Increasing Access to the Ballot Box

Exactly 170 years ago this past Sunday (February 21) the electorate in Bolton favored Democrats in the town’s municipal election. The Hartford Courant, which at the time was ardently opposed to the Democratic Party, derogated the Democrats as “Loco-Focos.” By 1851, the term was used only as an insult (with roughly the same punch that “liberal” had in the late 1990s and early 2000s). But a decade earlier it had described a faction of the national Democratic Party that was fed up with Tammany Hall’s politics-as-usual approach to governance. Ralph Waldo Emerson described the Loco-Foco wing as “fanatics in freedom; they hate tolls, taxes, turnpikes, banks, hierarchies, governors, yea, almost all laws.”

Today we would struggle to recognize the Loco-Focos as Democrats. Other than their support for labor unions, they seem to have favored the sort of laissez-faire capitalism that led last week to families in Texas being billed thousands of dollars for several days’ worth of electricity. The broader party, too, would be almost unrecognizable today.

The main through line linking the antebellum party with its twenty-first-century descendant is a focus on people and, specifically, on making the democratic process more universally accessible. In the early nineteenth century, that meant support for universal white male suffrage and elimination of the requirement that electors own property.

Clearly the Democrats’ understanding of “universally accessible” was woefully inadequate. At the town election in Bolton in 1851, only white males could vote. Three years earlier, in October 1847, the state—including 90 percent of Bolton voters—had resoundingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have enfranchised Black males.

Today our state legislature is again considering whether to expand ballot access. The issue, thankfully, is no longer whether our Black citizens or women or non-Christians or those who didn’t own property or were illiterate should be allowed to vote. (At one time or another in Connecticut’s history, each of these classes of people were barred access to the ballot box.) Today the concern is how we can make voting easier for all.

Connecticut is one of only seven (mostly Southern) states to not offer early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. While the image of New Englanders gathering on Colonial-era town greens and in wood-shingled town halls on chilly November mornings is cherished by many, it doesn’t reflect present-day realities and needs. We should not allow our nostalgia for an idealized past to get in the way of voting measures whose impact will be felt least in wealthy, white, rural towns like Bolton but will make a huge difference for communities of color and lower-income residents.

As Democrats, one of our oldest legacies—however imperfectly and inconsistently the party has fought for it over the years—is the struggle to bring more voters into the (small-d) democratic fold. By supporting the voting rights legislation currently making its way through the Connecticut Assembly, we will not only be living up to our party’s ideals; we will be strengthening our democracy at a time when some in the country seem hell-bent on rolling us back to the days of Jim Crow.

—Christopher Davey, Chair of the Bolton DTC

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Bolton Democrats’ Response to the Attack on American Democracy

Make no mistake: American democracy was brazenly attacked yesterday. As Americans, we are appalled.

Yesterday’s attack in Washington was the most momentous and traumatic event in American history since 9/11. Unlike that horrific day, however, we knew immediately who had fomented and who had perpetrated this heinous attack on the heart of American democracy. For months, Donald Trump, his congressional enablers, and state and local Republican leaders and officeholders have spread lies and incited their followers. Others have remained silent, ignoring the mounting evidence of the president’s unfitness and authoritarian behavior, seeing them as simply the price to be paid for more tax cuts, conservative jurists, and the implementation of their policy preferences.

What was seen in Washington on January 6, 2021, was inevitable. Reports have already surfaced of perpetrators openly planning on rightwing forums, and, just minutes before the Capitol was stormed, Donald Trump addressed a crowd of thousands of supporters and encouraged them to march on the building. How they could so easily and so quickly overwhelm the Capitol police must be investigated. More important, those who for months have peddled lies and sought to overturn the outcome of a free and fair election—the most secure in our nation’s history, according to the current administration’s own officials—must be held responsible for their behavior.

Those who participated in yesterday’s insurrection against the United States government must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Those in Congress who falsely and willfully undermined the public’s confidence in our legitimately elected government for their own political gain, and thereby recklessly invited the violent insurrection we saw yesterday, must be called to account by their colleagues in Congress for their conduct in bringing the Senate and House—once among our most treasured and respected institutions—into disrepute. The offenders should face expulsion and be required to justify themselves to their peers.

