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If there’s one piece of advice Stacey Abrams has for those looking to enter politics, it’s this: “Politics should be a tool for your policy. Policy should never be a tool for your politics.”
The author, activist, entrepreneur, and political leader spoke to an online audience of over 3,800 on March 18 as part of the 2021 Distinguished Speaker Series at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. “The minute we start making choices so we can win elections instead of winning elections so we can make better choices,” she said, “you have fallen far afield from what should be driving you.”
Abrams should know. For 11 years, including seven as Minority Leader, she served in the Georgia House of Representatives. In 2018, she was the Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia, making her the first Black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States.
Over the course of her career, she founded multiple organizations devoted to voting rights, training and hiring young people of color, and tackling social issues at both the state and national levels. The author of nine books, she is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the 2012 recipient of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award, and a current member of the Board of Directors for the Center for American Progress. According to Forbes, which ranked the Nobel Peace Prize nominee among the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, “few people were more powerful in 2020 than Stacey Abrams.”
Abrams discussed several aspects of her political career, including strategies for improving community outreach and increasing voter engagement. Below are takeaways from her conversation with Alan D. Solomont, A70, A08P, Dean of Tisch College of Civic Life. Watch it here.
Serve people, not parties.
“When I served in the legislature, it was always front and center that my responsibility was to serve people,” Abrams said. “It was not my job to make sure I only passed democratic bills to serve people. My job was to get good done and to stop stupid and, even more importantly, to stop mean and evil and wrong.”
The most effective way to do that, Abrams learned, was to work with the other side. “I sometimes adopted their ideas, and I helped them get their bills through,” she said. “We have come to this place in our politics where everything from the other side must be inherently wrong. And that’s just not true. There is a whole universe of what we can do together.”
A pragmatist and entrepreneur at heart, Abrams also recognizes the foundational need for money to produce results, which is why she welcomes the return of congressional earmarking. “Money makes you compromise. When you have to work together to deliver resources, you are much less likely to respond through demagoguery.”
Meet people where they are.
The child of Methodist ministers and activists, Abrams developed from an early age a strong sense of communal obligation. “I grew up in a family that was very committed to social justice. My parents would take us with them to protest. They would take us with them to vote, but they also took us with them to volunteer. We worked at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. We would go to juvenile justice facilities. We spent time in housing projects, teaching young people to read because the school system was not doing its job.”
Seeing “the places and the spaces where things had just broken and fallen apart” led Abrams to ask the fundamental question behind all her efforts: How do we make government work better?
“I do not recall a single politician ever knocking on my parents’ door because we lived in a neighborhood and in a community where we weren’t expected to be part of the political space. If no one asks you to participate, if you come from communities that have been so often distanced—not just from the reality of campaigning and voting, but from receiving the benefits of engagement—you don’t participate. For me, it was about building one narrative that actually spoke to people where they were.”
Abrams credits her upbringing and her parents’ grassroots activism with informing her own approach to organizational leadership. “I read a lot of theological texts about how you grow a church, and I thought, ‘I’m going to grow the church of progress, and we’re going to do the work to get people to be engaged.’” As leader of the Georgia Project and Fair Fight, organizations committed to increasing voter registration and fighting voter suppression respectively, Abrams recruited young people to go into the community and build operations while also training them to run campaigns and think critically about policy.
Adopt a franchise model for organizing.
When asked how her work in Georgia could be scaled up to the national level, Abrams pushed back on the idea. “I think about it instead as a franchise model,” she said. “Scale is trying to build the largest entity possible. Franchising is taking the core of it and replicating it, but making it adapt to where you situate it. Unfortunately, in our country democracy differs based on where you live. The rules are different. Access is different. The needs are different. The responsible thing to do is to look at the states that have the opportunity to change engagement and to scale that investment.” Abrams identified three specific strategies for doing so:
- Create an organizing universe. “In Georgia, that meant LGBTQIA, communities of color, communities serving the poor, labor, environmental groups—it was bringing all of those groups together and creating an ecosystem, not where we agreed on everything, but where we all agreed that we needed more people in the process and more people who had stake in what we did. That can be replicated in other places.”
