The following is a recap of the radio show which was recorded on January 9, 2017, and first aired on January 21, 2017 on WBCA-LP 102.9 FM Boston.
Audio Links:Note, this is not intended to be a verbatim transcript, but a recap of the highlights, with some further ponderings, references, and links thrown in. In this case, the blog was written first, and the radio show was based off it, leading to the follow-on conversation about Democracy.
Please feel free to add your comments/ideas/suggestions for future shows/topics as a comment on this blog post.
Democracy: It’s All About Showing Up
|Professor Michael Sandel at Faneuil Forum, HUBweek, September 26, 2016|
|Boston Women's March, January 21, 2017|
Let’s flash back to Professor Michael Sandel’s philosophy class on Democracy, this past fall as part of HUBweek 2016, billed as the Faneuil Forum. As it would turn out, the night of the talk, September 26, 2016, was also the same night as the first Trump-Clinton presidential debate, so the discourse at Faneuil Hall wrapped up in time for attendees to go home and catch the debate as well.
We arrived, my friend and I, after catching a quick bite to eat in the North End, this time at The Daily Catch, ordering steamers, served in a buttery bath, and so we floated in, awash and aglow in a garlicky haze. Yes, we like the other attendees arrived, but did we show up? That is the question.
Professor Sandel tried to engage the audience in debate, baiting us with questions intended to challenge us and offer a response. Two problems: the questions and the audience. We knew the topic was going to be democracy, but we didn’t expect the questions offered, plus they seemed a bit contrived and difficult to apply to the real world. The audience, of course hyper well-educated, was too smart, too cagey to get pulled into a debate and then talked into a corner by some philosophical wits of charm, without having done further research into things first and developing a fully-formed opinion. No one wanted to speak off the cuff, and then be made to look like a first-class fool in front of the masses. While we were interested, we were not engaged, and were in no mood to stick our necks out on the line.
The first question posed was whether a vote-swapping system should be considered acceptable. Huh? Hypothetically, let’s say a voter in Massachusetts who was for Hillary wanted to influence an election in a swing state, say New Hampshire, and through some mechanism online perhaps, could trade votes with someone in New Hampshire, who wanted to influence the election in Massachusetts.
Most of us were like, “Huh?” As we tried to picture how such a system would work, we had even more difficulty, struggling to imagine the motivations for both individuals to go through such machinations to swap votes. Why would the voter in New Hamsphire want to give up their vote in their home swing state? It made no sense to me, and since it seemed so hypothetical and unrealistic, it never entered the realm of anything I would vigorously debate.
Eventually the point was made that such a system might be the start down the slippery slope of monetizing the vote. Everyone was pretty much in agreement that selling votes was not right and should not be allowed. At some point, by the end of this discussion, there was a passing mention of whether the electoral college should be done away with, which would make the whole vote-swapping scheme entirely irrelevant. I remember thinking to myself at the time, now that would be something worth discussing and debating, and something I could really get behind and support. One person, one vote. And, for that matter, I thought, why aren’t we talking about the roughly 40% of eligible voters who don’t show up to the polls at all?
If I had it to do all over again, I would rush the stage, and rip the microphone from his hand and beg the audience to debate these questions, and ask, why are we being so proper? Our founding fathers – and mothers – would be so disappointed in us. They fought so hard for the right to hold vigorous debate. Democracy is messy, requires hard work, and hearing all sides.
Looking back at my sparse notes (which might still smell a bit like garlic), I see written: “Marty Walsh: obligation.” Mayor Walsh thought that voting was an obligation. Moral obligation? Civic obligation? I don’t recall. Below that I see my own words: Precious, priceless.
The discussion moved on to other topics, questions about public lands, rights and freedoms, the ethics of parking space savers, fines vs. fees, and refugees.
Bottom line: The audience failed to show up.
And that’s what happened again in November.
The lesson should be that the first and most fundamental principle of democracy is showing up, participating and engaging in vigorous debate on the issues.
In some ways, a condo association resembles a democracy on a much scaled-down version. When everything is pretty much going alright, no one shows up to the meetings.
It is akin to what Azar Nafisi wrote of in her book The Republic of Imagination:
“This is what Tocqueville warned us against: a time when Americans would be prosperous and comfortable enough to withdraw from the public domain and satisfy themselves within their own private interests.”
The only time people show up en masse is when something is wrong, or when something is affecting individual owners personally, such as when it’s raining in one’s living room, and there’s an assessment levied to fix leaky roofs. While the decisions should be made fairly, and in the best interest of the entire community, it is easy for the discussion to be dominated by the loudest voice in the room.
There were some very loud voices in the room this election season. It is shocking to see the racism and hate-mongering that has been tapped into and unleashed by the Trump campaign. I see some photos online of Trump supporters celebrating, carrying signs that read “Make America White Again,” and “Stop Hate Crime Laws.” At first I thought the sign read “Stop Hate Crimes,” which would be a good thing, and then I realize that in fact they are against hate crime laws. Alt-right celebrants were displaying Nazi salutes at a restaurant in D.C. just doors down from the Holocaust Museum. These are troubled times indeed.
