Looking down Longfellow Street: Lest we become Georgia

I have just returned from an eight day campaign in southwest Georgia for a candidate for state representative and friend Joyce Barlow. I’ve worked with her on a team in this part of Georgia’s black belt since the 2020 runoff that brought Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff into the US Senate.

Georgia is as red a state as Massachusetts is a blue state. Georgia is as one-sided as Massachusetts. As co-chair of the Ward 15 Democratic Party committee — although I don’t speak for the committee here — I believe my history as an active Democrat gives me insight into warning signs of a one-party government that’s more sacred to us than the Democratic majority should itself take to heart.

Georgia is a cancer for US politics, so I’m not proposing touting her as a model for the Bay State. I have never heard of Massachusetts voters using dogs to attack recruiters as happened to two of our black recruiters in Marion County, GA. I’ve never heard of Democratic candidates checking their employees’ mail-in ballots to make sure they voted “right.” Or threatening tenants with eviction if they don’t show their absentee ballot papers. Or offering turkey to poor families after they prove they voted. All practices common in Southwest, GA. Election fraud is suspected in the Schley district every year.

No one in Massachusetts has sold out democracy like the Coffee County Republican chairman. At dinner with Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, I was told that she has a recording that captures part of a March 2021 phone conversation she had with a businessman and Trump agent, Scott Hall. In the recording, Hall Marks said he arranged a plane to take people to Coffee County, where “they would go in there and map every hard drive from every device” and scan ballots. “We basically had the entire election committee there,” he added. “And they said, ‘We give you permission. Go for it.’” Marks’ organization argues in a lawsuit against Georgia’s Secretary of State that the state’s voting system is so insecure that it violates voter rights, using Coffee County as an example.

As much as Georgia is the poster child for political cesspools, let’s not forget that gerrymandering is the invention of Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who created a US Representative District whose map lines resembled a salamander. We scoffed at Southern racism and then there were public school buses in Boston. Nubian Square is no longer named after Governor Dudley, who allowed slavery, but Faneuil Hall still bears the name of a slave trader.

Massachusetts ranks 47th out of 50 for transparency and openness, according to a report card issued by Open States, a project of the Sunlight Foundation. For example, our House of Representatives remains opaque, not giving its members or the public even an hour to read a bill before it is voted on. Representatives on committees can vote against a bill without their constituents knowing because committee meetings are not recorded. Party bosses and establishment officials often set up committees to kill bills. Of the 275 bills presented to the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee in 2017-2018, only one was put to the vote. During the same period, the Joint Housing Committee sent 0 of its 165 bills to speak.

The Dems’ darling and our governor-elect was asked what would change from a Baker to a Healy administration and she replied, “The panels need to be shorter.” I voted for them and worked for them, and our community committee has them endorsed and supported, but really promised little more than shorter podiums. In 2018, Democratic State Party Chairman Gus Bickford and National Committee member James Roosevelt conspired with state college Dems (part of the state party structure) on multiple campuses in the County of Mass. O-1 and enabled the publication of homophobic lies suggesting sex transgressions by Holyoke Mayor Morse, who opposed incumbent Congressman Richie Neal. Party adviser Roosevelt himself wrote the deceptive letter. The State Committee held no one accountable.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party and National Party have developed standards that are often functionally elitist rather than working class. Harvard, Yale, and Stanford degrees are more revered than understanding truths from the perspective of the working class and poor, or the truth that only people of color can define what social justice looks like.

Black Belt Georgians, like black people in the United States, were institutionally raised to be passive and never developed an understanding of power. Power is nothing but the ability of people to act in their own interests. Democrats must start with the understanding that the anger of the working poor most often arises from being ignored, invisible, left out, overlooked, fired, and weighed down by the petty frustrations and daily humiliations of a constant struggle to just make ends meet .

Donald Trump tapped into that anger. It is not based on bitter resentment or a false sense of entitlement. Rather, it is an anger seething at life’s injustices, turning into compassion for those hurt by life. It is rooted in direct experience and held in the collective memory. Unless these facts of life are talked about on a daily basis, a one-party government will not serve Massachusetts politics. Worse, the corruption of elitism and self-righteousness could lead Massachusetts to our own corruption; in fact, cracks are already showing. Party government corruption can be as blue as red in Georgia.