Take the Last Bite

We take a bite out of progressive voter guides with Stephanie Skora, author of the "Girl, I Guess Progressive Voter Guide" that provides public education to voters in Illinois’s Cook County. We chat about the hesitancy of leftists/progressives/radicals to participate in electoral politics, how voter guides can be used as an accountability tool for politicians, and how voting is one tool of many in our social change toolbox.

Show Notes

We take a bite out of progressive voter guides with Stephanie Skora, author of the "Girl, I Guess Progressive Voter Guide" that provides public education to voters in Illinois’s Cook County. We chat about the hesitancy of leftists/progressives/radicals to participate in electoral politics, how voter guides can be used as an accountability tool for politicians, and how voting is one tool of many in our social change toolbox.

Some additional resources from this episode: 

For questions, comments or feedback about this episode: lastbite@sgdinstitute.org 

Find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or at sgdinstitute.org 

Host: R.B. Brooks, they/them, director of programs for the Midwest Institute for Sexuality & Gender Diversity 

Cover art: Adrienne McCormick


What is Take the Last Bite?

Take the Last Bite is a direct counter to the Midwest Nice mentality— highlighting advocacy & activism by queer/trans communities in the Midwest region. Each episode unearths the often disregarded and unacknowledged contributions of queer & trans folks to social change through interviews, casual conversations and reflections on Midwest queer time, space, and place.

For questions, comments and feedback: lastbite@sgdinstitute.org

To support this podcast and the Institute, please visit sgdinstitute.org/giving

Host: R.B. Brooks, they/them, director of programs for the Midwest Institute for Sexuality & Gender Diversity

Cover Art: Adrienne McCormick

RB:
Heyhihello ya’ll, this is R.B. and welcome back for Season Two Episode Eight of Take the Last Bite, a show where we take Midwest Nice, toss it in a blender, mix it up with some sugar and spice and pour it over ice with a slice of lemon.

On today’s episode, I chat with our Board President and fellow anarchist Stephanie Skora to chat about a vital project she’s been working on ahead of upcoming local elections and the complicated relationship queer folks have with engaging in electoral politics.

But before we get into that, let’s talk about something else that’s complicated– Pride Month! Yes, of course June is Pride Month and in the blink of an eye corporate logos across the social media verse swapped to iterations of LGBTQ+ pride flags, the smorgasboard of pride merchandise from big box stores have been piling up in our sponsored ads, and our favourite content creators are making their coin partnering with various businesses across a spectrum of consumption ethics.

Once upon a time, as history informs us, pride was about rejecting the societal restrictions on gender expression and sexuality. It was about fighting back against police raids on bars and other establishments frequented by queer and trans people due to strange laws dictating that you weren’t allowed to wear more than three peices of clothing that were meant for the “opposite sex.”

We’ve progressed to a moment where many of us are acutely aware of this history but the modern-day co-optation of our Pride events and celebrations makes for a very messy month. This phenomenon is often referred to as rainbow capitalism, where corporations and government entities that don’t pay much mind to LGBTQ+ issues suddenly feign support and care for our communities during months like June for Pride Month and October for LGBTQ+ history month where they stand to make money or get in good with a voter base for political clout.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the well-intentioned out group hoping for their ally cookie that are capable of making messes during our beloved pride month. On June 1, a collective of queer/trans and allegedly allied TikTok content creators launched a campaign called PrideOut with the aim of drawing attention to the ways social media tools such as TikTok often suppress and censor LGBTQ+ related content on its platform. This is a very real experience, there are many examples across TikTok, SnapChat, YouTube, Instagram and more of LGBTQ+ creators and other marginalized creators, having their content not show up, be taken down or banned, receive obscure content warnings about adult content, etc. So for a group of creators to want to draw attention to this ongoing issue, especially in an era where so much queer and trans community is created through virtual platforms, is not the issue.

The mistakes that were made, and have since been called out, were that in a dueted video that the creators involved in PrideOut co-created, they use a hand gesture in which they cover their mouths with one hand. And very shortly after this video made its way across the platform, Idigenous folks and others responded that using that gesture is inappropriate because it is a commonly used symbol in the movement around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women– the hand gesture specifically referring to the ways Indigenous women are often abducted and diseappeared but law enforcement efforts to find them are bleak and don’t receive the same attention as similar instances that involve missing white folks.

Many responses to the video offered different gesture options for the PrideOut group, such as duct tape as a nod to the easily recognizable No H8 campaign photo poses or even different ways of covering their mouths, such as with one finger. Either way, there was immediate pushback on the imagery used in the PrideOut campaign video and creators involved in the project have since taken to their personal accounts to address the major oversight.

Now, the feedback is not that PrideOut shouldn’t exist. Again, the drive behind the project of drawing attention to the suppression of LGBTQ+ content on social media platforms is valid. However, this display of immediate feedback shows how powerful social media is as a tool for accountability when used in this way, and also really points to the need to be more methodical and intentional about our campaigns, especially if the project is orchestrated primarily by white folks. If there was care and proactivity in ensuring that Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ Native content creators were deeply engaged in the project, it could have prevented the misuse of the hand-over-mouth gesture. There’s no guarantee of that, but if we’re not in right relationship with all those impacted by systemic homophobia and transphobia, it’s likely to damage our efforts. And I think this is a scenario that rings true for Pride celebrations as well.

Well-intentioned, (and usually well-resourced) LGBTQ+ folks are often volunteering their time for the good of the community to execute Pride events and are not always receptive to feedback about underrepresentation of facets of the community, about harm caused to QTIBIPOC folks, about collusion with corporations/law enforcement/corrupt governments. Committees bite back at community that if folks want to see changes in the Pride events they should just get involved, not acknowledging that folks should not have to be in the room to expect their identities and experiences to be considered in the planning process. This is why we continue to see pride parades interrupted by those who are forsaken by the festivities. Protests by LGBTQ+ folks at LGBTQ+ events because of pinkwashing, taking money from places that enact violence against marginalized people, because the event is being hosted in a place with a history of racism and anti-Blackness.

It’s cyclical, it’s messy, and it’s the nature of the work we have to do. Everyone should be able to relax, celebrate, have a good time. But it’s tricky when there’s so much beneath the surface of a parade or festival. This Pride Month, how are you engaging with movements beyond the ones that directly serve you? How are you assessing the Pride spaces planned in your area for equity, access and intentionality? How are you accessing rest and joy in ways that others may be denied? We can have fun and engage with these necessary questions at the same time. No one is ruining Pride by asking the necessary questions.

