How I Learned to Be a Savvier Voter | Songs for the Struggling Artist on WordPress.com

How I Learned to Be a Savvier Voter

The first thing I heard about the Constitutional Convention Proposal in New York State was this:

New York friends, please be aware that on Election Day(11/7), the back of the ballot will have a referendum to vote on a NY Constitutional Conference, or, “Con Con.” It’s a raw deal! It’s very expensive, your legislature and representatives would be paid double their current salary, and all public employees (teachers, police officers, firemen, librarians ,city and state, etc) stand to lose a great deal.
 
You have to turn the ballot OVER to vote. If you don’t vote, it won’t cancel the yes votes and would cost taxpayers a crapload of money$$$$$.
 
If you love public service employees, city and state, please vote NO!!!! And copy and paste to pass this on.
 
This vote is Cuomo’ s attempt to takeaway parts of your pension whether you are working or retired. He refused to put it on the front. So turn it over and vote no.

It sounded terrible. And it lined up exactly with my views — yes! Those corrupt guys in Albany WOULD do something sneaky and we could lose all our rights! It’s exactly what I feared would come next — like the precursor of the Gestapo’s boots. But I’ve heard about the fake news situation and I know Bad Actors are out there trying to spin things — so I did due diligence, folks. I clicked on the link and watched the video from the coalition for No and it featured a lot of groups I like — the New York Teachers Union, for example. So I thought, “Yeah, seems legit.” And then I shared the post on Facebook, pretty proud of myself for having clicked around a little bit before kneejerk sharing.

Then, the next day, my friend mentioned the segment he’d heard about this proposal on the Brian Lehrer show and it made him ask, “Who’s FOR it? If the unions are all against, who is advocating for it?” And the answer seemed to be no one, really. The argument seemed to be between progressives — and no one was paying to trigger a yes vote. This was a question I had not thought to ask. I just assumed what I’d read was true and the proposal was sponsored by the bad guys. But the further we dug, the more those kinds of answers were illusive.

Then I learned about the history of the New York constitutional convention and how it works. It’s built into the state’s system that every twenty years, New Yorkers can vote on whether or not to have a constitutional convention. The proposal on the ballot was happening because it had been twenty years since the last vote. No shady back door dealings. It wasn’t being hidden on the back of the ballot to trick us. It’s just a thing that happens every twenty years. Like — a china/platinum 20th anniversary party. There’s nothing particularly nefarious about it. It’s just a question, a way to take our legislative temperature that Thomas Jefferson suggested. That’s it. And I was mad that something so procedural had been sold to me as an attempt to trick me. I’d been tricked about being tricked. And I will tell you that I do not like to be tricked. That kind of thing makes me mad. And I realized that they’d gotten away with this trick by capitalizing on my (and many people’s) tendency to reduce things to the simplest answer.

This year I’ve had to pay attention to politics in a way that I never have before. I’d really rather not. I’d rather make my art and never read the news — but I don’t have that luxury anymore. I have to pay attention. And I HAVE been. But I realize now that I am still vulnerable to misinformation — so through this — I’ve learned some things to look for.

This isn’t really about the Constitutional Convention; I’m sure this same lesson might have been learned on another issue or candidate. But I want to take you through my experience so you can avoid the traps that I fell into.

FIRST QUESTION I have now about something like this proposal: Who is paying for the campaign?

In this case, unions paid millions of dollars to encourage people to vote no. No real bad guys here. But what about the Yes Campaign? Um. There wasn’t one, per se. There were a few progressive groups that got behind it as well as the New York State Bar Association. The League of Women Voters was in support. But no one was funding a campaign. I didn’t see a single Yes flyer in all of NYC in the weeks before the election. Not one. I saw some sweet homemade videos and some super geeky academic analysis but no one was funding a yes campaign. Meanwhile, there was a giant “No” magnet stuck on the mailboxes of our apartment building.

SECOND QUESTION to ask: Where did this proposal/bill/petition originate? This one was an automatic ballot proposal triggered by time.

A separate proposal about the Adirondacks came from the small towns who were unable to repair their bridges without going ten feet into protected land. Every environmental group in the state supported it but it almost doesn’t pass just because no one was out there educating folks about it.

THIRD QUESTION: Who has the information?
 You know who wasn’t explaining how the “Con-Con” would work? Everyone advocating “No.” I saw a lot of “protect our pensions” and “Don’t risk it!” but I didn’t see any — “It works like this — so vote no.”

The only people really explaining were journalists and every single “yes” advocate.

There was a huge imbalance of information.

FOURTH QUESTION: What is the campaign trying to make me feel?
 The No campaign suggested I feel afraid — unwilling to risk our current system. The folks I watched and listened to on the “yes” side were aiming for a “yes we can.” One advocate was ebullient about the possibilities of addressing systemic racism. One article I read suggested deciding how to vote based on your personality. Willing to take risks? Yes. Needing security? No.

I learned from my experience with this ballot proposal that I need to be a savvier voter than I have been. I have become aware of my own desire for easy answers. (Oh, the Unions are for it? Then so am I!) I learned how few people really took the time to look at this question. And also how once people have taken a side they can kind of be jerks. The day after the election when the constitutional convention failed with more than 80% voting no — someone responded to my tweet from the previous day in support of the convention with a dismissive comment. The election was over. “Yes” had lost, soundly, and yet someone had taken the time to respond, like a jerk, to the losing opinion.

Now — I want to just pause here and say, I fully understand why a person would have wanted to vote no to this question. There is, built into the question, a level of re-examination of our democracy that not everyone is into. If you weren’t feeling it, I totally get it. It’s a hard time to have faith in voters. I get it 100%.

But I am disappointed in the knee jerk jerkiness that paints every yes voter as an agent of the corruption in Albany. That’s not the case. Everyone I know who voted “Yes” are advocates for democracy. They were incredibly well informed and they ranged from law experts to activists for women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities and economic justice. The video of these two women answering questions about the convention was the highlight of the election season for me.

But no one paid for a Yes campaign and so most New Yorkers voted No. Which would have been fine with me if it had been a fair fight. But since it wasn’t it made me a little sad. (Not nearly as sad as the situation in Washington right now, obviously, but still sad.)

I emerged from the experience, especially when the news was so good in so many places on the same election day, wiser and more vigilant with a set of questions to ask. And if I’m still here in twenty years when the convention question comes up again, I’ll be curious to see what happens, to see if we’ll have found more complex ways to look at complex questions. At the very least, I am more aware of my own impulse to go with the herd, to accept easy answers and not do my own investigating. I will be a better voter for having had this experience and so I am grateful for it.

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Originally published at artiststruggle.wordpress.com on December 3, 2017.