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State of Maine Democracy

What makes for a good democracy?

The League of Women Voters of Maine and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections teamed up to prepare a recent report – The State of Maine Democracy – that looks at the following:

  1. Representative Government
  2. Voter and Civic Participation
  3. Poverty and Voter Participation
  4. Voting Rights
  5. Election Methods
  6. Conduct of Elections
  7. Money in Politics
  8. Freedom of Information
  9. Newspapers and Media Access
  10. The Judiciary

A good democracy requires attention to all this stuff. I know people say that the United States is a Republic, or a Federal Republic, or a Constitutional Democracy, and other things, yet fundamentally don’t we want government by the people and for the people? To most of us, we think that basic democracy is when the leaders represent the people. That’s what most Americans expect of their government.

This report looks at factors impacting how well leaders represent their people; the list above.

As you might imagine, my home State of Maine gets good marks. We are proud of our consistently high voter turnout (3rd in the country at last look) and of our high integrity elections. We get high marks for freedom of information and for inclusive and protective voting laws.

Yet all is not well with democracy in Maine. “To put it bluntly,” the report says, “the Legislature is and has been dominated by older white men.” The report also cites gender disparity in the Judiciary. If we expect the leaders to represent the people, it works really well when the leaders look like the people.

Where voter turnout is lowest in Maine, there are correlations with race and poverty. These things (race and poverty) are barriers to voting and thus affect how well “leaders represent the people.”

The report does a great job of providing take-aways and conclusions from a variety of complex data. Thank you League of Women Voters of Maine and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections for helping us monitor the health of our democracy.

A call for mildness

Below is an excerpt from a March 25, 2021 letter to staff from Ghent University Rector Rik Van de Walle. Ghent is in Belgium where the population is very dense and where Brussels serves as “the crossroads of Europe.” COVID rates are high. Lockdowns are strict. Vaccines are slow. People are in despair. Here is a leader’s appeal to his colleagues. Bold added by Craig.

 

With this message, I would like to draw your attention to the impact we all feel, as Ghent University staff and as humans in general. In the current circumstances, it is far from self-evident to always find the right balance: between teaching and research tasks, between teleworkable and non-teleworkable tasks, between work and private life, between caring for others and caring for yourself.

Therefore, I would like to ask you again and explicitly to show the necessary mildness in the coming weeks. Be mild in judging your colleagues and be mild in judging yourself. Expectations and goals cannot be as high as in normal circumstances. Evaluate the impact of the corona crisis on your tasks with your colleagues and your supervisor(s), whether your tasks are teleworkable and on the work planning and allocation of tasks within the team. Adjust expectations and agreements together as needed.

Also be aware that while the corona crisis affects everyone, some are affected (much) harder than others, for reasons that can be both work-related and personal. Inequality and unequal opportunities for further development therefore threaten to increase further. We must remain alert for this and try to prevent such very harmful side effects of the corona crisis, also when tasks or people are being evaluated.

Hence this plea: let us help each other and remain very close to each other, figuratively speaking, in the context of our university activities and beyond. Keep talking to each other. Please do not let this conversation, even from a distance, fall silent.

– Rik Van de Walle, Rector, Ghent University, Belgium

What is a Land Acknowledgement?

I remember the first conference I was in when I heard one. A guy at the start explained how the land beneath our very feet was once inhabited by Indigenous people – he named the tribes – and he explained that the land had been taken.

Wow, I thought to myself. That’s pretty rad. Turns out land acknowledgements aren’t actually so radical these days. They are showing up at conferences and meetings more frequently. Yet they are not to be done lightly. And there is good advice from Indigenous sources on why and how to do a land acknowledgement. Here’s one resource.

To me, it’s a pause to pay respect to those who died for my freedom came before me. I have a remarkable lifestyle today. On stolen land. The least I can do is acknowledge that. Out loud. And it’s also a shout-out to descendants with us today. There are many here among us.

You may not be ready to start meetings with an announcement that you are on stolen land, but do you know how the land beneath your feet passed from Indigenous people to the current owner? For me, learning the local history helped me acknowledge some hard truths, even if just to myself.

<—- Written by Indigenous author Nancy (Coffin) Lecompte (aka Canyon Wolf), this book is available from the Androscoggin Historical Society

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