Pickup Lines for Democracy Nerds

(mostly within New York City, which means this is canonically part of Sex and the City now)

Are you the Kanjozoku, baby? Because you’re making boring Civics exciting and staging competitive off-the-radar races.

The Kanjozoku are a group of underground car racers who drive souped-up Honda Civics around Osaka after dark, and I think we need more of that in this country: people getting really excited about civics, and competitive races driven by the grassroots in places you wouldn’t expect. I will keep making the same boring point time and time again: we can’t just cheer for a few high-energy candidates or jeer at people who get us riled up; we have to have put people aligned with our beliefs everywhere in government, and actually build up a government that works on a core democracy level.

The good news is we’re doing a much better job at it than we were two years ago. Turnout was way up this year from recent midterms; ballot measures expanding voting rights passed in a few states (though a couple went the other direction); Democrats were much more competitive than usual in downballot races; the House is making automatic voter registration and a strengthening of the Voting Rights Act a priority; a lot of my friends are voting nerds now.

But it still could be better. It has come to my attention that people like things that are “sexy,” and everyone from casting agents to ad executives to regular people is trying to cater to these tastes. It’s a little much if you ask me. Have sex or don’t and get on with your day. I don’t think there’s ever cause to see more than two or three attractive people in a week, but here we are with people hungering after whole casts full of them, half-hour after half-hour, and in between they want sexy ideas and fonts and design schemes too. And I suppose even democracy has to get in on this filthy, tiresome game too if it’s going to “compete.” (Bleeeaugheechhh)

As a writer of puns, the way for me to contribute to this cause is via the pick-up line–a kind of pun that even I’m embarrassed to write! Is it because pick-up lines are a terrible idea and are presumptuous bloviating at best and harassment at worst? Is it because the joke construction itself is so corny? Is it because they’re rooted in our baseline assumptions about sexuality, assumptions that we should be shedding instead of reinforcement? Is it because it’s the neediest joke format, begging the listener for a response and validation? Or is it just because I hate dating culture even more than I love wordplay? It’s anyone’s guess!

Nonetheless, because I still can’t think about anything but politics, here are they are for November 2018, your pick-up lines for civic democracy (along with commentary on civics and dating decency):

Are you an ADC? Because I’m not entirely sure how to get you started, but I’m definitely interested. 😉

At least this line isn’t telling someone that you do know how to “get them started” (euphemism is always grosser than direct language), which would both a hubristic assumption and a denial of their own autonomy, and self-knowledge, but also how are you going to assume a stranger want to hear in general that you’re interested in knowing what they’re into. The pickup scene, if it exists, is horrible.

On the other hand, democracy is great! An ADC, or Assembly District Committee, is a hyperlocal type of party organization within the party County Committee system that can meet twice a year to give members of an assembly district access to their district leader, and in turn a closer connection to both the executive committee of the county and the state party.

In short, it’s a way for ordinary registered Democrats to get more access to the bosses and talk things out with their neighbors.

For a long time these things only existed in the rulebook, at least in Brooklyn. Of the 21 assembly districts represented in the Kings County Democratic Committee, 0 had an active ADC. The process to create them requires a lot of organization, and party leaders didn’t make it easy for rank-and-file committee members to organize. They were basically just a rubber stamp for the party bosses, who mostly used the party to appoint friends and associates to influential judiciary seats.

But this year, the 50th assembly district actually managed to form an ADC and hold their first meeting; later this year, other districts will get a chance to do so. This would be good for democracy.

Are you participatory budgeting? Because I’m looking forward to seeing you everywhere in the city 😜

This is I guess an okay (if a little weird) thing to say to someone you just started dating if you’ve actually got dates planned all over the place or something, but what’s more than okay is that participatory budgeting is now going to be in place citywide (thanks to ballot proposal #2, which passed by a large margin).

Basically how it works is a certain chunk of money gets allocated to each district, and then the neighborhood holds meetings, proposes projects, and votes on a proposal.

Of course, the public can make mistakes just as politicians can, and there are some Sophie’s Choices inherent in the process. But it’s still a lot better than the “three/four men in a room” Albany process, or the not-quite-as-smoky-but-still-grift-heavy NYC council/mayoral process, and the real exciting thing is the popular participation around the budgeting process.

First, anyone can vote! This includes children, non-citizen immigrant residents, and parolees convicted of felonies and thereby disenfranchised by New York State law .

Second, the process for idea-gathering proposing projects includes a lot of neighborhood organization and meetings in communities with low English proficiency and low income, and includes public housing, senior communities, and youth groups otherwise underrepresented.

Third, it makes people think about budgetary decisions, and pulls them into the light of day.

By contrast, there definitely aren’t three definable benefits to dating. It’s debatable whether there are even as many as zero.

Hey babe, are you the Civic Engagement Commission? Because you’re new in town and I have to watch you 👀

Don’t say this to someone, you goddamn stalkers. But yes, the tradeoff to proposal #2 is that there’s now a majority-mayor-appointed Civic Engagement Commission that could accomplish some good things–increasing turnout and visibility, helping advice local groups on the law, providing interpreter support at the polls–with enough accountability, but also has potential to develop into a boondoggle (or get taken away or have its powers expanded by a future mayor).

So oversight by civic groups, as well as pressure from the public, is crucial to making sure it does its job.

Are you a community board? Because I’d like to turn you over once every eight years. 😜😜😜😜😜😜😜🙃

I’m not even sure what that first part means, but yes, thanks to the passage of proposal #3 (which was opposed by REBNY, a good sign) community boards will now have term limits after eight years, with the first replacements starting in 2028. That means they’ll need some new participants, and those participants could be you and your neighbors, especially if you have real affordable housing solutions and know land use law or have the capacity to learn it. People can apply here to work at community boards and can use this marriage-only dating site if they’re into that once-every-eight-years life, a cliched stereotype about married life that I really know nothing about and probably shouldn’t repeat.

