On the Race for Thurston County Prosecutor

One race locally that promises to be interesting is the race for Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney. So I thought I’d take you on a deep dive into the candidates to see how they stack up.

Who’s running?

On one side is the incumbent Jon Tunheim. He got his law degree at the University of Puget Sound. He started working for the Prosecutor’s office in 1988 as an intern, became a Deputy Prosecutor in 1990, and was elected Prosecutor in 2010. This was made easy by the fact that no one ran against him. He ran unopposed again in 2014. He’s entrenched and established and considered unbeatable by most local political influencers.

His opponent is local civil attorney Victor Minjares. He got his law degree from Stanford Law followed by 15 years as a prosecutor in Los Angeles. After moving here in 2005, he spent 8 years in the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

Experience.

If I were hiring for the position and looking at both resumes, I’d have a tough choice. Tunheim has 8 years in the position, and 30 years in the office. Victor has a degree from Stanford Law, and 15 years as a prosecutor in one of the biggest counties in the country. In the end, I think Victor’s education and experience edges out Tunheim in this category.

Name recognition.

I mentioned earlier that Tunheim has never had an opponent before. That means he hasn’t had the benefit that a full-on campaign brings of getting your name out there to the people. If you asked 100 random people on the street who their prosecutor is, I’m guessing 90 of them couldn’t tell you. His name recognition just isn’t strong in the general public. He does have some in the social/racial justice communities, but it’s all negative, due to his decision to prosecute Andre Thompson & Bryson Chaplin and to not prosecute Office Ryan Donald in 2015. Victor has been in the community for a number of years and even ran for a judgeship a few years ago. Name recognition among the general public for these two is pretty close I’d say.

Side note: The high negatives that Tunheim brings with him are in a segment of the population that traditionally doesn’t vote or get all that active, primarily people of color. In other elections around the country recently this voting block has created some surprising results when they get engaged. If I’m Tunheim in this climate of change and the move away from the status quo, I’m very worried about these newly engaged voters. Tunheim isn’t a particularly exciting candidate. I’ve never seen him fire up a crowd the way that Victor held the crowd when he emceed the Families Rally last month.

The money.

If you’ve spent any time with me talking about campaigns you’ve probably heard me mention The Four Resources: time, information, money, and people. If you have a lot of one of them you can get away with having less of another, but you need as much of all of them as you can get. Whoever has the biggest net balance of the four resources on election day wins.

Money is the one we hear about and talk about the most because it’s the most controversial. Money buys you media, the most expensive and hardest to acquire campaign asset. You can mail more, run more TV and radio ads, get more yard signs out, and thereby not have to do the grassroots (time-expensive) work of personally reaching out to people at their doors and at events. Saves you time and effort, and can squash opponents.

If you predicted the winner of every election solely based on fundraising you’d probably be right at least 90% of the time. Here in Washington for instance, we didn’t get marriage equality passed until our side finally raised more money than the other.

Here’s the breakdown as it stands right now according to the Public Disclosure Commission:

  • Starting funds
    • Tunheim $5726.64
    • Victor $0.00
  • Contributions
    • Tunheim $25,185.06
    • Victor $7269.19
  • Loans
    • Tunheim $0.00
    • Victor $5000.00
  • Expenditures
    • Tunheim $15,451.35
    • Victor $4175.50
  • On hand (approx)
    • Tunheim $15,459.71
    • Victor $8093.69

So right now Victor has about half as much money as Tunheim. Victor’s largest contributor is Bruce Mackey, at $1000.00. Tunheim’s largest is himself, at $3896.33 (second place is Lacey City Councilmember Michael Steadman at $1000.00).

Expenses get interesting…

Victor’s largest expense to date, as it should be, is yard signs, at $2489.24. Nothing wrong with that, those things cost about $5 each and he needs his name out there everywhere, so he bought about 500 yard signs. No big deal. Tunheim’s biggest expense, however, is his campaign kickoff (including a private VIP dinner before the main event), which came in at a whopping $8535.29 after all expenses. This is beyond extravagant, it’s perplexing. The event lost money. A C4 filed the next day, which appears to contain all of the contributions from the date of the event, totals $8326. So the event lost the campaign $209.29 in day-of receipts. Kickoffs are intended to be your first big fundraiser where you prime your coffers for the coming year. By comparison, a congressional candidate in the state spent about $5000.00 on their kickoff but made around $50,000.00 from the event. It gives me the feeling that maybe Tunheim just doesn’t think he has a challenging opponent and decided to celebrate his victory early. I don’t know and I won’t speculate his motivations. The fact is: that is way too much to spend on your kickoff and seems irresponsible to me.

