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Transparency in the House, Act On Mass Campaign

By Larry Pareles

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton.

As you know, in recent months thousands of constituents, some of the largest advocacy organizations, labor unions and media outlets organized a people-powered campaignto make the State House more transparent through rules reform. These reforms will make the State House more accessible and more responsive to the people. 

The debate on changing the House rules was delayed until summer, but committees are setting their own rules now. The Senate passed a joint rules package last week that included public committee votes and testimony, and sent that to the House. The Senate already reports their votes publicly.

Since many important decisions are made in the House/Senate joint committees, making these votes public would be a major step in improving the legislative process. However, on February 24, the House rejected the Senate’s rules about joint committee votes being made public. An amendment to restore the changes was offered, but the House rejected it.

These measures to improve legislative transparency are extremely popular with constituents who expressed more than 90% support in recent voting in 19 districts recently, but the House Leadership was vocal in its opposition and chose to criticize constituents’ naivete instead.

Here’s how some constituents reacted on Twitter soon after the vote:

“In the MA State House, Reps will cut their constituents out of the legislative process, and then blame their constituents for their lack of knowledge on the legislative process. Who does that serve?”
“Young people like myself are constantly told we don’t know enough to engage in the legislative process. This is our State House, and it governs our future. We deserve to have a voice.” 
“Why doesn’t the State Senate have any problem with sharing its votes, like most other state legislators in the U.S.? 

The version of the joint committee rules approved by the House by a 128-31 vote:

  •  keeps a notice requirement for committee hearings at 3 days, instead of the 7 days proposed by the Senate
  • makes public only the names of committee members who vote against favorably reporting a bill, unlike the Senate version which reports all votes.
  • Will not allow sharing of copies of public testimony (with reasonable exceptions) upon request.

In support of changing the rules, Rep. Erica Uyterhoeven (27th Middlesex) said, “You are saying that we have to do our work behind closed doors, and I don’t believe that is the case. I believe that is an unfortunate and sometimes elitist argument to say that we cannot show our votes to our constituents and our voters. We do not have a strong democracy by voting behind closed doors.” 

Ryan Daulton from Act on Mass wrote: “It’s shocking that many of the arguments against the amendment blamed constituents for our lack of understanding of how the State House functions when that’s precisely what we are asking for: to stop being shut out of the legislative process.”

 Among the arguments made against having votes and testimony made public were that the legislators know the best ways to get their work done, that they need more “flexibility” behind closed doors, and that posting many pages of testimony would overtax their staffs.

 The Senate next decides how to handle the House’s changes: whether to accept them, amend them, or start a conference to work out a compromise (most likely in private).  

 Meanwhile, activists working for increased transparency in the House plan to ramp up their campaign for these rule changes in the spring before the House votes on their rules in July.  

 Writing Letters to the Editor for your local papers is a good way to keep this discussion open.
Keep informed at
Act On Mass

 

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Indivisible Northampton Moving Forward

By Cathy Walthers

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton. This article is excerpted from the Indivisible MA Coalition newsletter.

After an intense election season filled with phone calls, texting, meetings and postcard writing, the members of Indivisible Northampton (CD-2) took a short break but now are getting right back to work.

“We went from working and worrying intensively to finally pausing with a deep sigh of relief knowing that the country was being run by adults again,” said member Larry Pareles, a retired physician who moved from Hartford, CT, has been active with the group since 2017 and now serves on the steering committee. “Then came the realization of a ton of work to be done. We are now regrouping to see where we can apply and exercise our newly learned skills to try to heal and strengthen our democracy, and get government working for the people again.”

After the group’s Zoom call on Jan 25 – the first meeting under a new administration they happily noted – members emerged with four new working teams for 2021:

  1. The “Democracy Reform Team” will focus on passing HR1 (the For the People Act), HR2, and HR4 (the John Lewis Voting Rights Act) among other critical democracy reforms.
  2. The “Biden Go Bold Team” will fight for bold policies on immigration, court reform, DC statehood and other actions.
  3. Their “Statewide Action Team” will consider work on the issues of statehouse transparency, Covid response, passing the climate bill, more police reform, passing the Safe Communities Act, increasing education funding, more affordable housing, drivers’ licenses for undocumented people, and defeating our current, conservative Republican governor.
  4. A “Fighting Disinformation Team” will explore ways to stop and correct false and irresponsible information on the internet and may work with the Indivisible Truth Brigade campaign.
    Indivisible Northampton, IN for short, started its activism in January 2017 and has been meeting twice a month since, with very few exceptions. They have a website, a newsletter, and a core committed group often of 25-30 members which expands depending on the event or activity.

“When I first joined,” says Pareles. “I thought, wow, these people are intense, and dedicated and hardworking and so knowledgeable, but I was a little nervous they might not be fun people to be with. And they’ve been wonderful. They are all those things, but underneath they are humanists, and kind and decent and moral. We’ve become very good friends as we’ve all worked together.”