Donald Trump, who goaded and led yesterday’s would-be “revolutionaries,” must be removed from office, either through exercise of the 25th Amendment or through impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate—preferably the latter, as he must be prohibited from ever again enjoying the privilege of holding public office.

History shows that failed insurrections are often followed by successful ones. Those who perpetrated and abetted yesterday’s attack cannot be given the opportunity to try again.

But we must also look to our own history and the ways we have failed to uphold the ideals of our democratic system. Specifically, we must grapple with the legacies of disenfranchisement and unequal access to the ballot box, gerrymandering, unequal treatment under the law, disproportionate policing (clearly the police can exercise restraint; that they chose to do so when confronted by a white mob is telling), and the many inequities that plague our society—scourges that together have created a system of government in which too many of our fellow citizens no longer, or still do not, recognize themselves.

We call on our elected officials, colleagues, and neighbors who have supported Donald Trump to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, his efforts to divide the country, his support for insurrection and the overturning of a free and fair election, and his betrayal of the very Constitution he swore an oath to protect.

—Bolton Democratic Town Committee Executive Board

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Statement on Black Lives Matter/Antiracism

The Bolton Democratic Town Committee believes

    • Black Lives Matter.
    • Racial prejudice in various forms still remains in Bolton, as documented by those who experience it.
    • We all have a responsibility to understand and combat systemic racism and the structures that sustain it.
    • As public officials, police bear responsibility for conducting themselves with transparency and truthfulness.
    • Police must be accountable for their actions.

We pledge to

    • Actively support candidates who are committed to social justice, anti-racism, and the dismantling of systems that perpetuate inequality.
    • Actively support conversations about racial justice in our schools and at all levels of our community.
    • Actively support a reexamination of policing functions to ensure that all races are treated equally and fairly.

Approved by the Bolton Democratic Town Committee on July 2, 2020.

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Black Lives Matter Rally

Bolton held a rally to support Black Lives Matter today on the Town Green. Turnout was impressive for our sleepy town: well over 100 (maybe 150–200?) people of all ages. Speakers were passionate, raw, thought-provoking, and inspiring. The key takeaway was that Bolton needs to do better. I am hopeful that the energy shown today will translate into Bolton actually doing better.

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During the rally, I shared the following comments:

Bolton is an overwhelmingly white community in one of the most segregated states in the nation. As a result, some of us might feel less pressure to reflect on the present moment, to consider our own biases, to take action. We are insulated here in rural Bolton, right? We don’t like it when the world intrudes; we claim that our local politics is different—somehow, someway—from our national politics.

And, yes, perhaps we are more neighborly than many communities. Bolton does many, many things right. But we are not an island. Our students share school with students from Columbia, from Hartford. Our adults spend their working days in Manchester, Hartford, East Hartford, and numerous other towns, most of them far more diverse than Bolton. Our seniors have sent their children hither and yon across the nation.

All of these points of contact bind us to the wider world and make what happens out there of relevance here. To believe otherwise is to be willfully blind, to set our own privilege above all else, to sell our children’sand grandchildren’s future well-being so we can put off for a few more days, weeks, years the discomfort of an honest reckoning with our own role in creating and sustaining the inequities of the world beyond our doorstep.

We need some deep introspection. We need to ask ourselves what we truly value. Is it life or is it property? I’ve lost track of the number of times people in this town have advocated or implied violence as an appropriate response to the car break-ins that have been occurring throughout the capital region.

Really?

I understand that it’s alarming, can feel like a violation, to come out to your car in the morning and discover someone has been through it, has taken your spare change and other small valuables left inside. But is the appropriate response to such violation really death or physical maiming?

Think about what this reaction says about who we are, what we value, and to how great an extent we’ve allowed our sense of ourselves to be determined by the things we have rather than the relationships we’ve built, the experiences we’ve lived, the communities we’ve helped sustain.