At the end of the day I think if Victor can raise a total of $30,000 by the beginning of October, he can run a competitive campaign, and do the basic mailing he needs to do. They’ll have to work really hard and mount a strong grassroots campaign, but it can be done. He’s going to have to summon an army of folks that go hit doors and phones for him. More people can beat more money.

Bottom line

If they run a tight, smart campaign, it’s possible for Victor to beat the incumbent. People seem to think that Tunheim will raise a lot of money on demand and that’s going to sustain him and assure his victory. I’m honestly not sure about that. I think a lot of his likely donors will be focused on the county commission and the very important race between Tye Menser and Bud Blake. He might have trouble at the ATM because of it.

I won’t predict anything in July, because there are still way too many variables and way too much time, but I think it’ll be fun to watch it play out.

Cheers!

A Long Time Coming

A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON, ESTABLISHING IMMEDIATE ACTION ITEMS TO ADDRESS HOMELESSNESS IN OLYMPIA.

Our city council made history last Tuesday by passing a resolution that changed everything about how we approach homelessness in our city. It’s about time.

Fifteen years or so ago I became a volunteer at the Bread and Roses Advocacy Center (BRAC) at the corner of State and Washington. I started out as a volunteer for The Voice of Olympia, a monthly street newspaper that covered issues related to poverty and homelessness, and featured local artists and writers from the street community with the goal of giving them, as the title suggests, a voice. I sold ads (I tried more like) and helped out with some editing and layout. The Editor in Chief was Meta Hogan, who you may have heard of as the creator of Olympia Power & Light along with Matthew Green, who I’ll talk about in a minute.

Six months earlier I’d taken a fall from a ladder at a job site. I’d been working for a small painting and construction company. L&I determined that I not work, and do physical therapy for a year. Six months into it I was bored out of my mind. A friend handed me a copy of The Voice, I saw that they needed help, I had VAST journalism and editing experience from my three years on the high school paper [/sarcasm] – so I called that day to get scheduled. Within a week I was basically volunteering all day every day. After six months of that, they invited me to join them as a member of the staff collective.

Until I joined them, Bread & Roses had three staff members: Selena Kilmoyer, Meta Hogan, and Phil Owen. They’ve all gone on to blaze trails and do inspiring stuff you’ve probably heard about if you’ve lived in Olympia for a while.

Selena was our leader. We never talked about it in those terms; hierarchy wasn’t really our thing, but there was no denying that she was – to three kids in their mid-20s trying to make sense of human suffering and the blind eye that society turns to it. She was our rock, our advisor, and our guide in all matters spiritual, practical, and comical.

Meta was the one who pushed us the most. She carried (still has it I think) a benevolent chip on her shoulder and she never let us acquiesce to the injustices of the world, always pushing us to say, firmly and resolutely, “Fuck this shit.”

Phil was more the more practical one, the voice of reason. In an academic sense, he was probably philosophically the most radical – our brother of the perpetual Trotsky love-fest – but he also kept us from spinning our wheels too much. He was always planning and setting the course.

How do we turn our radical notions of love into policies and programs that grantors will fund and cities will pass into law? That was the question always burning below the surface. Above the surface, we were fighting every day to keep people alive, and to be a source of love, to invite people in not as clients of our social service agency but as guests in our space and our lives. To show them that blessed community can be forged anywhere and that we can make it (together) if we try.

Over the years people were added to the mix and with that came changing dynamics, “company politics,” drama, shifting goals and values, organizational structures, all the things that can happen when people start peopling. It’s possible that if we had just kept it the four us and never tried to grow or add people to the mix (or maybe they should have kept it just three), we might still be at it all these years later, but I don’t think we’d be better for it. We wouldn’t have taken the risks and accomplished the things we did if we’d stayed in the cocoon of Bread & Roses. I loved my time there. I love who it made me. I wouldn’t change a thing. To Phil, Meta, and Selena – thank you. You helped me wake up to the world and my place in it, and helped me find self-worth.