Today’s main chat is with someone who knows all about asking the hard questions, about pushing on people in power to bend to the needs and demands of the people. Stephanie Skora joins me for today’s conversation to talk about her “Girl, I Guess” voter guide which aims to inform community members in Cook County Illinois about local candidates and ballot measures to encourage people to vote in their best interests, even if that means voting for a so-so candidate in order to beat out a bigot. Her insight about this project offers lots of guidance for how to approach keeping one’s own community informed about voting and the value of mobilizing others to use voting as one of many tools for social change (even when you have little faith in electoral politics).

Make sure to look up your polling place so you can get in line for this episode… of Take the Last Bite

[INTRO MUSIC PLAYING]

Y'all we cannot do this. We cannot be these stereotypical Midwesterners. Please eat the rest of this food.

We just have these conversations every day with people like this is exhausting. I don't want to do this anymore.

Why can't we be in space with hundreds of other queer and trans folks and having these necessary conversations?

I don't know who you are, but we're going to talk by the potatoes for five minutes

Because aesthetic is the only thing keeping my dysphoria at bay. I'm broke all the time, but I look amazing.

Definitely going to talk about Midwest Nice and if that's as real as it wants to think it is.

Midwest nice is white aggression. That's what it is.

[END MUSIC]

RB:
All right, fam. So we're having a chat on a finally warm Midwest afternoon on Friday the 13th, so whether or not that energy is going to interplay here or not. Plus, Mercury just went a retrograde.

Stephanie:
An auspicious day.

RB:
So there might be some cosmic energy influencing our conversation and it just feels like the right time. So why don't you start off with telling the folks who are listening who you are and include in that what your relationship or connection is to the Midwest.

Stephanie:
My name is Stephanie Skora. My pronouns are she, her, and hers. I am the Board President of the Institute, and my day job is the COO of Brave Space Alliance, the Southside LGBTQ center in Chicago. I am also the writer and editor of “The Girl, I Guess” progressive voter guide for Cook County, Illinois. And my relationship to the region is I am a lifelong Illinoisian and a Midwest chauvinist because Midwest is best. We have fresh water, we have great open corn fields, we have the perfect long haul lesbian driving conditions, and we have just enough bullshit to balance out the cool stuff to make us an interesting place to live. Also…

RB:
That is the one of the best, like boilerplate messages for the region.

Stephanie:
I'll do you one better. Ecologically, we're the most sustainable place on Earth. So during the apocalypse, move to Chicago or Milwaukee.

RB:
Oh, noted.

Stephanie:
Or move to Gary.

RB:
No one wants to move to Gary.

Stephanie:
Well, if enough people moved to Gary, Gary would be a better place to live.

RB:
This is true. This is true. Your reference to long haul lesbian driving reminds me of when you drove from Chicago up here to Duluth a few years ago in the biggest rental car I've ever received in my entire life.

Stephanie:
A Nissan Armada, an entire tank. It got 16 miles to the gallon at best.

RB:
But you made it safe and sound and it was a good time. Meet, you, and Hayden.

Stephanie:
I did. I was driving a tank and I…

RB:
Had to park the damn thing in winter.

Stephanie:
It was the worst parking experience of my life, and I live in Chicago. To this day, I have not had a more stressful parking experience than trying to park like a fucking 20 foot long car.

RB:
I've never been able to not see over a car as a tall person. That was a new experience for me.

Stephanie:
Yes, it gave me a lot of respect for limo and sprinter van drivers. I'm like I always knew that you were good drivers, but respect.

RB:
So of all the laundry list of things you just listed, we could talk about many of them and they would be fantastic conversations. But we're specifically on the mic today because I wanted to catch you while you were knee deep in the “Girl, I Guess” Voter Guide and talk about kind of the origins of that project and then kind of parce that out into the value of being an informed, civically engaged person. But it's going to be really evident how I feel about electoral politics by the end of this, if folks don't already know, but truly understanding these processes, these systems, these existing structures in electoral politics and how your project of “Girl, I guess” has contributed to just like, community consciousness building around voting. Right. You live somewhere where representation became a priority because voting in a Black lesbian woman seemed really important and then became hellfire for…

Stephanie:
That didn't really work out.

RB:
No, it didn't. And who said that that was going to be a problem? All the QTBIPOC, all of them. But it happened anyway because. Oh, it's so exciting. Representation anyway. I think we'll get into all of that. So can you start off in the best way possible? Right. Talking about what the guide is and where it came from?

