Your country, your state, maybe the neighborhood in which you live, are engulfed by three crises at once: climate change, a pandemic, and social unrest triggered by murder and racial injustice. Your mind reels. Your heart breaks.
What to do? What you cannot do is give up. At a demonstration this week to protest the death of George Floyd, someone held a sign: "We didn't come this far to only come this far."
You get yourself together. You take a deep breath. You look around for things worth doing now. Possibilities:
Make sure we elect a new president.
Not because Joe Biden is perfect, but because every day, in every way, Donald Trump finds new ways to fail us as a leader. Another four years of the worst president in the past 100 years, and the country may never recover.
Make sure we elect a new U.S. Senate.
A year ago, "everyone knew" the Senate would stay Republican, but now everyone is not so sure. "I totally buy that the Senate is in play," says Nate Silver, editor-in-chief of the polling site FiveThirtyEight. Judging from recent polling data, at least four Republican incumbents -- in Maine, Colorado, Arizona, and North Carolina -- are vulnerable for sure, and other Republicans may be, too.
Cut back on civil and criminal fines and fees.
So maybe you want to work on an issue instead of an election. May I make a recommendation? Massachusetts justice isn't Ferguson, but it's an echo of Ferguson, in that it continues to nickel-and-dime people who don't have any money. Which means it's time to take another run at paring back a system riddled with fines and fees. When I served as Chair of the Senate Committee on Post-Audit and Oversight, my staff and I compiled a special report on the pile-on effect of penalties and charges imposed on individuals already living in poverty.
Issued in November 2016 and
Fine Time Massachusetts: Judges, Poor People, and Debtors Prison in the 21st Century,
its recommendations remain relevant today. I'm pleased to say that several have been implemented, but others have to await the right moment before they can move. I hope that moment is here.
Demilitarize police departments.
The U.S. military offloads surplus equipment to municipal law enforcement. But there is no need to gear up the local police as if they are armies of occupation. Doing so disrespects progressive ideas of community policing. Months ago, at the start of the 2019-2020 legislative session, I filed
, legislation to regulate and limit the practice. In the wake of Mr. Floyd's death, we're pressing to see it become law.
6. Push for other reforms.
Insist, for example, on careful conduct by the staff of state and county penal institutions.
As I've visited state prisons, I've learned about the fine points of something as seemingly mundane as entering the cell of an incarcerated person. Cell entries are moments of stress for inmates and corrections officials alike. Lots of people get hurt and better protocols are needed, so I've filed S.1362, An Act to Create Uniform Standards for the Use of Force.
In the heat of the pandemic, even as the nation is torn apart by racism, let's fight the fight on climate, too. Observing the country's inadequate response to the pandemic instructs us that "follow the data," a mantra all of us have embraced, may not be enough, not unless the data is timely, comprehensive and specific.
I take comfort in knowing that the State Senate, back in January, passed An Act Setting Next Generation Climate Policy, with new requirements for publishing timely, comprehensive and specific data on how well Massachusetts is doing -- or not -- in reducing our carbon emissions. Next Gen defines exactly what it means by "timely" -- and it's a much tougher "timely" than what the Baker administration subscribes to at present.
The Senate's handiwork isn't law yet. Next Gen is over in the Massachusetts House, because you need both branches of the Legislature to agree before a bill goes to the Governor.
It goes without saying that legislators have their hands full dealing with COVID, the existential crisis immediately in front of us. But climate change doesn't know COVID. It doesn't appreciate that we're already busy. It won't settle for its spot in the queue. It just keeps coming at us. In the next several months, while the Legislature is still in session, Massachusetts state government needs to push back against COVID and climate both, while advancing social, economic and racial justice for all.
Stay safe. Be well.