The first city council member, and really the first politician, that I ever found personally relatable was Matthew Green. Matthew was closest to my age of the council members and always spoke frankly with a keenly honed sense of what’s right. He stuck to his guns despite often being out to sea on a city council that tended more conservative than he. After his time on council, he managed campaigns, focused on getting good people elected to council who would fight the good fight. I started volunteering on campaigns about 10 years ago and I watched Matthew intently as he led them. How he prepped candidates to run, how he worked with volunteers, crafted strategy and messaging. If I even sometimes show a glimmer of talent at campaign work, then it’s because of Matthew. He also taught me, by example, that you can be principled in the business of politics and still be effective, and that we can use the strategies, tools, and especially data (Matthew is a data wizard) of conventional politics in benevolent ways.

Where’s this shaggy dog story going?

Last Tuesday.

Last Tuesday our city council unanimously passed a resolution on homelessness that calls for direct action to address the suffering of people on the streets and to enact policies and practices rooted in love. Period. Full stop.

In the Bread & Roses days, and for years after, we fought against anti-homeless ordinances and defunding of programs. And we lost. Every time. From the Sit/Lie to Anti-Camping Ordinances to the well-orchestrated campaign to stop The People’s House, we’ve always had a city council and administration dominated by folks who don’t want to spend resources on helping people but would rather push them out or make their very existence a crime.  We might have had in Matthew, and in later years Jim Cooper, one voice on the council, maybe two on some issues, but never enough to turn the tide.

Today we have a city council that is doing the good work out of love and saying without fear that while we don’t know yet exactly how we’re going to do it, we’re deciding to do it. Matthew Green started us down the path that got us here by being that voice in the dark and then showing others how to be that voice by helping compassionate people get elected.  Councilmembers Jessica Bateman and Clark Gilman dared us to believe that we can actually have the kind of city council that can get the job done without leaving anybody behind. We came into this past year needing just one more seat to have a firm majority. We took two. Lisa Parshley and Renata Rollins completed the council we dreamed of all those years ago, and now we’re reaping the rewards.

I’m taking some time this week to reflect and celebrate and be grateful.

Thanks for reading.

#votingmatters

PS – A special shout out to Meg Martin, Mindy Chambers, Theresa Slusher, Rosalinda Noriega, and Malika Lamont – the warriors who fought when others wouldn’t. I think we’re actually doing the damn thing now. Ain’t it cool?!