- Localize the work. While presidential elections turn out the highest number of voters, local elections produce a greater return on investment for most people, Abrams said. “It’s about making sure that the zoning decisions made by your county allow for affordable housing. And making sure your state legislature is not operating to strip you of the most basic and fundamental of rights. What I would say is take the organizing model, but also make sure you understand the needs of your people and localize that work.”
- Don’t expect results overnight. “Know that it’s going take time. If you promise instant results and you cannot deliver, people start to disbelieve you. I always under-promised—and sometimes I barely delivered—but I was always very clear about what we could or could not do.”
Motivate and mobilize young voters.
Noting that Georgia had the largest share of 18- to 29-year-old voters of any state in the country during the 2020 presidential election, Solomont asked Abrams about her strategies for engaging young voters. In addition to meeting young people where they are, she offered these tips:
- Invest in party infrastructure. “Sometimes we eschew the idea of political parties and that apparatus, but it’s an amazing organizing model,” she said. “I made certain that we were part of building an aggressive state party that was very much able to lead the charge through the organizing core that happens through the Democratic National Committee.”
- Hire young people in legislative and political spaces. “Over the course of my seven years as Democratic Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, we had more than 400 interns. We trained them on public policy during session, and we trained them on politics when we were out of session. And that created a whole cadre of operatives who could work within their communities to help other young people learn about politics and do the work.”
- Reach across young people. Abrams emphasized the importance of investing on college campuses and allowing young people to shape their own communication tools. She explained, “We put money into young people’s hands and said, ‘Tell us what you need. Tell us how you would do this.’” But she cautioned that political leaders must reach out to young people in all circumstances. “Not every young person is going to college. Not every young person is employed. There are some people who simply want to find a way to belong.” For Abrams, that has meant anything from attending music festivals and pop culture conventions like Dragon Con to communicating through streaming services like Spotify and Pandora.
Abrams also acknowledged the profound impact that the COVID-19 pandemic, economic hardship, healthcare disparities, and racial injustice had on voter turnout in 2020. “The ability to connect the dots between voter engagement and actual change had never been more real and more salient,” she said. “Like any other community, people vote when they know that voting can change their lives, and young people in the starkest reality saw what that meant and understood that that was true.”
But young people were not the only group to vote in record numbers in Georgia and many other states this election year. Solomont noted that women of color were crucial to Democrats’ success in Georgia, where exit polls show 91% of Black women voted for Biden. “Almost every societal ill, every social malignancy, every political consequence hits Black women, hits Black communities, hits communities of color,” Abrams explained. “We are often the receptacles of the trash of bad policy. We are the victims of bad decision-making and, worse, of intentional decision-making that dehumanizes and discounts our role and our responsibilities and our right to active engagement.”
The key to building solidarity among communities, said Abrams, is empathy. “What I’ve seen happen with communities of color and with women of color, in particular, is that there is always a sense of ‘How can I lift myself and others? How can I share my benefit?’” Following the deadly Atlanta spa shootings in which six victims were Asian-American women, she noted, “it was not simply Asian-American women standing by themselves. Black women, Brown women, Indigenous women—we all stood up and said, ‘Yes, we have to lift these women up. We have to center their story.’”
Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from Abrams is to never give up. Politics, she reminds us, is not an episodic instrument available only to elected officials. “When I did not become governor, we did not stop,” she said. “We have seen progress. It has been slow. It has been plodding. It has not been sustained. But it has happened. We are responsible for the next generation in a biological [way], but also in a cultural way. That means that we don’t have the luxury of just abandoning ship. We’ve got to keep going because we see the shore and we believe that there is space for us when we get there.”
‘It’s 2021, it’s not 1950:’ Women politicians in N.S. show support for Robyn Ingraham – Global News
Pamela Lovelace is no stranger to the sexism encountered by women in politics.
