Looking Up Longfellow Street: Lest we become Georgia

I have just returned from eight days campaigning in Southwest Georgia for a candidate for state rep and friend, Joyce Barlow. I have been working with her on a team in that part of Georgia’s Black Belt since the 2020 runoffs that put Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff into the US Senate.

Georgia is as red a state as Massachusetts is a blue state. Georgia is as one-party as Massachusetts is. Speaking as the co-chair of the Ward 15 Democratic Party Committee ­– although I am not speaking for the Committee here – I believe that my history as an active Democrat gives me insights into warning signs about one-party government that our holier than thou Democratic majority should take to heart.

Georgia is a canker on the US body politic and so I do not propose to hold them up as a model for the Bay State. I have never heard of Massachusetts voters turning out dogs to attack canvassers, as happened to a pair of our black canvassers in Marion County, GA. I have never heard of Democratic candidates checking the mail-in ballots of their employees to see that they voted “correctly.” Or threatening tenants with eviction if they did not show their mail-in ballots. Or offering poor families turkey dinners after they proved that they voted. All practices common in Southwest, GA. In Schley County, vote tampering is suspected every year.

Nor has anyone in Massachusetts sold out democracy the way the Coffee County Republican chair did. Over dinner with Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, I was told that she had a recording that captured part of a March 2021 telephone conversation she had with a businessman and Trump operative, Scott Hall. In the recording, Hall told Marks that he had arranged for a plane to ferry people to Coffee County where “they went in there and imaged every hard drive of every piece of equipment” and scanned ballots. “We basically had the entire elections committee there,” he added. “And they said: ‘We give you permission. Go for it.’” Marks’s organization argues in a suit against the Georgia secretary of state that the state’s election system is so insecure that it violates the rights of voters, using Coffee County as a case in point. 

As much as Georgia is the poster child for political cesspools, let us not forget that gerrymandering is the invention of Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who created a US House district whose map lines resembled a salamander. We sneered at southern racism and then there was public school busing in Boston. Nubian Square is no longer named for slavery-permitting Gov. Dudley, but Faneuil Hall continues to carry the name of a slave trader.

According to a report card released by Open States, a project of the Sunlight Foundation, Massachusetts ranks 47th out of 50 for transparency and openness. For instance, our House of Representatives continues to be opaque by not allowing time, as little as one hour, for its members or the public to read a bill before it is voted on. Representatives in committees can vote to kill a bill without their constituents knowing because committee meetings are not recorded. Party bosses and establishment officials often use committees to kill bills. Of the 275 bills sent to the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security in 2017-2018, just one was sent to the floor for a vote. In this same period, the Joint Committee on Housing sent 0 of its 165 bills to the floor. 

The Dems’ darling and our governor-elect was asked what would change from a Baker to a Healy administration, and she replied, “the podiums will need to be shorter.” I voted and worked for her, and our ward committee endorsed and supported her, but she has really promised little more than shorter podiums. In 2018, Democratic State Party Chair Gus Bickford and National Committee member James Roosevelt conspired with the state’s college Dems (a part of the state party’s structure) on several campuses in the Mass. O-1 district and facilitated the publishing of homophobic lies suggesting sexual transgressions by Holyoke Mayor Morse, who was opposing incumbent Congressman Richie Neal. Party counselor Roosevelt himself drafted the fallacious letter. The state committee held no one to account.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party and the national party have developed standards that are often functionally elitist rather than working class. Harvard, Yale, and Stanford degrees are worshiped rather than understanding truths from the perspective of the working class and poor or the truth that only people of color can define what social justice looks like.

People in the Black Belt of Georgia, like people of color across the US, have been institutionally trained to be passive and have never developed an understanding of power. Power is nothing more than the ability of people to act in their own behalf. Democrats need to work from the understanding that the anger of the working poor arises most often from being ignored, invisible, left out, overlooked, dismissed, and burdened by the small frustrations and daily humiliations of a constant struggle to just get by.

Donald Trump tapped that anger. It is not based on sour resentments or a false sense of entitlement. Rather, it is an anger that seethes at the injustices of life and transforms itself into a compassion for those hurt by life. It is rooted in direct experience and held in collective memory. If these facts of life are not being spoken to daily, one-party government will not serve the body politic in Massachusetts. Worse, the corruption of elitism and self-righteousness could lead Massachusetts to our own corruption; indeed, there are already cracks showing. One party government corruption can be as blue as it is red in Georgia.

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