“I read your blog, so I feel like I already know you,” the woman said. “My sister reads it, too; she lives in Pittsburgh.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ve been taking a little break, working on some things behind the scenes.”
“Good,” she said.
And then this stranger who was also a friend and I had a brief conversation about the day’s news, the news we’d expected but still found shocking when it landed. And then we changed the subject.
So, yes; I’m taking a little break, for a variety of reasons, all grounded in the truth that you can’t have it all, not all at the same time anyway). (And, BTW, it’s worth the time to re-read that linked article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” which was published 10 years ago this month and evolved into, among other things, a 2013 TED talk about whether or not anyone can “have it all.”)
But since that idea of gender equality (or pernicious inequality) is always on my mind, every day, and since Sabrina the Teenage Supreme Court Justice is also on my mind, and since it’s the end of June and close to the deadline to register to vote in the August 4 County election here, and because I haven’t posted one of these round-up pieces since January, I thought today was as good a day as any for a check-in. There are reading and recipe links at the end, but before we get to that:
Yesterday’s Court decision was, among other things, proof that having a plan and ruthlessly working the plan works. Ruthlessly working any plan advances the plan, even if the plan is aimed at something horrible. The slow, steady process of working a plan requires discipline, patience, and tolerance for setbacks along the way.
Thinking about long-game plans not where your head is today? I get it. The situation is infuriating. If fury is where you want to stay today, fine. Please try to finish being furious before the deadline to register to vote in your next local election. That voter registration deadline is July 5 in Shelby County, Tennessee. The County general election is August 4.
If you’re ready to channel the fury into something productive, I recommend taking an hour or two (or five – which is what it might take) to get familiar with every single candidate in every race that will be decided on August 4. Read the list of candidates here, at ShelbyVote.org. Even if you are active in local politics, becoming knowledgeable about these elections will require work. You can do some of that work online. For judicial elections, you’d be well served to talk to attorney friends about their experiences. Talk to more than one attorney friend, that would be my advice.
Why are you going to spend this time, time that you can’t get back? Because seemingly small down-ballot elections shape local communities. Because down-ballot races are often the starting place, the proving ground for people who aspire to higher-profile roles.
Elections in the United States are highly decentralized and complex. The rules that apply to running for office and voting in elections vary from state to state and locally within states, and many of these rules are changeable. Different states take different approaches, for example, to electing versus appointing judges. (For an overview of that one slice of civics, click here.) In Tennessee, immediate appellate and general jurisdiction judges’ seats are elected, and there are a lot of those seats.
Indeed, the candidate list for the August 4, 2022 Shelby County election is 12 pages long, and many of those races are for judicial positions. Tennessee District 30, Shelby County, and various municipal court seats will all be on the ballot. Don’t worry, though, not all of those candidates will be on your ballot, because you’ll be voting on the candidates who will represent you, based on the address connected to your voter registration. If you moved but haven’t updated your voter registration, then you still have time to attend to that but don’t delay for long.
It’s a lot, I know. No, I don’t have a good track record when it comes to doing this research either. It’s work. To make it easier, let’s do a quick refresher on the basics.
August 4 is both a local general election and a state/federal primary election.
What does that mean?
In the local (county and municipal) general election, several offices will be decided by voters, and the winners of those elections will serve terms of either four or eight years. The offices of Shelby County Mayor, Shelby County Sheriff, Shelby County Commissioners, and several other Shelby County administrative positions (Trustee, etc.) are four-year seats, each of which is subject to term limits. The Shelby County general jurisdiction judges elected on August 4 will serve 8 year terms.
Tennessee District 30 races will be decided on August 4, too, including the race for Shelby County District Attorney General.
Races for Mayor, Sheriff, and District Attorney General (among others) are partisan elections in which the candidates were chosen, by vote, in the party primary elections on May 3.
The August 4 judicial elections are non-partisan.
Confused? I get it. Don’t give up, though. You can do this.
August 4, 2022 is also the state and federal primary election. The winners in these state and federal primary elections will go head-to-head in the November 8, 2022 general election.
More people, typically, will vote in that November 8, 2022 election than in the August 4, 2022 election, even though the August 4 election decides who will run on November 8.
More people will vote on August 4 than voted in May 3 in the local primary election.
Why is that, you might wonder? Well, one reason is that the process is complex and borders on overwhelming. The complexity discourages voting, as does the perceived insignificance of down-ballot offices.
And that’s why turning that burning fury into long-game, long-range, methodical, boring civic engagement matters today more than ever.