Does this mean we have to accept that our things will be rifled through? No, but if our first instinct is to turn to a gun, to penalize, to condemn—then we are missing what is, I think, one of the core lessons of Back Lives Matter. Namely, the need, especially acute among white communities, to listen, to empathize, to see the world from the perspective of people we largely ignore and frequently see only as a nuisance or worse.

This work is challenging, uncomfortable. But if we refuse to do it, if we allow our commitment to Black Lives Matter to end with this rally or with a few tweets or Facebook posts, we will only be right back here at some unknown future date, responding to yet another travesty of policing, miscarriage of justice, or obscene racial bigotry. And once again, we will have only ourselves to blame.

To advance the cause of antiracism, we cannot see this moment as isolated, we cannot look at bad policing as the only thing that needs to change. And we certainly cannot take the attitude that what needs to change is only “out there.”

Similarly, the goal of change cannot be, as Audre Lorde once cautioned, “a mix of indistinguishable particles resembling a vat of homogenized chocolate milk.” Too many among the white community assume, whether explicitly or implicitly, that change for the better means change that dulls or even erases difference. This, in part, is what inspires the “all lives matter” retort to “Black Lives Matter.”

White America wants the emphasis to be on “all” because it is still uncomfortable with the idea that “all” can no longer be accepted as a linguistic sleight-of-hand for “white.”

To again quote the Black, lesbian, feminist activist and scholar Audre Lorde: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

At the time she spoke these words to students at Harvard University in the early 1980s, she meant that those pursuing the cause of Black liberation, Black rights, could not afford to turn their backs on the struggles of other oppressed groups, of whom Lorde herself was a dual representative. She campaigned for Black rights, the rights of women, and the rights of gays and lesbians. The last, especially, sat uncomfortably with many of her comrades in the struggle for Black rights.

For Lorde, however, “any future vision which can encompass all of us, by definition, must be complex and expanding, not easy to achieve. The answer to cold is heat, the answer to hunger is food. But there is no simple monolithic solution to racism, to sexism, to homophobia. There is only the conscious focusing within each of my days to move against them, wherever I come up against these particular manifestations of the same disease.”

Covid-19 has revealed the myriad upon myriad of invisible lines that link us, often in communities of which we are only dimly aware, making a mockery of the notion that white, rural Bolton is immune from the world.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice spread in similarly systemic fashion.

We are not immune.

But we are often only dimly aware, if that, of the workings of these prejudices in us, around us.

Foremost among these, and one of the hardest to recognize, is the pervasiveness of whiteness, the extent to which whiteness is allowed to be a neutral category, the background against which all else is revealed.

Our call today is to move beyond dim awareness; it is to see prejudice clearly, to expose it in all its manifestations, to examine how it seeps unnoticed into our daily lives, to interrogate our own role in its propagation, to understand its destructive force—both on others and on ourselves—and, finally, to rise above. Bolton can do better. Bolton must do better.

Bolton Democrats are committed to change. We support Black Lives Matter. We meet monthly, and we want to hear your voices. For change to take hold, it must, at some point, involve our local, state, and national representatives. We welcome your help in finding and electing those leaders who are committed to antiracism, to working for social justice, environmental justice, police and prison reform, housing and education reform. To get involved or to be added to our mailing list, please reach out!

—Christopher Davey, Chair of the Bolton Democratic Town Committee

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On Peace in a Time of Protest

Peace is not the absence of violence alone.

Many Whites seem to define peace as not only being free of violence but being able to safely ignore violence elsewhere in the world. But the price of guaranteeing that type of peace for middle- and upperclass White populations has always been violence against those without that magical combination of skin color and economic fortune. The price of that peace has largely been borne on the backs of our Black, Native, Asian, and Hispanic neighbors (and, yes, our poor White neighbors too).

In the past five years alone, at least 1,252 Black men and women have been killed by police. Those of us demanding change today in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd are not asking for the tables to be turned, for Whites to be subject to the same police brutality that has so long been meted out to Blacks.

