Capitalism

Why Poor People Don’t Run for Federal Office

by Yana Ludwig
July 1, 2019

I’m running for US Senate as someone who regularly experiences economic insecurity. Here’s a little of how that has been so far.

A few months ago, one of my housemates said to me, “You do the Millennial hustle better than any Millennial I know.” What she was referring to is my multiple part-time jobs and freelancing gigs that comprise my part of keeping the mortgage paid and the lights on.

It was funny and kinda flattering (I’m too old to actually be a Millennial, but I often find that they are the folks I most easily connect with). But her teaching me that phrase brought part of her generation’s struggle into sharper focus: the painful reality I experience around not having work and economic stability is so common for her age mates that they’ve coined a term for it. Ufdah.

There’s pain in this reality. The constant hustle takes its toll, some months there isn’t enough and we have to do that horrible juggling act (pay insurance or get car fixed? delay the dentist for another couple months or skip getting new groceries and eat pantry dregs?). If it wasn’t for the Affordable Care Act, I’d be one of the millions of people who live in fear of waking up in the morning will illness rising and nowhere to go; as is, the co-pay and deductible still discourages “good” choices sometimes.

I’m running for office because of that economic insecurity, and because climate disruption is a real and rising reality for all of us, but especially people of color and poor people everywhere. I’m running now because there is urgency to both, and because the rise of fascism needs people to stand in its way as powerfully as possible. And for some reason I woke up in February with the notion in my head that maybe I could stand up more formally and actually run for office.

So I’m doing this thing, and I’m committed to seeing it through, whether that means it is over in 14 months, 17 months or 8 years. And I was in no way “financially ready” for this.

In fact, I almost didn’t run because of money. One of the first things I learned when I started talking to folks who know more than I do about elections is that candidates can’t pull any kind of salary from their campaign coffers until after the primary filing date closes: in my case, because I’m in a state with a late primary, that means June 6 of 2020. So running means adding to my hustle a nearly full time additional job. That pays nothing. For a year. When I’m already struggling.

But it gets worse. Once you can pull a salary, you are limited to either what you made last year, or what the office you are running for pays, whichever is less. Think that through for a second. That means that someone who makes the big bucks can pull a salary equivalent to $174K (current US Senator salary), and I can pull a salary equivalent of less than $25K, for the same work. It’s blatantly classist and it is hard to believe there wasn’t intentional favoring of rich people to be able to run for office.

My next inquiry was, “Can I crowdfund to help keep my bills paid while I run?” And the answer was, “Nope. Any help people give you because you are running counts as a campaign contribution and is subject to these restrictions.” So that modern desperation go-to isn’t even available. (I can’t even publish this article on my own blog because it is on patreon and will be interpreted as an “ask”.)

My response to learning these things was first despair (CAN I do this? How does anyone do this?!?) then analysis (THIS is why we are so under-represented! I’m seeing the mechanism laid bare!) to deeper commitment (Godammit, someone has to do this. Let’s go!)

But I’m dragging other people along. The financial stress in my life was already there and it is shared stress with my family and community-mates. I’m going through waves of feeling anxious and guilty for this choice, which was, after all, my choice first and foremost. And the more I show up as a candidate, the less I’m available to help get that mortgage paid. 

I’m also harboring deep fears that this is going to compromise my health. I have chronic Lyme disease, which is held in check by daily doses of herbs and being the party pooper who heads for bet at 8:30 most nights. It’s a precarious balance, and falling off that cliff can mean weeks or even months of increased pain and exhaustion. Plus not being able to work for a while, which just leads to more stress and anxiety as the bills pile up and my partner has to double down on his own already exhausting work life.

Then there is the “birds of a feather” phenomenon: I don’t hang out with millionaires, which makes fundraising for anything a challenge. And I don’t have millions of my own money to throw in to my own campaign. An independent candidate in the last Wyoming US Senate race joked in an interview that his wife had agreed to let him spend $1M on his campaign… but he’d do more if she wasn’t paying attention. Isn’t that sexist and cute? And casually unaware of his own privilege?

Reading that article left me feeling the old shame of being a capitalist system failure. I comfort myself with the story that I’ve always been more oriented toward service than a big paycheck, but the reality is that even if I had tried to play that game in earnest, only a handful of people ever “make it” if they don’t start out in a family with a lot of wealth.

So the crux of the “why” is that the deck is stacked against us, both in general and within the minutiae of campaign finance law. My family is going to go through the squeezebox of economic stress over the next year and a half in the hope that I can win a seat at the table and be part of changing the mess that is our electoral system, and win or lose, being a role model for not accepting the hand we’ve been dealt. 

