There is something fundamentally flawed with a nation composed primarily of politicians whose own lives will not be endangered by changes in policy.

Men, making decisions on reproductive rights, whose own bodies will never experience the rigors of pregnancy. The wealthy one-percenters, making decisions about minimum wage, with no understanding of what it means to live on less than that every day. Straight people deciding who does or doesn’t get to visit their loved ones in the hospital. Cisgendered folks deciding about trans health care coverage.

I don’t know what the solution is — it also seems wrong to require that you have some skin in the game in order to advocate policy changes. I’m not disabled, but as an elected official in our strategic planning meeting on Saturday, I was talking about whether we could add a low-sensory morning at the library, to make space for those who would find it helpful. Allies are useful, I think and hope.

But I watch West Wing, and they lose a big fight about domestic violence funding, or tax breaks for college tuition, and the rich white men in the room are idealists, they’re disappointed at the loss, but then they shrug and move onto the next thing. They don’t go home and spend the next few nights trying to hold themselves together, shaking and scared about what’s coming round the bend, and how it will directly impact their daily lives.

They get to move on.

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Strategic Planning

Read the board packet for this month’s meeting, and sent a message to the library director in preparation for next week’s 6-hour strategic objectives planning meeting. The library is heading into a big planning sequence, considering where we are and where we want to go next; it’s been almost two decades since the last one.
The director asked the trustees what concerns they wanted to bring into the strategic planning meeting. Just as a note, these are the sort of things I’m asking about. I’m looking forward to vibrant discussion, as the trustees and staff work together to balance
a) budgetary constraints and continued attention to keeping property taxes manageable, with
b) focus on our mission goals and excellent and conscientious service to all members of the community.
Some of the things I’d like to see may not turn out to be fiscally feasible, but at this stage, we’re putting our priorities on the table, really hashing out what best service to the community would look like. Then we’ll see which of those we can actually afford, and which may need to be saved for the future.
a) This year, we went through and asked part-time staff how many of them might want to go to full-time. I’m wondering if we’ve put any mechanism in place for future hiring (and/or review of current part-time stuff, perhaps annually), to ensure that the library continues to have a commitment to hiring staff into full-time benefited positions whenever possible?
b) For the strategic planning meeting, my main current questions are centered around access and expanding hours at the current library branches.
c) I also continue to be concerned about lower-level staff wages (personally, I’d like to see a faster rate of increase to the living wage, if possible).
d) And at some point I’d like to circle around to an idea I mentioned briefly some time back — whether it’d be possible to open up a new storefront branch of the library, something small, in areas that may be underserved, such as the SW corner of Oak Park, south of the highway. Just some place where people can pop in and check out even a small range of popular and children’s books (and return books) might be a great way to broaden our reach and increase access.
Looking forward to the discussion, and seeing what other trustees and staff bring to the table.
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I’m at a weird point in my life where it seems like every few weeks I get an invitation to be on a board. That sounds very honoring, but in actuality, it’s mostly come do some free work for us; that’s how working boards for non-profits operate.
Which is just fine, I’m in favor, and the thing is, they are all organizations I am excited about and believe in, and I am, in fact, honored that they would trust me to help steer the organization. But I cannot serve them all.
I think I need to make some guidelines for myself about how many hours of work I can give to boards annually. Considering also how many hours of work I donate to directing the SLF and DesiLit (about 5-20 hours / month, depending on what we’re doing), and how many hours I donate to being an elected trustee for the OP libraries (about 10 hours / month).
My term at the Museum of Science and Industry (about 2 hours / month, averaged out) is ending, so that opens up a slot, potentially. Hmm…
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Home from the library board meeting, four hours later. I had a little while at the start of the meeting when I wasn’t sure I would be able to hold it together through it; I wondered whether I should excuse myself and go home. I had complete faith that the other board members would do a great job with the meeting’s agenda.

But I had taken notes, I had questions to ask, so even though my eyes were red, even though I did suddenly weep a bit out in the hallway during a break, when someone was sympathetic to me, I stayed, and the work of the meeting was engaging, was its own reward. The work of helping to make the library, already so great, just a little bit better.

Thanks to the library trustees and staff for understanding my slightly verklempt state tonight. Thanks for all you do. I really think our library is a light shining in the darkness.

I think Ursula would be proud.

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When my kids were tiny, I spend a lot of time at the Maze branch of our local library. It is not a big library, but it was perfect for me to walk to from our little, often claustrophobic, rental house, with my newborn and a toddler.

We had a trustees meeting there a few months ago, and it was the first time I’d been there in years; I’m closer to the main library now, and it has more of what I need these days. But I’ll always cherish what Maze library provided when I needed it. Peace and stories, community and a breath of sanity.

I ran for office in 2017 out of frustration and anger, because I had seen my country stolen by moneyed interests eagerly swallowing down hateful rhetoric. I can’t regret those motivations entirely, because that frustration and anger fueled me through an intense campaign season.