Stephanie:
Yeah. Well, as I start off, I am going to put on my legal hat and say, “Brave Space Alliance in the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity are 501 nonprofit organizations. And my opinion as a private citizen who engages in electoral endorsements is completely separate from and not at all indicative of the opinion or actions of either of those nonprofit organizations. Don't sue us, IRS. Thank you.” So, “Girl, I Guess” was a project of myself and my very good friend Ellen Mayer, who is a Fellow of Chicago, in the run up to the Democratic primary in 2018 in Illinois. So, like, in January or February of that year. Ellen and I had met each other through the normal ways that people do in Chicago, by being both queer and Jewish at the same time. And so we met each other through various queer and Jewish spaces and found out that we were both total nerds and loved politics. And so one day Ellen was talking about, like, “hey, wouldn’t it be really cool if somebody did like, a voter guide for Cook County? Because nobody ever knows who any of these people are. They just get the mailers and they go to the ballot box and they just vote for whoever the party tells them to. And all of our friends are radicals and hardcore communists and anarchists, and we're hardcore communists and anarchists and don't believe in the power of elections as a liberatory tool. But our votes still count. What if we made a voter guide for leftist? They could help people figure out how to engage in the process without feeling like they invested their time and energy in something they don't believe in.” And so we started out as a Google Doc called “Steph and El's Excellent Voter Guide”. And then in the general election for 2018, we were sort of disillusioned with our choices for governor in the general election. And so as an homage to the reaction of Black Twitter in 2016 to the election of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, we called the guide “Girl, I Guess” because we were not super enthusiastic about JB. Pritzker. I will say he's proven us delightfully wrong. The guy is a great governor. He's a great governor. Best governor in Illinois has had in years. And like a legit guy, a legit legit guy. He hasn't been indicted for anything. He hasn't gone to jail. If he's being corrupt, he's keeping it under wraps like a decent human being and not following the grand tradition of Illinois governors of just immediately going to jail. And he's also a super progressive guy, it turns out. And so he's doing a great job. But we were not particularly enthused about his nomination in 2018. We called the guide “Girl, I Guess”, and we made it a little bit more thorough. We made it a little bit more Semitically-Sassy put a little bit more Judaism in it, put a little bit more queerness in it. And folks loved it. It took off. It went viral on social media. We got interviewed by local newspapers and the Sun Times and stuff in Chicago. And it was really just this phenomenon where we said, “Oh, people are interested in this kind of grassroots voter to voter educational content where it's not some politician or some political party or some pact telling you how to vote.” It's some random person in the community who bothered to sit down and look up all these people running for office because you don't have time to, and tell you what the deal is with all of them and say, “these people suck. Pick this one. And this is why.” And it's not just a list of names, but it's an explanation about who each of the candidates are, what they stand for, what the main points their platform is, and a rationale as to why you should choose the person that we selected. And that turned out to be really helpful for a lot of people, because Chicago and Cook County, over 5.5 million people live in Cook County and there are a ton of elected positions on every single ballot. People do not vote their entire ballot, and they have no idea who most of the people running for office are besides maybe the statewide people and maybe their congressperson. And every four years who's running for President. But they don't know who their state representative is. They don't know who their County Commissioner is. They don't know who's running for judge. They don't know who is running for, like, ward committee person. All these super down ballot races that seem like a bunch of crap and nothing but actually have massive impact on people's day to day lives, much more so than whoever the Congressperson is, much more so than whoever the governor is. Who your state representative is really matters. Who do you elect to be the judge for your sub circuit really, really matters. And so, “Girl, I Guess” has been and will continue to be this grassroots public education voter guide committed to talking to people like you would talk about politicians on the street. And that's the other part of it is so much of political reporting about politicians and so much of the public discourse about elections takes everything super seriously. It's very, very obsessed with its own self-importance. It really insists upon itself as a legitimate mechanism for engaging in public discourse and engaging in the politics of society. “Girl, I Guess” doesn't do that. If somebody is running for office and they've been in office for twelve years and they've never done anything and they're a smarmy fuck face, we're going to call them a smarmy fuck face. It's like, “don't vote for this person. Vote for the other guy instead. This guy is a smarmy fuck face. And he's done all these things that are awful while he's in office.” And it's the same way that you would talk with your friend or your relative about politics and your local elected officials over dinner or over drinks. And that's what really makes it relate to people. It's informative and it's thorough, but it's also irreverent. And it's funny. People don't want to read some giant tome about like, “oh, yes, this is Greg Q candidate. These are his positions on X, Y and Z. This is what he's running for.” They want to hear something and they want to read something that's like somebody was talking to them on the street and explaining to them who to vote for. And that's what “Girl, I Guess” is, it's the written version of that.

RB:
Yeah. So much of the experience of the average voter you just rattled off feels very much like my experience, regardless of where I've lived. Right. So, like, right now I would say I live in a smaller municipality in Northern Minnesota. I've lived in a College town, I've lived in major cities. And regardless, it's always been the case where as long as I've been of age to vote. Right. I'm Googling day of or day before. Like, “what even is on my ballot? I don't even know. What do you mean? There's judges? What are these ballot measures? I don't even know.” Right? And then even researching on your own, any information about candidates or these measures is always going to bring you to platform pages that are going to romanticize that particular candidate because that's the point of a candidate's website. So I very much love this idea of having access to content that's colloquial. It's chill. And it's like community generated, especially for marginalized people, because that's not something I've encountered. And it's really interesting. That was something. It's interesting and it makes a bunch of sense that that's something that like folks in your ecosystem. And then beyond gravitated towards so quickly, especially in a major city like Chicago.

Stephanie:
Yeah. And even beyond that, it's a fantastic way to educate people how to vote. It's a great way to talk to your salty leftist friend who's like, “voting doesn't matter. We won't vote ourselves to liberation.” No, we're not going to vote ourselves to liberation. That doesn't mean that it doesn't matter who the Mayor is, whether or not you vote because you're a diehard Communist and you don't think participating in the capitalist state is an accurate expression of your values. Cool. That's great for you. But people are still going to vote and elect people who choose to give more money to cops. And yeah, you're not going to stop that by voting for somebody better. You can maybe slow it down by voting for somebody better. But if you're not participating in elections, especially local elections, you're not doing everything that you can to bring about liberation. Not because voting is the answer and not because elections will free us, but because it's a tool in the toolbox. It is something that we have that gives us access to at least having an individual say in who is in power locally. And sometimes you can get really cool people elected who do really amazing things or who stop bad things from happening. And that only happens when everybody participates, whether or not they believe their vote actually counts, whether or not they believe it's not decolonial to participate in elections or whatever the latest hot take is that goes around every two or three years. Sure, yeah, all of that stuff is true, and all of that stuff is valid. And also it doesn't matter if you don't vote because you're standing in solidarity with Indigenous people. That doesn't stop laws and shitty politicians from ruining your life on a day to day basis. And I'm sure it's a great comfort to people who choose not to vote that they didn't vote because of their own principles. But when that politician increases funding to the police and somebody down the street from them gets shot, I'm sure they appreciated that that person didn't vote because they felt like it wouldn't be really Communist of them. Not to say that it's anybody's individual fault that the police shoot people. But if we're trying to bring about revolution and liberation here, it is our duty to use every single tool in the toolbox. Hit the voting booth, vote your whole ballot, hit the streets, throw a Molotov cocktail at a cop car like you can do both of them. It's not choose one. There's nothing about voting that precludes you from participating in liberatory politics. It's simply an acknowledgement of the fact that even though we are struggling to bring down this system and create a more just world, it doesn't do us any favors to ignore the mechanisms that exist in the society that we live in. It doesn't help. There's no benefit.

