Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Worthy Endeavor

One year ago, as our country celebrated the Fourth of July, a Piscataway family faced the travesty of having their family farm of 84 years being taken from them forcefully by eminent domain. In the time that has passed, they have still not received any compensation whatsoever for their property.

This gross miscarriage of justice is a reminder of why active participation in politics is so important. As is often said, democracy is not a spectator sport. It is a participatory one in which everyone has not only a right but an obligation to take part.

One of the most rewarding ways of actively participating in democracy is running for office. This is a worthy endeavor too many people shy away from, thinking they "do not have what it takes" and/or anticipating the negative attacks that are likely to come the way of any candidate. The reality is, our system was set up 231 years ago to encourage not career politicians, not a moneyed elite, but all citizens to seek service as representatives of their communities at all levels. That is why the job requirements are limited to citizenship, residency, and being of legal age.

Yes, it is true that the negative attacks that inevitably come with campaigns turn away many people. Much of this comes from the national and state levels and has filtered down into local races as well. Conveniently, this negativity serves those in power by keeping citizens from any form of participation, even voting itself.

If there is one thing I can offer from my own personal experience as a candidate, it is the hope to inspire others with the affirmation that the positives of running for office far outweigh the negatives. I have experienced both sides and can wholeheartedly say to all who may be thinking of taking the plunge, go ahead and do it because the effort is definitely worth it.

During the most recent campaign here in Highland Park, I was the recipient of some of the most vicious, hateful attacks in both newspapers and on the Internet. These attacks had nothing to do with my stand on the issues or the stands of those candidates for whom I was working. They sometimes descended into rants of pure below the belt hate and vitriole, attacking my family, my motivations for political participation, my job, my hobbies, and anything else the opposing side viewed as fair game. One Internet blogger, Scott Shields, outrageously referred to me on his blog as a "machine puppet" while a Home News Tribune columnist who seems to think he can read minds went so far as to refer to myself, Sal Raspa, and Nancy Wolf as "gripped by hate like the plague."

It is not hate, but passion for the community that motivates people like us to put ourselves out there for the principles in which we believe. The fact that some mistake that passion for hate is truly sad.

Then there are those who have tried to force disappointment, depression, shame, or embarrassment down my throat when those emotions are no part of what I feel about this or any other campaign in which I took part. I take great pride in the campaign we ran and feel absolutely no shame about it whatsoever. It has been an honor to support such caring, dedicated, community-minded candidates.

I want to emphasize that these attacks were made by a few people, not the majority of those who supported our opponents, and by some misinformed outsiders who have little knowledge of the genuinely grassroots campaign we ran.

More importantly, they will not deter me or any members of our team from seeking public office in the future, and I urge anyone who reads this not to let such vitriole deter him or her from running for office either. Intimidation and personal attacks are the domain of bullies whose modus operandi is projection, meaning attributing their own flaws to someone else, usually a convenient scapegoat.

Running for office has been one of the greatest, most rewarding and most positive experiences of my life, something no naysayer can change. It is challenging, empowering, and inspiring. It provides opportunities like nothing else to get to know the wonderful people in our community and to serve the community. I have been extremely fortunate to have a supportive family, great friends, and amazing citizen volunteers in my public life, all of whom came together this year to form an outstanding team. And I thank the many people who have provided moral support over the past few months via emails and phone calls, always encouraging and always positive.

As a step towards an inevitable future run, I have re-established my campaign fund with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. The voices of negativity might as well stop wasting their time, as I intend to be a lifelong political voice who will be silenced only by death.

If we want the type of government that will never commit the injustice of taking people's property, as was done to the Halper family last year, we have to step forward and be the leaders. All citizens who feel we can do better, especially women, minorities, and low income people, who are still very much under-represented in our political system, should seriously consider running for office, even if it takes multiple tries before they are actually elected.

Those who seek to keep power for themselves by creating a hostile atmosphere to discourage potential candidates must not be allowed to win. We as a country have been spending far too much time and energy on trying to bring democracy to Iraq and other countries when we need to be giving it a jump start here at home.

If you are idealistic and want to see a better town and a better world, even if the thought never crossed your mind before, consider seeking elected public office. Doing so will be a transforming gift for both you and the larger community. It is definitely a worthy endeavor.