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:…/towards-a-more-welcoming-war…