Dear Mount Rainier and other interested parties

Like most of you I’m shocked by the results of the presidential election. I don’t think I was under any illusions about national political conditions — I just underestimated the number of people who would actually pull the lever for the worst major party candidate for president in living memory.

I have literally been pacing the house, my mind trying to get a grasp of what is going to happen and whether there is anything I can do. Here are some opportunities for local action and a few related thoughts.

First of all, let’s never act like it’s normal and O.K.

Remember that half the country voted for Hillary Clinton and well over half voted for someone other than Trump. Don’t internalize or propagate the narrative that the incoming president or his party have a mandate. We are not alone and America is not doomed. 2020 is just around the corner, and there is a lot of groundwork to prepare before then!

When George Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 he acted like he had a mandate anyway and, especially after September 11, we let him get away with it. Our elected representatives were complicit in the Patriot Act, the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, the Afghanistan quagmire, and dozens of other policies that should have violated their consciences. The media and the CW treated Iraq War protesters like fringe crazies.

My fears tell me a Trump administration will be like a roided-out Bush administration: bolder and more reckless and even more destructive to the infrastructure of democracy. It will be up to everyday citizens like us to prevent the media from shifting the definition of normal and legitimizing Trump and his actions as they did during the campaign. Never forget how you felt on election night.

Second of all, get involved in local government.

The best part of working for Mount Rainier has been the ability to make a difference for good, though the scale is small. Here are ways you can make a difference for your neighbors, your families, and yourself:

  • Sadly, Ward 1 Council Member Tracy Loh is moving out of Mount Rainier soon. Her expertise has been invaluable over the last year and a half, especially in professionalization of the staff, zoning issues, and economic development. The charter gives me the responsibility of submitting up to three candidates for the Council to choose from to appoint to her vacated seat. If you are interested, please email or call me to tell me why and what you would like to see the Council accomplish.

That Council seat will be on the ballot again for this May’s city elections, so be prepared to campaign almost immediately! The other Ward 1 seat (the one I’m in), a Ward 2 seat, and the mayoralty will also be on the ballot then.

  • Trump brings a spirit of xenophobia and ultranationalism that inspires fear and violence. I think it’s our responsibility to expand the protection of community to as many residents as possible — especially the underrepresented and disenfranchised. That’s why I have proposed a city charter amendment to allow all Mount Rainier adult residents to vote in municipal elections, regardless of citizenship status. I feel that it is our duty to expand suffrage to the full extent of the law or come up with a good reason why not (as Takoma Park and soon Hyattsville have done).

There will be a chance for you to give the Council your opinion on this and some other election-related charter amendments at our Council work session on Tuesday, November 15 at 7 p.m. at City Hall. Please come out to support giving all residents a voice in local matters. 

  • Racial bias in application of the law is widespread (not, as far as I know, in Mount Rainier but definitely in DC and PG County) and plays out on the front line of the battle to preserve our civil rights and civil liberties. It’s been bad. Now it’s going to be worse.

As a city with its own police department it’s up to us to make sure we are getting the kind of protection we want. We have had forums on how the police interact with the community. As far as I can tell, there’s been a lot of talk — good as far as it goes — and no policy action.

To think about:

  • Do African-Americans in Mount Rainier feel safer or less safe when they see the police approach?
  • When the Trump administration starts mass deportations, do we want the MRPD to volunteer to enforce federal immigration law and arrest our neighbors?
  • Are body cameras in general providing more accountability for the actions of police officers and the people they interact with or just an illusion of accountability?
  • What is community policing, and are we getting the style of law enforcement our residents want?
  • Are there any ways that city and MRPD policies might perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline, and if so what can we do?

We know what the problems are. They’ve been part of the national conversation for decades. Now we need to analyze how they affect our city and take concrete steps that will lead us to a place where residents feel well protected from crime without fearing the police.

If you are interested in doing some research and developing recommendations on these subjects, please let me know. It might be beneficial to form an ad hoc working group.

  • Climate change and the environment. The incoming administration looks like it will be the worst ever on climate change, and this at the most critical juncture our civilization has reached. As a council member, I introduced and the Council passed an impervious surface fee that has raised tens of thousands of dollars to increase and maintain Mount Rainier’s tree canopy.

