Very civic-minded day. I dropped off Kavya for a day at Camp Congress, and then headed off to the annual library board strategic planning meeting.

“Camp Congress for Girls Chicago 2017 is a leadership program that introduces girls ages 8 to 15 to politics. Camp begins with a lesson on the structure of our political system. Each girl will choose to run for a seat in the US House of Representatives, the US Senate or for the presidency. She will create her own campaign with a platform, campaign slogan, campaign finance plan, campaign marketing materials and a political ad for television. All campers will register to vote and then vote in an election. Once elected to Congress and sworn in, the newly installed members of Congress will learn how to introduce a bill, debate the merits of the bill, lobby fellow legislators, collaborate with the Executive branch and finally vote on the proposed bill. Camp will culminate with a ceremonial signing of the bill by our Ms. President. Girl Scouts participating in Camp Congress for Girls will receive a Citizen Legacy badge upon completion of the program.”

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Board #2

Library board meeting was awesome — so interesting, thinking through all these issues.

I do have to say, I think I kind of got lobbed a softball in terms of elected office — our library is staffed with fabulous librarians, our executive director is confidently and competently steering things in what I think is absolutely the right direction, and our community is willing to fund us well with their property taxes.

There’s always more than could be done, of course, but in large part, my job as trustee of this library is to make sure things keep going as well as they have been.

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Jacketed and invested

Thanks to Jed for coming along to my library board investiture last week and taking pics! Let us pause to admire my jacket — it is the only jacket I own, and I’d never actually worn it before; I picked it up secondhand a year or so ago, even though I never wear jackets (and it was the teeniest bit small for me), because I couldn’t resist the chain mail details on collar and sleeves. But I was glad to have the added formality for the swearing-in ceremony. Perhaps there will be more jackets in my future? We’ll see.

Oak Parkers, one last reminder that as of June 1, our libraries are now fine-free (if you’re checking out Oak Park books). If you have too many outstanding titles, you won’t be able to check out more, so there’s still incentive to return books.

I think this is a great move that will help create equity and foster access. Fines are a regressive funding model, in that they hit hardest those with the least ability to pay. If your monthly household income is $500, a $5 fine is going to hit your family much harder than if your monthly income is $5000.

There are better, more equitable ways to fund our libraries (though I admit, they may require fighting with your city council to get them through…).

Getting rid of fines will mean that families who had stopped using the library because of inability to pay (and/or shame about the fines) will now be able to use it freely again. I like to think it’s what Ben Franklin would have wanted.

Thanks to our librarians for requesting this change, and gratitude to our community for supporting them in it. Oak Park is a relatively well-off Village, and our libraries are almost entirely supported by property taxes; fines have historically been a small proportion of the library’s budget. We can afford to extend the best possible library access to all.

I’m very happy to see this change as well, which took place just before I was sworn into office. When I attended a January board meeting as a private citizen, I made a public comment about the value of getting rid of meeting space charges.

The OPRF garden club, for example, which has a small overall budget, couldn’t afford to hold meetings in the library’s larger rooms. A friend’s Girl Scout troop couldn’t afford to meet in the library near them, and had to go to a notably further one, which didn’t have a meeting charge.

The library staff and the board reviewed costs, and the meeting room income is a tiny fraction of the library budget — and of course, it does cost the library some administrative time to track and administer those payments.

They decided that at least for non-profit orgs, it made sense and was in keeping with the library’s mission to remove those charges. A great move!

I have to say, it is SUPER-EXCITING to be able to enter the library when it is officially closed.

The little girl who basically lived in the library and who still lives in my heart was doing cartwheels.

This morning’s breakfast was mostly a meet-and-greet that welcomed in newly elected officials (held once every two years, so not a huge expenditure of taxpayer funds, I promise), and graced by awesome spoken word from three of our high school students. Very cool.

