For the first time, I’ve gotten involved in a political campaign. Two of them. I’m learning things about the way our “democracy” is systematically structured against democracy though. Can we talk about what I’m seeing?
Observation #1: Non-profits are not allowed to support any political candidate.
Observation #2: Many cities and towns prohibit political candidates from gathering on public property.
Observation #3: People with lots of money host fundraisers and events on private property for the candidate of their choice.
Stir them all together, and what do we have? Vote-buying power for the financially wealthy. Cities and towns with uneducated voters. And a real struggle for average, non-politician, service-oriented people who care enough to take on the establishment and represent our communities appropriately in the government.
I’m working on a small, local campaign for Josh Moody for Washington County Judge. I feel strongly about Josh’s efforts because he will work to reduce incarceration of Washington County citizens, push back against $100 million in taxpayer funds being spent to build a new jail that we don’t need, and redirect existing funds toward providing mental health and housing stability services. He will nurture and heal Washington County residents. He’s committed to investing in our strengths, not our weaknesses.
My job is to schedule “Think Out Loud” community listening sessions where he goes around Washington County and listens to what you care to say. He wants to know your needs, your ambitions, your hopes, and your requests. This is what every prospective government official should be doing.
I keep running into roadblocks though. “No political campaigning on city property” and “We would love to host you, but as a non-profit organization we cannot let you use our space or be affiliated with us in any way.” This keeps Josh from getting to listen to the most marginalized people — especially people who rely on non-profit services to stay alive. This keeps him out of homeless shelters, out of churches, out of community groups, out of public libraries, and out of city parks. This system of government interference in political campaigns keeps him from having access to Washington County residents, and keeps Washington County residents from having access to him.
Meanwhile, Republican candidates seem to have plenty of for-profit business owners ready, willing, and legally allowed to host their events for community outreach. With promises of jail expansion, using covid relief funds to expand imprisonment instead of honoring Washington County residents with rent stability, and sometimes even a blatant indecency to kindly say hello to certain minoritized constituents, Republican candidates in local races are buying votes through a crony system that only allows gathering in for-profit spaces.
I’m watching a parallel tragedy unfold in my volunteer work on the Chris Jones for Governor campaign. For so many decades of Arkansas history, the Democratic Party has played by an oppressive two-party rule book; few people — particularly people of minoritized race, gender, and class — feel heard or cared about by the Democratic Party. Arkansas is not a red state. Arkansas is a non-voting state. Arkansas is a state that asks, “What’s the point?” when I plead for their vote this November in support of candidates who want to invest in our children, in our economy, and in our future.
The alternative to Chris Jones for Governor is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has repeatedly shown up in photos with, allied herself with, and chosen not to denounce white supremacist insurrectionists. She’s proposing tax cuts to benefit the wealthy (think Walton- and Tyson-wealthy) that will negatively affect already underfunded social services. Her father was the same terrible governor who took me out of class in high school so I could be weighed and have my BMI printed on my report card, because he believed having our parents shame us for being fat would leave a better impact on Arkansas’ youth than making healthier school lunches more affordable than a dollar menu McDonald’s burger. She responded to the Uvalde shooting by saying that very evening, “We will make sure that when a kid is in the womb, they’re as safe as they are in the classroom” — completely missing the reality that people who are not white and financially wealthy, like her, are not safe in Arkansas. Also missing the reality that Arkansans will die from ectopic pregnancies under her plans for anti-abortion laws. Or maybe she just doesn’t care if poor Arkansans die, since rich Arkansans will always have access to abortions whether it’s legal or not. She has spent her life preparing herself as a political pawn for a group of anti-Democratic, anti-American goons who want to take the government my uncle gave his life in the US Army to protect, and replace it with an authoritarian regime. This terrifies me.
Sanders’ campaign has raised over $13 million to Chris Jones’ $2 million at this point. She is buying her way into the governor’s seat, while Jones is out walking all over the state to meet with communities, truly listen, and consider the feedback and solutions that real Arkansans are now proposing to him. He is not a politician. He is a minister who sees a need for Arkansas to be represented and cared for in a spirit of faith, hope, and hard work. Chris Jones is currently doing what I was taught in high school American Government that our elected officials exist to do. He doesn’t have as much money, but he does have the power of people who know Arkansas needs relief and empowerment.
If people vote. If he can reach them. If he’s allowed to gather with them. If local anti-political ordinances don’t keep Chris Jones from being allowed hear to all voters, like they have been keeping Josh Moody from hearing all voters.
I’m sitting with the weight of this truth and trying to explain it to my inner 16 year old who once sat in Bob McKee’s American Government class at Fayetteville High School, bright-eyed and trusting about the promise of freedom and justice for all.
Can you explain any of this to my inner 16 year old? Can you say anything that will make the pain of betrayal by my own country, my own state, my own city goverment sting less? Can you do anything to change the system so it serves the people affected by it? Even just one small thing? Even just show up to vote for candidates who care about living up to the values of liberty and equality which America purports to uphold, rather than sustaining the values of division, hatred, violence, and heartlessness we’ve been suffering from for too long? Maybe putting up yard signs and talking with your neighbors? Something? Anything?
There’s a 16 year old in Arkansas who needs you to leave them a better reality than what’s been handed down to me. Please show up for them?