RB:
No. Yeah, I vibe with that. Right. I begrudgingly take my ass to the poll every opportunity it allows. Right. But I also…what you're saying is that it is a tool. Unfortunately, it's a pretty sizable tool because it's the one that's gotten the most investment of many varieties and the most legitimization, and it's one of the longer standing tools, and it's the one that is palatable and allegedly civil, even though it enacts violence through indirect means. Anyway, right? So, like thinking about that begrudging feeling, but knowing that you can’t ignore the tool because the tool is going to continue working the way that it works whether or not you participate, right. Even though it's very slow and direct action is very quick, right? Like you're saying, there's this arsenal of tools readily available to us, and so why not use them? And I'm reminded of the conversation I had a couple of episodes ago with two folks who'd ran for city Council positions and their respective municipalities. One of them landed their seat, one of them did not. And the bulk of our conversation was talking about kind of all of these maybe not so obvious obstacles to them as queer folks, as folks of color, as femme folks, as women, as folks kind of in predominantly white areas, et cetera. Like this huge list of barriers to them accessing and being well received as candidates in their respective areas. And I'm curious for you, certainly I don't envision that the voter guide necessarily pedestalizes or uplifts particular candidates, to say, like, this person is fantastic, etc. Because of that, kind of like edge of this is still electoral politics. This is still a sticky system. But do you feel like there's a way that your voter guide can necessarily help bridge gaps where maybe more progressive, leftist, Liberal, and fill in the blank candidates can be seen in ways…I feel like for your average cishet white voter to look at some of these folks to say, Well, I'm not going to vote for you because you're a diversity hire, et cetera, you're automatically going to be far more left than I'm ready to commit to, or you must be part of some kind of Antifa organization, whatever. Maybe that's true, maybe it's not. Who knows? Do you feel like a voter guide can also serve a purpose to start conversations around how to see past, perhaps, some of the performativity that a more progressive candidate may have to play in order to play the game? Does that make sense?

Stephanie:
Yeah, and I think it's a both and situation. There are certainly times in “Girl, I Guess”, where I say “this person is awesome. Definitely vote for them. They're a badass they believe a whole bunch of really cool things. You should totally elect them. Or they're really cool,” because sometimes really cool people run for public office and they deserve support, whether or not they're going to be able to singlehandedly change the feted mechanisms of American local government. No, we're not expecting that. But that doesn't also mean that people who deserve our support shouldn't get it. And a really fantastic example of that is Illinois. As a state, we are living in a world where right now the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and strip reproductive rights from everybody who's capable of getting pregnant and we'll probably re-ban gay marriage and we'll probably re-ban gay sex and like whatever other stuff is going to happen. And that shit's fucking bleak. And also, I live in Illinois. I live in a state where we have a legislatively protected right for every person who can get pregnant to get an abortion. We are going to become a sanctuary state for trans people within the next year or two. We have mandated LGBTQ education in every public school curriculum in the state. And that stuff didn't just happen by magic. That happened because people elected progressive lawmakers who are accountable to their communities, and those Progressives wrote laws that help people. They didn't fix all the problems. Illinois is still a white supremacist, settler capitalist state. We're not some sort of anarchist or socialist utopia, but we're also not the worst place to live in the world. And I have human rights within the state of Illinois when I go and visit my long distance partner in Indiana, neither of us have human rights in the state that she lives in. And it's really great to be able to have human rights in the place where you live. It's really great. And I think that accountability piece is also the other part. Right where electing Progressives and electing leftists is not going to change the system on its own. There are some people who believe that it will. There's definitely a really big electoralist streak in some Communist and socialist movements. I don't personally believe that voting alone is the answer. However, the other purpose of the voter guide is to do that public education tool and to say “this is what this person believes.” It's now aggregated in a spot that's easily that's easy to locate on the public record. So in two years when they're running for reelection again, you can go back and look and see if they actually did all the stuff that they said they were going to do. And that's one of the most important parts about public education around voting is so many times politicians act like politicians and they say anything that they think is going to get them elected, and they make promises they have no intention of keeping, and they're counting on people not caring or not remembering that they promised to do those things. Well, in my voter guide, I have two standards. One, I'm not going to say somebody believes something unless I have a way to publicly cite that. They say private questionnaires, individual conversations, face to face meetings. If I have those with a candidate, I don't care what you tell me to my face. You're going to tell me whatever I want to hear. But unless you say it on your website, unless you set it on your campaign Twitter or Facebook, I'm not going to say that you believe it because you're just telling me that you're going to do it. You have to say it in public so that every single person who voted for you can go back and in two years, if you didn't do your job, they can print that tweet out and go to your office and say, “what the fuck? You said you were going to do this. Why didn't you do anything about it?” And then you have to explain yourself. And so it's a really fantastic way to make sure that voters not only know who they're voting for, but know what they're voting for in order to hold their elected officials accountable in the next election, because otherwise you wind up with smarmy fuck faces who do nothing for twelve years and keep getting reelected over and over because they can raise a ton of money. And you know, that doesn't help anybody. Those people just make themselves and all their rich friends richer, and they don't even attempt to solve any of the problems that local governments actually have a lot of ability to solve. And the only way to change that is by holding incumbent elected officials accountable. And if they're not doing what's best for the community, voting in people who will, and then holding them accountable to make sure they hold up their end of the deal.

RB:
Which I think it's sticky, right? I've seen some really rad people, anywhere I've lived on any level get voted in. And this system really, like the air gets thinner the higher up or more invested you get into it. What does that accountability look like when you know that it's going to be trickier for folks of certain identities or folks of certain political orientations to work within the system to hold them accountable when the barriers for them are going to look very different than a career politician who has privileged identities, abound and connections and capital. And what does that look like?

