RCers as Elected Officials

The following are some postings to the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of wide world change:

I am the Information Coordinator for Current and Former Elected Officials. I left elected office after seventeen years as a mayor and city council member in a small urban city in the San Francisco Bay (California, USA) area. In my initial campaign, I knocked on doors to introduce myself to the community, one person at a time. I viewed each encounter as a potential new relationship, whether it lasted for ten seconds or twenty minutes. Over the years I learned about exerting influence and had many victories. Some were quite public; others more subtle.

If you know of other current or former elected officials, please have them contact me. We have a unique perspective to share about policy, handling attacks, establishing relationships, and more.

Ruth Atkin

Emeryville, California, USA

I am an elected member of the county council of greater Copenhagen, Denmark, for my political party, the Red Green Alliance. It is the most grassroots-based party in my country. We deal particularly with health care, public transportation, and the environment. I like to add a gender perspective where people in general don’t think it is relevant.

As an elected woman, I represent my party in the Danish Women’s Council, where I work on policies and actions for women’s rights. I also represent the Women’s Council in the Institute for Human Rights and in the Danish branch of the United Nations.

In these capacities I have been involved in projects in Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia that work to strengthen women’s representation in politics. In all these places I have taught basic RC, listening skills, and the importance of building with those we disagree with. I have taught about sexism and male domination, structural discrimination, and how nobody really profits from oppression and have always put what I teach in a context of global capitalism and racism. I am quite thoughtful about the way I describe and explain things and always try to avoid Western and traditional leftist jargon.

Susanne Langer

Copenhagen, Denmark

 I have served as an elected official for the past seven years. I am now in my last year of a second term in office.

I was not welcomed into my position. I had to fight for it and have fought to keep it. I have been attacked by my progressive friends for not having “balls” [not being courageous] and am often demonized by those on the reactionary side. You might say I have a target on my butt that glows in the dark.

It has been easy to make mistakes and to “go along” [conform to the status quo]. I have slipped into being lax and then snapped out of it and had to face my ignorance or how I colluded with non-thinking. I’ve learned to say that I was wrong on an issue, to apologize, and to commit to correcting my mistakes.

Anyone who takes on [confronts and tries to do something about] difficult situations will likely make mistakes—some of which can have tragic effects, such as many current events. But we can always apologize, acknowledge the mistakes, and say why we are thinking differently.

The so-called democratic process has mostly been about manipulation. I understand better how it works after running for and holding office, and discharging through it. It has been well worth the effort to learn what happens behind the scenes, to find where I can raise awareness, and to work for and together with people for human solutions and an upward trend, not toward a pre-set agenda.

The so-called press no longer quotes me in the newspaper. They always manipulated what I said to fit a myopic political agenda, and I learned to be cautious. I think they’re afraid of my determination and willingness to be a person with integrity.

I began community work in my early twenties. We worked to bring potable water and sewer systems to our neighborhoods, establish school breakfast programs, make the education system serve our families, and stop drug and alcohol abuse, police brutality, and the criminalization of our young people.

At meetings I would ask questions to raise awareness and make people think, without alienating anyone. That was tricky at best, but do-able. I was forced to say what I thought before being sure of myself and often had to respond quickly about issues, policies, and organizational practices. I have had to fight to learn, to think for myself, and to thoughtfully and intentionally say what I think in public.

I’ve spent quite a few hours listening and reading about budgets; the history of public education; how local, state, national, and international politics are connected to education; and so on—while trying to sort through the rhetoric of different individuals, each of whom claims to be correct.

I’ve learned how to share what I know in little bits while mostly listening, observing people’s reactions, communicating that I like people, and, most important, showing respect to everyone.

I’ve learned that individuals who work in the system need many, many opportunities to discharge. It hardly ever happens for them. Listening is a revolutionary action that anyone can take. It’s always an option and lays the foundation for forward movement.

Old habits of timidity must end, given all that needs to be done. Anger is only a distraction. We have to know what we’re talking about, look people in the eye, ask lots of questions, and mostly listen much more than we’re comfortable with.

Lorenzo Garcia

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

 I am a city council member in a city of sixty-five thousand people in The Netherlands. I am trying to do my share as a politician (and RCer) to activate people’s minds.

During the two decades after World War II, lots of people were born. In the sixties and seventies, this baby-boom generation fought against the male-dominated white upper class that ruled this country (similar to what was happening all over the Western world). As soon as this “protest generation” came into power, they mostly settled with the status quo.

In the eighties and nineties, we got a government that put many people to sleep about the battle that needed to be fought. Many believed that if everybody would turn to their work, play a good role in society, and be successful, we would all prosper. They ignored all the warnings that history had provided us.

A new underclass grew—of immigrants’ children, people from former colonies, refugees, school dropouts—who didn’t quite meet the demands of society and were treated as less equal. They fell, initially invisibly, between the wheels of bureaucracy. Many of them were working-class people who weren’t upwardly mobile. In the end they were also middle-class people who were losing their jobs and who were too old or whose skills were too outdated for them to find new ones. Incapacitated people, who most people believed were being well taken care of in our system, were losing their benefits and shielding. And capitalism had effectively isolated all these people from each other, making them easy targets for lies about each other (scapegoating).

Because the “new” middle class kept denying the facts, by the end of the nineties extreme right-wing politicians had a huge window of opportunity to point at the problems that were not being dealt with.

It took another ten years for the people who had long been ignored to openly admit that they had been right-wing voters.

I was overwhelmed. Several of my acquaintances were right-wing voters. My first response was to withdraw and never see them again. I then realized that I needed to learn to listen to them, learn why people make such choices, and figure out what I could do to bridge the gap. It was then that I decided to get active in politics.

I am a member of the most leftist socialist working–class party. Some say we are the only left party remaining. The Greens and the Labour Party have turned liberal. (In this country “liberal” means “neoliberal right wing.”) Politicians forget whom they are working for. People are sick of [tired of] left-wing politicians becoming rich. That’s how the Dutch Labour Party lost its support.

I work for a systematic change—to replace capitalism with a much more human and sustainable society. Less air travel or buying solar panels is not going to have enough of an effect.

I want people to not have to choose between bad and less-bad options. It must be clear that we should fight against all the bad options, not just for a few good options besides the bad ones. I’m not opting to feel a little less bad—I want big results.

I am sorry for all the bad that is going to happen, but too many of us were distracted for too long. We weren’t facing the bad things that kept happening. We just hoped that they wouldn’t happen to us. We believed that the world was progressing.

It is time to wake up! I find that hopeful.

Frank van den Heuvel

Nieuwegein, The Netherlands

(Present Time 189, October 2017)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00