Teaching leadership: more things we missed

Looking back on whether or not the 1990s were really a missed opportunity, I have concluded that it’s difficult to say that such was more true of that period than of others.

Which doesn’t mean that reexamination offers no lessons. Among those which it suggests, to me, hollowness in our society’s political leadership lessons seems prominent.

In my late 30s, it seems like I’m engaged in a self-study course in political leadership theory and practice, covering a lot of material that should be basic but which I just have not encountered before. It seems also like I’m not alone in this.

Two pieces of personal context also suggest that there is indeed a hole in what our culture teaches: First, I actually paid attention to most of the curriculum throughout my years in school. Second, in this area I even showed interest; in high school I spent a week immersed in something called the National Young Leaders Conference.*

Yet looking back, I nonetheless reached my 30s with an understanding of how democracy works that can’t be called complete even in outline form. If this was the case even for me, is it any wonder that America’s politics seem to have broken down?

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Climate Change outlook update, June 2018

In the past few days, two different stories suggested that it’s worth posting a check-in on how doomed we are to disastrous climate change.

By way of some context, I have concluded for some time that the outlook is pretty bleak; I acknowledged a very limited possibility in the Paris Accord; then America got a president who withdrew from that and generally promotes policies about as climate-damaging as is possible while still having negligible real understanding of actual policy.

So, Thursday, Vox‘s David Roberts informed us that the cost of drawing carbon out of the air has fallen considerably in the past several years, to the point where “DAC starts to look viable.” (DAC is “direct air-capture,” i.e. sucking carbon out of the air.)

This comes with a lot of caveats, and the tl;dr conclusion is that DAC is not a “get-out-of-carbon-emissions-reductions free” card. (As can also be said for geoengineering.)

Meanwhile, the very next day, Mr. Roberts had this to report:

In 1998, coal represented 38 percent of global power generation. In 2017, it represented … 38 percent of global power generation.

In electricity, a sector that absorbs 40 percent of the world’s primary energy and produces more than a third of its emissions, the past 20 years have been running to stay still. No net decarbonization progress has been made.

So, basically, as of June 2018 I think the climate prognosis update is this:

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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 →