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Who Is Real?
The politics of exclusion are dumb
Things are getting frisky, in an unhinged and ill-informed way, over on the candidacy page of a certain failed (unofficially still, yeah, but the count is the count) Meadville mayoral write-in. Supporters and candidate both are steaming and thrashing about in response to the loss, blaming one of the right wing’s favorite local strawmen, Allegheny College. It’s as predictable as it is silly.
Every time this happens, including when it was used in my own campaign, I wonder why there are folks who somehow believe there’s a reality to a College vs. town separation. First of all, history: the College was founded in 1815, not that long after David Mead “settled” here (there’s a different topic we should talk about, the erasure of the Native Americans in our sense of this place). Meadville itself wasn’t chartered as a city until the mid 1860s, which means the College predates the city. So, the history of our town for more than two hundred years has been about the mutual growth of the College and Meadville, which is to say this has always been an *and* never a versus. But if you want to argue about who was established first and who wasn’t, well that isn’t going to go the way the outraged might think.
Still, those who are railing pretend continuously that the College, its students, its faculty, its staff are illegitimate citizens of the region. They literally argue people associated with the College have no business voting and, laughably, that the town would be better off if the $900 million a year annual economic contribution of the College were to disappear. I mean, they don’t cite that figure, because they haven’t thought about it, just want the College to disappear because its constituencies don’t vote for the narrow emptiness of post-Trumpism MAGA bullshit. On brand with the authoritarian lurch of the right wing, they believe that any vote not for their side is fraudulent, illegal, schemed, and against the town. Moreover, they seem to truly believe that coercion is the only reason people vote against them.
First of all, let me be clear: no faculty member ever associates classroom credit with voting patterns. The College, as an institution, is aggressively apolitical, so much so that when I was a candidate I was advised to literally not even use College WiFi for campaign business. There’s an absolute firewall between partisan activity and the College classroom. Absolute. Like, probably getting fired from your job absolute.
Still, the aggrieved pretend or really do think a Political Science department is a political action group. And that the Center for Political Participation is a recruiting center. Both of these assertions are utterly false. The CPP, for example, is a staunchly nonpartisan way to encourage *participation* in the civic processes of politics, and its director has always been extraordinarily careful about ensuring that the students and activities of the Center cover a wide spectrum of political identities, including Republicans. That didn’t stop Brad Roae, of course, when he disparaged it and the College writ large after a Republican CPP contract employee admitted to stealing Trump signs. He dodged a nonpartisan candidate forum during the election because it would be “biased,” a pathetic misapprehension that is also an example of one of the ways loose political speech by many in our political establishment foments and exacerbates the unhinged fever dreams of those ready to see deep state conspiracies in the shadows of every vote that doesn’t go their way.
This bullshit is tiring. This bullshit is destructive to our community. This bullshit is why our city continues to suffer from rampant poverty, and our region continues to be choked out by the exploitative economic bad deal that has collapsed the Rust Belt.
Unhinged right wing conspiracies are a tool of exploitation, amplify the grievance culture of MAGA which, in turn, legislates against worker dignity, and against clear air and water, and against reasonable measures to protect public health, and against our neighbors who aren’t white, straight, and rich. Which, I’ll tell you what, is a category that includes almost everyone in this town, including the right wingers who rail against folks whose primary political ambition is to improve the conditions of life for all of us. Way too many people are voting for the precise political ideology that makes them suffer.
This year’s mayoral race has been ugly, and that was 💯 because folks who have decided only they get to be counted as legitimately Meadville did not like that other people who are also legitimately Meadville won a primary. They campaigned through personal attack, which included repeated racist dog whistles. It’s no coincidence that supporters of the failed campaign used stock photo images of women of color on their hate page (you might not know about that blog page; it was ugly, very). They did it because they know the image of a woman in a hijab, of a Black woman, of several other women of color voting in an undefined town hall setting (this was their literal splash page) would generate a knee jerk response based in racism. Not in my town, they image said. They make it clear who they believe is a legitimate person, and that is a sad indication of their intolerance.
So right now, the inflamed over on that candidacy page are saying the same thing: not in my town. “My” is an assertion of dominance and exclusion, and they are tipping their cards to show what they really mean. They lost an election, and they’re apparently surprised because they apparently have no idea how votes are actually counted. And they will almost assuredly besmirch our honorable and hardworking County Commissioners - two of whom are Republicans - because the count did not go their way. And they can’t abide the loss because they think they alone have claim to our town. That’s ugly. Hateful. Familiar.
This is my point, about legitimacy and locality and community and how there is no actual division between the College and Meadville. We are one and the same, neighbors, all affected together by the struggles of our region. No one’s vote is illegitate, and no one who lives here is more or less a “real” member of this community because of where they work, or what party they happen to choose (or begrudgingly accept), or what church they do or do not attend, or who they love, or which continent their ancestors are from.
The biggest threat to our chances of a better future are the enraged entitlements of the narrow minded. Sadly, these are also the folks who shout the loudest and are the quickest to threaten others, and who dream of a future Meadville that includes only people who think and look like them.