations around the corner for teachers

• we’re especially unhappy that communications seem really poor re: possible exemptions for in-person for high-risk teachers — just yesterday I was talking to some teachers at one of the elementary schools, and they said they hadn’t heard of anyone getting exemptions.

• I’ve also heard that there ARE some teachers staying remote, possibly because of high-risk, but it seems unconscionable to me that ALL the teachers (in both D97 and D200) don’t know exactly where they stand on that front.

• I know at least a few teachers have chosen retirement or leaving the profession rather than go back, which seems like such a tremendous loss to our community — it’s HARD and time-consuming, finding and training great teachers, and there’s a real cost, especially now, during a teacher shortage, to needing to try to find replacements

• it would seem to make much more sense to aim for third trimester, after spring break, when schools can start cracking windows for better airflow, when the warming air should help lessen the disease generally, when ongoing vaccinations should lessen community spread overall, and when teachers will hopefully all be vaccinated

• if I were on school board now, perhaps there would be more information I’d have access to that I don’t as a community member — I can’t say. I serve on the library board now, and board members read a LOT of reports that the general public doesn’t usually have in front of them, before making our decisions. Staff, I’m sure, read even more.

• but based on the information I have at the moment, I’m pretty sure I would have advocated for remote until the end of second trimester (I’m currently running for D200 school board, but even if I’m elected, I wouldn’t be taking office until May, when hopefully, this set of decisions will be behind us)

• especially since moving back to hybrid also means displacing Hepzibah and thereby forcing parents into sending kids back who might have chosen remote + Hepzibah [editing to note, per comments elsewhere, that I was mistaken here somewhat — there will be Hepzibah, including for full remote, but likely in a much more restricted form than what we’ve had up ’til now]

• I’m also concerned, on the community front, that the largest push for going back to in-person has been from white parents, and that Black and hispanic parents are much more likely to keep their kids remote (unsurprising, given how much harder hit those communities have been — one of my own Black college students had lost four family members in New Orleans by last April)

• I’m frustrated that some of the push for going back seems to have been motivated by concern for equity, and educational losses for Black and other marginalized students — it’s an admirable motivation, but going back now, with a much higher percentage of white kids returning, will only exacerbate those equity issues

• I’m concerned that teachers will find it exceptionally difficult to teach their remote students as effectively while also managing in-person students simultaneously

• for our own family, I’m a little less risk-averse than my husband; he’s very firm on keeping them home for the rest of the year, and I would probably be all right with them going back after spring break, especially my 8th grader, who is really having a tough time with the lack of socialization, struggling with motivating to do her work, get out of bed, etc.

• but Kevin’s probably right; he usually is on this kind of thing. (He’s a math professor, and statistical analysis is more his thing than mine.) Any academic losses our daughter should be able to make up in the fall, and if she spends some extra days in bed watching YouTube this spring, even if it makes ME a little stressed out knowing she’s doing that, that’s not as important as her health.

• I’m particularly concerned from talking to my pediatrician friend and doctor siblings about the long-term lung and heart effects of COVID on children. I don’t want to be a scaremonger, especially because mostly, we just don’t know. But that’s kind of the point — we don’t know, and just because kids are asymptomatic or have light symptoms (the sniffles), that doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious long-term effects.

• my kids aren’t athletic at all, but if they were passionate about athletics, I’d be particularly concerned, given the extra strain on the heart; pediatricians are now being asked to do screenings for heart issues that they hadn’t been asked to do before — to me, that’s a sign that there’s something to be careful about

• they’re testing a pediatric vaccine for 12+ now. And the testing for younger kids (5-12) is starting soon, hopefully this spring. I’m REALLY hoping that they have at least the high-school-age vaccine tested and approved before the fall.

So Much Work Left to Do

Relatively pleasant today (40F), and I needed to pick up some supplies at Holmes for Anand’s remote schooling, so I decided to walk instead of drive. I had time, so I walked by the high school first — I thought I might try to take a photo to use on my campaign web page.

At first, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get close enough to take a clear picture — the first gate I came to was chained closed. So I took a picture through the fence around the sports field, as best I could. I kept walking after that, and eventually did come to an opening in the fence, and a clear shot. I’ll use that photo, I think, on the campaign page. The school looks lovely in the winter light, and that speaks to a vision of education, and what it can do for people. From everything I’ve heard (my daughter starts there next fall), OPRF is really a terrific school in so many ways.

But if I were purely an activist, this is the photo I’d use. A great education, yes, but with so many systemic societal barriers still in place.

I was listening to Melinda Gates on a podcast as I walked, and she was talking about women, and how far we are from equality, according to all the metrics. Something like one hundred and sixty years, if we don’t accelerate the rate of progress. Our daughters won’t see it. Our granddaughters might not see it.

For gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, disability, and more — so much work left to do.

Governing Is Complicated

I’ve been struggling as I try to put my D200 campaign website together, because I feel a little…out-of-step, maybe, with my activist friends.

Most of the people I know locally are working really hard on racial equity, which I absolutely support. It is important work, and long overdue, and critically important.

But it’s not my only focus. It’s not even my primary focus. That’s why I hesitated to join a running-for-office working group centered around racial equity. I care about that — but I care just as much about LGBTQ+ concerns. I care about women’s issues (including trans women). I care about social class issues, and disability (and know I need to learn more on the latter front to do a better job with it).

And I’m not claiming those activists don’t ALSO care about those things. (I know they do.) But many of them remind me of Amy Gardner on the West Wing. She’s a great character, a great person. Women’s issues were her thing, overridingly, and she kept coming into conflict with Josh because it was her job to put women’s issues first, and his job to balance those concerns against others in the broader picture. (I don’t really want to be Josh. He’s too concerned with winning. Can I be Sam, or CJ? But anyway.)