Guest Post: The Racist Origins of the Slow-Growth Movement

…and what it means for Thurston County

By: Marco Rosaire Rossi

Few modern transformations in the United States were as significant as the rapid growth of suburbs after World War II. During the Great Depression, the US housing market collapsed. In response, the federal government created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Unlike in European nations, where the housing question prompted governments to directly subsidize dwelling units, the United States provided housing to its citizens through loans. Realtors and developers were terrified that the federal government would enter the housing market as a competitor. To prevent this from occurring, they lobbied for the subsidization of home mortgages instead of dwelling units. These affordable loans gave millions of Americans an opportunity to own a home while providing a much-needed economic stimulus to the housing industry.The FHA ameliorated the fallout from the Great Depression, but after the Second World War, its effects caused an unprecedented housing boom. An overwhelming number of Americans fled central cities for suburban landscapes. Homeownership became the principle signifier for entering America’s middle-class. However, access to a mortgage still depended on a person’s creditworthiness. FHA would not support lending to individuals who had a high potential for default. At the time, the lending practices of banks were openly racist. Ethnic minorities, by virtue of their skin color, were not considered creditworthy regardless of their actual financial situation. The FHA supported this racism. Working with other government agencies, it labeled geographic areas dominated by ethnic minorities as risky for mortgage support. Additionally, it produced reports that ranked ethnicities based on their “beneficial effect on land values.” At the top of the list were people from English, German, Scottish, Irish, Scandinavian, and Northern Italian backgrounds. On the bottom were Russian Jews, Southern Italians, African-Americans, and Mexicans.The FHA strongly supported segregation, but it did not write laws to enforce it. Because of this, it was possible—though very difficult—for racial minorities to find willing lenders and sellers to purchase a home. Even though the risk was slim, there was a constant fear among white homeowners that racial minorities could move in next door and drive down property values. For this reason, neighborhoods created racial covenants that prohibited homeowners from selling their home to minorities as a condition of residency. In order to enforce racial covenants, white homeowners—in cooperation with developers—created homeowner associations. Enforcing racial segregation became a matter of neighbor-to-neighbor policing.These racial restrictions were soon seen as being on the wrong side of history. In 1948, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Shelley v. Kraemer that racial covenant agreements were unenforceable. Shortly after, the FHA revised its policy guidelines to no longer support racial segregation. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 ended racial discrimination in all forms of housing.These successes in racial justice did not mean that the racist legacy of homeowner associations had disappeared. The civil rights movement meant that mortgages and suburban neighborhoods were now available to anyone who financially qualified. For many white homeowners that was a serious problem. Unable to legally discriminate against racial minorities, homeowner associates began to advocating for restrictive zoning practices that prohibited new housing developments. Homeowners, who originally cooperated with developers, now became their primary antagonist. As one developer lamented, “paradoxically, I sell to people who become my enemies.”In a post-civil rights era, arguing for restrictive zoning practices on racial grounds had become a faux pas. Luckily, the rising popularity of environmentalism provided advocates of restrictive zoning a new rhetorical toolkit. Prohibiting new people from moving to an area was not about racial anxieties. It was about preventing the exhaustion of precision resources. Books like Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb and the Club of Rome’s The Limits of Growth described a world of increasing scarcity. Homeowner associations applied these prognostications of planetary destruction to their own backyards. If the cities in India could not feed their people, then the suburbs in America could not house newcomers. This marriage between privileged homeowners and misanthropic environmentalists created the foundation for the slow-growth movement. Advocates of slow-growth sought to reduce, if not stop completely, the pace of urban development. It mattered little that the books that they based their ecological catastrophism on were criticized for their crude determinism, faulty assumptions, and pseudoscientific posturing. For the slow-growth movement, they provided a progressive rationale for an inherently regressive political position.The question is to what degree is this history relevant to Thurston County? The answer is it is extremely relevant. It explains the county’s current housing shortage and the persistence of racial inequalities in homeownership.Between 1970 and 1980s, Thurston County experienced historical population growth. The 1970 US Census recorded the county’s population at 76,894, but by 1980 that number jumped to 124,264, a 61.6% increase. Before this time, the growth of duplexes and fourplexes correlated with the population increases. However, during the mid-1970s these types of housing units spiked, outstripped population growth, and then suddenly crashed. By the early 1980s, these units hit a low point in which they have never recovered from. The failure of these types of units to recover with the housing market indicates policy changes. Cities in Thurston County stopped zoning for these multifamily dwellings. Municipalities instituted more restrictive zoning practices that favored single-family homes and prevented new development projects from being built. Thurston County wasn’t alone in this change. At the same time, similar restrictions were occurring throughout the United States, especially on America’s liberal west coast. It was a sign that the slow-growth movement had become a major force in local politics.As intended, restrictive zoning practices affects newcomers, and in so far as those newcomers are racial minorities, they burden them the most. The draft summary of the 2017 Thurston County Assessment on Fair Housing indicates racial inequalities within the county’s homeownership market. In the past decades, there has been a noticeable decline in Thurston County’s white population. In 2000, whites made-up approximately 86% of the population. Today, that number has dropped to approximately 75%, and will likely continue to decline. In every single school district in the county, the white population is less than its surrounding municipality. In some cases it is by a considerable margin. In Olympia, whites are 85% of the general population, but 69% of the student population. In Lacey, whites are 74% of the general population, but 52% of the student population.Many racial minorities in Thurston County tend to do better economically than their white counterparts. Currently, the white median income is $60,834. But, the median income for African-Americans is $66,480, for Native Americans, it is $61,167, for Asians, it is $65,341, and for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, it is $99,875. Despite doing better economically, all these racial minorities are underrepresented in Thurston County’s homeownership population. African-Americans comprise 2.7% of the general population, but only 1.72% of homeowners. Native Americans are 1.4% of the general population, but 1.03% of homeowners. Asians and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders are 6% of the general population, but only 4.19% of homeowners. This means that even though whites are 75% of the general population, they constitute 87.06% of the homeowner population. In Thurston County, even when racial minorities make more money than whites, they are still not equal to them in terms of homeownership. The reason for this is clear. Restrictive zoning practices have resulted in housing shortages that have caused home prices to skyrocket. In doing so, it has prevented racial minorities from joining their white counterparts in middle-class neighborhoods. Unfortunately, as racial minorities have become more successful, the goalpost for America’s middle-class has shifted away from them.The slow-growth movement constantly insists that their advocacy for restrictive zoning practices is not racially motivated. Their concerns are purely environmental. New housing developments in their neighborhoods are prohibited because their areas already have too many people. It is an issue of resources and carrying capacity. This proclamation begs a question: if there are truly too many people in these areas then who should be excluded? Not surprisingly, the loudest advocates of the “too many people” position never offer themselves up as part of the excess population. It is always someone else who qualifies as the “too many.” Historically, that unspoken someone else has been people of color.Whether advocates of the slow-growth movement admit it or not, restrictive zoning practices were designed to restrict certain people from accessing spaces, not restrict certain behaviors that are damaging to the planet. Racial disparities in social geography are not accidents of nature, but part of a history of social exclusion. The reality is that Thurston County is racially unequal because it was designed that way, and if the slow-growth movement continues to defend restrictive zoning practices, then Thurston County’s racial inequalities in housing will not only continue but worsen.