I want public financing. I want Citizens United dead and gone. I want corporate power blunted so that people with a real commitment to the working class and poor can actually stand a chance in our electoral system. And the deeper I get into the stressful, anything-but-justice-based process of running for a federal office, the more fierce that commitment gets. 

Yana Ludwig is the author of Together Resilient: Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption, and is a candidate for United States Senate. She is a founder of Solidarity Collective in Laramie, Wyoming. 

Photo credit: https://www.yana4wyo.com/platform

 

How to Go Left (& not get left behind) in Wyoming

by Matt Stannard
May 7, 2019

The presumption that the right gets to call the shots is the Wyoming establishment’s greatest political weapon. It has allowed center-right, “moderate” oil and gas pawns to dominate policymaking by allowing the far right and the billionaire class to dominate policy and values rhetoric. Periodically, Wyomingites are reminded that resistance to this arrangement is futile, and besides, we’re all one big small town here, so we best not be getting uncivil about the way we do things (“uncivil” is when anyone besides Al Simpson or Dick Cheney cusses at somebody, or any time poor people, women, indigenous people, queer folks or people of color object to the cultural and material hierarchies of the state).

I’m here to tell you that’s all good old-fashioned Wyoming bullshit. There’s a growing, increasingly vocal, diverse left here, and you’re probably part of it — if you want to be. Here are five ways you can effectively engage the political landscape on this very colonized land.

1. Join (or form) politically independent or transpartisan left groups.

In addition to political parties, there are also independent political advocacy groups that can bring Democrats, Greens, socialists and independents together around common causes or issues. There’s already a Southeast Wyoming chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA is not affiliated with any party but endorses candidates and organizes direct political action around issues of economic justice); maybe you’re reading this in Evanston or Lander and want to organize additional branches. There are progressive coalitions in cities across the state. There are publications and groups like WyoFile and Better Wyoming, there’s Wyoming Equality, and more [I’ll even edit this paragraph to add more groups if you suggest them]. Trans-partisan and multi-party activism gives us strength beyond our numbers and helps us articulate a general left direction for state politics.

2. Support ANY organizations and candidates that push Wyoming leftward — and use your dialogue and solidarity to shape their direction.

If a candidate is left of center but not left of center enough for you, support them and talk to them about why they should be more left of center. If an organization publishes stories about education funding, hate crimes, and LGBTQAA+ rights, support them and push them to cover labor rights and cooperative economics too. Aim to be invitational and not isolationist with anyone seeking to make things even somewhat better here.

In Wyoming, we don’t have the luxury of sectarianism. We can and should be clear about our beliefs and orientations, but we absolutely must find common points of convergence and action in order to push back against the Foster Friessian privatize-everything machine and the incipient fascists in cowboy boots.

3. Stand in solidarity with groups and individuals brave enough to push the boundaries — and proactively defend them when they’re attacked.

The last three years have seen unprecedented creation and growth of an unapologetic, self-identified collection of left, socialist, direct action, anti-ICE and anti-fascist and other groups in Wyoming, and they are out in the streets, on our campuses, in our living rooms, and showing up at the state legislature and other points of engagement. Even if you aren’t a member of any of those groups, those groups need you to be vocal and supportive allies and defenders when they face inevitable right-wing backlash.

Stand with and listen to indigenous people, and with the brave Latinx activists and others fighting against the construction of a private detention facility in Evanston and for freedom from ICE’s brutality across the state. Support Juntos and join their rapid response network. Stand up for the Southeast Wyoming DSA and for the Wyoming Red Star Coalition (remember that the Martin Niemöller poem actually begins “first they came for the socialists”).

There will be pressure from your moderate and conservative acquaintances to denounce “the far left.” Please don’t give in to that pressure.  Those groups are creating good space for all of us, and are taking a lot of personal risks in their endeavors. Be their allies, accomplices, and fellow travelers when you can. Prove to the doubters that an injury to one truly is an injury to all.

4. Speak, write, and share your politics.

A bunch of us here at Solidarity Collective in Laramie produce “Solidarity Wyoming,” a podcast about left politics in Wyoming. We also host public discussions and offer space for groups to have their meetings. We want to amplify those voices that often feel silenced here. We want to see spaces like that activated across the state. Everyone should be amplifying one another’s voices through social media, public discussions, blogs, podcasts, and any other media conduits we can access. If you have opinions, be part of the external political discussion and the internal debates and discussions that will help our ideas evolve and win.