She ran for Liberal nomination back in 2013, and is now a Halifax regional councillor for District 13 and says she’s encountered all sorts of comments — because she is a woman — while trying to get elected.
“I remember someone saying ‘why are you here? Why are you doing this, you have a family?’” said Lovelace. “I said, ‘well my opponent has a family too’ and the response was ‘yeah, he has a wife though.’”
While Lovelace says politics is still very much an old boys’ club and that it’s hard for women to get into office, she says parties should support diversity among their candidates.
She says it was discouraging to find out a Liberal candidate in this provincial election was kicked out of the party for posting and selling boudoir photos online.
“I was really disappointed to hear that the political landscape is talking about what a person has done with their body rather than the actual ideas that Nova Scotians care about,” Lovelace said.
Earlier this week Robyn Ingraham withdrew as the Liberal candidate for Dartmouth South. She originally posted online that it was due to mental health reasons, but then she later posted to her Instagram account that the party had taken issue with her boudoir photos and Only Fans account despite her having disclosed that during the nomination process.
A barber and small business owner, Ingraham also published an email she said she had sent to Rankin, which stated the party had made a mistake by forcing her out. “The misogynistic behaviour of those above you is not tolerable,” she wrote to the premier. “It’s not my job to make old white men comfortable.”
Former Liberal candidate says party ousted her over ‘boudoir photos’
On Friday, Rankin’s news conference in rural Cape Breton about tourism funding quickly turned into a barrage of questions from reporters about how the ousting of Ingraham occurred, what was said and who was responsible. He confirmed his team “assisted” Ingraham with her resignation statement and said he has been repeatedly trying to contact her to learn her version of events.
But in a brief interview with The Canadian Press at her barbershop in Dartmouth, N.S., Ingraham said she doesn’t plan to speak with Rankin.
“I haven’t spoken to him and I have no intention of speaking to him,” she said. “I just wanted my story to get out there.”
She also said she doesn’t want to run for any other party. “I just want to get back to running my business,” she said at her shop, called Devoted Barbers and Co.
Lovelace said what was done to Ingraham was an injustice.
“Let’s get her back on the ballot,” said Lovelace. “It’s 2021, it’s not 1950, so let’s move on to better politics in Nova Scotia.”
Claudia Chender is running as the NDP candidate for the same riding Ingraham has dropped out of and says this whole situation shows the double standard for men and women in politics.
“I think we are past the point where we should be embroiled in this type of situation as a scandal, but unfortunately we still have a lot of misogyny, frankly, in Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia politics.”
Chender says whether or not someone takes or sells revealing photos of themselves does not have an impact on how they can help the community.
Nova Scotia housing prices an election issue
“Political candidates should be judged on how are you going to make things better, how are you going to fix things?” said Chender.
“I think anything else that’s happening in their own personal lives that isn’t causing people harm is nobody’s business.”
Ingraham’s removal from the ballot has caught the attention of women across the country and many are showing her their support.
In a Twitter post, Mackenzie Kerr, a Green Party candidate in British Columbia posted her own boudoir image with the caption “It’s time we change the definition of professionalism.”
Back in Nova Scotia, a former PC candidate for Dartmouth South says she can’t believe women are still being judged for taking control of their own bodies.
“It’s horrible because Robyn is experiencing what I went through,” said Jad Crnogorac.
Crnogorac is a fitness instructor and says she herself has had professional boudoir photos done and hasn’t been shy of posting those photos or bikini photos of herself online.
She says when she was nominated as a PC candidate the party knew all of this but says just before the writ dropped she was approached and asked to remove some of her photos.
“I was really really angry,” said Crnogorac. “This is why strong women don’t go into politics because someone always finds a way to drag you through it and it’s just not appealing.”
Crnogorac was ultimately kicked out of the PC party as a candidate after tweets deemed racist surfaced but she maintains there’s a double standard for women in politics versus men.
