The Side I Chose

Over the past couple of weeks, I have received a great deal of pressure to give my opinion about PACs. Some from folks whom I have had interpersonal relationships with and also from some folks who have never so much as asked me the time of day. To be perfectly transparent, I have welcomed absolutely none of this pressure but I get that other people seem to be deeply concerned with where I weigh in, so I am choosing to respond…and probably not in the way anyone involved might expect. 

When I ran for School Committee two years ago, I struggled to get support from anyone, including people who had been supportive the first time I ran. At some point, a conversation with representatives from Amherst Forward turned into an endorsement. It was only then that I became a focal point for a few folks who had previously been supportive. There was a feeling that I should turn down this endorsement as to not alienate “my base.” The more I gave it thought and the more realistically I looked at my situation, I chose to turn down the endorsement and declare myself an independent candidate, and I was independent. I was so independent that my entire campaign team consisted of me and a treasurer (just like this campaign).

Towards the end of that campaign, Amherst Forward once again announced that they were endorsing me. I was initially a little ticked off about that 11th hour endorsement. Venting to a family member changed my view a bit. I was asked if I was more concerned with trying to gain a seat at the table that would allow me to represent people who weren’t being represented or if playing a role in a political feud was my priority. It occurred to me that the people I can’t let down are the people who live in similar circumstances as myself, not folks who had never so much as acknowledged my existence prior to me getting involved politically here in town.

At the beginning of this election cycle, I had someone who had served on the board of the Progressive Coalition of Amherst (PCA) political action committee offer to help me collect signatures after I decided to run for re-election. Within hours (like, maybe even within one hour) I received a text from that person saying that they couldn’t possibly continue to collect signatures since they had decided to run and I was now their opponent (op, as the kids say) and also because there were people from the Amherst Forward side who were supportive of my candidacy. Not only was I disappointed, I took it as being rebuked by everyone from that group. At that point, I decided not to engage with any political action committee at all.

As it turned out, a significant number of people affiliated with Amherst Forward as well as with PCA came out to sign my nomination papers. Some people even shared my post from Facebook so that others would know where to go to sign my papers. I got all of the signatures I needed to get on the ballot, despite the rocky start (and all within 48 hours). 

I later received an email from Amherst Forward with a survey attached. Initially, I was going to fill out the survey but l landed on a question that I felt I shouldn’t answer prior to a public vote, as it would have directly indicated where I stood on that particular issue. I also wasn’t convinced that I wanted to deal with either of the PACs at that point, in favor of dealing only with the people in each group that had supported me previously. I also did not initially fill out the survey for PCA either. If not for a chance encounter at a grocery store (I literally ran into Pat Onibaku at Stop and Shop), I would have never filled out the survey, nor would I have sat down for an interview. In the interest of full disclosure, I was not entirely empowered or encouraged by my interview with PCA.

Reluctantly, I accepted the endorsement from PCA but only because there are a few people involved that I have felt genuine support from (like, people who care how my kid is doing and ask me if I am taking care of myself). As a result, I have received pressure from people on both sides to denounce the other side and reject these endorsements. 

It is as if no one has actually listened to who I have consistently said I was running to represent. My experience over the past week or so has solidified my belief that there are people in this town that people are not actually willing to listen to. I have, repeatedly, said that I ran to give the voiceless a voice and a seat at the table. I have explained, in several different ways, that the “war of the PACs” is not a hot button issue in the apartment complexes. My candidate statement (viewable on the town website) flat out says that I value collaboration. Some have shown that they heard me, but a great many have proven that this piece of my message was worthy of looking past or ignoring outright.

Let me say it in no uncertain terms; the entire purpose of my candidacy is to represent the perspective of renters, single parents, and low income, working class folks. Affiliation with a political organization is not a requisite for supporting me. Either you want to hear the genuine viewpoints of someone like me or you don’t. There is no gray area with me. I have spent the entirety of my residence in Amherst living in apartment complexes and have not seen most of the folks pressuring me to take a side in any of the complexes I have lived in. I have heard candidates talk about how they would speak for those of us who they have never shown any interest in speaking with previously, but I’ve not seen these folks around my way.

The last election, I had someone tell me I had to choose a side and I have only ever chosen one. I choose the side I chose in the first place. I choose to run for the betterment of people who have been excluded from the decision-making processes in our schools. I choose not to allow anyone or any group to cause me to take my eyes off of the proverbial prize. If you choose to support me as a candidate, I welcome that support. If you believe that I am a political tool to be used in a dispute that leaves out the interests of the people I care deeply about, then I would rather you not support me in any way, shape or form. As I have said every time I have run, I am here for my community. I am here because, as much as I love the phrase “Southside We Outside,” it is more important to me that us apartment dwellers are no longer, and never again, outside of the conversations that impact our lives on a daily basis.

Published by benjaminherrington

I'm just a "regular" person navigating my way through life...

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