But it turns out that running for office and governing are two very different things. When I walk into a library board meeting now, to serve as trustee, I am often overwhelmed by what has been entrusted to me and the other trustees. These walls, this cherished, sacred space.

From our library’s mission statement: our libraries work to empower every voice in our community, to share information, services, and opportunities, and to support literacy, education, diversity, inclusion, equity, health, safety, and affordability.

Recommitting to this service in the new year, along with all of my own personal and familial goals — in 2018, I hope to be an excellent public servant, thoughtful and thorough, careful and considerate. Worthy of your trust.

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Brandon Johnson

Tonight’s meet-and-greet with Brandon Johnson, running for Cook County Commissioner for the 1st district. I was impressed, and will be volunteering for him. Please feel free to come to me with any questions you have, and I’ll try my best to answer them. I’ll also have yard signs! The election is March 20th.

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Doug Jones

I am only just starting to understand what it takes to create an upset like Doug Jones’s — but it often starts with meet-and-greets like the one I just hosted, ten people in someone’s living room, learning about a new candidate. Jones must have had a tremendous cadre of volunteers and staffers helping him get the word out to accomplish this.

If I have an ask for you tonight, it’s this — get involved in 2018. Go to a meet-and-greet, or a Democratic party meeting, or the League of Women Voters (non-partisan), or volunteer with voter registration efforts in your community (especially if your community is a historically marginalized one — we need your voices!).

We’re fighting for the soul of America. Join us.

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4th District

I’m not going to run for Luis Gutierrez’s seat in Congress (which has unexpectedly opened up this week, with a filing deadline on Monday). I flirted, every so briefly, with the idea, even talked it over with Kevin for an hour late last night, had trouble sleeping because I couldn’t stop thinking about it — but decided it really didn’t make sense. In the interests of transparency in politics, esp. for those thinking of running for office, here’s a little of my pro and con list:

– so far, the three people in the race are all men; it’s possible that another woman will declare, but until that happens, it would be valuable for me to run, just to increase visibility

– similarly, there still aren’t very many Asian Americans running for office, and even fewer South Asian Americans, so there’s a visibility argument there too

– also queer folk visibility

– the district isn’t one I live in, but it basically surrounds mine, so it’s certainly more manageable logistically than something downstate, for example; I wouldn’t necessarily have to uproot my family

– I think I would be good at the job itself; I’ve found that I really love being on the library board, and I have to rein myself in to keep from making the meetings last three times as long as they’re supposed to because I want to argue out all the issues in detail; I am apparently more of a policy wonk than I’d realized

– it’s a majority Hispanic district, and I am not Hispanic (the three men who are running are, I believe)

– relatedly, I don’t really know anything about the needs of that district — I would have to dive in to really get to know the people, their struggles, their hopes and aspirations, etc. Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know Oak Park a *lot* better than I knew it in the eight years previous that I lived here, so I certainly think I could learn what I needed to learn to serve the people of that district well. But it would be a lot of work, and would require a lot of time, and there would always be the danger that even if I put in all of that work and time, I would still miss important things because I come from a very different place (culturally, historically, economically, etc.)

– the current popular incumbent has ‘tapped’ his preferred replacement, who is also popular and is much more known in the district (and the city) than I am, so it would be a very hard fight

– I’m tired.


In the end, it was the last thing that really tipped the scales decisively, enough that I didn’t even want to gather petition signatures and get on the ballot. (It felt strange to me to do so, if I had no intention to run, though I know sometimes people do it to raise their visibility for a future race, raise issues, etc.)

Running for office last spring was exhausting, in part because I was starting from scratch and so I felt like I had to schedule and attend every event I could — for months, I had community events on most weekday evenings and 2-3 on the weekends. It was a grueling pace to maintain with a day job and small children, and I hadn’t realized how much Kevin would need to pick up the slack in order to make it possible.

If I felt like this was the right race for me, that I needed to do it, that the people of this district would be substantially better off with me representing them than the other candidates, then Kev would support me. As he said when we talked about it last night, he’d manage. But as I said in response, he might manage, but I don’t think he and the kids would thrive, if I were basically absent for the next several months. And if I were trying to keep up my teaching to a strong level in that time too, then I think I’d also lose all my writing time. The novel would have to be put on hold, at least until the election, and if I won, on hold perhaps indefinitely. It’s a lot to sacrifice.

It’s been a long haul for me, the last several years. Small children were exhausting with the sleep deprivation, then there were some family health and other crises that took a lot of time and energy, then my cancer diagnosis and treatment, then the election in November 2016, and running for office. I have another reconstructive surgery scheduled for tomorrow, and there may be one more after that. I feel like I’ve been just running flat out since Kavya was born. More than a decade.

I said to Kev last night, “I don’t know how Hillary did it.” I just finished reading her memoir, and I honestly don’t know how, at her age, she had the strength to campaign as hard as she did.

