So you think you’re not political?
I get it. I understand.
The word itself evokes images of deals being cut in smoke-filled rooms, behind closed doors. As Groucho Marx once said, "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies."
So, I can empathize. You're not political. Of course, you care about issues that affect your family directly and others generally, but politics? It's not for you.
Fifteen years ago, I was a busy working mom and would have said the same thing. Politics seemed like a game for some people, and I was fortunate enough not to be a casualty of their game.
Then came stem cell research and it became personal.
Stem cell research had become a political football over its use of embryos to create stem cell lines. Federal policy, at that time, prohibited any spending on the creation of new stem cell lines, and this was preventing a lot of really promising research from ever taking place.
Michigan had gone one step further in passing a law that essentially criminalized this type of research. It was beyond belief. Images of scientific researchers behind bars — or at least scientific research barred — filled my mind and propelled me to action.
I joined a grassroots effort to amend Michigan’s Constitution to remove restrictions on stem cell research in the state. The proposal passed with 53% approval, and my political journey was underway.
The experience of working on the ballot initiative inspired me to run for office, which I did, serving in the Michigan House of Representatives for six years. During that time, our schools faced the largest per-pupil cut since the advent of Proposal A, and it sent districts across the state into a financial tailspin.
Welcome to the weaponization of school funding and the education wars.
As a legislator and now as a newly-elected member of the Michigan State Board of Education, I have met so many people who will somewhat sheepishly begin their remarks to me by saying something like, “I’m really not into politics” or “I’m really not a political person, but…” and then speak so passionately about what they would do on behalf of their children, or voice sound opinions on a policy pertaining to their child’s overall education.
At this point in the conversation, I will ask, “So you have an opinion about [topic of personal and public importance]?”
“Of course I do!”
“Congratulations. You are political. Everything is political.”
The journalist Martha Gellhorn said it best.
People often say, with pride, "I'm not interested in politics." They might as well say, "I'm not interested in my standard of living, my health, my job, my rights, my freedoms, my future or any future." ... If we mean to keep any control over our world and lives, we must be interested in politics.
Giving people the tools to find their political voice, particularly in the education space, constantly motivates me because I've seen it effect change.
That is why I am so incredibly honored to be helping launch Nu?Detroit.
Encouraging people to lift their voices and creating spaces where different voices can be heard will only make the community conversation stronger.
So, congratulations, you’re political. Give yourself permission to get political — the last thing you need is permission from me or anyone else. It’s okay if it feels awkward at first.
Like a new pair of shoes, with use, you’ll break them in. Even one step at a time, you won’t believe how far they’ll carry you. We can’t wait for you to lace up and join our new, exciting adventure.
Ellen Cogen Lipton is a Nu?Detroit co-founder and columnist.