Stephanie:
Yeah, I think Chicago is a really fantastic example of that. In 2019, we elected, I think, six or eight really progressive leftist people to the City Council. Now there's 50 people on City Council. Plus we have a strong Mayor legislative system, a strong executive. So essentially what that means is that legislation is approved by the City Council, but really the Mayor is in charge. It's not a situation where the City Council does whatever it wants and the Mayor can't do anything about it. Sometimes that happens when the Mayor pisses off the City Council enough, which is what's sort of happening in Chicago right now because we have an asshole for a Mayor. But generally speaking, historically in Chicago, it's been the Mayor who controlled the City Council. Now we have a bunch of really cool people in City Council. Now, they don't make up 26 seats in the City Council. They can't pass legislation by themselves, but what they can do is they can provide better services for their communities that they represent, especially because Alderman in Chicago have a lot of power locally to dictate what happens in their Ward. They can set up mutual aid projects. They can partner with local organizations to create stuff that actually helps their community. They can be accessible, they can be responsive, they can be the things that elected officials and local elected officials especially are supposed to be. And even though people are voting for them because they said they're going to bring change, folks have to realize individuals can't bring change on their own. That's not the system that we work in. But you can still hold those people accountable based on their voting record, because if they're elected to something, they still have to vote on legislation and their votes are a reflection of their values and the values of their community. So if somebody votes for a budget that gives a billion dollars to the police department, you can go to them and say, “hey, you're supposed to be a socialist. What the fuck? Why did you vote to give a billion dollars to the police?” And they might have had a good reason for voting for that. They might have hated the fact that the money went to the police, but there was something else in the budget that they thought was really important. But they have to then explain that and be accountable to their constituents who have the ability to hold them accountable, because that's what they ran on. If people stop paying attention, that's how you get machine and corrupt politicians is because they think they can do whatever they want in the background because nobody's going to catch them on it anyway.

RB:
Right. I think that's really informative, and I think it's hard to hold grace sometimes when there's so much corruption and ick that it's just a byproduct of the system. Right. And I think that I'd be interested to have an additional version of this conversation somewhere along the line that really kind of looks at how these municipal politics function in smaller municipalities. Right. Because talking about Chicago, it's a much more sizeable municipal arrangement than somewhere like Duluth, Minnesota or somewhere even way smaller than an 86,000 populace place, because here, that's not the size of things. And when folks get into positions, right, they don't answer those questions. They don't answer the “why does it look like you're betraying your community's interests?” There's not often good answers for that, because oftentimes I feel like I see city councils kind of hold their hands up and say, “well, that's a state government issue. We don't have a hand in that. We can't play to that.” And there's kind of this passing of the baton to say, “well, someone else's responsibility” and then nothing takes place, nothing happens. So somewhere down the line it could be interesting to kind of make these comparisons.

Stephanie:
Well, that's actually really interesting because when I was living in Champagne, every city, every village, every something has a legislative body. They have a village President, they have a Mayor, they have trustees, they have a city Council, they have some legislative body and some executive body. And yeah, if you live in some small rural town or some random suburb of a much larger city, you may not have a local government that's willing to make radical policy or that's willing to really break from the municipalities that neighbor it. But they can. There's nothing saying that they can't do it. And legislators who pass the buck up the next level, sometimes that's real. Sometimes they don't have the power to change certain things because they're not allowed to for whatever constitutional reasons. Sometimes they're just bullshitting because they don't want to do their job. And that's also part of the reason for public education and tools like this, is politicians, especially Democrats, especially people who are like, obviously Republicans. That sort of goes without saying people who are affiliated with capitalist political parties and who are in it as a political career have an incentive to lie to their constituents. If they run on a platform that says they're going to do X, Y, and Z and they get into office and they maybe try and do half of X and don't get to Y or Z at all. And they say, “oh, well, that's actually a state legislator's job.” Okay, well, then there's a state legislature that represents this town. There might be two. Get on the phone with them. And tell them to vote for this. Because local elected officials and state elected officials are incredibly connected to each other. A lot of the time, state elected officials rely on their local counterparts in order to win elections. They need their endorsements. They need their support. They need their cooperation in order to get anything done. And so they have to work together. Sometimes they don't. But it's extremely unlikely that your local city Council person can't call your state Senator and ask them to work on a piece of legislation because it would be important to that town. Those people are the state senator’s constituents, too. So if your city Councilor says, “well, that's not my job” all right, well, then get on the phone with the person whose job it is and make them do something, or else we're going to vote both of you out.

RB:
That's what's always been like the frustrating sticking point, because there are certain folks who've been around long enough that they kind of they're pretty predictable. Whether they vote on something that I agree with or not, some of their responses and their comments are often pretty predictable. And that's sometimes the case, especially when it comes to larger monetary decisions, which again, I understand might have to get passed up to state or that's where final decisions are when we're talking about this is it called like the ARPA money, whatever.

Stephanie:
The COVID relief?

RB:
Yeah, right. The one that can the eligibility for municipalities to get bunches of monies. Right. You're going to have to go through the federal government, whatever. I get it like this is all sticky and it's all connected. But what gets frustrating is when you have this predictable response in the comments from certain city councilors to say, well, that's something that we can't move on or that's based on budget restrictions because of the state, blah, blah, blah. Exactly what you're saying. Cool. If you're telling me that in this Council Chambers at this moment and it's true, I will give good faith if that is true. What I'm not interested in is you saying this every time major issues come up that you're thankful for the conversation and you want to continue it outside of these Chambers, but you don't do it. You are in spaces with people on the state level, if that's what you're saying, that this has to involve folks at the state level to make better moves or to move faster or to move in the way that we're asking you're in rooms with people who have state leverage. You're in the rooms with the people who can call up the people. You have the phone numbers. I do not. I'm coming to you. So you're the one who has to literally play telephone. You're the one that has to transmute this information so that we're not getting pissed at you every single time. And you're just saying, well, that's a great conversation, and we'll continue it at a different time. And then you never do and then you never do, right?

Stephanie:
Exactly. And folks need to run against those people and get them the fuck out of office because they're not actually interested in doing their job. They're there for the clout. They're there for the money. And in those situations, I love when people just get super audacious with the people like, okay, you got to talk to the governor about that. I've got a car outside. I drove meeting. Let's go, let's go. We'll be there in the morning. Let's talk to the governor first thing in the morning. You're a city Councilor. You're an important person. You can get a meeting with the governor now. You can get a meeting with the state Senator that represents this district. You can totally get a meeting with them, and they can get a meeting with the governor. Let's go. Let's fucking go, people.

RB:
I think too, there's a lot to be said. Right. Thinking about the conversation I had with the folks who ran for city Council positions a couple of episodes ago, one of the things that we talked about. Right. Is that depending on the municipality, folks are not compensated well to be able to fully invest themselves in this work, especially if you hold marginalized positions, so full grace to that. Understood. You're not making bank in the way that Congress is. Understood. And you took on this position. What level of responsibility then do these folks need to take to do some of the work that essentially you do as just someone with no free time? So I don't know how you're doing all these other things. Right. You're just a politically activated person who's making a decision to put out this information because there's an appetite for it.

