Voter guide: I hate the mayoral primary edition!

The last few years I’ve been writing somewhat snarky but serious “how should you vote” blog posts. Why stop now, even if I hate the mayor’s race? Also I spend about a third of my free time doing politics or thinking about it these days (why that is will wait for another post) so clearly I should offend people! So here, really late, a breezy guide to your primary ballot, if you live in Seattle, in the district I live in! If you haven’t voted yet, GET YOUR BALLOT IN. Off year primaries have abysmal turnout. You have till August 1st to mail or find a dropbox. But don’t wait till August 1st. Go get yours right now and get ready to fill in those bubbles. I’m waiting. Do you want me to side-eye you?! Get your ballot in and forestall my wrath.

Full disclosure: I’m currently a member of my legislative district Democratic party executive board but this of course this post does not represent anyone but me. Also I dropped my ballot off last Saturday, so there’s no point in trying to argue me to take a different position.

Continue reading “Voter guide: I hate the mayoral primary edition!”

Yes, in my backyard!

This morning I was out knocking on my neighbors doors (fulfilling my duties as a Democratic party PCO). The second door I went to was having a “party” to build a structure in the back yard. I went to the back to find the resident to give her the 37th LD flyer and encourage her to vote. I found out they weren’t just building any kind of building in their backyard, they were building a house for someone who doesn’t have a home as part of The Block Project. Theirs is the first to be built as part of this project and Robert will be moving in August 1st.

I’d heard about the project a while back. I don’t think we could literally have one in our backyard (since we already have a bit larger and more conventional small house in it) but I’m glad to see the project going forward and people in our neighborhood hosting. Thank you to anyone who is volunteering or donating to this project.

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Stop voting for white men, part 2

To followup to my previous post, yes, I meant it. I meant to use an inflammatory headline, even if the short-short version is pretty simple:

Given a choice between two candidates who are close (enough) in policy and similar (if not identical) in experience and competence, bias yourself to vote for the one that decreases future homogeneity because your assessments of candidates are probably biased.

That’s all.

Now some folks don’t think representation matters. I was not talking to them. I was talking to people who agree that diversity matters but have not really thought about the consequences of that. What does it mean for you, individually, to support that idea?

When I thought about what it meant to me, I thought about a famous “simulation” paper. In this paper, they simulated a corporate hierarchy where workers are promoted up the pyramid with fewer workers at the top, that is, the management, using randomly generated performance evaluation. Even if you start the simulation entirely gender-balanced, after 20 “review cycles”, a 1% variance in performance evaluation causes a strong shift towards men dominating upper management. Do you really think workplace performance and promotion has less than 1% bias against women (or in favor of men or white people)? I don’t. People, collectively, are biased. We promote mediocre men because we just expect them to do better. We hold women to double standards about likability while penalizing them for not being as “assertive” as men. Our stereotypes about non-white people are far more horrifying with more horrifying consequences (how do you think stereotypes about black people play out in a white-dominated workplace?) We’re just plain biased. (You can learn more about bias in the workplace using Facebook’s glossy training materials much of which is applicable to non-work environments).

Of course our workplaces do not, at all levels, remotely reflect existing demographics. So we’re “swimming upstream” trying to correct this bias, while still promoting people in biased ways. Is it any wonder few companies that announce a big push to improve “diversity” make very little progress? They start in a place of bias, and to make significant progress they have to consciously over-index on people from the groups they are trying to increase representation from. Few companies are willing to do that work consistently over a long time.

So what does this have to do with elected office? Elected offices are, some exceptions aside, usually held by people who previously got elected to a “lower” office or who worked in non-profits or government and run for a relatively low office, but have significant experience. Most folks who end up Congress start at a minor local office, run for state legislature, often spending a term both in a lower and upper body, then run for Congress. If we treat it like that employment promotion pyramid, it’s obvious that the only way you get more not-white-dudes at the more impactful positions is to vote them in disproportionately at lower levels. Otherwise we’re swimming upstream against existing bias and our current biases.

“So why didn’t you just write that?!”

Because I wanted a reader to feel uncomfortable. I wanted you to get your back up. I wanted to make you feel a bit how I feel every day listening to the news. Of course it’s not at all equivalent. I’m a relatively powerless writer on a blog who you chose to read and it made you a little mad. The powers that maintain biased representation in public office are diverse (ha!), often unconscious and systematic. They show up every day in ways we often don’t even notice. They are curled up in our minds.

