What it’s like to live in a failed state

You may not always have a comfortable life, and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once, but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have. Because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own. ~Michele Obama


I’ve hesitated writing this … perhaps because it feels so pessimistic to comment on the state of my state without seeing a clear light at the end of the tunnel. But there’s something motivating about admitting the reality of a terrible situation. And I’ve heard from many of you living in other parts of the country, who have found my recent descriptions of life in a now-solidly-red state as helpful perspective.

So here goes.

I live in Missouri.

Through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, it was a blue/purple state. I went to undergraduate and law school in Missouri during that time. It was a reasonable place, where reasonable people disagreed. Reasonably.

The trains, by and large, ran on time.

Since 2003, the Republican Party has held both the Missouri House and Senate. Since 2012, it’s had a veto-proof supermajority in both chambers.

Let me break down for you what has happened since.

Kids are down to four day school weeks because there isn’t enough money for busing, even after they’ve consolidated rural school districts. The state legislature has cut their budget to the bone – enabling drastic cuts by redefining what it means to “fully fund” education, while giving tax breaks to corporations.

Last session, they passed a law prohibiting local law enforcement from enforcing federal gun laws. Overnight, successful partnerships between local departments and federal entities (like the ATF) were prohibited. The law is clearly unconstitutional, but the message – and intent – is clear.

Just weeks ago, they tried to prohibit plan B and IUDs from being covered by Medicaid. That failed… for now. Two years ago, they passed a law that bans abortion at 8 weeks, has no exceptions for rape or incest, and contains a “trigger clause” making it effective the second Roe is overturned.

Smaller hospitals have closed all over the state, leaving rural Missourians without accessible healthcare. Missouri didn’t expand Medicaid until the voters took it into their own hands and did it themselves via ballot initiative in 2020.

But, since then, even though Medicaid expansion is now enshrined in our state constitution, the Republican state legislature decided to get cute and refuse to fund it. Without a funding source, our gutless governor shrugged and said his hands were tied – and refused to expand coverage by the July 1 deadline. It now remains in limbo, with expensive litigation underway. More than 275,000 people stand to gain – or lose – healthcare based upon the outcome.

(An aside: How craven do you have to be to refuse to expand healthcare during a pandemic?)

That’s not the first time they’ve violated the will of the voters. It’s a common refrain, actually. Voters passed a ballot initiative restricting puppy mills only to have the state legislature work around it. (Really! Puppy Mills!) Voters rejected Right to Work, only to have the state legislature continue to bring Right to Work legislation in every session. Voters passed comprehensive election reforms, only to have the state legislature draft its own confusing “election integrity” ballot initiative to overturn the most important of them.

Our state legislature screams “local control!” … but then rips that “local control” away whenever it suits them. When public health departments got in the way of CAFOs (concentrated animal farming operations – mega pig farms that pollute air, ground and water), the state restricted local health departments from regulating them. When our governor refused to issue a mask mandate (really, we’ve never had one statewide) local health departments had to step up and do it themselves. The backlash was swift and strong – and this month our governor signed legislation that now restricts what public health departments can regulate … during a pandemic.

It’s not just public health departments that they push around, either. They’ve preempted gun reform, minimum wage increases (which both St. Louis and Kansas City passed – only to have them clawed back with preemption laws), local laws on paid or unpaid sick days, sick leave, vacation, health or retirement benefits, pesticides, ride sharing, municipal broadband, fire sprinklers….

It’s endless.

That is how the “coastal” cites of Kansas City and St. Louis are tethered – against their will – to the failed policies of the “own the libs” Republican supermajority.

Meanwhile, the Delta variant is decimating rural Missouri, where the disinformation is so bad that people arrive at the hospital unable to breathe – and completely shocked that the virus is real.

Legislators bellied up to the press conference podiums over the last year hoping to be the face of the “mask resistors,” blaming any economic pain on the public health and safety measures – like occupancy limits – that were implemented by Democratic leaders. They shunned masks in the state capitol and, now that some have contracted COVID, have taken to social media to talk about how they will treat themselves with ivermectin, tonic water, and other junk science remedies they can find at Tractor Supply.