Stephanie:
Because I know about this stuff and a lot of people really.

RB:
Exactly. But like, what role can a local politician necessarily play? But if the reality is that there are barriers or obstacles on a state level and maybe you're even fighting against that behind the scenes and we're just not sure and you're making these responses in Council Chambers to say, well, that's something that needs to be taken up with the state or there's XYZ reasons or barriers on the state level. Is there ways that you can engage with your constituency to communicate and educate folks on the connections that you're trying to make instead of giving us a non response in Chambers when we're pissed about something you're about to vote on? Why does this have to be something that we do as community members to necessarily do this education around voting and do this consciousness building around how electoral politics works on a local level? It's frustrating.

Stephanie:
It is. And I think that's the thing. If you are a local elected official, whether you get paid so much money like city councilors in major cities do, or whether it's like a part time job that pays less than minimum wage, to me, it doesn't really matter. If you aren't paid enough to do politics full time, I understand if you have another job. I'm not expecting you to be accessible 24/, like I'm necessarily expecting. My alderperson gets paid like $100,000 a year to be an alderperson.

RB:
Oh, you better be answering the phone then.

Stephanie:
Right? You better not have another job. And it's actually a huge ethics reform point in a lot of major cities where some people do have other jobs while they're in city Council. And people consider that a form of corruption or people get asked questions about that. But in some random rural town, I'm not expecting the farmer who ran for village trustee to be available 24/7 to answer my questions. But you're still a local elected official. You still have a responsibility to do your job, even if it's not a full time job. I'm going to give you grace to say it might take longer. I'm going to understand if you can't work on this issue right now, but you better do it because you still ran for public office and you have a responsibility to advocate for your constituents. And if you're not going to do it, then don't run again. Like, don't run for re election if you're not interested in doing the job. People are, especially if you're a marginalized person, you're running for a reason. Don't put all that effort into getting elected to not do the job. Should local elected officials get compensated enough to have them be able to work on politics full time absolutely. That would make for a better system and for better representation for everybody. Is that going to happen? Probably not. But that doesn't excuse people from their responsibilities as an elected official. Like, even if you have to work two other jobs to pay your rent, you still ran for office and you still got elected. You still have to do the job you said you were going to do or else don't do it. You can resign and somebody else will get appointed if you don't want to do the job. It's harsh. But I think it's fair because no matter who we are, the angle that I take to it is representation is all well and good, but representation is also a trap. I don't care if you're Black, queer, and trans, if you're running for local office or even if you're running for federal office or state office. I don't care what your identities are. Sure. If you're like exactly the same politically as somebody else, will it maybe influence my vote for you over them? If you're a more marginalized person, yeah, maybe. But I don't care if you are the most oppressed person in the world, if you have a job to do, if you get elected for local office. Identity politics are not an excuse to not do your job. And we see this all the time. Sometimes incredibly diverse and incredibly marginalized people suck ass when they get elected. Terrible, terrible people happen to come from marginalized communities all the time. And I think it's a pitfall that especially leftists fall into, really constantly, is we're afraid to criticize marginalized people and multiply marginalized people who are in public office because they are marginalized people. And my response to that is like, look, yes, does this person experience racism and homophobia and sexism? Yeah, they sure do. They're still the Mayor of the city of Chicago, and they're still responsible for all the bullshit that's going on that they're allowing to happen. They don't have to let this happen. They don't have to be a terrible person. They could say, I want to take money away from the police Department, and they know that that would save lives. But if they don't choose to, I'm not going to be extra respectful of them because they're a Black lesbian. I'm going to say, “what the fuck? You have even more of a responsibility because it's people who look like you who are getting impacted more by these violent policies.” And that's one of the things that I think we have to pay really careful attention to. As leftist, as Progressives, as people who are committed to liberation into revolution is like, Dean Spade says, “representation is a trap.” Representation is a trap, and it is a trap that will get you every time if you're not careful. Somebody is not on your side just because they share your identity. You have to make sure that they have firm values based ideological commitments to the same things that you believe in. Otherwise it doesn't matter who they are. It doesn't matter how they identify. If they're still doing the work of white supremacy and capitalism, they may as well be a white dude.

RB:
And it's a huge. It's a huge letdown. Right. I see that. I mean, we currently see that at the federal level, right. Big time. And I see that play out state and local level. And it's really frustrating because it's like we were all rooting for you. We want to root for you. And in this moment, we cannot, because you're enacting immense amounts of violence against literally your own communities. Communities is a nebulous term at this point, anyway. I had this question pop up a couple of thoughts back, but just like I love venting about just the help fire that is all of these structures and let that right out. So to Boomerang it back just a little bit, you had said you have the example of a politician actually plot twisting and turning out to be way more progressive than intended in the origins of the “Girl, I Guess” Voter guide, has there ever been an instance where someone you, like, lauded, right, was like, this person's A+, this person's good deal. And the reverse happened. They turned out to be not so great, made some poor choices. I imagine the answer is yes, you don't have to talk about anyone in particular. But has that happened? What did that feel like? What did the aftermath of that look like? What in communicating about any let down look like if that happens?

Stephanie:
Well, it hasn't happened yet. I'm crossing my fingers. It won't happen yet anytime soon. Part of that is because I'm endorsing often like the most progressive person in the race. Sometimes they don't win.

RB:
Oh, no, that’s fair.