Civic engagement requires investing time for self-study and education. It requires investing time and energy into talking with friends and colleagues who might, for example, be closer than you are to the race for General Sessions Division X (domestic violence prosecution court), in which six candidates are running to fill the seat left open by Chris Turner’s retirement.
One of those six candidates is a lead DV prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office, but most people don’t know that. Most people who register and show up to vote will, when presented with the ballot in the voting booth, select whatever name feels most familiar based on yard signs or TV advertisements.
But you’re not most people, or you wouldn’t be here still reading.
So you’re actually going to take the time to look at the list of candidates, aren’t you?
And you’re going to take the time to make sure you’re registered to vote, with the correct address on file.
And you’re going to become informed about the candidates who will be on your ballot when you vote. You’re going to know, going back to the example, that General Sessions Division X matters to the whole of Shelby County because you’ll know that 70% of incarcerated inmates were once child witnesses to domestic violence, and you’ll think about how the decisions made in that courtroom, next year, might affect the generational cycle of crime. You’ll decide what’s important to you, and then you’ll vote for the person whose approach to the job most closely matches what you want.
And even if (when) the candidates you vote for don’t win, you’re going to do the same things for the November election. And the Memphis municipal elections next year. And the primary and general elections in 2024.
By 2024 (if you aren’t already) you might even be an expert on down-ballot races. You might start early, looking at the list of people who petition to run, before things even get moving. Heck, you might be so well informed by then that you’ll write a blog about it, or host an event to talk to your neighbors and friends, or volunteer in some active way.
And, if you’re a parent, you’ll definitely talk to your children and teach them about how government works. You’ll take them with you when you vote and explain what you’re doing and why. You’ll teach them, and even if they don’t seem interested, even if they don’t jump right in there on their own, you won’t let up.
Because we don’t have 50 years to fix this mess. I’m not even sure we have two years to fix it, because of all the Faustian bargains struck in pursuit of this singular, terrible goal. But I refuse to abandon hope, despite the ticking clock.
Back to the top, before I wrap up on this topic:
Fury, like hope, like thoughts & prayers, is not a plan. It might feel good, but it’s empty. Know what was behind every damned one of those “Pray for the Unborn” billboards? A hell of a lot of money and a solid plan, executed ruthlessly and relentlessly over 50 years, to use down-ballot races, strategic redistricting, and FUD-driven public awareness campaigns toward overturning the landmark decision that helped level the playing field for women.
But it’s not over, so don’t quit. And, co-opting words from my dear writing/cooking/photography-loving lawyer friend: stay just angry enough to stick to the plan for the long-haul.
Rachel Cusk, “When I Went Away From the World.” (NY Times)
Elliot Haspel, “How to Quit Intensive Parenting” (The Atlantic)
Terry Tempest Williams, “Witness to the Cold War in the Desert” (photos by Emmet Gowin) (High Country News)
Terry Nguyen, “Why We Need Rituals, Not Routines” (Vox) (NOTE: expect to see this idea again, soon, here)
Betina Makalintel, “The Modern Dinner Party is Now Very Online” (Eater)
On My June Cooking List
Frosé (bon appétit, from 2016 and just as trashy-fun and enjoyable now as then)
Summer Ricotta with Grilled Vegetables (smitten kitchen)
Poolside Sesame Slaw (also smitten kitchen, because her recipes are good and her writing is unfailingly delightful)
Green Tomatillo Gazpacho (Eating Well)
These are good ideas… if I had 100 years. But, I’m hoping for twenty. The Republicans have been relentless ever since Obama pushed through a marginal health care bill. It takes the same kind of response from the namby pamby Democratic party. But, they won’t do it. So, it takes an all out war from us, the enraged. If not the rage will disappear and we’ll be right back to where we are today.
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With democratic norms crumbling right before our eyes, it’s hard not to feel urgency (panic?). We don’t have 50 years, or even 20. But in whatever time we do have, we must remain committed to the disciplined, boring work of staying engaged, voting, and not abandoning hope. Our kids deserve that from us. Actually they deserve a great deal more, but at a minimum they deserve our continued work.
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It’s urgency. I don’t panic. My life experiences won’t let me. I read a lot of political theory and right now we are only a few years from an out and out civil war. Texas wants to leave.
What you are really talking about is really rebuilding the democratic infrastructure. I suspect that we have to do both at once. As I’ve learned over the years when you devise any kind of strategy, you have to ask yourself if I get what I want, what then?
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