I didn’t plan on this, but I did end up getting a little trustee business done. I found myself at a table with two folks from the township board and with David Seleb, our library’s executive director, so I brought up an idea from the campaign — some of the seniors I’d talked to found it difficult getting to the library, and I knew our Township (which does senior services) had a shuttle bus.

I asked about the possibility of ‘library Monday’ or some such, where they shuttled around to the different senior centers, brought them to the library, waited, and then took them back again.

They were open to the idea, but mentioned that it probably wouldn’t be weekly (sure — I have no idea how much demand there’d actually be), and then they quickly spun off a few more ideas — combining it with some senior-focused programming at the library, so there’d be a particular thing they could attend. Also perhaps combining it with a high school group learning computer instruction — they could come in and teach a class to seniors, which would be something helpful to their studies as well, a sort of practicum.

In a few minutes, we developed what I think what might be an interesting addition to everyone’s programming — we’ll see how it develops. But three cheers for creative problem-solving, intergovernmental cooperation, and getting things done over bagels and lox. I do like bagels and lox.

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“These people are members of a community that care about where they live, so what I hear when I’m being yelled at, is people caring loudly at me.”

— Leslie Knope, Parks and Rec, episode one

(I’m getting ready to be invested as a library board trustee next week by starting a summer re-watch of Parks & Rec.)

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Our local Democratic Party has been bringing the governor candidates to Oak Park, which I really appreciate. I was out of town for the last pair (Kennedy and Biss) — need to watch the recorded video. And I was coaching Kavi’s game while Ameya Pawar was speaking, sadly — I had really hoped to make it in time for him. He’ll be at L!ve Cafe soon, though, and I’ll be going to that.

I did manage to catch Pritzker, and I have to say, for a billionaire, he didn’t seem half-bad. He was certainly saying all the right progressive things; his policy seems on point. And he presents very well, so I think he has a good chance of being able to win voters (esp. with the help of all that money, of course).

Well, we’ll see. I’m going to go see Pawar, and research the other candidates more, and at some point in the next few months, will likely make my pick for my preferred candidate, with the plan of putting in some significant time supporting their campaign. Hosting a fundraiser or two, organizing Oak Park door-knocking and mailing, etc. and so on. My campaign is over, but there’s plenty of Democratic work to be done between now and 2018. Time to be a good foot soldier for the party.

(Also pictured here, library board member Matt Fruth, setting a good example — he was there with his babe-in-arms, asking tough questions and holding the candidates to account!)

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Sri Lankan New Year — thanks to Elliott Mason for taking these photos! I was a little busy. ūüôā Splendid time, I think a bigger party than we’ve hosted here before (about 80 people overall?), and you will be glad to know that I didn’t run out of food. Whew!

And I did take a few photos. Thanks to Kat for taking my recipe and just making the ribbon sandwiches when I ran out of time — it doesn’t feel like a proper Sri Lankan party to me without them. ūüôā And thanks to everyone who came out, especially my campaign volunteers (as this was also the official end-of-campaign thank-you dinner). Couldn’t have done it without you!!!

Kavya says, “Happy New Year!”

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One thing I didn’t include in last night’s politics post, that I perhaps should have, is that in considering moving for a chance at higher office, there is a real conflict between:

a) where I could do the most good
b) where I could have a real chance of being elected
c) where I am comfortable raising my children

We moved to Oak Park because it’s a ethnically and economically diverse, queer-friendly neighborhood. (Being a close commute to work was a big bonus, but not the main reason we came here.) I am unwilling to move to an extremely white and conservative area and finish raising my mixed-race children there.

I lived in Salt Lake City for three years — the first year was fine, the second year, the prevalent atmosphere was starting to get to me, and by the third year, I was feeling desperate to get out. And this is despite the fact that I actually genuinely liked my friends and classmates. They were great people — anywhere we moved, I firmly believe, would¬†be full of great, good-hearted people. But pervasive regional attitudes about race / ethnicity / religion / queerness / economics, etc. can really grind you down on a day to day level.