Stephanie:
That's sort of the name of the game. But like, the people that I have endorsed that have won. There's a lot of different levels of endorsement in “Girl, I Guess”. And a lot of what I do in my work in writing the guide is differentiating who is some asshole who's just better than the person who's running against them and you may as well vote for them, even though they're basically the same, because this guy sucks a little bit less? And like, who's a total badass who's going to do amazing things for their community? Usually the total badasses are accountable to a whole bunch of different people who will tell them, “hey, what the fuck” when if they turn around and end up being terrible. And also not to toot my own horn, but I've been following elections in politics for a really long time. It's easy to spot the grifters if you know how to look. Generally speaking, the people who run on progressive platforms and run on leftist platforms and get elected, if they're actually accountable to the communities they're trying to represent, that's going to show through in their campaign. That's going to show through in their endorsements. That's going to show through in their platform. And generally speaking, those people do a pretty good job. Now, I won't say anything for members of Congress because that's basically just a useless legislative body anyway. If you're a Congressperson, Congratulations, you trick people into paying you a lot of money to represent them and do nothing. Don't get me wrong, there's some really cool people in Congress, and I'm endorsing a bunch of really cool people who are running for Congress. And I also have zero expectation of them being able to get anything done whatsoever because they're running for Congress. Like I'm endorsing them because they're cool people and because I think that they're genuinely good individuals and are better than the person that they're running against. And also they're running for Congress. How much are they actually going to be able to get done? I think that's part of the expectation setting that I do in the guide is if somebody is really fantastic, I'm going to say that they're really fantastic. If somebody is okay, I'm going to say that they're just okay. I'm not going to present every candidate as an equal, and that's something that I've worked really hard in more recent additions to differentiate in municipal elections. In the last municipal election, when Ellen and I were still writing the guide together, we had like a red light, yellow light green light system for endorsements of candidates, because sometimes there is somebody who's just okay and they're running against an incumbent who you should not vote for for any reason. And we wanted to differentiate the people who are just better than the other guy from the people who are like a good Black lesbian progressive who's actually into the shit that they say that they're running on and is running against an awful person and then got elected. And I'm moving now to a new neighborhood next month, and that person is going to be my new alderperson, and I'm super stoked about it because she's a great person. But I differentiate and I do a lot of work to differentiate. I incorporated this thing called the Golden Shrug in primary and general elections, because in the Chicago municipal elections, we have essentially two rounds. If you get more than 50% in the first round of the election, you just win. But if nobody gets more than 50%, there's runoffs and you have a second chance to vote for somebody, or you might have to vote for somebody else who you didn't like very much. There's different levels of endorsement in the initial municipal guide to show this is somebody who you should vote for. This is somebody who you should maybe look at in case there's a run off. But in first past the post primary elections, whoever gets the most votes wins. If there's twelve people running and somebody gets 25% of the vote and that's the most votes, that person wins. Doesn't matter they got 25% of the vote. So I introduced the golden shrug as a way of saying this person is actually really cool versus or like this person is way better than the person that they're running against versus they're better than the other guy. All endorsements are shrugs. Some shrugs are golden.

RB:
I love that. And that sounds like you said you've been doing iterations of the voter guide, either in partnership or now solo, for several years now, since 2018. And it sounds like that's kind of one of the learning aha, moments and shifts that you've made and being able to communicate effectively to folks who are consuming the guide. What have been, because I think you talked about this before we hit record, right? What have been maybe some other learning moments or things that you're discovering about this electoral politics process that even as someone who's been tracking politics, paying attention to political movements for a long time, you were not aware of before, like getting deep into this voter guide project.

Stephanie:
Oh, this shit is a bigger mess than everybody thinks it is. And again, I'll use my situation as an example. The state of Illinois usually has primary elections, whether it's for the presidential election or the midterm general election. We have our primaries in March. This year because of something called redistricting, which is what every state and local municipality does after the decennial census, they pass new congressional maps and new state legislative maps and new city Council maps, whatever. They change the districts around to represent the new population after the census. Well, because of COVID and because of Trump fucking up the census by being a fascist asshole, the census data was late in getting to the States, and it wasn't 100% accurate. So a lot of states, including Illinois, delayed their primary elections to give their state legislatures more time to draw new district maps. And so instead of having our primary in March, when it's supposed to be, it's June 28, now, is when our election is. That's two days after Chicago pride, first of all, which I'm not happy about, homophobic. And second of all, we have primary has always been in March in Illinois. For decades, it's been in March. So there's an entire infrastructure, an electoral and a political infrastructure built around the March primary timeline. And it informs when people canvas to get on the ballot. It informs when people door knock after they're running. It informs when the filing deadlines are. It informs when the boards of elections certify their sample ballots. Everything from Day One on down to Election Day is dictated by this cycle and moving it back three and a half months threw everything in the complete chaos. All three levels of boards of election, the State Board of Election, the Cook County Board of Elections, and the Chicago Board of Elections missed their ballot certification deadline by three weeks. They were supposed to certify on April 21. I just got the final candidate list from the Chicago Board of Elections yesterday. And it's May 13 when we're recording this. So things are in complete chaos. Candidates haven't released their platforms yet. People are still suing to determine whether or not they're on the ballot. And voting starts in Illinois next Thursday. So this change I mean, I'm sure they're going to put the primary right back in March because it's in everybody's best interest to do that for the next time. But this has thrown everything into complete chaos. And it's really detrimental for voters because the casual voter may not necessarily care whether the election is in March or June. They're just going to show up, check a few boxes and leave anyway. But it's incredibly detrimental for voter education and public education efforts around candidates and elections because the information is not available all at the same time and with as much time in advance as everybody needs in order to research candidates. The first day of early voting is next Thursday. Like I said, if you're somebody in the state of Illinois who's going to vote on May 19 because you want to go to the Board of Elections Supersight in the Loop in Chicago and you want to vote your ballot and you want to just be done with it, you may not know what you're voting for because the candidates that are on your ballot may not have released a full platform or may not have kicked their campaign into high gear yet. And that's really awful. And in some cases, it can be dangerous because you may not have the ability to make an informed choice as a voter on who you're selecting to be your next elected official. And do people have a week to get their shit together? Yeah, they do. But for people who are going to vote early, generally, those are informed voters. They have a lot of time, and they know when early voting starts. So these are people who are used to being able to make an informed choice about their ballot, and they're being robbed of that ability because of this change. And so it's going to be really interesting to see what turnout looks like. It's going to be really interesting to see what the election results look like. It's going to be really interesting to see what voter education looks like in this June primary versus in November when we go and vote in November like we always do.

RB:
Wow. Yeah. As someone who like, I know when early voting is, but I didn't until it became a more easily accessible option per COVID. Right? And like I said, I'm someone who Googles the morning of what is even on my ballot today. Right? That would put me in kind of a predicament if that information is kind of getting paper mache together within the week that I'm planning to go do that. And I guess I'm curious, do you anticipate, like, folks pushing back on the legitimacy of voting results based on some of this coming together, would that not affect results too much?