D.C. Journal Part 3: Rare and Special Books

After four amazing whirlwind days in D.C. I’m back home and wiped out, but energized. Working for the Congressman has from day one been humbling and inspiring, but the last few days, seeing the things I got to see and meeting our D.C. counterparts to develop shared priorities for the coming year, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility, different than before. On another level. These posts cover the highlights of my trip, and the experiences I’ll never forget.

If you’ve been reading this series you know that I spent a lot of time on this trip inside the Library of Congress. I didn’t, however, have any time at all to explore the building. My friends expecting souvenirs are very disappointed. I’m counting on a future full of trips to D.C. where I’ll be able to remedy that.

Despite that, we had a slot on our schedule for a presentation from Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library. We were escorted by library staff to a room removed from the public area. It stored a collection of books kept under lock and key. A room adjacent to it, a reading room, overlooked the Great Hall of the library, the main floor of which sat about two floors down. An awesome bird’s eye view.

We entered the room and Mark was sitting at a great big wooden table. He wore wood-framed glasses and a tan sports coat. His shaggy gray hair and casual style told me he wasn’t much concerned with material things or cosmetic appearance. He was very comfortable. He’s been in his job at the Library for 20 years and still describes it as the greatest job in the world. When he talks about it his face lights up and his eyes glisten like a kid told she’s going to Disneyland.

Laid out neatly around him on the table and on two carts positioned on either side of him there were boxes of varying shape and size, from small and cube-like to big and flat. He explained the history of the Library. After the British burned the U.S. Capitol in the War of 1812, destroying the original Library of Congress with it, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his entire library of about 6,500 books to Congress for whatever they’d be willing to pay. In 1851 another fire destroyed around 35,000 books, including two-thirds of Jefferson’s original collection. In 1998 Mark was hired and began the quest to restore Jefferson’s library with exact editions of the books Jefferson would have owned, no replicas or later editions allowed. His work continues.

Mark picked up one of the smaller boxes and slid another box out from inside it. He set that box on the table in front of him and opened the flap. “This (dramatic pause) is the first book ever printed in what we now call the United States,” he said, choosing his words carefully. Titled, The Bay Psalm Book, it was printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Mass. There are eleven known copies in the world, and one sold at auction a few years ago for $14.2 million.

Next, he picked up another box. This one a little squarer than the last. From this he removed another older looking book, a deep red in color, with a little golden latch on the side, which I thought looked like a bible. Mark offered the book to my coworker Brendan, “Put your hand on it,” he said. Brendan did and Mark explained that this was, in fact, the bible Abraham Lincoln had been sworn in on. Later, Barack Obama would choose the same bible for his own swearing-in. It goes without saying that I’m very jealous of Brendan right now.

We saw many more pieces, including the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets when he was assassinated and some Washington Territory books and ephemera.

