Fifth-graders ask for, demonstrate, leadership

Tonight I heard three students step in front of a city council meeting to talk about school shootings, their own activism, and recommended policy responses.

Fifth-grade students.

I heard a child of I suppose 10 or 11 say “Since I’ve been in kindergarten I’ve been hearing about the slaughter of children in our schools.”

“We care,” one said. “We care that we are safe.” This statement that no one should need explained nonetheless, obviously, feeling necessary for them to point out because “we have a problem and our elected officials are afraid to admit it.”

These were serious, hardened ambassadors.

They recounted three months of effort to organize a walk-out protest at their school, including two attempts that failed. These fifth-grade students were not deterred by that.

Nor were they present simply to call for grown-ups to do something, to show leadership. They seemed entirely cognizant of the well established failure of this to happen, and focused not even so much upon changing the world as on basic survival.

They wanted bulletproof entrances, and they wanted full participation in active-shooter drills, not just for their teachers but for themselves.

Fifth-graders.

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2018 primary results

From my perspective, the 2018 Democratic primary results can be written up as more good than bad, at all events in the local campaigns in which I was most invested.

That is, we did well enough.

I was invested in a number of campaigns, to a greater or lesser extent. My top priority was keeping Mike Skindell in office; he faces a November opponent, but so far so good. It’s also exciting that Nickie Antonio is on her way to the Ohio Senate, an outcome that seemed in serious doubt well into Tuesday evening.

Election night with primary winners Antonio & Skindell

Not all the campaigns that I worked on succeeded, certainly. (Issue 1 succeeded and succeeded big, which is cool, although others certainly worked harder on it the past month or so than I did.) If one counts up the county central committee candidates for whom I created literature (and in one case did some volunteering), six out of 10 have won, and a seventh has tied. But no matter how you count it, a number of good candidates for whom I did my best still lost.

This stuff is honestly just hard, I think.

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The 1990s: Some things we missed

After nagging at me for years, a 1996 comic book’s suggestion that the 1990s would prove to be a lost opportunity, for humanity, feels like it at last warrants a serious evaluation.

A month after summoning myself to get around to that, though, I wonder now if the moment of opportunity is relatively illusory. It seems like both I, personally, and the concentric circles of groups to which I relate should have done more. Should have responded to a relatively crisis-free and prosperous moment by pursuing ambitious reforms, and deep cultural and institutional renewal. It seems like we might indeed have launched a golden age had more of us been more generous, and more active in trying to solve problems bigger than our own personal concerns.

But it occurs to me that this is less of a special moment than a regular failing of human history. Many eras “might have been the prologue to a golden age” if people were more generous and more engaged in reform.

I look at e.g. today’s high school student activists and compare them with myself and most peers, immersed as we were in comparatively trivial pursuits. We should have done better, attempted more at least. But I’m not sure what prompt we overlooked. I was concerned by problems that seemed to threaten my personal life directly; arguably so are today’s students except that e.g. those problems now include heavily armed crazies shooting them.

Perhaps older people should have been more responsible, perhaps leaders of some sort really did drop the ball. After tossing around various possibilities for how, though, many still seem applicable to broad human history not just the 1990s.

I think it’s possible, though, that a few fundamental errors of the 1990s do represent a “wrong turn” particular to that era. Ironically, it has also occurred to me that another pop-culture artifact that wasn’t even trying to be especially serious might sum them up. From Austin Powers, 1997:

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A letter to our activist community

We have had quite a year or so, in northeast Ohio’s progressive activism community. Marches, die-ins, postcard-writing, collecting signatures, etc.…

We never run out of stuff to do.

On just about any national issue there are demonstrations to be part of, calls to congress and Senator Portman. Our state government is usually busy with plenty of bad ideas, also, which would be just about overwhelming. Except in Lakewood and western Cleveland, we have Nickie Antonio and Mike Skindell.

On every call for activism over a state issue, Antonio and Skindell are always leading the way, without even being asked. Even by the standard of Democrats in the legislature, these two are like an Indivisible Caucus.

Defending Medicaid expansion? Behind it 100%.

Gerrymandering? Both support reform, and I was present in person when Skindell shredded the initial worse-than-we-have-now draft of SJR 5.

Abortion bans? They are stalwart advocates of women’s right to choose, both endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio & NARAL Ohio.

LGBTQ equality? Antonio has led the years-long effort to build support for the Fairness Act, with Skindell’s active partnership.

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The 1990s: Missed Crossroads

In recent years I have thought back many times to this opening page from Doom 2099, issue 43, cover date July 1996.

The words of John Francis Moore, published just as I was about to turn 18. (Artwork by Jeff Lafferty et al.)

For more than 20 years this pulp-fiction prophecy has lurked at the edges as I watched history unfold. I think I’m near, at last, to formulating some kind of response. If/when time permits.

For now I post it here as a kind of bookmark.

