Tomatoes and Election Season

I hate the heat, and so the close of the summer and beginning of autumn is something I look forward to. As usual, it’s been one of the hottest summers on record here in Washington and it’s nice to open up the windows and let the non-refrigerated air into the house. There’s not much I’ll miss about the Summer in DC.

The interns and tourists have gone, allowing me to walk the sidewalks in peace. My wife Roz has stopped pestering me to “go outside” (whatever that means) and when I have to walk into a federal building in a suit here in DC, I’m not soaked in sweat and humidity by the time I get to the front door. But I will miss the tomatoes of summer.

Now it’s the case that my local grocery store will continue to sell something like a tomato through the Winter. But it isn’t anything like the beautiful heirloom tomatoes I can pick up in the Summer. I’d imagine that before there were refrigerated planes, trucks and interstates, you pretty much had to wait until spring to pick up a tomato. Now, thanks to technology and abundance, my grocery store can source food from the world over– making seasons obsolete as far as cuisine is concerned.

To our grandparents the concept of “Local Food” didn’t exist. It was like saying “wet water” – of course it was local. But technology and abundance changed all that– we got agribusiness and as a result the price of food plummeted. A few years back, people started thinking this was a little weird, and the Local Food movement was born. For many, eating tomatoes in the winter time moved from a miracle of science to an abomination.

Election season is a reminder that the same thing has happened to politics. Every two years it seems a significant portion of the population believes that if we just had a different Members of Congress or a different president, then things would be better. Many slave-away making phone calls, raising money, and knocking on doors filled with hope that their candidate will solve their problems.

Except the victors never do what they said they were going to do. For most non-incumbents, I believe this isn’t because they’re outright liars but rather because they don’t know that they can’t do half the things they promised to do, or they come to realize that their campaign promise was pretty stupid. The incumbents either learn to lie, learn to speak in half-truths, or get voted out.

The truth that nobody wants to tell you is: the Federal Government cannot do what a lot of people want it to do. The temporal will of the people means only so much against years of precedent in the courts, layers upon layers of stupid legislation, and the United States Constitution. The majority of people in the country might want to ban Lobbyists outright from meeting with Congress, but that pesky First Amendment notes that it’s pretty critical to a democracy for a people to be able to petition their government and that’s what lobbying is.

To an extent the Tea Party and the Deaniacs from 2004 have something in common. They’ve caught on that their government is not representative to them, and feel that the Federal government is more accountable to “special interests” like big corporations and labor unions than it is to them. But Washington is actually more accountable and responsive to the rituals, rules, and limitations of Washington than it is even the big corporations and labor unions.

By contrast, your local government isn’t controlled by people with money, it’s controlled by people with time. It’s likely that your local government isn’t being controlled by lobbyists for big corporations or labor unions but by 75 year old retirees who bother to show up at public hearings and meetings. If you can get ten of your friends together to show up for a meeting, sit through it, and vote for you, chances are you can take over just about any county level political party in the country. Go up just one order of magnitude, and you’ll likely have a seat on an advisory board for your local Government.

If the people who came to Washington, DC to march on the Mall for whatever their cause is instead spent the combined time of their travel and protest on participating in the governing process rather than the political protest process, they’d be more effective in creating the change that we all seek.

I hope one day the Deaniacs and Tea Partiers figure this out together. The start, I believe, is in a change of our media diets to consume locally. Like the strange tomato from a continent away that I can pick up in the winter time, the national news networks have us enraged and engaged us with nutrient poor information not for change but for profit. The local level is short on charged up nutjobs like Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann. Instead, it’s short on actual local news. It’s data driven sites with scope like Everyblock and DC’s that give me hope– it lets people see what’s actually going on and can provide more answers than fluff and spin. That’s where the nutrient rich heirloom tomato sits in this metaphor.

If you want to change your government, give up on the politics of election season. Put some infomiles on the news you consume. Worry about what’s going on with your family, your block, your neighborhood and city. Change starts there and in that order. And remember, the important stuff happens between inauguration day and labor day in your neighborhood county and city. It doesn’t happen between labor day and election day in Washington, DC.

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