Beth Lev, one of the group’s co-founders, says creating this “community of activists” has been part of the mission along with the actions and getting things done. The constant anxiety of the last four years that she’s felt herself, she’s also seen first-hand in her work life as a clinical psychologist.  “Feeling scared, isolation, passivity can lead to a sense of powerlessness,” she notes. “Providing community, and therefore inspiration and hope and connection, can fuel continued resilient action pushing us forward to where we need to go.”

The group’s organizing has centered on teams. “This allows our group to work on many different campaigns, and for individuals to find – or create – a place for themselves within our IN group,” says Lev. Early teams focused on everything from “Medicare for All” to “Marches and Rallies” to “Immigration Ride Sharing.” More recently, teams shifted to phone banking, texting and post carding.

Another key element of this group are the two meetings each month on Activist Mondays, first held in-person at a co-housing space and then shifting to Zoom during Covid. One of those two monthly meetings is typically geared toward educational/civics, with candidates or speakers like Senator Ed Markey and Indivisible co-founder Leah Greenberg, which can draw 60 to 70 attendants. The other meeting centers specifically on actions. On the Mondays in-between, the group’s steering committee meets and plans for the speakers or actions so those public meetings run as smoothly as possible. The group also collaborates with other progressive groups in the area.

With these new teams, Pareles and Lev are looking forward. “I think we’re not as much in defense,” says Lev. “but now we have the opportunity for a brief time, maybe longer, to do as much as we can to address some of problems that have allowed these fascist-white-supremacist-conspiracy theorists- anti-democratic forces to take root and for us to be as visible as possible and change those conditions.”

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Dear President Biden

By Susie Zeiger

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton.

Dear President Biden,

I didn’t vote for you in the presidential primary. Bernie was my man. But of course I voted for you in the presidential election. ABT was my mantra: Anybody but Trump, any Democrat that is. I’ve never in my life voted for a Republican and never will.

I listened to what you had to say Wednesday evening after the insurrection we witnessed on television. I was disgusted, repulsed, angered, but not surprised by what I saw. Unlike South Africa, we have never faced our past, never had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, never acknowledged our killings of Native people, stealing their land, our enslavement of Africans, our segregation, our Jim Crow laws, our redlining, our police brutality, our occupations of other countries, our arrogance, our so-called exceptionalism. The history that most American students learn is predominantly lies, which hide the many ugly truths of what we have done throughout history. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve done some things right, but this you know, and so do I.

I disagreed with you when you said something along the lines of “This is not who we were, we’re better than this.” Sorry Joe, but this is who we are. Thankfully, not all of us, but too many Americans agree with the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol building. I fortunately do not know any of these people, living in the bubble of western Massachusetts and spending most of my life in New York City, where Donald Trump is from. By the way, he was hated in my fair city, except of course by the uber rich and the likes of Rudolf Giuliani.

I so wish that the 25th Amendment had been invoked, but Republicans are still afraid of the monster who ruled this country or they agree with his heinous actions. The second amendment to the constitution, written I might add, by the founding fathers, several of who were slave holders, allowed for the bearing of arms, a huge and tragic mistake.

Please tell your dear wife Jill how much I appreciated her trip to Matamoros where she met with asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico due to Steven Miller and Trump’s cruel policies. That so-called president headed to the border likely extolling his border wall, which should never ever be completed. I am holding you to your promise of immigration reform and promise to badger you until you do this. I belong to a small group of activists for immigrant justice. You’ll be hearing from us. We went to Matamoros just last February to show our support and concern for the asylum seekers, mainly from the Northern Triangle Countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, countries the U.S. supported when their military dictators were in power. I hope and pray that your administration will grant their asylum cases.

Here’s my list Joe, of everything I want you to do or not do:

  1. Immigration reform
  2. Hefty pandemic relief for all those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic
  3. Decrease military spending which I guess is a pipe dream of mine especially since your wife is so gung ho on the military. Tell her she’s wrong!
  4. Do NOT compromise with the Republicans, something the Obama administration did way too much of. Since the Democrats will now have control of the House and the Senate, there’s no excuse to even try to placate them.
  5. Make the White House, this house built by slaves, the People’s House. Have concerts, which your boss Barack did, and have Black musicians perform. American music owes so much to Black music.

Lastly, I want to wish you a hell of a lot of luck and strength. You’re lucky to have Kamala to back you up. She’s tough and younger than you. I’m not being ageist here. I’m seventy-three and I know how tired we seventy-somethings can be.
One more thing, before I forget, be brave. Step out of the box. Call out racists, sexists, homophobes, insurrectionists, white supremacists, and the like. I’m counting on you.

You’ve already shown yourself to be a mensch at times. Ask Kamala’s husband what that means. Be sure to be brave!

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Western MA Protect the Results Actions

By Larry Pareles

 

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton.

Citizens in Western Massachusetts have been very concerned about preserving the integrity of the national elections, and Indivisible Northampton helped organize a local coalition in support of the national Protect the Results campaign. Our coalition made plans to mobilize if necessary. Thankfully, it was not necessary to fully mobilize when it became clear that Biden had won the Presidency, and that Trump could not undermine the elections, despite his attempts to do so.