These are actual screenshots of two Missouri state legislators’ (Brian Seitz and Bill Kidd) comments on Facebook after they contracted COVID.

These are the people drafting legislation in this state.

Last week, after asking for federal help dealing with the out-of-control Delta surge, our governor blasted the Biden administration, saying that any attempt to go “door to door” promoting vaccinations would “NOT” be welcome in the state. Today, he accused overwhelmed and exhausted hospital administrators in Springfield Missouri, who have been providing daily case numbers and sounding the alarm, of using scare tactics to get people vaccinated.

And in June, he ended the federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits for Missourians, because he wanted to force Missourians back to work – by starving them if necessary. Predictably, it has not worked.

I’ll stop there, but I’ve left a lot out, partly due to space, and partly because it makes me depressed to relive it all.

Maybe after reading this you can see how this state incubated and launched Josh Hawley to stardom. And why Eric Greitens, our sex-offender-ex-governor, is the current front runner to replace our retiring Senator.

And again – it took less than a decade to get to this place.

Less than a decade.

So, after all that … what is it like living in a state like what I’ve just described?

It’s exhausting. Emotionally, mentally, even physically … exhausting.

Imagine being offended, angry, and terrified constantly. To have the overwhelming feeling of relief when each legislative session is over because they didn’t have time to pass [insert terrible awful thing].

Every success (which is only possible in the blue cities) is sweet indeed … until it is met with a slap back from the Republican legislature. Every progressive ballot initiative that’s passed is met the following year with some strategy that will undo it.

It’s like you’re treading water on a choppy day. Every time you catch a breath, a wave slaps you in the face.

There are smart, dedicated, thoughtful, brave, experienced people who have tried to tackle this state. The problems we have are not simple, or easy to fix. There’s not a one-cycle strategy to overcome the challenges we face.

With dedicated long-term investment, we could make more progress. But we aren’t a “swing state” like Michigan or Wisconsin. We’re not Iowa, where early caucuses get attention. We’re not Ohio with gobs of electors.

We’re just … red Missouri.

And for every segment I see about Missouri on Rachel Maddow, or article in The Washington Post, it feels more and more like the rest of the states have given up on this one.

And that’s exhausting in a different way.

Missouri isn’t the only state in this situation, of course.

It’s just the one I live in, so I can speak from personal, lived experience.

So for the other folks living in red states, or red regions, know that I see where you are, I know where you’re coming from. I know it’s hard, and often under appreciated. I want you to know that I appreciate what you’re doing. I do think there’s a path forward in red states, but I only believe that’s true because of people like you.

And for those of you living in blue states, and blue regions, don’t write us off. There are dedicated people who are working their fingers to the bone trying to make things better in every state. Amplify their work. Help their causes. When you share that Rachel Maddow segment or that WaPo article about Missouri, or Kansas, or Arkansas, or Mississippi – follow it up with a suggestion for how your friends can pitch in. (Here in Missouri, we’ve got a tremendous grassroots community that’s making sure that every Democratic nominee for state legislature has funding – and you can join that effort for just a few dollars a month at https://contribute.itstarts.today/missouri. So when you share that NYT article about Missouri, please also ask that folks help support the brave Democrats who are challenging the GOP supermajority. Trust me – they need the help.)

And the next time someone asks why anyone should care about Missouri, or Kansas, or Arkansas, or Tennessee … I hope you’ll send them here.

Because what I’d say to them is pretty simple. If we are the party of the people, then we must BE the party of the people. The blue state AND the red state people. That means extending a hand to help people working in the states and districts where Trump won by 20. Not because that district is essential for electoral success in the short term…. but because it’s the right thing to do.

And then I’d point to the map of Missouri from 2003, or note that Barack Obama lost Missouri by a piddly 3,000 votes in 2008, and I’d remind them that not so very long ago Missouri was a different place. Other states could make a similar transformation if we don’t learn from Missouri, and help turn the tide.