5. Don’t let the right –or the center– define our political reality.

People make political reality when they join together and fight for it. And if every person in Wyoming who doesn’t feel represented by the old elites, who doesn’t want to be defined by underground carbon deposits and their planet-choking extraction and burning, who doesn’t currently vote or votes reluctantly, who’s thinking of leaving but can’t (or is looking for a reason to stay), if all of us got together, we could win local elections, create sizable public demonstrations, form networks of direct action and material solidarity, and support candidates and policies designed to break the hold of ranching and fossil fuels on Wyoming’s means of production–and to actualize Wyoming’s claim to be the Equality State.

Let’s do it. We have nothing to lose but our dusty, oil-and-cowshit-covered chains.

Matt Stannard is Operations Director at Solidarity House Cooperative in Laramie.

Walter Wangerin Jr.’s The Book of the Dun Cow and Imagining Contemporary Evil

Matt Stannard
Jan. 21, 2018

This afternoon, after several months of periodic readings, my kids and I finished Walter Wangerin Jr.’s The Book of the Dun Cow. I had, with only minimal resistance, proposed to read it out loud to my teen, tween, and ten year-old, in partial recognition of having read the Great Brain series, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and a few others to them when they were much younger. Those were sweet days.

I’d rediscovered, or spontaneously remembered, Wangerin’s epic novel, that some have called a “Lord of the Rings with Farm Animals” (although Wangerin’s prose is far more pleasing to read out loud than Tolkien’s, in my opinion), decades after first finding it when I was about 13, reviewed in an issue of Dragon magazine. I enjoyed the book then and learned a lot about the form of the Christian allegory in literature from it. Some might try to call it a “Christian Animal Farm,” and that would be clever but not really accurate. Orwell’s novel was really, really cynical compared to Wangerin’s story of a basically innocent, decent, somewhat emotionally immature rooster being charged by God, through the whispering voice of the Dun Cow, to fend off an attack from the manifest evil coming from a coop and farm far away, and created by a giant devil-worm that lives deep in the earth.

And it is unapologetically Christian, although it’s a Christianity that admits to and celebrates doubt, doesn’t promise happiness to believers, and invests even the simplest characters with a lot of personal autonomy–at least in terms of letting each farm animal set their own route to fighting the great evil that threatens the farm. There are no humans in the book, but there is a chicken coop and hints of other artifacts, presumably implying some now-distant human intelligence. But it’s the animals who are entrusted with defeating the evil animal-gods and demigods put before them.

It’s the nature of that evil, though, that inspired me to read the book with the kiddos this time around. Some of it is chaotic evil, to put it in RPG terms: the evil rooster demigod, the mirror-image of the hero rooster except much more physically powerful and able to create millions of tiny poisonous snakes with its vomit or something, reminds me of both wannabe and real Nazi trolls today, with their performative brutality, their deliberate use of low-grade irony, and simple self-declared mission to destroy all who aren’t them. Some of the book’s evil is lawful evil, a giant wyrm in the earth who believes its very presence and size entitles it to rule and who tries to seduce the hero with promises of power before opting to try and destroy anything that opposes it (that’s what the billionaires do–first they try to buy you and then if they can’t they must silence you at whatever cost).

I’m aware that these are Christian images too, and I don’t know anything about Walter Wangerin’s politics, but if he is an orthodox Christian, his politics are probably pretty different from mine. But I also have to say that my concerns with the alt-right and the billionaire class are more than just “political” in a conventional sense. The important thing is that Wangerin knows that the violent exercise of asymmetrical power and dishonest manipulation of good people are bad things, and his animation of them produces beautifully hideous and revolting villains that, like the heroes in the book, are essentially cartoon characters, but not shallow caricatures. That takes some skill and aesthetic vision.

So as I read the book to the kids a couple of hours at a time over a period of months (I can’t quite remember when we started), I wanted to speak the voices of good, imperfect beings fighting back against others who either wanted to eradicate them for existing (the gratuitous racist violence that’s irreducible to just wealth acquisition), and those who would seek to manipulate or destroy others for the sake of economic gain. These are the twin evils, I think, represented by a large part of the current political order and culture. But my hope is they’d get something more than just politics out of hearing a story about how good, imperfect, mistake-making beings hold their own against those who want to exploit or destroy them.

There are two more books in Wangerin’s Dun Cow series. If you’ve read them, I’d love to hear what you think. I told the kids (who enjoyed the book and admitted on their own they miss sitting around hearing me read to them, I swear) that if any of them wanted to read the other books I’d buy them. I think I’m good with just this one, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful in every way–the incredible wordsmithing, the very deep and emotional development of the characters–and, where it was a tiny bit traditional-gender-roles, easily bracketed and deconstructed (at least I felt so, but obviously could be wrong. Christianity is what it is, unless Wangerin were UCC, which as an M.Div from the Lutheran Christ Seminary-Seminex, I will guess he’s not).

