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Triggering Our Way Into Exclusion.

Local elections may be the only thing that will save our democracy because the shortest path to contributing starts at home. National, regional, and state offices seem institutionally, if not systemically troubling. Ruling parties dole out partisan bubble voting areas and drive the wedge between us deeper and deeper each and every year. 

Local elections seem like the dirtiest for some reason. Maybe because no matter how you slice it, it’s personal. Working in marketing and communications for the better part of my career and stewarding people and brands through one level of crisis or another has taught me a thing or two about people, media, and consumption. 

It’s easy to understand why people stoop to these tactics. Each and every one of these topics trigger people. And political trigger words shut people down. They can’t hear past the word and will vote for anyone else. It’s mass manipulation at its sleaziest. 

I know this because my wife is running for a board of education seat in the November midterms. And I’m sad to report that the petty back-channel rumors have now hit home. I feel compelled to clarify, hopeful that I am not dignifying this hurtful but historically effective rhetoric in the process. 

But before I get to the clarifications, let me tell you a bit about my wife, Jennifer. She embodies the American dream. She arrived here from India and continued an amazing education and citizenship path. She graduated from university with honors having focused on math, science, and economics. She’s worked in the financial sector for 20 years with the same firm. She went from intern to executive. 

She’s volunteered countless hours working on behalf of the least fortunate, while tutoring children without access to educational resources most of us take for granted. She also tutored troubled teens and struggling adults. Jennifer even tutored ex-prison inmates at Trenton Rescue missions because she wanted to see them graduate and have an honest to goodness shot at life. 

Jennifer rescued, fostered, and rehabilitated stray dogs to give them a second home.

She is passionate about the arts, and supports our children as they pursue their own journey into adulthood. While she recognizes the importance of math and science, she also knows that kids need access to arts and culture to round out their education.

What type of reception should an animal loving philanthropist with a strong track record of advancing education receive? Well, let’s just say that it wasn’t what I was expecting. The tactics used against her came directly from the toxic national narrative I referenced above. And what these tactics failed to provide in their originality, they made up for in their ability to trigger our voting public.

She’s an “anti-vaxxer”

False. We had our vaccines, and our Covids in our house.  When the vax first came out, Jennifer helped coordinate vaccine appointments for the elderly and our most vulnerable. Jennifer suffers from asthma, and I can tell from the bottom of my heart that when we got Covid – pre vaccine—it was among the scariest and darkest days of my life. When our friends and family members got Covid we brought them food and we worked to help people who didn’t have access to critical items.

She’s a “book burning QAnon supporter” 

False. It seems any lie will do. I wasn’t even sure what this was, and I’ve never heard anyone in our house speak of it, much less know how to “support” it. Book burning seems to be a reference to the ongoing national narrative surrounding what is and is not appropriate reading material for children. As with any issue, this should be the subject of healthy discourse.

She coerced or intimidated another candidate to bow out of the race

False. People have all kinds of reasons for not wanting to run for office. Maybe because they don’t want to deal with a situation like this. I’ll respect this candidate’s privacy by not mentioning her name. When we heard this rumor, we immediately called this person who confirmed that this was not – in any way—the case. This is an outright lie and only serves to plant seeds of doubt.

She was against school closures

Like a lot of people, we weathered to storm in our house. I don’t think anyone wanted to close the schools. With three kids in our public schools, we had front row seats to pandemic education. How and when we re—opened, what criteria we used, the impact on our kids and how government money was spent should all be open to discourse, not labeling and dismissing at their mere mention.

There are a couple of other choice clandestine tales floating around that fall into the rubbish category. The party bias and guilt by association allegations for one. It’s no secret that I ran for state office as a Republican in 2021. I roll around the floor laughing at the idea that husbands and wives can’t have differing opinions or offer differing positions. That would be boring.  I’m not interested a life of monotony. This is a two-way passive aggressive attack because BOE elections are meant to be nonpartisan by design. The bonus insult is another passive aggressive attack that implies that one cannot separate from a party and is therefore “unacceptable.” 

The term “unacceptable” has become another wink wink term that is meant to dismiss people who have been categorized by possessing a list of arbitrarily assigned undesirable traits or positions.  

What these tactics have in common is passive aggression. Passive aggression requires work. It’s a particularly cruel form of bullying. Planting seeds of doubt for your own benefit is the kind of behavior that one would hope could be weeded out by adolescence. We have rules against bullying to protect our kids. 

Sadly, that is the state of politics. Hurtful, indefensible nonsense that people seem to tolerate prevails as an unfortunate means of manipulation. Who would want that?

I’ll tell you who. People who want the job. If you are willing to endure these things, my hat is off to you. Just getting on the ballot is a task that requires work. Jennifer has put the time in, and I know she will work hard for our kids. She’s qualified and is devoted to understanding the role. and the time commitment that is required. If we considered these things with more elected public servants, we’d all be in a better place.