How I woke up
Born and raised my whole life in Montgomery County, I lived a very sheltered life away from the political spectrum. Even with both my parents working full time at federal institutions, I rarely gave much thought about who represented me and what they did in office.
Things started to change as my years in college started coming to an end. On the eve of my senior year, my dad died suddenly and a lot of responsibilities were shifted onto my mom and I. After over a year of settling the estate and inheriting half a dozen accounts and portfolios, I found myself a little aimless. I had graduated into the tech field that was high in demand, but none of the tech companies around me wanted graduates with no work experience. There were no more work training programs inside the companies, many had cut them long ago just to save money and let private specialists have those fresh out of college workers pay yet another tuition-sized fee for a single summer course that would be completely irrelevant if that particular position got filled up by someone else. As more interviews continued to pass me up, I started running into more people in much more desperate straits than me. “Blame the system”, “Corporate Neoliberals”, and “Spineless Democrats” were a couple of phrases that started coming up more often in my daily life.
I didn’t start seeing much of the connections until the 2016 elections. I was a newly minted Democrat, having only been of age to vote since 2012, and like many who haven’t been voting for more than a decade, the first thing that popped into my mind when the Iowa caucus started the race was ‘Bernie who?’. The more he talked, the more I wondered.
‘Hang on, Obamacare doesn’t cover everyone?’
‘I didn’t realize the minimum wage was that low.’
‘So public colleges actually were tuition free at one point? And could be again?’
‘That’s what Citizens United was about?’
‘THESE are the probable ramifications of the US signing on to the TPP?’
And while I was still digesting his policy, the horror stories from the other primaries started rolling in. Arizona, New York, Nevada, California, even Puerto Rico, what was going on?! I was told these voter suppressing tactics were tools of the right wing, not the left! It only got worse as I began to see things dragged into the light on the campaign trail. The Panama Papers, Flint’s water crisis, protestors all but mowed within an inch of their lives down for DAPL, military aid for jihadists during the battle of Aleppo, W.T.H. Dems? Almost everyone in your leadership is looking the other way here when these should be their fights!
The Podesta emails and DNC leaks were what really got me connecting the dots. It wasn’t just the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration, or even the leadership in entirety, it was just about every Democratic member who had a chair to sit on within the party. They simply didn’t care because they literally thought it wasn’t a problem, or at least a problem worth taking action about. This kind of stuff had been going on for decades, to them it was the norm, so why start complaining now?
Thing is, you can only turn your back and tune out the voices of someone complaining for so long before they decide to throw a rock at your head instead. So it was actually no surprise to me to hear the victory bell ring for Donald Trump when I woke up Nov. 9. Had my dad been alive, he would have voted for Donald over Hillary, just like when he chose Bob over Bill in 1996. He was just simply tried of being ignored.
I officially left the Democratic Party after the 2016 convention and registered as a Green in the general. And while I’ve found consensus with the local chapter, many of whom were also disgruntled ex-democrats who left during the Clinton years, I consider myself Independent at heart. Changing my party doesn’t change the way I think about things, nor does it for anyone else.
The question now was what next? I didn’t want to go back to just standing around, waiting for another 4 years until the next election, but what could I do? After taking the Democracy Summer internship the same year and then watching the founding of Our Revolution, the idea started percolating in my head. I wanted to run, I wanted to be in a position where I could gather ideas, even ones that weren’t talked about in political mainstream, and push to get the support to have them implemented or refined.
Where to start? The county council perhaps? Public financing was just introduced that would keep the playing field mostly level, but the at large race already had Tim Willard, and my friend Ben Shinder had already announced his challenge to Sidney Katz in the 3rd district and seemed better prepared for it too. Perhaps a county advisory board position, as my chapter of Our Revolution suggested filling up. I got an interview for the downtown Bethesda planning board, but wasn’t selected.
By that time, primary filing deadlines were approaching, and I was considering taking some chapter responsibilities for the MoCo Greens if I couldn’t find a treasurer. Then, during my neighborhood’s civic association meeting, I chanced upon one of my freshman candidate friends, Brian Crider, who was running to take the vacated delegate seat by Ben Kramer, who was running to take Roger Manno’s vacated state senate seat. It was then that I learned from his wife that no one else had filed for the empty state senate seat, not even the Republicans. There were half a dozen new candidates jockeying for the empty delegate seat, but not one of them had considered the senate? I talked with a few other candidates and group members, and all had the same conclusion. Kramer had clout, Kramer had experience, Kramer had legacy in MoCo, so once he had declared that the senate seat would be his after Manno left, anyone else in the Democratic party who could have stepped up too, didn’t. ‘It’s only natural one of the current delegates steps up to senate, it’s how the ladder works.’ ‘He’ll be just as good as any other one.’ ‘He’s already expected to get all the key endorsements in the primary.’ ‘Why waste energy fighting him when we can focus on his empty seat where a newcomer is guaranteed to fill the spot?’