I remember a conversation with a faculty member at Utah about how they had a really hard time holding onto minority faculty — they came, because after grad school, you’re desperately glad to get a job, but after a few years many of them left again. They couldn’t bring themselves to raise kids there, or they just couldn’t take the atmosphere themselves. The University was a bit of a liberal bubble, but not enough of one.

Which leaves me wondering — is it enough to work to make Oak Park a shining city on the hill, an example of what we should all be striving for? Oak Park certainly isn’t yet as equitable as it would like to be. But there is such misery elsewhere…

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Next steps

Okay, I’m just going to talk this out a little, and this is a little more frank than I think one normally is about running for office, but it’s also all completely obvious to anyone who actually pays attention to these things, so I think it’s fine. Transparency is how I work, regardless, and hopefully it’s useful to others thinking of running for office.

Here’s the issue — I would like to save the world. That is not so feasible, but I can perhaps help improve a little piece of it. I tried running for the smallest of local offices. With much effort and help, I succeeded. I now will serve for four years. Since library board is one meeting / month, my life could mostly go along as it has been. BUT. If I do want to run for higher office and serve a larger constituency down the road, there are things I should start doing…well, not necessarily now, but soon.

One thing is to be more involved in my community — that part is easy and fun. I like volunteering — I’m very happy to take Kavi and go help out at the homeless shelter / food bank / sign-making party / etc. and so on. I also like community book clubs, women’s group cocktail fundraisers, etc. and so on. All good.

BUT. The question is, what would be the next office. And that gets pretty complicated. If I’m staying local, it’s straightforward — I could run again for library board, or look at school board, village trustee, park district, township, even, I suppose, mayor (or rather, village president, but it’s currently called mayor, sometimes, it’s complicated). My life would be largely unchanged in the next four years in that case — more community involvement, perhaps a citizens’ commission, maybe even a couple urban planning classes. A tremendous amount of good can be done at the local level.

If, on the other hand, my aspirations are for state rep., or state senator, or governor, or even Congress, if what I really want to do is solve problems at those levels, then it gets complex. Because the thing is, we have a representative government, and you need to actually live in the place where you’re running, which means if I’m going to run for any of those offices, I need to a) be convinced that I’d be a better candidate than the people currently in those positions, and b) be realistically able to unseat them.

I live in a very Blue area. All of my representatives are Democrats. But are they good, strong, effective Democrats? My state people are Don Harmon and Camille Lilly, my Congresspeople are Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin.

I’m still learning about them, and will be for a while. I met with Don Harmon recently for the first time, and have also seen him speak at a forum, and I have to say, I’m generally pretty impressed with him. There’s more research to do, but overall, he seems strong. And yes, he’s a white man, and in general, I would like to see a more diverse group of elected officials, but Don appears to be a very smart, competent person with politics I agree with, so I’m not currently feeling an urgent desire to try to unseat him.

I’m meeting with our representative, Camille Lilly tomorrow, and I know less about her, but people I trust seem to like her. And she’s a black woman, so there’s no diversity argument for me to be trying to unseat her — the opposite, rather, as I would think hard before trying to take a seat away from a black elected official, especially since they often are representing majority-black districts, and it seems unlikely that I, an upper-middle-class brown woman, would be able to represent their district better than they already are. (And there are complexities — I’m also queer, and also an immigrant, and that all factors in, one way or another, but still.) I think representation matters.

I don’t know enough about Duckworth or Durbin yet. More to research, and all of that may take some months. So there really aren’t any decisions to make anytime soon. But hypothetically speaking, let’s say I decide all four of these people are good, and strong, and I just want to support them and maybe harass them a little to keep them on the right track. So then I could stay at the local level with my own campaigns.

OR. I could move. And that is where it gets really complicated. Because moving me means moving my family, and we bought this house because we LOVE Oak Park and we wanted these schools for our kids and it’ll be about ten more years until Anand is done with the schools. In ten more years I’ll be fifty-five — is that too late to move somewhere else, get involved enough in that community to realistically run for something else there in a reasonable time frame? I honestly don’t know how Clinton did a national campaign at her age; it seems utterly exhausting. After four months of library board campaign, I basically slept for three solid days and still feel a bit wobbly a week later.