We are not asking that Whites, too, be denied mortgages, business loans, and the other institutional forms of assistance needed to achieve the “American Dream.” We are not asking that businesses start refusing to serve Whites or for mobs of minorities to terrorize White communities. We are not asking for whiteness to be redefined as pathology, for the capacity of Whites to learn, invent, discover, and lead to be dismissed out-of-hand, for White skin to become shorthand for evil, for people to recoil and clutch their belongings when White people pass them on the street. We do not believe in an “eye for an eye.”

What we are asking for is change that any self-proclaimed “Greatest Country in the World” should be able to deliver with ease. We are asking that all people be secure in their persons, free of government-sanctioned violence.

But violence takes many forms, and police reform will not curb all of them. To ensure true peace, we must also ensure that the basic needs of all people are met. Food, shelter, medicine, education, and the opportunity for meaningful employment. Take care of the basics, and the rest will follow.

 

To my White neighbors and friends:

Turning our Facebook profile pictures black for a day is not enough. Liking progressive posts and tweets is not enough. Even simply acknowledging the humanity of our Black, Native, Hispanic, and Asian neighbors (or any group that doesn’t look like “us,” however that is defined) is not enough. Such will not secure the peace. That much should be obvious. We have much more work to do.

Many of you are already involved in that work. Thank you. Continue to organize for change. Continue to speak out, continue to demand that our leaders do better. Continue to run for office, especially at the local level.

Many would like to be involved (or be more involved) but feel constrained by obligations to family and employers or by limitations of health and finance. Many more have never given the matter much thought or seen a clear reason to become involved. As our mutual experience with Covid-19 has hopefully revealed, none of us are an island, none are exempted from the moral obligation to care for our fellow human beings. And surely our duty of care extends to ensuring that none of us lacks for food, shelter, medicine, education, and opportunities for meaningful employment!

Change must be both structural and personal, and it must begin with each of us, individually, acknowledging that we cannot see the world in full, that how we see the world is largely a product of our upbringing and present circumstances, and that willingly staying beholden to our limitations, our biases, is a servitude that damages not only those in the world we miss-see but ourselves.

Ask yourself: How old were you when you first had a Black teacher (or any nonwhite teacher)? When was the last time you read a book or watched a TV show focused on a nonwhite family or the experiences of nonwhite characters? Have you ever been in a situation where you were conscious of the color of your skin? Who do you see when you imagine a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a scientist or engineer? Be honest. Is the image that comes unbidden to your mind colored with white skin?

How we see the world is the result of how we have been taught to see the world. We interpret cues according to precepts we have imbibed from our parents, from our schools, from the media we’ve consumed. That can make empathy challenging. This is hard work.

But what freedom do we have if all that we see around us, if all the ways we respond to the world, are simply the spooling out of scripts and protocols we are unaware we are reading from and acting on? True freedom begins when we acknowledge that gauze before our eyes. We might never remove it completely. But in acknowledging its presence—in acknowledging our own biases—we can begin to recognize how that nearly invisible scrim crops and focuses and subtly recolors all that we perceive. In attempting to see with, we can begin to see through, to see in new ways, less constrained by the past, by society.

So, look for all the ways that whiteness is reinforced as the default in our society (and throughout Western culture).

Consider all the ways the whiteness of our skin is unthought, the neutral ground against which so much else is measured. Consider, too, how this can be twisted, with a shift in perspective, into an insurmountable height against which all other races pale in comparison. The latter we probably recognize as overt white supremacism, easily discredited and disdained. The wretchedness of white supremacy, however, is easy to knock down. The neutrality of whiteness is far more insidious, far harder to root out. 

Look for books and movies and TV shows that present the world beyond the white, Western experience of it. (Myriad upon myriad of examples are just a Google search away.)

Support and help cultivate leaders who will value people as human beings rather than as cogs in the grand machines of capitalism.

Donate time and money to organizations working to improve the world.

But don’t pick and choose. Do all of these and more, to the best of your ability.