The parallels of this kind of thinking were not lost on me. This was the kind of thinking that was eventually weaponized to try and shame ‘Bernie bros’ like me and ultimately cost us the 2016 elections! They were already deciding Kramer would be the one before the campaign even started! Not everyone liked Kramer, some Dems I knew even said he was too in bed with the land developers to have his constituency’s best interests at heart, but no one with the experience to run would run against him out of fear of being shamed by the state and county party leaders into becoming a pariah. No one with political prospects as a Democrat in my district wanted to end up like Bernie did.
But where some are scared, others feel no fear, and I was one of those others. So what if Kramer had the connections and money that came with his status as a current legislator? So what if he has the experience? So what if he’s ‘good enough’ by the average Democratic voter’s standards? So what if I’m secretly laughed and written off by the Democratic committees after they’re done ignoring me throughout the primary just because I filed outside the two parties? It doesn’t change the cold, hard facts, an election with only one candidate running is not an election at all! It’s an appointment, it’s a selection, it’s an erosion of what the democratic process means in the first place, and it’s not an accurate representation of my district’s interests. There’d be no debates, there’d be no platform building, there probably wouldn’t even be any campaigning except to fund-raise for the state party.
And it wasn’t just his race either. I looked at the list provided by the board of elections when the filing deadline passed for the two mainstream parties, and have seen multiple state senate spots all over the state with no opposition. It is the least contested position out of all the races in the state, with an implied hierarchy that latently came about from having state power centralized in the hands of legislative leadership and the governor. That has to change lest we find ourselves all at the complete mercy of outside interests because the leaders we choose to elect are either not powerful enough to stop them or too disinterested to care.
Once more from the top
Things played out for me in 2018 as the average constituent would suspect. Not a single seat changed party hands, and the Green I ran under ended up being so shunned by the voting demographic, they once again lost official party status in the state and had to go on another petition drive for the next few years to get back on the ballot. I was however, only one of two of their candidates to acquire a voter percentage in the double digits, so I know my platform and my outreach was a legit strategy.
A lot changed in next four years I soldiered on as the COVID pandemic hit, but you know what didn’t change? The expectations of the government from the Federal down to the Local to do their jobs properly. In fact, Trump’s exit and Biden’s ‘return to normalcy’ that has echoed throughout the echelons of mainstream party organizers and media outlets has only made it more blatant.
Kramer performed in the senate as anyone would have expected, an average Democrat that pushed good enough ‘liberal’ legislation to keep certain areas of our society from sliding backwards. But with the exception of unions, like almost every other Democrat, he wouldn’t even speak of, let alone touch, any of the issues I brought to the table during my run against him. Which is why I know nothing was done about them and, as a result, left the key problems those issues could have addressed to silently exacerbate themselves in the 4 years he and every other of his colleagues have been in office. Plus, he once again seems poised this election cycle to breeze through the primary and possibly the general uncontested. Thus, my message stays the same as well, just because he can do an okay job in Annapolis doesn’t mean I don’t think I can do an even better job and that I should just sit idlily by while the scope of issues brought before the floor of assembly are narrowed to the point of isolating the same forgotten groups and trying the same tried tactics for the same highlighted issues that end up deadlocked for the majority of the assembly session.
I know this will seem like an impossible fight, but surrendering is what put the DREAMers in danger, got the corporate tax cuts, and put what little banking regulations we have on the chopping block in the time of the Trump administration. It’s what got our COVID relief funds cut, supply chains completely distorted resulting in shortages of essential supplies, and massive casualties from working conditions, riots, and environmental man-made hazards, even AFTER Biden and the rest of the Democrats retook control. All it takes is one voice to say to a long time unopposed official “I CAN do better than you!”, and others who were once too scared to speak up will start to follow. Already pretty much everyone I know in my local groups and club chapters have said they’ll vote for me come November, and these were the same people who were willing to settle for the Any Blue will Do argument all because they now have a choice.
I am that voice, I am that choice, and I will stand up to the Goliaths that encroach upon the will of the state’s people.
No matter what color their flag is.