Right now, I’m too tired to do the job of running for office well. I need a few more months, at least, to finish the cancer recovery process; I feel like my life is only now finally getting back to normal. I need to build up my physical strength and health, to get fit enough that I could conceivably do months of evening and weekend events without falling over. There’s a reason you call it a race, and like a marathon, I think before I run again, if I do, I want to actually train for it.

So this isn’t the race for me, however tempting the sudden unexpected possibility was. Right now, I focus on serving well on the library board, taking care of my family, recovering my own health, teaching my students, and writing the novel.

Down the line, who knows?


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Meet and Greet

Okay, so I’m going to make a pitch for coming to my tea tomorrow, but it’s not really about the tea. Here’s the thing — before last November’s election, I had never been to a candidate meet-and-greet. I’d never even been invited to one.

I sort of vaguely knew they existed, mostly because I watched West Wing obsessively, and they had a whole sequence in the last season where the candidate didn’t want to waste his time going to local volunteers’ houses to talk to the people; he wanted to make big speeches in front of a crowd of thousands. And his campaign committee was mad at him about that, because they knew that those meet-and-greets in peoples’ living rooms were the first step to winning elections.

You meet ten people in a living room; you impress some of them, hopefully. They get energized, and they convince ten of their friends to canvass for you. Now you’ve got twenty people dividing up the village into precincts and knocking on doors for you; apparently 50 percent of people will vote for a candidate if asked to do so in person by one of their volunteers. Multiply that out by a dozen meet-and-greets, and suddenly you’ve got a thousand people voting for you, or more, and you’re in the running to actually win this thing. They’re a powerful element of our democracy, these casual conversations in people’s living rooms.

But it all starts with going to the meet-and-greets. And as I said, they weren’t on my radar before. So how do you hear about them? Well, if you attend a Democratic Party meeting, you may meet people hosting them. If you start going to local political events, like candidate forums and school board meetings, you’re going to meet the people who are already very engaged in local politics. If you join a local progressive women’s mailing lists, invites may be posted there. Before long, you’ll be plugged in.

And once you get an invite, you’re thinking — my life is busy, I don’t know anything about this candidate or this race, I don’t know why I should go, or what it’ll be like. Well, you go to learn exactly those things — what the race is about, why it matters, who this candidate is.

As for what it’ll be like, there’ll be some awkward milling around (although after you’ve done it once or twice, you’ll probably know people there, because the pool of people active in local politics is actually tiny). There’ll be some low-key food and drinks. The candidate may just chat with the group, or they may take 10-15 minutes to make a little speech about who they are and why they’re running for office. That’s pretty much it. You don’t need to stay for the whole time — you can duck in for 15 minutes, if that’s what you have to spare that day. You can usually bring your kids.

Sometimes there’ll be fundraising, but if it’s a fundraiser, that’ll usually be explicitly said, and that’s generally geared towards people who are already committed to the candidate or Party; you shouldn’t worry about being pressured to donate otherwise.

Mostly, it’s a great way to start getting more involved in and aware of what’s happening in local (and state, and national) politics.

To that end, local folks, if you’re free between 3-5 tomorrow (Sunday), I’m hosting a meet-and-greet for Oak Parker Fritz Kaegi, who’s going up against the incumbent Cook County property tax assessor, because Frtiz thinks (based on plenty of research) that property taxes are unfairly assessed. I met Fritz at a petition-signing party a few weeks ago; I still don’t know him that well, but he impressed me, and I’m looking forward to getting to know him better, and learn more about his campaign. We’ll also be raffling off some award-winning pies, that can be picked up in perfect time for your Thanksgiving table.

I’ll have snacks and drinks (RSVP’s help me make sure I have enough), and kids are welcome. We’re in an old Victorian, so there are some steps up to the front door, and we have a small dog. Would love to meet some more neighbors — hope you can stop by!

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It is November 8th, which means we have now endured one year since the American presidential election. Most of us (not all) have survived it, but hardly unscathed. If you are thinking that you wish you could do more to make a better world, there are a host of ways you can, and I’m planning to talk about some of them soon. But I wanted to take this moment to encourage anyone interested in running for office, to run, and to point you to the blog where I chronicled my own successful run for local office.

I’ll note that I did have to work pretty hard to win, in terms of doing LOTS of community events in a short time period, which was fun but tiring. But that was mostly because I was sort of starting from scratch — I’d done plenty of community-supporting work in the years before, but it’d been on a global arts stage, rather than a local politics stage.

I knew that I wasn’t ‘known’ in my community, and I’d have to work hard to get my name out there. If you start more traditionally, with serving on local commissions, PTOs, etc., and just attending lots of community events and talking to people there, then you won’t be playing catch-up quite as much when you decide to run. In large part, it’s simply a matter of meeting the voters. Go out, smile, and shake some hands.

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