If I were going to move, never mind the question of where that should be — that’s a whole ‘nother question, that would require lots of research. Right now I’m just struggling with a somewhat confused worry that perhaps I need to figure out in the next four years (while I serve this library term) whether I really think the right thing to do with my life is run for higher office, and if so, whether I’m willing to uproot my family and move them in order to have a shot at it. (And given that I did almost no writing while campaigning the last four months, am I willing to also give up a lot of my writing career? Should I?)

I don’t have to think about any of this now, or, I suppose, at all. But a lot of people supported my campaign, and at least some of them did, I think, because they knew I was seriously considering higher office down the road. So here I am, seriously considering it.

Honestly, it’s keeping me up at night a bit. Maybe it’s having gone through cancer treatment, but for whatever reason, I am feeling an acute awareness of how many years I might or might not have left, and a strong desire to be intentional with that time. I’ve had twenty-five years as an adult, and have generally been pretty happy with how that’s gone. (I could wish I had spent less of my 20s struggling with credit card debt and terrible temp. jobs, but oh well).

What should I do with the next twenty-five, should I be lucky enough to get them?

(I do not actually expect the internet to be able to answer this question for me. Writing it all out helps, though.)


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Running locally

I’m a little worried that people will have seen my local race, noticed how much time and energy it took, and will be discouraged from local office. ¬†I want to make clear that this race was really atypical. ¬†A lot of people in Oak Park, myself included, were clearly energized by the November election results, and as a result, we had far more people running for local offices like library board and school board than normal.

I think that’s terrific, actually — it’s great that voters had a wide set of people to choose from, and the process of running actually helped me and I suspect other candidates clarify our own visions and senses of what we stood for. ¬†So I’m personally glad my first race looked like this — it was also great practice for running for higher office. ¬†But it’s really unusual.

Generally, when you run for local office (school board, library board, park board, village or township trustee, etc.), there’s a very good chance you’ll be running uncontested. ¬†So essentially, all you have to do is collect somewhere between 25-300 signatures, and you’re pretty much in. ¬†(Library board was 25.) ¬†You may not need to spend money at all. ¬†In a lot of cases across the country, not enough people will run to even fill the spots, so the ones that do will win uncontested, and then they need to try to appoint (beg) a few people to fill the remaining spots.

So if you’re interested at all in running for local office, please don’t be put off by how much effort went into my race! ¬†This was an outlier year, I suspect — voter turnout here was also really up, from a typical 10-12% in a normal off-year- election, to 33%. ¬†(Which is still quite low, of course, but is three times what we’d usually have.) ¬†I’d love to think that this level of civic engagement will continue, but realistically, I suspect that by the next election, a fair bit of that energy will have dissipated. ¬†So if you want to run, run! ¬†Or if you know someone who should run, tell them to run! ¬†I firmly believe that everyone who wants to run for office should have the chance to do so; I suspect that we could all do more to help find and support the best candidates in our communities.

I was at a local DFA meeting yesterday, and they were asking, how do we find and support the best progressive candidates, to have a chance of actually getting them elected to office and turning this country around.  I think the answer has to be:

a) find the people who are already speaking up for what you believe in, whether that’s the fight for $15 (minimum wage), reproductive rights, clean energy, Medicare-for-all, equity and access in our¬†schools, etc. ¬†(For the record, I’m for ALL of those.) ¬†If they have a history of service, that will only help their campaign.

b) support their candidacies, with your time, your money, your energy — whatever you have to give.

Find the people who are passionate about your¬†issues, and who are active in their communities, arguing and fighting for them. ¬†Then tell them, “You should run. ¬†I’ll support you.” ¬†That’s how we make real and lasting change.

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