So I am saying we all need to vote for fewer white men. No, of course, don’t vote for someone who you disagree with a lot or who you think has no chance of winning or who you think couldn’t competently hold the office. Yes, fine, if a good friend really wants you to vote for their long time friend whose policies and personality are exactly what you want but they happen to be a white guy, joke about your token white guy vote (I do). But really think about it. Is this vote now to the white guy who you 100% love on policy worth it if it means a highly competent non-white woman who you 90% agree with doesn’t get to start up that ladder of elected offices? Only you can decide that, for you, which matters more. But let’s not pretend we only vote based on policy or competence or that we’re only voting for the candidate today. You’re voting for future incumbents and future candidates for higher office. And you’re voting with bias.


Note: I of course through out this piece and the previous stopped at “white men” because it’s simple and short and has more punch then “cis straight white men who aren’t poor, disabled, etc.” I hope the rest of the piece made it clear I was talking about decreasing homogeneity in those who hold elected office.

Stop voting for white men.

Let’s pause to let some readers stop sputtering so they can pay attention. Others will no doubt angrily close the tab and move on.

Obviously I don’t mean never vote for a white man. Often your ballot will only let you choose between a white man whose positions you support and someone whose positions you adamantly oppose. But if you want to change representation at the highest levels, you have to vote for it all the way down the ballot in every election. The folks you vote for today for city council are the future candidates for the House and Senate and, yes, the President. (If your national legislature and highest executive elected official are called something different, then you’re not in the United States like I am, you’ve probably already had a woman head of state and don’t need this blog lecture.)

Only 20% of Congress are women. Only 3.5% are black women. Women make up half the country. Black women over 6%. If you count up everyone who has ever been a member of Congress, the percentage of women, much less black women, is effectively zero. And, yes, I do count the entire history of the United States because it was unjust and wrong to deny women the vote and there was that whole slavery thing. We don’t get to just start the clock a few decades ago when black women finally gained full legal rights and say “well, 3.5% isn’t doing bad!”

The numbers for every other not-white-man group are as bad or worse. Scientists pretty consistently find that groups with members who aren’t all the same make better decisions. Yet, we accept that the most important decision making bodies in the world are made by a body that is mostly wealthy, white men.

Is it any wonder we have problems?

Ruth Bader Ginsberg famously answered the question of how many women are enough on the Supreme Court by saying nine. Prior to 1981 when Sandra Day O’Connor joined the court, for two hundred years nearly, the court was entirely men, mostly white. Yes, we can talk about the historical why, but really it’s weird. It’s just weird for the most important court in our society to be all dudes, just as it’s weird for the most important body of legislators to be almost all dudes.

Does an all women court seem weird? Does Congress made of 80% women feel weird? That is how I and many many other people live every day in many parts of life. It is really weird that I must look at a room full of men, sometimes only men, deciding the most important issues about how my country are run. It must be even weirder for someone who isn’t white. It is not only weird but it fucking pisses me off.

I want that to change. The only way this changes is if we elect more women and more black women and so forth and so on at all levels of government. If we want near proportional representation in a time frame that includes my life, we have to disproportionately elect not-white-dudes to lower offices. School board and city council and state legislature.

Depending on the study, women either don’t run until they feel they are qualified enough – but are actually more qualified than their male competitors. Or, voters are less likely to vote for them even if they are equally qualified – that is, we expect women to be more competent. I imagine studies about non-white candidates are pretty similar. Regardless, not-white-dudes are less likely to be elected. Some exceptions aside, you aren’t elected to national office without some kind of background, usually in politics or government, where men, and especially white men, find it easier.

We are trained to see a certain kind of person in power. We expect leaders to look a certain way. We’re used to seeing mostly white men in political leadership. We’re biased to assume that a white male candidate looks the part in ways we aren’t even consciously aware of. When we look at a white man’s positions, we’re more likely to explain away the parts where we disagree with him while nitpicking every word of the the not-white-man. When we judge a white man and a black woman to be similarly qualified, we’re actually missing qualifications that the latter has because we’ve been taught to not value them – or value the man’s behavior more. But that black woman probably had to walk through more shit to get where she is than the man she’s running against.
So, yes, I am saying vote for people because they aren’t a white dude. Vote for the not-white-dude who has some positions you don’t quite agree with while there’s a white dude who you totally agree with. To get more not-white-dudes into our highest political offices, we have to pack the lower parts of government. It’s going to take a while, but it will take even longer if people who care about representation keep voting for the white men.

Not everything in politics is about policy positions. It’s more important that we get more than 20% of Congress to be women in 10 years, than it is for your local city councilor to be your perfect candidate. You’re not just voting on this candidate today. You’re voting on future candidates.

Stop voting for white men.