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General News    H4'ed 1/28/20

Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, "We Get to Live in the Mayor's House!"

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Let me say a few words about Greta Thunberg. She's now 17 and remarkably unfazed by big bullies of all kinds, including President Donald Trump. She entered our world all alone with her climate-change strike sign that sparked a movement and she's weathered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, including bullying from you-know-who. She even faced off against him at Davos recently. And good for her.

But I bring her up for another reason entirely. She got involved. She grasped the true nature of a global crisis and responded. She had no way of knowing, or even imagining, that her sole act (sitting outside the Swedish parliament alone with a protest sign on Fridays instead of attending school) would launch a global movement that might, in the end, matter on this beleaguered planet of ours.

None of us ever really knows what the effects of our acts will be when we try, in some fashion, to make this a better (or at least a not-far-worse) place. At 75, I'm encouraged by Greta Thunberg, as I am by anyone who acts in large, small, or simply unknown ways, to try to make a difference in a world that desperately needs to be different. That, for me, is particularly true in this increasingly beleaguered, impeachable country of ours with its ever more one-party and one-president (with hangers-on still called "Republicans") political system.

I was impressed, for instance, by a series of articles that Angela Watters, managing editor of the website Reader Supported News, wrote about her run to become a school-board member in her hometown. Given this world, a lot more of us better start running for office or trying to change things in some fashion, or we'll just find ourselves running, period. With that in mind, consider TomDispatchregular Frida Berrigan's mayoral run as the candidate of the Green Party in New London, Connecticut, a town already endangered by rising seas from our warming planet and in the grip of a giant defense contractor. And by the way, you don't have to win to make a difference in this world of ours. Win or "lose," we all win when you go at it as Berrigan, Watters, and Thunberg have done. Tom

Sometimes We Can Make Our Own Hope
Running for Office in the Age of Donald Trump and Climate Change
By Frida Berrigan

"YES!" he yelled, thrusting his fist in the air. "We get to live in the mayor's house!" My son's reaction when I told his two sisters and him that I was running for mayor of our town became the laugh line of my campaign. But in real time, I had to burst his bubble. "Oh Seamus," I said, smiling, "the mayor just lives in his own house. There is no 'mayor's house.' If we win, we'll keep living in our house and it will become the mayor's house."

Seamus' reaction was indicative of his boundless confidence in his mother and his seven-year-old's ignorance of how the world actually works. But I held his reaction close when I was feeling less than sure of myself, when I was headed to my third campaign event of any day as the Green Party candidate and found myself eating popcorn for dinner at 9:30 at night, listening to my kids breathe in their sleep instead of reading them bedtime stories.

I'll cut to the chase: I lost. I am not the mayor of New London, Connecticut.

On Tuesday, November 7th, when the polls opened at six in the morning, it was cold and clear. It rained hard through the middle of the day. When those polls closed at eight that night, it was warmer and humid, but no longer raining. I was outside all day, rain or (not quite) shine, moving between the three polling stations with my friends and our signs and our cards that explained how to "Write In Frida for Mayor."

That's right: I wasn't just running as a third-party candidate in a Democratic town, but as one not even on the ballot. The state had lost my paperwork. The Green Party hired a lawyer and sued, but the judge ruled against us and declined to order the secretary of state to put my name on the ballot. That setback made an uphill campaign into an Everest. I embraced the climb. Being a pacifist and an activist means that lost causes are par for the course for me and, as a Catholic, I believe hard work is its own reward.

The campaign season started in earnest (for me, anyway) after Labor Day, as I tried to balance work, family, and this new experience, this job-and-a-half running for mayor. Oh, yeah, and there was my mother, the peace activist Elizabeth McAlister. She was then in pre-trial detention for a Plowshares action at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in coastal Georgia.

Throughout the campaign, I asked New Londoners the same questions over and over: What do you love about New London? What frustrates you about our town? What's the one concrete change that would improve your life? The answers were varied and often inspiring.

Unexpectedly, I found myself back in school on a crash course, discovering what's wonderful (and not so wonderful) about my chosen hometown in the age of climate change and Donald Trump! I even learned a few things along the way. What follows is just a partial list.

Celebrity Matters, Even Though It Shouldn't

While I was in Georgia for one of my mom's hearings, I spent time with the actor and peace activist Martin Sheen. Standing near the church where supporters of my mom were ladling out dinner, we shot a low-tech political ad. It promptly went low-key viral and signaled to the pols in New London that something different might be happening. I know Martin Sheen is famous and I love him as an actor and a person, but I wasn't prepared for how excited people would be about a 45-second clip of the two of us. As far as I can tell, it didn't get more people to vote for me, but boy was it a conversation starter!

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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