“The leader of a party can do something illegal and have two DUIs and still be the leader of the party,” she said, referring to Iain Rankin’s recent admission to past impaired driving charges.
“Why do we have to have this picture-perfect female versus the men who can do whatever they want and still be a politician?” she asks.
–With files from The Canadian Press
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Politics: The Minders and Mandarins of Capitalism – The Wall Street Journal
James R. Otteson’s “Seven Deadly Economic Sins” (Cambridge, 305 pages, $27.95) is a fine effort to introduce readers to the basic principles of market economics. The hamartiological framing—the “sins” are bad assumptions about how markets work—is part of the author’s effort to make the subject more engaging than a typical treatise on economics. It works. Mr. Otteson, a professor of business ethics at Notre Dame, writes with an apt combination of casual wit and rigorous logic.
I only regret that the book had to be written at all. There was a time in this country’s history—if the reader will allow a bit of declinist gloom—when America’s political class understood by instinct that wealth in a market economy comes about by voluntary exchanges in which all parties benefit. We do not live in such a time. About half of this country’s high-level elected officials appear to believe that some Americans have money because they took it from other Americans (the rich got rich “on the backs of workers” is a common trope). And so it is left to scholars such as Mr. Otteson to spell out the difference between zero-sum and positive-sum economic relationships.
A transaction based on extraction or theft is zero-sum (1 – 1 = 0). A transaction based on a mutual exchange is positive-sum (1 + 1 = 2). Wealth in most societies before about 1800, he reminds us, was based on the former model; wealth in market economies is based on the latter. What we need is someone able to explain to our well-intentioned politicos that the wealth they want to reallocate came about from mutually beneficial positive-sum transactions and not from zero-sum extraction. The way to diminish poverty and aid the disadvantaged is therefore not to punish positive-sum exchanges by taxation, but to allow more of them.
Other chapters in the book treat the “Good Is Good Enough Fallacy,” or the idea that every beneficial end is worth pursuing by all available means; the “Progress Is Inevitable Fallacy,” or the idea that a certain level of prosperity is guaranteed no matter what we do; and the “Great Mind Fallacy,” or the idea “that there is some person or group that possesses the relevant knowledge to know how others should allocate their scarce time or treasure.”
This latter point isn’t new—you can read the gist of it in Friedrich Hayek’s essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society” (1945) or Thomas Sowell’s book “Knowledge and Decisions” (1980)—but Mr. Otteson helpfully elucidates it in terms of individual experience. The experts may know that high-sugar carbonated drinks are on balance bad for your health, but they cannot know if you, in your circumstances, should or shouldn’t have a Coke. Most people would agree with that observation, but it is remarkable how many government policies are premised on its antithesis. City bans on unhealthy habits, state subsidies for favored industries, tax breaks meant to encourage virtuous behavior—these and a thousand other state-backed strategems assume the authorities and their experts understand immeasurably complex circumstances that they can’t possibly understand. But the alternative—allowing the people who do understand them to make their own decisions, even if they’re wrong—isn’t so satisfying to our governmental minders.
“The Power of Creative Destruction” (Belknap/Harvard, 389 pages, $35), translated by Jodie Cohen-Tanugi, is a full expression of the Great Mind outlook. Not that the authors—Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin and Simon Bunel, all associated with the Collège de France—are socialists or militant redistributionists. They are mandarins. They recognize that you can’t pay for the modern welfare state or enjoy high levels of prosperity without robust economic growth. But capitalism, in their view, is constantly menacing itself and requires the aid of sage policy makers to prevent its collapse.
The authors are heavily influenced by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. In “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” (1942), Schumpeter contended that capitalism was doomed by its own logic. The capitalist system depends on a constant succession of entrepreneurs dislodging established firms—a process he called “creative destruction.” But eventually, he saw, yesterday’s innovators become today’s monopolists and learn to use the levers of power to prevent further innovation. Growth diminishes; a dissatisfied public demands welfare-state protections and restrictions on entrepreneurial activity; and capitalism, deprived of growth, slowly transmutes into socialism.