In some ways, it probably wouldn’t have mattered which candidate ran against the Democrats, the Republican candidate would have had the support of the alt-right. However, by not vocally criticizing or distancing himself from his alt-right supporters, Trump gave them power, license, legitimacy, and emboldened them.
As one young, very wise black woman pointed out, this is nothing new. It has always been there, this undercurrent of racism. The difference now is that they’re out of hiding and we know who they are. The hoods are off.
I think back on the many times I have walked or jogged the Battle Road trail in Concord, and have tried to fathom the depth of the Colonists’ anger. What would drive them to pick up muskets against their country? The phrase, “taxation without representation” doesn’t seem to do it justice; it seems just too abstract. I’ve often thought, what would it take, what would I stand up for, what would I consider worth fighting for? And now I know, it is this. Freedom to be, to love and marry. For all people to thrive, regardless of race or religion, to be treated with dignity and respect.
This, all of this, is what I would stand up for, and march.
Post March:What an amazing, historic day. Epic.
This is what Democracy looks like.
We showed up.
Ironically, President Trump has succeeded spectacularly at uniting us in surprising and wonderful ways we never expected.
There were speeches and songs. America the Beautiful. Amazing Grace.
Mayor Marty Walsh delivered the most rousing speech, firing up the crowd, remarking on Massachusetts being the first on healthcare and same-sex marriage.
Senator Elizabeth Warren received the biggest welcome from the admiring crowd.“First we fight for basic human dignity and respect for all. Second, economic opportunity for everyone.” Senator Ed Markey spoke, and was followed by several others, difficult to hear everything. Attorney General Maura Healey was one of the last speakers: “This is what love trumping hate looks like!”
While waiting for our turn to join the march, the small group around us sang some songs to pass the time: This Little Light of Mine, We Shall Overcome, Amazing Grace, This Land is Our land, and Bohemian Rhapsody. (We were running out of songs we knew the lyrics!)
Fortunate to get to march near the marching band, and get to sing along with “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
A few of the most interesting signs:Girls just want to have fun-damental human rights
Our rights are not up for grabs
Pussy grabs back
Respect my existence or expect my resistance
I’m with her – and her – and her…
This is not a moment, it’s the start of a movement
Post ScriptThank you to everyone who marched Saturday January 21st, either in D.C. or in Boston, or any of the other sister marches. Thank you for showing up.
Thank you to guest host Ellen Iorio for bringing her unique wit and perspective to the radio show, and adding the pitch-perfect George Takei quote:
“Our democracy is a people’s democracy, and it can be as great as the people can be, but it is also as fallible as the people are.”
In case it was rendered unrecognizable, the opening chords at the start of the show were from “This land is Our Land.” There’s nothing like a good song to bring people together. Look what “Go Cubs Go” did for the Cubs this year!
One last look back at the 2016 World Series. Congrats to Terry Francona, who was voted Manager of the Year. He was, and still is, an upstanding guy. While I have joked a bit about the fried chicken in the clubhouse, if the rumors are true, then this really did show incredible disrespect for Tito, and for the game. He tried to set a collegial tone and give his players a lot of leash, and this is what he got in return.
It’s not like this in rugby. Everyone shows up and is engaged. One of the plays that sticks in my memory came in a B-side game against our cross-town rivals, Boston Women, sometime in say 1995 or so. I had been working out of town the week prior, so I was even a bit surprised that I was selected to play. It seemed like every time we got the ball, something would happen and we would lose momentum. While it was just a B-side game, there is really no such thing as “just” a game in rugby ever. You’re either all in, or you’re all out. I remember starting to feel so frustrated. We’d had the ball, and then it got turned over and the Boston player was about to kick, and I remember thinking in my head, “No, not again,” and I went up and blocked the kick, all five-foot-two of me. It was at such close range, it bounced off me, and propelled me backward to the ground. We wound up with a scrum, instead of having the ball kicked deep into our own territory. A couple of the A-side players came out to check on how I was, since they had been following the game along the sidelines and cheering us on. Not off having fried chicken, if you get my point here. There was none of that; not until all the games were done for the day anyway. We were all in, and in it for each other.
About WBCA-LP 102.9 FM Boston:WBCA-LP is a low-power FM radio station sponsored by the Boston Neighborhood Network, and is on the air from 6 PM to 2 AM each night.
Radio Beantown is on the air! Jumana Hashim is a current member of Beantown Women’s Rugby Club, while Rosemary, aka Rosebud, Schmidt has been retired a few years.
Nafisi, Azar. 2014. The Republic of Imagination: A Life in Books. New York: Penguin Books.
© 2017 Rosemary A. SchmidtRose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life” (Gainline Press 2004). The views expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not reflect the views of any other agency or organization. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted. If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact me.
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