The piece that had the most profound impact on me was one Mark pulled from one of the large flat boxes on the table. He opened it to reveal the very first printing of the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. He told us the story of its creation, that Jefferson wrote the first draft and that 86 edits were applied before the final version we saw before us. Being a writing nerd, I clumsily asked about that process, being curious about what the changes were. Mark gave us a little more detail about the process and then told us the story of one of the edits, one made by Jefferson himself before handing it over to the other founders for review. At one point, he edits out one word for another. Not just a line through it, but a box was drawn around it and filled in completely with ink and then smudged out. Over the top of it, he wrote the word, “citizens.” It was never disclosed by Jefferson what the word he crossed out was, and it’s been a point of speculation for many years. Finally in 2010 through the use of spectral imaging analysis, they were able to uncover the secret word.

Jefferson had originally written the word “subjects.”

This means that in the course of his writing, I imagine in a moment where he’d hit a stride – that zone you get in when you’re writing without thinking and everything around you disappears. I imagine him writing that word and immediately catching himself. “No! No, we are NOT subjects anymore!” Is what he probably thought as he hastily smudged out that word. I can imagine the sense of pride he felt writing the word ‘citizens’ over the top. He probably paused and beamed at it for a long moment, filled with joy. He may have even taken a break, and gone for a walk and to clear his head before continuing. That’s what I would have done.

This story also reminds me that these people we put on pedestals (literally or figuratively), were just people like us. They made mistakes. They brought emotion into the work, they felt anxious and insecure. Those things powered them like they power us. They were figuring it out as they went along, building their parachutes after they jumped. I think it serves us well in the face of the challenges of the day to keep that in mind. We’re not so different from our heroes.

Thanks for reading.

 

D.C. Journal Part 2: Tour of the Capitol Dome

After four amazing whirlwind days in D.C. I’m back home and wiped out, but energized. Working for the Congressman has from day one been humbling and inspiring, but the last few days, seeing the things I got to see and meeting our D.C. counterparts to develop shared priorities for the coming year, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility, different than before. On another level. These posts cover the highlights of my trip, and the experiences I’ll never forget.

Everything in Washington DC was designed to make you feel small. From the Neo-classical design of the Capitol to the Brutalist J. Edgar Hoover building down the street. Everything is big; you are little. Our tour actually started in our office across the street in the Longworth Building. From there Derek led us down into the tunnels below. Like a long cut from The West Wing we walked through the hustle-bustle of the tunnels – groups here and there huddled off to the sides discussing strategy, young fresh-faced interns cutting through on some mission or another, Jared Kushner with his security detail clearing the way (my private daydream was that they were escorting him out, Omarosa-style). We came out the other side, and I found myself in a place I’d seen a thousand times on TV. It felt familiar and foreign all at once.

We met up with our tour guide at his office. He was of average height, bald, glasses, wearing a smart suit that was both nerdy and stylish at the same time. I likened him to a sort of renaissance type, who appreciates a range of interests. Refreshing in our inch-deep/mile-wide culture. He started us off with a briefing on the tour and what to expect. “This won’t be a walk in the park,” was his warning to us. We’d be climbing up and then back down many staircases, and he wanted us to know that it would be challenging, but rewarding. So we set off, my coworker Kate volunteered to make sure every door shut firmly behind us – these areas were not open to the public, only Members and their guests are typically allowed to go where we were going.

We came to a doorway that took us to the area between the outside of the dome and the inner supports. What you see from the outside is a skirting that has no structural function – even the columns you see are decoration. The structural framework of the dome is about 9 million pounds of cast iron, painted to appear to be made of the same stone as the rest of the building. Even the staircases were made of cast iron, with little divots worn into each platform where thousands of feet pivoted at each switchback over the years. So many little reminders of the great history of the place, easter eggs of history.

From there another steep set of switchback stairs and we came to a door. The door was opened, and a pressure change caused a rush of air to escape, gently coaxing me toward the opening, and the light. I stepped out and everything changed. Everything I felt about this city – like I don’t belong, powerlessness, insignificance – faded away. I didn’t feel tiny anymore because now I could see DC for what it is: a tiny little speck. Just like me.

We stepped out onto a walkway that rings the outside of the very top of the dome, just below the section where the Statue of Freedom sits. You can walk all the way around it and see for miles. The Washington Monument is a toothpick. The White House is a Lego. Donald Trump is a flea. They’ll keep building these structures and monuments in order to make us feel small. It’s an illusion, and now that I’ve seen through it, I’ll never be fooled by it again.

