Sunday, January 15, 2017

Keeping Engaged

The Pennsylvania 7th Congressional District

I’m back to the blog after a hiatus.  The holidays were a busy time and I had a bit of the post-election blues.

I want to comment today on one of the most frequent concerns that people have about retirement—what will they do to keep busy?

I had some plans—visit the grandkids, lots of foreign travel, organize and scan my old photos, but I knew that would not be enough.  Judy and I talked a lot about getting involved in community activities, but nothing jumped out at us.

Then the election happened and in the aftermath, it seemed more important than ever to get involved.  In December, we went to a meeting to hear someone from Fair Districts PA explain about the negative effects of gerrymandering. Fair Districts was formed by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.  Gerrymandering, in case you not familiar with the term, is the result of drawing the lines of electoral districts to assure a majority for one party in as many districts as possible while diluting the influence of voters who support the other party by splitting them up.  Districts get drawn in bizarre and distorted shapes, breaking up communities with shared interests. In the photo above, you can see the 7th PA Congressional District outside of Philadelphia, perhaps the most extreme example of gerrymandering in the country.  As a result of gerrymandering, many Congressional seats in the country are no longer competitive, and so Representatives have no reason to compromise.  Pennsylvania, it turns out, is rated among the three worst states in terms of distorted electoral districts (along with North Carolina and Wisconsin). 

I spoke up during the meeting, trying to help the group get organized, and the result was I was selected as the overall coordinator for Centre County.  I certainly hadn’t planned on or wanted that role, but I’m glad to have taken it on.  I’m working with talented people in the leadership team and there seems to be a lot of interest among people in the community—we already have 85 people on our mailing list.  And I am learning new things about how the political process works at the local level, and from other members of Fair Districts PA Centre County and the state group, Fair Districts PA, about how to organize, frame issues and build support. 

It was scary at times to think about what I would do when I was retired, and I knew my plan was not well developed.  I was able to remain open to possibilities.  Opportunities that are right for you will show up, and you just need to be ready.   I had looked into some other organizations, but they had not seemed right for me.  Fair Districts PA Centre County did.  

A plus of working with Fair Districts is that instead of feeling helpless in the wake of this very upsetting election, I now believe I am making a small contribution to improve the political situation here and I am learning skills that will help in the future in electing better candidates at the state and federal levels.  If you are looking to get involved political, you might want to take a look at Indivisible, a guide written by Democratic staffers in Congress about how to be effective in influencing local politics and issues.  Here is a link:  It provides a plan of how to counter the negative and scary trends in the country.

To find out more about gerrymandering, you can go to the Facebook page for Fair Districts PA Centre County, or to the Fair Districts PA webpage, which has extensive information on why gerrymandering is bad for democracy in America and what can be done to counter it:  You could also read this op ed on redistricting --
I am listed as the author, but I had lots of help with it.

If you are wondering where the term “gerrymandering” comes from, it turns out there was a governor of Massachusetts name Elbridge Gerry who in 1812 created a congressional district that was shaped like a salamander.  Presto—the word “gerrymandering” was coined.

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