I also introduced, with a lot of help from the Tree Commission, then-Council Member Brent Bolin, then-Street Tree Commissioner and current Council Member Bryan Knedler and others, an ordinance that protects public trees and also private trees that meet certain criteria. It requires removal permits and compensation for any depletion of the city’s canopy.

The ordinance passed a couple of years ago, but in an effort to make the unwieldy language more user-friendly and enforceable, Council Member Knedler and the Tree Commission have been working on a revised version.

While the revision is great overall, the replacement requirements for removed trees (based on Takoma Park’s ordinance) have been watered down in the current draft. Please let the mayor and your Council representatives know that you support greater protection for our tree canopy, not less.

  • Youth and recreation is another topic that gets a lot of lip service and close to zero action. There wasn’t consensus even on something as simple as my proposal to replace a basketball hoop on the court at Arundel Rd. and 30th St. There is not much for young people on foot to do in most parts of the city, and their needs are not being evaluated let alone met.

 But the City has appropriated $10,000 to revive the Youth and Recreation Committee. Several people have expressed interest in serving on the committee already. If you would like to administer grants and possibly develop recreation programs and activities too, then please contact the city manager with a resume and brief statement about why you are interested.

  • Recognize that just because everyone around here is a Democrat doesn’t mean everyone is politically progressive. Also keep in mind that just because someone belongs to a traditionally progressive demographic it doesn’t mean they necessarily support progressive policies. Look at their records on the issues. When you hear a county or state policy proposal think critically about where it comes from and whom it benefits. If you have the energy, research the political origins and implications because they will explain a lot.

Attend upcoming events. An incomplete list:

  • Cena y baile, el sábado 12 de noviembre a las 7 p.m., Saint James Church, 3628 Rhode Island Ave., Mount Rainier: “Es un evento para toda la familia. Organizado para recaudar fondos para nuestra linda Parroquia St. James. Los boletos ($10) los puede comprar en el sótano de la parroquia los sábados entre las 3pm y 5pm, domingos después de la Misa de las 11:30am y 6pm, también en la rectoria de la Parroquia de lunes a viernes de 9am a 5pm.”
  • Red Dirt Open Studio on Sunday, November 13, 1-5 p.m. at 4051 34th, Mount Rainier: “Come over to the Red Dirt Studio at the Firehouse and see what 30 artists and other creative professionals are doing! We have several new faces in our mix and fresh art on the walls!”
  • Why Are Central Americans Coming to Maryland? on Monday, November 14 7:30-9 p.m., Cottage City Town Hall, 3820 40th Ave, Cottage City: “In August of this year, a delegation of elected officials from Maryland and Massachusetts went to El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico to investigate the conditions in these countries, the causes of migration and what was happening at the Mexican-Guatemalan border. Come hear a report on what they saw.”
  • Trip to Museum of African-American History & Culture, Saturday, Nov. 19 12:30-5 p.m. “Mount Rainier residents will be taking a field trip to the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in downtown DC. The museum is located at 1400 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., between Madison Drive and Constitution Avenue and between 14th and 15th Streets. Tickets are FREE, but limited. Email Council Member Shivali Shah for more information about transportation and to reserve a ticket. admin@shivalishah.com”

Third of all, join organizations that amplify your voices and donations:

I read that between now and 2020 President Obama is going to focus on reversing the gerrymandering that distorts the makeup of the U.S. House. I don’t know how he will organize, but I am going to join up. This is possibly the most effective political goal we can accomplish over the next four years.

The ACLU is best positioned to defend against the inevitable governmental intrusions on our rights. I could say so much more on this topic, but others have said it better. Sign up here.

Join the National Women’s Health Network (full disclosure: my wife is their policy director) and Planned Parenthood, because the incoming VP and his evangelical support base are going to press the president on all the social issues that George Bush basically ignored. Especially women’s health issues.

Consider the success of the Tea Party in pushing American politics to the right and support progressives in the 2018 primary elections. Join Progressive Maryland.

And finally, don’t let the bastards grind you down.14980696_10211954703728673_8022036825428396707_n_1_.jpg

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