Clearly some parts of that analysis are valid, although Schumpeter was mistaken, in my view, to think of capitalism as a “structure” that can’t adapt to the demands placed on it by an intermittently irrational public. Mr. Aghion, Ms. Antonin and Mr. Bunel share Schumpeter’s overdefined understanding of capitalism. “Capitalism must reward innovation,” they write, “but it must be regulated to prevent innovation rents”—rents meaning profits accruing to incumbent firms—“from stifling competition and thus jeopardizing future innovation.”
And what sort of regulations do they think will encourage innovation, foster competition and save capitalism from itself? You may have guessed already. Industrial policy: tariffs and other protections, subsidies to viable industries and firms, “investments” in R&D and higher education, and so on. What capitalism needs, if I may put their argument in my own words, is more public officials ready to heed the advice of centrist academic economists.
The book is rife with charts and graphs, and the authors cite a bewildering array of highly specialized studies. Much of this technical argumentation strikes me as overdone. I appreciate, for instance, the conclusion that lobbying and barriers to entry are likelier than innovation and competition to aggravate inequality. But people who think markets worsen inequality are committed to an unfalsifiable ideology and won’t be moved by any combination of graph-packed quantitative studies.
Love and death in a utopian community, the remorseless business of slavery, a passion for peacocks, updating Sir Gawain and more.
“The Power of Creative Destruction” is an impressive book in its way, but the authors don’t acknowledge the—to me—obvious objection. Once you afford governmental bodies the power to manage the economy, you also give established firms the tools with which to insulate themselves from competition. Wouldn’t it be easier and more effective to deprive incumbent firms of any special privileges and let them figure out how to survive? Then again, if we did that, we wouldn’t need so many mandarins.
Book review: Border politics serve up racism, human exploitation – Vancouver Sun
Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism
Harsha Walia | Fernwood Publishing (Halifax and Winnipeg, 2021)
$27 | 320pp
Borders are far more than lines on paper.
As local organizer, activist and scholar, Harsh Walia demonstrates in her passionately felt, deeply researched and closely reasoned new book, Border and Rule, that borders can serve as lethally intricate mechanisms of imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism and class exploitation.
They work to divide workers and undermine international solidarity, while inscribing cartographies of privilege and oppression on the long-suffering face of the Earth.
And yet in mainstream discussions, borders are only questioned when heart-rending images of migrant children huddling miserably in U.S. border holding pens or drowned on the shores of the Mediterranean inspire brief and self-congratulatory spasms of outrage and pity among comfortable observers on the “right” side of the borders.
Walia, who has spent much of her adult life doing the hard work of organizing solidarity activity and saving lives of those threatened with deportation back to the dangers they are fleeing, is understandably dismissive of such liberal responses. She points out that centuries of imperial conquest, colonial occupation and gendered, racist segmentation of the workforce have set the stage for the current global crisis, which saw over 80 millions of our sisters and brothers driven forcibly from their homes last year, according to the United Nations, while hundreds of millions more have been forced to migrate by climate disasters, poverty and famine. Such disasters are, Walia persuasively argues, not so much “natural” as created by economic and social relations (aka predatory and racialized capitalism and a world order designed to serve the needs of the rich over the needs of the rest of us).
Walia’s analysis is dense and complex, and her language occasionally overburdened with abstraction. But even where her thought is difficult, it is always worth the time it takes to grasp.
This is a remarkable book that reflects a lifetime of activism and reflection on the author’s part — Walia has been in the news lately, resigning as executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association after a controversial social media post on arson committed at several Catholic churches. Still, this book is rich with learnings for us all.
Her core argument, that “a political and economic system that treats land as a commodity, Indigenous people as overburden, race as a principle of social organization, women’s caretaking as worthless, workers as exploitable, climate refugees as expendable and the entire planet as a sacrifice zone must be dismantled,” will challenge and inspire readers.
Tom Sandborn crossed a border to live in Vancouver in 1967. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at email@example.com
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