Crowded life, sparse commentary

So much going on. Yet so much of it is political, and taking to my personal blog (which is barely more than a diary) to comment on that seems kind of naive.

Not that I wouldn’t write a long, indulgent post expressing my views on e.g. Lakewood’s political tug-of-war that is now into its fourth consecutive year. But given how much my days are packed with the kind of inelegant campaign activity that actually reaches people, I suppose I just can’t bring myself to expend the effort required by any kind of deep essay.

I’m currently doing… a lot of work for two candidates for state representative, plus some work for another, and for two state senate candidates. I’m writing, for publication, where it makes sense… the latest LO included my promo for next week’s Lakewood Dem Club meeting, and an article encouraging support for Issue 1. (It also includes an ad I designed for one of the rare nonpolitical clients.)

Last week I made a day trip to Detroit for political organizing.

I dream of capturing once more a life beyond all this. But certainly not before May 8, and probably not for some while after that, really.

Oh well. This morning is relatively calm, and I was going to jot down some thoughts about The Infinity War (comic book series) stirred up by recent ballyhoo for the big feature film… then I found that I already wrote such a post three years ago. So.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Eight months a redistricting reformer

I’m still struggling to react to the Ohio legislature’s vote to place a promising redistricting reform measure on the May 8 ballot.

The measure itself, which was SJR 5 and will become Issue 1, seems very good. I have posted a few thoughts here, and will probably elaborate in one or more forum in the weeks ahead.

The fact that, after negotiations seemed absolutely frozen and then right at the deadline Republicans were won around to this commendable reform, is interesting. I feel like I generally understand the various incentives for that, although I’m curious about details of the negotiations.

The sudden end of a project that I have spent eight months on, and which I expected to take up another three, is jarring.

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CLEcast, Sunday PD, busy busy

After a couple of actual radio interviews, last year, I recently gave my first podcast interview.

The excellent CLEcast listened to me talk about gerrymandering, and local efforts to put an end to it here in Ohio.

Episode 106 – Matt Kuhns – Fair Districts Ohio

I would really like to thank the hosts Dan and Brian, as well as Lakewood city council member Dan O’Malley, through whom I learned about CLEcast. I would also like to thank everyone involved in Fair Districts Ohio, and especially the incredible Westshore Fair Districts volunteers, whom it has been an honor to join in this important work.

In this same period, I also had a letter to the editor printed in the ; interestingly it has not been published online yet, so here’s a scan from the paper: Read More →

2017 Year in Review

My experience of last year mostly lent itself to sorting into two categories: political, and other.

Whereas in 2017, “other” was probably more like an appendix than a proper category.

There were reasons, about which I have written here among other places, but it also was just kind of something that happened. I started 2017 with a loose arrangement to provide graphic design for Tristan Rader’s campaign for Lakewood City Council, e.g.; by the beginning of summer I had effectively become designer, writer, director of communications, secretary and assistant campaign manager. Without ever having planned or even explicitly decided to do any of that.

My own year of 2017 might best be captured by a chain of relatively minor events from October. On October 26, I made a very fast trip to Columbus, to testify in favor of congressional redistricting reform at a statehouse hearing. (I was named though not quoted in a cleveland.com article.)

Me outside of Ohio's capitol

Mr. Kuhns goes to Columbus

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2017 politics & Senator-elect Jones

There are a lot of year-end takes on 2017 politics, and at this point I’m not sure that I really need one. Looking back, I find that much of what I wrote a year ago about the big picture holds up.

I think Matthew Yglesias has a good review of the past year which is positive while still realistic. (There are also more pessimistic assessments, which are probably all too realistic, but they just kind of leave me blank.) I plan to write about the specifics of my own year of #resistance this weekend.

Otherwise, in general, I feel like the election of Doug Jones as Alabama’s next senator captures much of the broader American political situation right now:

  1. An astonishing, inspiring, against the odds victory for decency, thanks in no small part to grassroots energy
  2. Which may nonetheless not really matter that much, by itself.

This seems like the executive summary of the #resistance after one year. Ordinary people have put up an amazing fight, and have as Yglesias suggests probably made a difference that is surprising, all things considered.

But this amazing year also ended with a big reminder that the people in power are still capable of ignoring popular resistance, and anything short of taking their power away from them.

Doug Jones’s victory seems to summarize all this. It was possibly the best news all year, and I’m very proud to have supported his campaign in small ways. Yet Republicans still have the presidency and 50 senate seats, and as long as they do, they’re going to go on corrupting and abusing the power of America’s government.

So, we have some reason to believe that our efforts can change things… and we have every reason to believe that more change is needed.

I like the little “How Will You Remember 2017” photo montage that the History Channel has been running. I particularly like the short version which ends with a photo of Jones’s victory party, however, not only because it’s an appealing year-end image, but because it also seems like an apt year-end story.