It’s tough living in a state like this one. But I’m reminded of Michele Obama’s words – that life won’t always be comfortable, but “don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have. Because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”

Indeed, friends. Especially when we all work together.

Let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of July 13, 2021

Tuesday: Tell Our Senators to Be Like Texas Democrats!

You’ve probably heard about it – Texas Democrats fled the state to break quorum to fight against the voter suppression bills that are on the table in the Texas state legislature. Such a grand move – and something that certainly has brought attention to their cause. https://www.kut.org/politics/2021-07-13/texas-house-votes-to-send-for-democrats-who-fled-the-state-and-have-them-arrested-if-needed

They will be meeting with legislators, pushing for the Senate to pass the For The People Act. This is a perfect time to call your Democratic Senators and ask them to do everything they can to pass the bill!

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m calling because voter suppression tactics are so bad right now that Democrats in the Texas state legislature have fled their state to prevent a quorum. They’ve made a huge sacrifice to show the Senator the importance of the For the People Act. This is the time for bold action, and I hope the Senator is motivated by their actions!

Wednesday: Postcards to Florida!

From Tony the Democrat: We’ve seen the stories and read the news.  The GOP is racing to make voting harder.  While prospects to reverse their legislative onslaught may be daunting, there is one simple and effective thing we can do right now: encourage Democratic voters to enroll in Vote By Mail.

In Florida, voters can enroll by phone to their county Supervisor of Elections office.  They don’t need to wait for a VBM application form to be mailed to them.  They don’t need to sign anything.  They don’t need to go to a web site.

Just make one phone call and after identifying themselves to the staff person, they can enroll to receive ballots mailed to them automatically for every election, large and small, regular and special, primary and runoff.  Every election.  Every time.

When Democrats receive their ballots automatically in the mail, they are as much as 46% more likely to vote than their counterparts who are not enrolled.  Strengthening the habit of voting among Florida Democrats means more Democratic candidates will win even when we aren’t specifically writing for all of those contests across the state for years to come.  Just having the ballot show up can be enough to move the needle in election after election.

When you and your friends are ready to counter the FL GOP’s voting restrictions:

Thursday: Child Tax Credit day!

Today is the day you get to thank your Democratic legislator (if you have one) for the Child Tax Credit – and refuse to allow Republicans to take credit. Even if you don’t have kids of your own, you can be glad knowing that so many kids (and parents) living in your community are going to have an easier time making ends meet. Especially when some states, like Missouri, decided to eliminate pandemic-related unemployment benefits, the up to $300 per child monthly payments are a literal godsend.

So, pick up the phone today and thank any of your Democratic lawmakers. If you’re feeling creative, write a postcard instead! And if you’re feeling especially social-media savvy, take a photo of a thank you card that your kiddo writes and tag your Democratic lawmakers.

Bonus points for tagging your Republicans and shaming them for not voting for the Child Tax Credit!

Friday: DNC’s New Campaign Readiness project:

The DNC has developed a new effort to recruit, train and hire diverse and local talent: The Campaign Readiness Project. The Campaign Readiness Project is a train-to-hire bootcamp at the DNC with the goal of supporting states in their recruitment, training, and hiring of diverse, talented, and local staff for specific roles and skill sets on coordinated campaigns.

Participation in these bootcamps will expand opportunities for consideration for campaign roles in targeted states with the aim of helping elect Democrats up and down the ballot beginning in Virginia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada. If you are or know of diverse, talented folks in these states or with ties to these states who are interested in distributed organizing please encourage them to apply, today. For more info go to:https://democrats.org/campaign-readiness-project/

August 6-8: Distributed Leadership Bootcamp

August 20-22: Distributed Organizer Bootcamp

DID YOU KNOW YOU’RE A ROCK STAR? I DID. SUPER PROUD OF YOU!

If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

P.P.S.: If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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