Stephanie:
It's really hard to tell. I don't think we're going to have a situation in Chicago where there's like a “big lie” type phenomenon where people are going to say, like, the folks who won the election didn't actually win the election because the percentage of people who vote early enough to have this impact them is not I mean, those votes matter, but it's not necessarily a huge percentage of the vote. It's maybe 1% of voters. Now that 1% of voters could decide the election. A lot of elections are decided by 1% or fewer or less of the vote. So 1% of the vote matters a lot. Now, we don't actually know what the timeline is going to look like, but, for example, the candidate list that I received from the Chicago Board of Elections, there are people listed on it who might not be on the ballot. And so they're including disclaimers with the early voting ballots. They're including disclaimers with the mail in voting ballots. They're going to start mailing out next week that say votes for these candidates may or may not count depending on the outcome of litigation around their candidacy. So there are people who may be voting for somebody and their votes end up not counting because this process was so delayed and that person wound up on the ballot anyway because even though there's an asterisk next to their name, essentially, people can still vote for them. And those votes may end up being truly a wasted vote because that person may get removed from the ballot. And that's fucked up. That never should have happened. And it happened for a lot of reasons, but that is something that could potentially impact the outcome of an election, especially in places like Chicago. We saw in 2019 in the municipal election, several incredibly close races. There was an alderperson who was elected by 19 votes. There was another alderperson who won reelection. An incredibly unpopular incumbent won reelection by the skin of his teeth, 25 votes in a runoff. So the 25 people who vote early on May 19, their votes could end up deciding some of these elections. And truly, in a local election, every single vote counts. It may not feel like it in federal elections and in congressional elections when the way that we count votes are different and not necessarily fair. But the further down you get on the ballot, the more local those races become, the fewer and fewer people are voting, not just because the districts get smaller, but because people don't vote their entire ballot. So if you're voting for your county board representative, there's going to be a lot fewer people voting for that than voted for the Congress person. And that election might get decided by 50 votes.

RB:
Yeah. Wow. Well, I don't obviously live in Chicago, so my stake is different than yours. But I do think that there's some really interesting implications about just like ethics and structure and power and process that I think in these major cities can have bearings or weights on how things get ran in smaller municipalities. And so I guess to figure out how to funnel us towards some version of a conclusion, because we could talk forever because we do it all the time. So in places that don't have a Stephanie Skora to do all of this labor to kind of put together these considerations and these golden shrugs and to kind of literally guide voters to have some semblance of helpful information to approach voting. Like, what are some other tools and tactics that you think are helpful for folks when thinking about better education, when thinking about being informed about your municipal and local politic processes and how to not get continually screwed over without realizing we're getting screwed over by these processes?

Stephanie:
Yes, I think really the most important thing is for an individual or a group of individuals to commit to paying attention. There's a lot of stakes and there's a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, in major cities like Chicago, there's also a lot more people living here. So odds are there's somebody who's going to pay attention some of the time. In smaller municipalities, that's actually where more corruption happens. A lot more behind the scenes skullduggery happens in tiny towns with 500 people in them because, yeah, sure, everybody might know the Mayor, but nobody really pays attention to what the Mayor is doing. Especially in extremely rural areas that may not even have city by city representation, they just have a county board. It's incredibly hard for people to pay attention to and keep track of what their county level elected officials are doing. And that might be the only legislative body that they have access to. So people's best option is to find someone or form a group or do it yourself and pay attention and figure out what's going on behind the scenes, in front of the camera, all over the place. Because the more - the best disinfectant, especially in politics, is sunlight. And the more you know about what's happening, the better you're able to affect the process and the more you're able to hold your local elected officials accountable. Corrupt politicians happen because they think they can get away with it because people aren't paying attention, or they don't think that the people who are paying attention are empowered to do anything about it. Folks in small towns have more ability to get shit done because fewer people need to come together to really put a scare into that elected official. If you live in a tiny, tiny town, or if you go to a really small College in the middle of nowhere, or maybe you go to a really big College in the middle of nowhere, you have a lot more power as an individual over your local elected officials and your local electoral processes than I do as one person out of 2.7 million in the city of Chicago. So get involved, pay attention, find out what's going on and hold folks accountable. And if you aren't interested in doing that, there's definitely somebody around you who shares your values, who is. Support that person, give them what they need and let them know that when they find something out, people will pay attention and care about what they say.

RB:
Well, this has been fun. Fun?

Stephanie:
Yes.

RB:
It's been fun, but it's also been really just nourishing. I feel like I'm not surrounded by enough anarchists in my immediate ecosystem, so it's always really fun to talk to you about politics because as noted…

Stephanie:
We need more of us.

RB:
Yeah. Limited faith, but also a full understanding that it is the highest ranking tool that everybody participates in. Is there any final thoughts you have?

Stephanie:
No. I think the real message is no, we're not going to vote our way to liberation? But that doesn't mean you shouldn't vote? I understand if people don't want to vote for Senate. If people don't want to vote for President. If people don't want to vote for Congress. I get it. The federal government sucks and it doesn't do anything. All it does is lie and approve money for war and refuse to do anything about the people that are suffering? I get that. If you don't want to vote for federal government for any of those really valid reasons, vote for your state government, vote for your county government, vote for your local government. Those offices have much more of an impact on your day to day life and on your lived reality than who the President is or who your congressperson is or even who your governor is. Your local elected officials make the laws that govern every aspect of your day to day life whether you can smoke weed in public, whether or not you can use the bathroom as a trans person, whether or not you have access to safe and accessible reproductive health care. Your vote really does matter in local and state level politics. And your vote isn't the only tool you have access to. If all you do is vote, you're not doing enough. But if you're doing everything Besides voting, you're not using all the options available to you. And I would encourage you as one revolutionary to another, I understand your hesitance, take five minutes and do it anyway. It might not make all the difference. It might not bring down the fall of capitalism, or bring about the fall of capitalism like you want it to, but it sure doesn't hurt to give it the old College try.

RB:
Yes. All right.

Stephanie:
All right, friends.

RB:
(laughing)

Stephanie:
Very Midwestern.

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R.B.
Our inbox is open for all of your insight, feedback, questions, boycotts, memes and other forms of written correspondence. You can contact us at lastbite@sgdinstitute.org. This podcast is made possible by the labor and commitment of the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity staff. Particular shout out to Justin, Andy and Nick for all of your support with editing, promotion and production. Our amazing and queer as fuck cover art was designed by Adrienne McCormick.

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