 

To my Republican neighbors and friends:

You seem to want change too. You’ve largely celebrated Trump’s every attempt to overturn existing norms of presidential behavior and national governance. You’ve cheered his promises to “drain the swamp.” Clearly you want something to be different.

Are you certain you know what, though? Or are you simply echoing the list of grievances that seem to pour daily from Republican leaders and media figures?

If we dug deeper, would we perhaps find you and I hold similar complaints rooted in economics? Fears of not being able to provide food and shelter for our families, fears of bankruptcy should illness strike, feelings of being trapped in a job because of a dependence on the health insurance it provides, fears that the “American dream” of upward mobility, already a long shot for so many, will be only further narrowed if more people (largely nonwhite) are in the mix; relatedly, fears that we are all competing for an ever-dwindling supply of crumbs and scraps from the table of American capitalism?

Do you fear that your ability to secure the basics for yourselves and your children is ending, that the long march to prosperity begun after World War II (but largely concentrated among America’s White populations) has come to a close?

I have known too many of you as family and friends to think you welcome the police killing of George Floyd or that you believe Blacks are inferior to Whites or that you would willingly associate your good names with those who do welcome and believe such things. I believe you want to be good people, that you don’t want to secure only for yourselves or your race the blessings of peace.

And that is why it has been so painful these past four years to watch you stand silent as your party’s leaders have praised and encouraged white supremacists, have advocated and celebrated violence against people carrying out their Constitutionally guaranteed right to protest, have said and done nothing to check behaviors in President Trump that would invite strong censure, investigations, and impeachments in any Democratic president (and any previous Republican president, for that matter). You have stood by as scientific evidence is tossed aside because it reaches conclusions the president dislikes, as briefings meant to calm and educate the public were turned into campaign rallies and hours-long gripe sessions about the president’s perceived enemies. You have shrugged as the president praised dictators, alienated allies. You remained silent when he retweeted a video of a supporter saying, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,” and days later called for the US military to be deployed against protestors.

Now, more than ever, we need to hear your voice, your reassurance that you do not, with the president, believe this country would be better if all Democrats were dead. We need to hear your voice, your reassurance that you value Black lives just as much as White lives. We need to hear your voice, your reassurance that you value life more than property. We need reassurance that there is a common ground on which we can build a future of peace for all.

I believe it is there. I am not ready to give up on the great democratic experiment that is the United States. But I am also no longer willing to allow our Black, Native, Hispanic, and Asian neighbors to be left behind—or worse.

—Christopher Davey, chair of the Bolton Democratic Town Committee

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Black Lives Matter

Black

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Upcoming Meetings

Two meetings this week:

Tuesday, May 26, 7 pm
Special Meeting of Bolton DTC to endorse justices of the peace and registrar of voters. This meeting will be held via Zoom and is open to all registered Democrats. If you would like to attend, please contact us for Zoom login details.

Thursday, May 28, 8 pm
Regular Meeting of Bolton DTC. Note the later-than-usual start time. This meeting will be held via Zoom and is open to all registered Democrats. If you would like to attend, please contact us for Zoom login details.

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Thoughts from the Chair

We have now lived a full month of COVID-19 restrictions: no school for our students, no gatherings of friends and family, public meetings conducted from kitchen tables and family room couches.

The federal government, under the abject “leadership” of Donald Trump, has failed us. Thankfully, our governor and local leaders have risen to fill this leadership vacuum. Thank you, Governor Lamont! Thank you, First Selectman Pierog! Thank you, Town Administrator Josh Kelly and Bolton Public Schools Superintendent Kristin Heckt!

Make no mistake: the failures of the Trump administration are no “bug.” They are the main feature, the place you end up when you set out on the road to getting government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Yes, not all Republicans would admit to such an extreme ideology, but with few exceptions they have—at almost all levels of government—chosen to stand shoulder to shoulder with the most extreme ideologues of their party.

We must hold them accountable.

For the tens of thousands of Americans who have already died because Trump and his echo chamber labeled the virus a hoax and refused to adequately prepare. For the tens of thousands of Americans who may still die because of the administration’s incompetence and inaction and because of the seeming willingness of the far right to trade tens of thousands more deaths for short-term economic advantage.