In the weeks before the election, many of us became seriously concerned that Trump would try to steal the election.  In the weeks before the elections, we quickly assembled a group of progressive leaders from about 15 large groups across the 4 counties of Western MA, and built a coalition almost overnight.  This coalition started as a temporary team to protect the elections, but since the group has been working so effectively together, we unanimously decided that this progressive coalition in western MA will continue to work to support actions into the future.  We hope this is the beginning of a large coalition here in the progressive wild west of western Massachusetts, and that we will have an impactful group going forward together.    

Subgroups in each of the 4 counties planned multiple rallies and actions across the western part of the Commonwealth, but only held some of them when Trump’s efforts to undermine the elections failed.  

On Wednesday, Nov 4th we held an evening rally in Northampton, with about 200 people, that went well.  It was peaceful and affirming.  We were hopeful, excited, concerned, uncertain, relieved, and still vigilant.  There were some very powerful and uplifting speeches by high school students, community group representatives, and three of our very fine progressive women state legislators.  

The next day, on Nov 5 there was a small rally of about 200 in the nearby town of Amherst, that went well, with hopeful and happy people parading around the town green, and making lots of cheerful noise, still carrying our messages to “Protect the results” and “Count every vote.”

On Saturday, Nov 7, we had an interesting experience in Northampton.  We planned a march from a nearby park to downtown, and started marching with 100 people with the very serious intention to continue our messaging about the importance of counting every vote.  As we walked down Main Street, more people joined the march and a band played patriotic songs along the route.  However, about that time on that fateful Saturday afternoon, Joe Biden was declared the official winner by the Associated Press.  So when we arrived in the center of Northampton, people were celebrating, and were literally dancing along the streets.  Car traffic was stopped, horns were honking, and people were cheering with joy.  Our seriously-intentioned marchers melted into the celebrating crowds lining the streets, and it was  great.  It felt like a great weight of worry and concern was being lifted off the shoulders of the crowd, and the relief and happiness was palpable.  

When the national PTR Coalition did not decide to give the activation signal, most other rallies were cancelled or postponed, although the intrepid group in far west Pittsfield also held a noon rally which was a success.  

The Western MA PTR Coalition will continue our vigilance and readiness to take action to protect the democratic transfer of power. Once Biden and Harris are sworn in, we will transition our work from protecting the integrity of this specific election, to protecting and expanding all our democratic institutions. Stay tuned.

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Eutopia

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton.

By Seth Wilpan

It’s difficult to construct a narrative in which good prevails. It seems to require a long time scale, time enough for things to fall apart and for a new order to arise from the chaos. What if instead, like restoring a home, we could skillfully dismantle the rotted pillars of our civilization and build a new one in place, without the whole thing collapsing?

The Green New Deal is potentially the most powerful vehicle of transformation that we have. It can explode the current monetary system that’s based on dominance and enslavement. The system of money is currently organized in such a way that banks are in control. This system is not the result of any natural law, despite the edifice of words that has been built to convince us of that. Money can be generated and used as a means of facilitating cooperation, sharing and the common good. Trillions of dollars will have to be created to support a Green New Deal, and the banks will fight tooth and nail to insert themselves into that process. They will insist that we have to borrow the money from them and they will point to various laws and institutions that they themselves established to support that claim. We’ll need to supply enough pressure for a new administration and a new Congress to have the courage to ride roughshod over those claims.

Cutting the bankers out of their role in creating money will further weaken the already tottering petro-dollar’s position as the world currency. The GND’s massive investments in infrastructure will weaken the economic leverage of weapons manufacturers.  This will expose the role of the military in propping up both the dollar and the weapons industry, making it easier to dispose of both.

We can’t allow the GND to be bent to the purpose of refueling the industrial capitalist state. It must be engaged in establishing a new relationship between humanity and the rest of creation. It must immediately engage in the restoration and rehabilitation of the land and water. Part of that process is the reintegration of people with the natural world, which entails returning land from Big Ag to farmers. It means re-organizing the topology of the built environment to accommodate living more lightly on the land.

These are just a few of the most obvious transformations that can be accomplished under the aegis of a GND. The ripple effects are uncountable, though we can delight in imagining them. We may actually come to live life with less stuff and more art.

What about the 40% of the country who are white supremacists? They have been taught to be that way to serve the purposes of their masters. That learned hatred can quickly be dissolved in the flow of prosperity As Lao Tzu said:

It is better not to make merit a matter of reward
Lest people conspire and contend,
Not to pile up rich belongings
Lest they rob,
Not to excite by display
Lest they covet.
A sound leader’s aim
Is to open people’s hearts,
Fill their stomachs,
Calm their wills,
Brace their bones
And so to clarify their thoughts and cleanse their needs
That no cunning meddler could touch them:
Without being forced, without strain or constraint,
Good government comes of itself.

– Tao Te Ching translated by Witter Bynner

And as Wendell Berry concludes his poem “A Vision”:

The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.