Why I am running for Providence City Council  

Like millions of Americans, I was profoundly disturbed by both the tone and substance of the recent presidential election.  I'd like my children to see that politics and public service is for good, honest people with the best of intentions -- and that such people have a duty to participate.   

Like millions of Americans, I was profoundly disturbed by both the tone and substance of the recent presidential election.  Donald Trump ran a campaign that encouraged Americans to turn on one another instead of towards one another.  

My children are 11 and 14, and this was the first time they followed politics closely.  They were caught up in the excitement of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and then in the possibility of finally having a woman in the Oval Office.  At the same time, they were deeply bothered by the bullying and hateful language of Mr. Trump and some of his supporters, whose words and behavior seemed to run counter to everything the adults in their lives had taught them about how decent people behave and treat one another.  When they woke up on November 9th and learned that Trump had won, they were devastated.  My son was worried about the safety of some of his classmates and their families, many of whom are immigrants or the children of immigrants.  "Should we be scared?" he asked me, on the drive to school that morning.  "That depends upon what you mean by 'we,'" I responded.  And that really is the question of our time, isn't it?   I'd like my children to see that politics and public service is for good, honest people with the best of intentions -- and that such people have a duty to participate.

Government, even metaphorically, is not the enemy; it is, after all, ‘our’ government -- Congress and the White House, but Providence City Hall too.  A politics that dissolves the personal connection between citizen and government in favor of an adversarial one (or a cynical one) threatens to undermine our capacity for discussing and meeting common needs.  

As an American historian, I am well aware of what good democratic government can do to 'clear the path' for us, as Abraham Lincoln once put it.  In that sense I am a liberal, and an unapologetic one at that.  Many Americans have forgotten the critical role that our government at all levels has played in the past in providing opportunity, stabilizing the middle-class, and ensuring that as capitalism changes, it remains compatible with freedom and democracy.  Historian Robert Dallek cites a comment someone made to Eleanor Roosevelt shortly after her husband’s death:  “I miss the way your husband used to speak to me about my government.”  Government, even metaphorically, is not the enemy; it is, after all, ‘our’ government -- Congress and the White House, but Providence City Hall too.  Political language that dissolves the personal connection between citizen and government in favor of an adversarial one (or a cynical one) threatens to undermine our capacity for discussing and meeting common needs.  Like an auto-immune disease, an unreflective hostility to or cynicism about government threatens to turn the protective forces of the body politic against the body itself.  Persistent dishonesty and plunder by our elected officials -- especially at the local level -- has the same corrosive impact. 

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other’s despair into hope?—
You yourself must change it.—

A few days after the November 2016 election, a friend sent me a poem by Adrienne Rich, "Dreams Before Waking." Here's the last stanza:

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other’s despair into hope?—
You yourself must change it.—
what would it feel like to know your country was changing?—
You yourself must change it.—
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first page to the end of despair?

"You yourself must change it."  That resonated with me.  

The inauguration day walk-out by Providence high school students -- I walked with the kids from Hope High and the 360 School -- resonated with me.  

The willingness of my neighbors to stand on the cold steps of Nathan Bishop for almost two hours on January 29th, in order to hold their US Senator accountable, resonated with me.  

Hundreds of Muslim, Jewish and Christian neighbors joining together downtown to say 'never again' resonated with me.  

Thousands of our Ward 3 neighbors taking the time to run a petition campaign to recall their city councilman has resonated with me.

The way the teachers and administrators in the Providence public schools have rallied around our most vulnerable students and their families has resonated with me. 

People racing from their homes and their workplaces to airports (and courts) in the wake of Trump's travel ban to put themselves between the state and human suffering resonated with me. If that is not American patriotism, then America isn't worthy of patriotism.  

I want my children -- all of our children -- to live in a free multi-racial democracy.  My great-grandparents didn't flee anti-Semitism to come to America a century ago so that their descendants could sit shiva over the death of American hope a century later. 

If my neighbors in Providence's Ward 3 decide on May 2nd to recall our current City Councilman, Kevin Jackson, I intend to run for the seat in the special election to follow.

I say all of that to say this:  if my neighbors in Providence's Ward 3 decide on May 2nd to recall our current City Councilman, Kevin Jackson, I intend to run for the seat in the special election to follow.  I've lived in the neighborhood for 14 years, and I believe we need to be represented by a transparent, accessible, honest and progressive city council person, focused on improving our public schools (the buildings, and what happens inside them), on racial justice, on fair and affordable housing, and on making Providence a more just and sustainable place.  I also believe we need to bridge some of the gaps within our own community, so that our neighbors who want to stay, live, work and worship here in Ward 3 can continue to afford to do so.

If Councilman Jackson is recalled, I'll do my best to be that kind of councilperson, or to support someone else who can.

While I'm a newcomer to electoral politics, I've been on the Providence School Board since 2015, and I have written and taught about urban history and policy for two decades.  I have raised my two children here, and my wife Shana and I are Rhode Islanders for the long haul.  We love living here; this place has sustained us over the years, through all of life's trials and joys.  I think I have something to contribute, an obligation to try, and I'll do my best.

The special election will likely take place as soon as July 2017.  That doesn't leave us with much time!  Please volunteer, and donate.  

This is our neighborhood, and I need your help and advice.  The special election will likely take place as soon as July 2017.  That doesn't leave us with much time!  Please volunteer, and donate.  You can do both elsewhere on this website.

Political advertisement paid for and approved by the Friends of Mark Santow.
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