Are you a union? Because I feel like I’ve needed you my whole life 😍

I’ve never worked a union job. I worked in a non-union retail job, I worked for a non-union ambulance company (the union jobs paid $14/hr, ours paid $11/hr but the union company wasn’t hiring), I never was on a WGA show (and the TV I wrote paid a lot less than guild rates), and all the teaching I’ve done has been non-union as well. While I’ve benefited from the overall pressure of organized labor, I’ve never had a union card myself, but I do hope to one day do well enough in the entertainment industry that I can get one and in generally I hope to quit scabbing.

The importance of unions doesn’t end with labor. In the political arena, unions organize interests and get out the vote like none other. I’m not always on their side; they’ve backed Cuomo in primaries, for example, both because he’s been relatively effective at protecting them while trading away other priorities, and because he’s pretty effective at strongarming people and they definitely don’t want to be dealing with a pissed-off Cuomo after having opposed him in an election

But it’s really hard to build an effective progressive coalition without the unions, and I think newer progressives have to rekindle the relationship with organized labor both to win and to fight for people’s economic rights. I’ve seen their effects on the elections, and on the labor market, so I’m union-curious, though inexperienced.

(Don’t tell someone you just saw that “needed them your whole life,” that’s cloying, disgusting, and complete bullshit.)

Are you a town hall? Because anyone who doesn’t want to hold you doesn’t deserve my support 🤗

Now this would be a truly weird pickup line, wouldn’t it? On some level it’s sweet that you like someone so much you think everyone should want to hold them in their arms and you’re not even jealous, but like most things that are sweet on some level, it’s actually very creepy. Let people decide who they like or don’t, let them decide if they want to hold people or not! Also, stop with the pathetic fanchilding.

On the other hand, politicians who don’t hold town halls really don’t deserve support. Your whole-ass job is translating public concerns into policy, and if you can’t show up and meet the public, get out of town. I think ordinary people should do two things: demand town halls, and attend them.

Are you automatic voter registration, honey? Because I’m about to make you priority #1 😛

Automatic voter registration (AVR) is a great, uncontroversial way to increase participation in elections–it costs very little (since it’s basically just switching from opt-in to opt-out) and it’s not really susceptible to “voter fraud” scare tactics since it actually cleans the voter rolls. House Democrats are expecting to make it their first bill in the new session, which is smart because vetoing simple good government policy looks bad.

But New York State, which is behind the nation in a lot of voting laws, hasn’t managed to get AVR passed even with a supermajority in the assembly and a Democratic (though not necessarily democratic-minded) governor. It usually makes it into the preliminary budget, then gets dropped in final negotiations in the state senate, which for the last decade has been controlled by Republicans.

Now that the senate will be controlled by Democrats by a good margin, there’s a good chance of finally passing the bill - and with concerns over electoral integrity running high and the national push drawing attention to issue, now is the best opportunity we might have for a while. This is a good thing to bug legislators about.

Are you the nation’s voting machines? Because you should get tested regularly. 🤓

While it does not make for a great pickup line, regular STI testing is definitely something people should go in for, and the ads currently running in the subways will back me up on this.

We also need to test our voting machines regularly; many are outdated and unable to handle increased turnout, or vulnerable to electronic hacking, and some don’t have a paper receipt, making a robust recount or audit impossible.

New York does actually have paper receipts for the electronic count, but our scanners are out of date and were jamming during the most recent election, and we also need more training and better pay for the staff. 2020 is expected to have turnout far beyond this year’s, and we need to be ready.

Hey babe, why don’t we make like a field team and prioritize face-to-face contact? 😘

A good rule of thumb for dating is that anyone who refers to making out as “face-to-face contact” is probably not a good person to make out with, and a good rule of thumb for campaigns is that you need people, both your candidates and your volunteers, to be face-to-face with voters. It’s great that we have expanded phone and text banking capacities, but field organizers and strategists still say nothing beats good old-fashioned door knocking, and it’s really fun and satisfying when you get good responses. People are energized by seeing people out there in their own neighborhoods, and I’ve even met some initially opposed but open-minded people in local Trumpland.

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re able of body and up to it socially, canvassing is great not just for doing useful work but for understanding politics more intuitively and feeling more connected. Outside election season, getting out to local meetings where you can talk one-on-one or in small groups and make connections can serve a similar valuable purpose.

Are you the messiah? Because you sure aren’t gonna be coming any time soon! 💦

This is really the unspoken message behind most pickup lines, even if the speaker doesn’t know it. And it’s also my spoken message to the contingent still waiting on the perfect 2020 candidate: no one politician will save us. Barack Obama’s election was inspiring and he had a relatively strong presidency as far as US presidents go, but he was never going to save us and the party has been neglecting small-scale politics and infrastructure-building for a while. If we build it, we won’t need a great president; if we don’t build it, we won’t get much use out of one.

Oh I almost forget, yes, these were pickup lines related to New York City politics, so all this information is officially considered an episode of Sex and the City, seeing as it references both sex and The City. Are you more of a Samantha or a Rachel, more of a Clara or an Ashley? Which one is which civic? Is participatory budgeting a Jessica? Is the civic engagement commission a Melissa, or is it really a Tanya? Rumpelstiltskin or Rapunzel? Clytemnestra or Lysistrata? Debate, you Sex and the City fiends! Debate! Make it go viral and such!