On January 31, I stopped by a Rally+Rise lecture on lobbying in New York State, featuring Alessandra Biaggi, the former deputy national-operations director for Hillary for America. Like many liberal Americans, I'd spent the last week absorbing every article, rereading the Constitution, and racing to one march/protest/rally after another.
I went to the event expecting some clear call to action for people like me — people who wanted to give those who are silent or supportive of Donald Trump a piece of their mind. I'd already called our senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, but it had become the epitome of preaching to the choir.
I live in New York: the last time the state went red was for Reagan in 1984, and we've welcomed Dems in the governor's seat for the past decade. I was, like many of us, under the naïve assumption that New York was "safe" and our only fight was at the federal level (we still have many, many fights ahead). I was wrong.
I did leave the night with clear next steps, but it wasn't what I'd expected. Here are my top three takeaways, complete with calls to action.
1. Know your local representative. Really know them.
Contacting representatives when you're not a constituent is useless, as Emily Ellsworth pointed out in Lenny a few months back. Their primary concern is reelection, and you don't factor in. Instead, focus on your state. And each state has its own statehouse with its own byzantine dynamics, which can make the "Democrat" or "Republican" label less reliable than you might think.
In New York, we have the IDC. The IDC is the Independent Democratic Conference, founded in 2011 as a "bipartisan governing coalition" with Senate Republicans. In short, it's Democrats in the state of New York who vote like Republicans — eight of them, to be exact. (This excludes former member Malcolm Smith, who is currently incarcerated for bribing Republican county leaders to secure his spot as a Republican nominee on the New York City mayoral ticket despite his being a registered Democrat.)
Let's do that math. New York has a 63-seat senate: 31 Republicans, 32 Dems. If we re-tally with IDC's voting tendencies: 39 Republicans, 24 Democrats. Here's the full list of NY IDC members. It's no wonder that IDC awareness has increased rapidly post-election, with the New York Times giving it ample attention and constituents mobilizing with sites like noIDCny.org.
The takeaway? Stop voting D down the ballot and start looking into who will represent you in a vote.
2. State constitutions are totally bonkers.
When the Supreme Court rules on something, like, for instance, Roe v. Wade, it passes at a federal level, which means any state-by-state laws fall by the wayside. But it doesn't mean elected officials go back and change the legislation at a state level.
We've all seen listicles along the lines of "The 15 Wackiest Laws Still in the [Insert State] Constitution." But this banana bread goes beyond "You can't wear a fake mustache that causes laughter in church" (Alabama) and "A woman isn't allowed to cut her own hair without her husband's permission" (Michigan — big win). A lot of these laws are horrific and, by today's definition, unconstitutional. For instance, Lawrence v. Texas struck down the existing Texas law making sodomy illegal. The old law still sits in Texas's books; it just can't be enforced, because it's been deemed unconstitutional.
Our move? Read your state's constitution. New York's is 45 pages (of nine-point font). The webpage for California's looks like it was made in 1994. Oregon's includes a section on the appointment of a "state printer." And so on. Log the issues and articles you want to protect in the increasingly likely scenario that they're overturned at the federal level. Start a campaign to secure progress at the state level.