Thanks for reading!

D.C. Journal Part 1: Rep. Joe Kennedy

After four amazing whirlwind days in D.C. I’m back home and wiped out, but energized. Working for the Congressman has from day one been humbling and inspiring, but the last few days, seeing the things I got to see and meeting our D.C. counterparts to develop shared priorities for the coming year, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility, different than before. On another level. These posts cover the highlights of my trip, and the experiences I’ll never forget.

Part 1: Rep. Joe Kennedy

On the first day of our staff retreat, we gathered in a beautiful, old and ornate room in the Library of Congress, in a wing reserved for Members. We were in what used to be the House Reading Room, but after WWII was turned into a members’ event space for meetings, staff retreats, and receptions. On each end of the room sits a marble fireplace, each decorated with a mosaic above them. “Law” on the north end, “History” on the south. Above us, spanning the length of the ceiling were seven panels, collectively called, “Spectrum of Light” and painted by Symbolist painter Carl Gutherz in 1896. Each panel, a different color, features a central figure representing human achievements such as poetry, science, and research.

The private Congressional Reading Room, where the most important issues of our nation’s history have been researched and no doubt debated, was one door down. I sat just a few feet from our special guest, Rep Joe Kennedy. The work he’s done in Congress stands alone for me. I appreciate his hard work and optimism, and his spirit of compassion and generosity. He’s a refreshing voice against the din of cynicism. He also looks and talks too much like his grandfather, Bobby Kennedy, to ever forget that you’re seeing someone who grew up adjacent to greatness, which is a condition that breeds further greatness.

He began his remarks by praising Derek’s work in the House and thanking us for being the ones who carry it out on the ground, both in legislation and at home in the district. If you’re a political nerd like me you understand how tremendous it was sitting there listening to a Kennedy speaking to us because he’s friends with our boss and wanted us to know how valuable he thinks our work is to our country.

To our country… I hadn’t yet considered the notion that anything I do has that sort of impact. That right now, I serve people, and my service ripples farther than I ever imagined I could reach.

That was the first little blow in a series of humbling but empowering events over the four days in D.C. that changed me a bit. Changed me in the sense that it took my resolve and determination and moral imperative and grounded it anew in this work. Reinforcing the importance of bringing into it a spirit of magnanimity and service. The importance of leading with love. Ultimately, we are each defined by how we choose to be and how we make people feel. I want, at the very least, the people I touch in my work to feel heard and respected. If I can meet that goal, I think we can do great things.

Thanks for reading.

The Happy/Sad Binary

I’m really happy.

These days, I feel happier than I have (allowed myself to feel) in many years. Along with this new happiness is all my old existential dread, anxiety, unconfidence, untrust, and yes, sadness. I worry about not being good enough, people call it Imposter Syndrome. I lay awake at night thinking about all the things I didn’t get done, surely leaving dozens of people disappointed. I feel guilty for not doing enough for justice, and shame that I don’t stand up for equity as fiercely as I’d like. I feel remorse that people suffer while I procrastinate or philosophize. Sadness can happen when I feel alone or when I long for companionship or partnership or friendship. But those things come and go and when I’m not feeling them, I feel happy. Happy is my default. I think that’s pretty cool.

Too much of what I see demands that I choose a lane. Either you’re happy or sad, whole or broken,  functional or not. The Self Help Industrial Complex (Elephant Journal, Good Man Project, etc) need you to feel broken. The need you to need them enough to pay them money for what they have. I see their articles shared all over and they all seem slanted to make you feel like something is wrong with you, that you’re broken because you feel sad, that you need help because you feel things wrong, or don’t feel, or feel too much.

What I think is this: all things exist on a spectrum. Anybody who tries to convince you of a binary is probably selling something and you should throw them out of the temple. Sometimes the spectrums have spectrums and it’s damn complicated and I don’t understand my brain. But I trust it. I trust me. I have good instincts and that gets me through. I know that there’s no such thing as fate, nothing happens for a reason, and nobody is in control. Also, life would be really dull if the weather never changed, so I embrace the turbulence.

Like Matsuo Basho said, “Clouds come from time to time and bring to us a chance to rest from looking at the moon.”