There’s a strategic question there — if you center racial equity and make progress on that front, you might simultaneously be making progress on class issues, given the correlations in our society. Similarly, you can center class issues (fight for $15, for example), and make progress on the race front. So yes, absolutely, you can push one issue area while still making improvements in many. But it’s still not the way I tend to approach these issues.

I’m also not…um, not sure how to put this. I’m not so good at getting angry. I think anger is absolutely justified and warranted as a response to injustice. It’s just not where I go, emotionally or mentally. When I hear about someone doing something terrible, my impulse is often to ask ‘why?’ I end up thinking about their position, trying to understand it, which is good for a writer (we need to understand villains in order to write them well), but not necessarily great for an activist.

But it would feel false to write intense rhetoric stirring people up; I’m not sure I could.

Riling up the crowd to fight injustice is not my inclination or my strength, even though I think we definitely need that kind of work to be done, to help motivate progress, to press against inertia and all the societal impulses that are constantly pushing us to the most conservative position (as Delany once said). I am so appreciative of the activists who do that work. But it’s not my calling.

I’m a problem-solver. I think structurally. In another life, I’d probably be a consultant, or possibly an engineer, a psychiatrist, or a priest. I love looking at systems, seeing where they’re not working, and trying to figure out solutions. Ways to route around the problem, or even better, rewrite the code, restructure the entire system so it works better. In the case of society, revise the policy structures so they do a better job of taking care of its people.

That’s what government should be, after all — a set of agreements we make, so we can take better care of each other.

All of which means that when I enter a conversation, I feel like I have to be careful. I’ve actually seen it happen more than once, that I offer my analysis of the situation and some suggestions towards improvement, and even if I do a good job with that, sometimes my inserting my voice there will…suck the energy out of the room? Everyone falls silent, nodding their heads.

I mean, that can be a good thing, when you have a lot of people in conflict and no progress is being made. Sometimes the mediator is helpful.

But it can also be a bad thing. My mother once said, very frustrated, that I was winning the argument we were having because I’d gotten very good at arguing (while I was away at college), and that didn’t mean I was actually right.

If I put forward a persuasive argument that convinces a lot of people, but isn’t actually right? I might win community support, but I’ve lost the real fight.

It’s a problem when you move too quickly to practicalities and making improvements, when what your community really needs is a fuller rousing of their outrage. Sometimes you need real consensus-building that no, putting kids in cages is not okay, is never okay, and we are going to get every PTA mom in America enraged about it. Black people being racially profiled is not okay. Denying breastfeeding women food (in the form of SNAP benefits) is not okay.

I don’t really have conclusions here. Just feeling hesitant, about the kind of candidate I am, the kind of politician I am, and how exactly I should be using my voice. There’s a reason why I considered running for our local Village Board, and then stepped back, telling Represent Oak Park that if they found qualified Black candidates, I’d rather throw my weight behind them. (They did. Chibuike Enyia, Anthony Clark, @Juanta Griffin.)

I think I can be helpful on the high school board. That work should be very congruent with all my experience in education over the last few decades. But I’m going to have to keep biting back my impulse to get things done quickly (even if it means settling for less). Or at least questioning that impulse, asking whether I’m compromising too much.

Governing is complicated.

More on how we have these conversations generally here: https://medium.com/…/towards-a-more-welcoming-war…

My Federal Priorities

I’m still exhausted. I slept well last night, finally, but I didn’t actually get to bed until close to 2 a.m., because my sleep schedule has been really wonky for weeks.

I’m hoping that we have a nice, quiet couple of months where government just does a lot of sensible things that make people’s lives better. My own immediate federal priorities would be:

  • pandemic (still an immediate crisis)
  • protect voting rights (otherwise everything they do will be rolled back in four years)
  • climate change (also a pretty immediate crisis)
  • education (the actual silver bullet for long-term societal change

If that happens, maybe I can get myself back to sleeping normally.

Biden is mobilizing the Defense Production Act today to ramp up pandemic response, and while this should have happened LAST MARCH, I am glad it’s happening now.

I’m feeling…weirdly guilty. There are community projects that I worked on last year, but I feel like I should’ve done more for — Oak Park Mutual Aid, my own SLF. I did my duty on the library board, at least, and I think overall, I probably did as much for the community as I had the energy and capacity to do. But I’m sad I couldn’t do more.

I admit, I’m not eager to start actively campaigning for school board, because it’s going to involve a lot of difficult conversations with unhappy people. I’m pretty clear on where I stand on most general issues, and I can hopefully speak clearly to those.

On the specifics — it’s harder, because one thing I learned on library board is that I just didn’t know enough before getting into the room and reading the reports that gave me the data and the perspectives of the people who had been actually doing the job.

I’ve been meaning to write a post, something like 5 Things I Learned While Governing, but that’s feeling intimidating and hard too. Maybe I’m just tired. (If there are any electeds reading this who want to chime in, I’d love to hear what the top things are that *you* learned while governing, so I can steal them for my piece.)

Well. I have a meeting in half an hour, and another this afternoon; my day is otherwise unscheduled. I failed to do anything other than my teaching yesterday — I spent the rest of the day in bed, watching the inauguration, scanning Facebook, reading fluffy books. I’m cranky with lack of accomplishment, EVEN THOUGH I think it’s totally reasonable not to accomplish much yesterday. I contain cranky multitudes.

Today, I’m going to mostly try to get through some urgent work-related e-mail, and hopefully that will settle me enough that I can start circling back around to some of these larger community concerns, trying to figure out how I want to talk about them.

I took a photo of a flower this morning, and that made me feel better, so I think checking through lots of little tasks is probably the way to go today. Amaryllis Doublet, for your pleasure.