We must hold them accountable.

For the lies. For the self-dealing and outright corruption. For the refusal to take responsibility for failures and misdeeds. For the appalling example they have set our children.

We must hold them accountable.

For their refusal to promote the public good and, worse, their efforts actively to sabotage it and to weaken Americans’ faith in one another. This failing is the most grievous, the most deserving of condemnation, because from it sprang all of the others.

In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln pleaded that the American form of government “not perish from the earth.” What form did that government take, according to the founder of the modern Republican Party? It was “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” By turning Americans against their government, modern-day Republicans have turned Americans against one another.

I ask you, as you spend your days social distancing, to imagine what sort of world you would like to see (do it! or others will do it for you) once we’ve passed through this long caesura. What should “normal” look like? Do you really want to return to a world where federal leaders shrug off responsibility, refuse the advice of experts, lie with impunity, and concern themselves only with the needs and desires of the wealthy and powerful?

Do you really want to return to a world where a strong safety net is unfurled only in times of the greatest crisis—that is, only when the interests of the rich and powerful are threatened? More to the point, why must the pursuit of money trump all other pursuits? The complaint the Founding Fathers lodged with King George III makes no mention of money; it does, however, single out “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as examples of the “unalienable rights” the colonists were being denied.

If the present moment has reminded me of anything, it is that while unalienable rights might be exercised individually, they are always guaranteed communally. We engage in social distancing so that all may continue to enjoy the right to life. Rights are never absolute. Always there is tension, the need for negotiation and compromise to ensure that my pursuit of one right doesn’t impinge upon your pursuit of another. Hence, politics.

Republicans, as Jamelle Bouie notes in a recent New York Times op-ed, are terrified that the present crisis will lead people to imagine a new normal, one where ordinary people deserve the same guarantees of security now being extended in these extraordinary times. The need for that security, Bouie writes, “is as true in normal times as it is under crisis. If something like a social democratic state is feasible under these [COVID-19] conditions, then it is absolutely possible when growth is high and unemployment is low.”

Under Trump, the federal government has failed most of America. COVID-19, however, has revealed yet again that America’s greatest strength is its ordinary citizens, our teachers and nurses, checkout clerks and delivery drivers, mail carriers and local government officials. In short, America’s greatest strength is you, my friends. Together, we should insist on a federal government that more closely resembles the values of community and caring we see around us on a daily basis. Together, we should hold accountable any who would continue to push for a government that benefits only the wealthy and powerful and refuses to be “for the people.”

—Christopher Davey, Chair

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DTC Caucus Results

At a caucus of Bolton Democrats on January 13, 2020, at the Notch Road Municipal Center, local Democrats endorsed the following individuals to serve on the Bolton Democratic Town Committee for the 2020–2022 term:

  • Eric Bevans
  • Emily Bradley
  • Christopher Davey
  • Anne Decker
  • Robert DePietro
  • James Dwire
  • Arlene Fiano
  • Monita Hebert
  • Rhea Klein
  • Marilee Manning
  • Gwen Marrion
  • Kim Miller
  • Sandra Pierog
  • Peyton Rutledge
  • Barry Stearns
  • Nicole Sullivan
  • Adam Teller
  • Mary Terhune
  • John Toomey Jr.
  • Richard Tuthill

Congratulations to each but especially to new members, Arlene Fiano, Rhea Klein, and Peyton Rutledge!

To outgoing DTC members Joseph Fleming, Leslie Shea, and Cheryl Udin, thank you for your years of service and contributions to Bolton Democrats. Don’t be strangers!

The new DTC term begins on March 4, 2020. DTC leadership elections will take place at our meeting on March 26.

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Democratic Caucus

On Monday, January 13, at 7:30 pm, at the Notch Road Municipal Center in Bolton, registered Democrats will hold a caucus to select Democratic Town Committee members for the 2020–2022 term.

The caucus is open to all registered Democrats in Bolton.

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