Commentary: Righting our ailing democracy

While seriously considering a run for Congress in Massachusetts’ Sixth Congressional District these past few months, I met with hundreds of local people — grounded and visionary New Englanders — who are growing increasingly agitated about the future of our district, the planet, and our democracy. 

I proudly stood arm-in-arm with hundreds of people at a historic church in Salem rallying in opposition to the Trump Administration’s cruel treatment of immigrants.

I reconnected with old friends who joined me over a decade ago in the cleanup of Wenham Lake — drinking water for 80,000 residents of Salem, Beverly, and Wenham.

I checked in with others who stood with me in our successful battle to shut down the old coal-burning power plant in Salem, which, for a half-century, fouled the drinking water, contaminated the ground water, and made the air in the region hazardous to breathe. That work gave me my start in advocacy, and later on, in politics. 

I got to know some dedicated residents of the Merrimack Valley, many still traumatized by last year’s gas explosions. I am grateful for their engagement as I continue to write laws to hold utilities accountable for gas leaks and transition the state off of fossil fuels.

In my role as Massachusetts House chair of the Joint Committee on Export Development, it has been great to partner with local Gloucester officials for an upcoming hearing exploring the damage done to local seafood businesses from Trump’s ill-conceived trade war with China.

I walked our vibrant culturally-diverse cities of Lynn, Peabody, Beverly, and Salem and saw remarkable economic renewal. But their good plans are tempered by a lack of federal and state public transportation investment.

I spoke at vigils, rallied for reproductive rights, raised pride flags, and spoke about common-sense gun reform. From Bedford to Beverly, Tewksbury to Topsfield, Salisbury to Saugus, mighty is the heart and fighting spirit of the Sixth. By carefully listening to people and learning more about the challenges they face, it was exciting to respond by building the skeleton of a promising campaign to provide the district with the representation and clout it deserves.

But what has given me pause is the daily barrage of horrifying national news. Trickling down from the top, America is transforming into something I no longer recognize. In plain sight, our president is calling for government workers to break the law in order to build a border wall Congress and a majority of the American people know is unnecessary and unwanted. 

Our environment is being plundered in a way that is pushing life on earth to the brink. 

Worse than the 12,000 lies Trump has told us since taking office is the escalating cruelty. With signaling from the top, the fervor of white nationalism is fueling bigotry and even mass murder as our justice system is being altered and will take decades to recover. 

The very structures of global stability that we have counted on since World War II are being systematically dismantled. There hasn’t even been a daily press briefing since March 11 while Congressional Republicans, who should serve as a check on the President’s worst impulses, stand silent. History reminds us how dangerous this can be.

In order to right our ailing democracy, every single political action should be laser-focused on rousing a massive sleeping giant. If everyone ups their participation just one step beyond the minimum of voting, we can take back the White House and Senate while growing local benches in state legislatures nationwide. It will take a coordinated Herculean effort from all of us.

Now, in order for me to build a viable congressional campaign without taking corporate donations or dark money in a post-Citizens United world, I would need to raise millions of dollars from finite district resources. 

To say our American political system is broken is an understatement. With so much at stake, now does not seem like the right time to ask my supporters for their volunteer hours and other resources in order to challenge someone from my own party. Their strength should instead help save our democracy. This reality prevented me from being able to dedicate myself 100 percent to a year-long marathon campaign. 

For the many can-do friends, family, activists, colleagues, and Kennedy School classmates who came forward to support my possible candidacy for U.S. Congress, I am beyond grateful. But as our nation faces an existential crisis, instead of running for Congress I will continue to do a job that I love — representing the residents of Marblehead, Swampscott, and Lynn in the state legislature — and do everything I can to help ensure Democrats win back the Presidency and flip the U.S. Senate from red to blue. 

I hope you will join me. 

State Representative Lori Ehrlich is a Certified Public Accountant serving her seventh term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives representing Swampscott, Marblehead and part of Lynn.

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