But I want to thank him for doing a very good job representing bravery amid moral frailty, destructive and manipulative evil, depression and self-loathing, vulnerability and forgiveness, even the ineffable tragedy of losing family members, all in a fantasy novel about rooster warriors and farm animal armies.

The drawing above is by Abby, and was inspired by the book. 

Paris Agreement Discord Highlights Need for Community-Based Climate Action

by Ma’ikwe Ludwig

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
― Arundhati Roy

Today is an important day to listen for that breathing, which can be hard to hear over the justifiably angry buzz that just erupted thanks to President Trump’s pending decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

And well it should be buzzing: this is a terrible idea. Paris got us a half step down the road of doing what we need to do around climate . . .  not nearly enough, but some tangible progress; pulling us out will be two steps backward as whatever delicate trust was built in that process is dashed on the rocks of Trump’s ego.

The buzz is heavy on depression and panic, both of which are completely understandable responses. Without a real change in how we think about the climate crisis, it does indeed look and feel like the final nail in our collective coffin.

I’ve been tracking climate issues since 1987, and at this point, I’m no longer surprised by the capacity for large governmental bodies to sink their heads in the sand while simultaneously blaming others. (Notably, those “others” are usually poor and brown-skinned. China has been the favorite scapegoat for the last decade, conveniently ignoring that their emissions and other pollution numbers include a significant amount of the manufacturing of the cheap and convenient crap we Americans seem to relish).

20 years ago, I started to pursue a completely different track on environmental and social issues alike: deeply grassroots organizing of the structures and habits of our lives, largely in the form of residential intentional communities. And in doing so, I’ve found a viable option that requires nothing of politicians, a tactic that seems more and more practical and needed every day.

What if Americans could get their consumption and emissions down to about 10% of our current average? The answer is that it would be huge. By my best estimates, 10% is about what we need to be doing if we want to be “sustainable”. On top of that, we also need to start massive carbon sequestration projects, such as tree planting and biochar initiatives.

At least one group of Americans are doing just that: residents of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri. I profile Dancing Rabbit and a number of other community projects in my new book, Together Resilient: Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption, which focuses on climate solutions that are already technologically viable and effective to reduce emissions, and that are available to all of us right now.

These communities hold potential keys to several of our worst problems: not only climate disruption, but also social isolation, massive income inequalities and other social injustices can be worked on in these deliberate pockets of social, economic and ecological experimentation. The ability to live on less (less dollars, less stuff and less stress) is one of the primary benefits of collectively self-determined, cooperation-based communities.

The pockets of creative solution making are literally everywhere. The Communities Directory lists over 1,300 intentional communities, most of them in North America. Not all of them have incredible carbon stats, but all of them that have been studied have notably better carbon stats. Like the Paris talks, they represent significant steps in the direction we need to go in, even if their potential is not yet fully realized. Unlike the Paris talks, they don’t just evaporate at the whim of politicians.

So to my friends out there who are feeling the cold creeping of increasingly likely disaster, I say this: take heart, and take things into your own hands. Let’s stop waiting for politicians who are deeply in debt to the fossil fuel industry and who can’t think outside of the capitalism box to suddenly see the light. Instead, let’s do this together.

Ma’ikwe Ludwig is a long-time sustainability and cultural change advocate, focused on intentional communities, and the intersection of economic and ecological justice. She is currently executive director at Commonomics USA and previously served in that role at the Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. 

Poverty and Moral Judgment

How can it be said that anyone deserves their poverty?

What we call “character flaws” are the result of a complex combination of environmental, neurological and cultural factors, plus whatever agency we actually have in dealing with those. To say that anyone deserves poverty isn’t just an unwarranted moral judgment nobody has the right to make, but also an unscientific judgment that misunderstands how humans function.

And, the decisions made by powerful financial actors contextualize where a person making “bad choices” will ultimately land. For example, absent the LIBOR banking scandal, tens of thousands of home foreclosures in Baltimore would not have occurred, even though in the micro-political universe of those individual foreclosures, one could assign any number of individual causal chains as the “reasons” for the foreclosures (X didn’t work hard enough; Y had a drinking problem, etc.).

Even if you say “well, that person had a bad rap in life and they nevertheless overcame their bad luck,” whether X overcomes that bad luck is determined by the very same combination of internal and external factors that landed X in a bad situation in the first place.

Perhaps “economic determinism” (if it’s wholistic; dialectical if you will) is the most compassionate, ethically respectful, and epistemologically justified paradigm there is. Understanding the interplay of these factors can help us build systems that will maximize agency and collectively plan ways to account for all the external factors.

Matt Stannard is policy director at Commonomics USA.