Submitted by Sen. Mike Barrett
Your country, your state, maybe the neighborhood in which you live, are engulfed by three crises at once: climate change, a pandemic, and social unrest triggered by murder and racial injustice. Your mind reels. Your heart breaks.
What to do? What you cannot do is give up. At a demonstration to protest the death of George Floyd, someone held a sign: “We didn’t come this far to only come this far.”
Just so. You get yourself together. You take a deep breath. You look around for things worth doing now.
- Pardon the partisan comments, but we need to elect a new president. Not because Joe Biden is perfect, but because every day, in every way, Donald Trump finds new ways to fail us as a leader. Another four years of the worst president in the past 100 years, and the country may not recover.
- Make sure we elect a new U.S. Senate. Judging from recent polling data, at least four Republican incumbents — in Maine, Colorado, Arizona, and North Carolina — are vulnerable for sure, and other Republicans may be, too.
- Choose a local election and get involved. Here I yield to Barack Obama, who’s published a blog post calling for the need for action at the city and town level.
- Cut back on fines and fees. Massachusetts justice isn’t Ferguson, but it’s an echo of Ferguson, in that it continues to nickel-and-dime people who don’t have any money. It’s time to take another run at paring back a system riddled with fines and fees. In 2016, I issued a special report on the pile-on effect of penalties and charges imposed on individuals already living in poverty. Its recommendations remain relevant today. I’m pleased to say that several have been implemented, but others have had to await the right moment before they could move. I hope that moment is here.
- Demilitarize police departments. The U.S. military offloads surplus equipment to municipal law enforcement. But there is no need to gear up the local police as if they are armies of occupation. Doing so disrespects principles of community policing. Last year, I filed legislation to regulate and limit the practice. In the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death, we’re pressing to see it become law.
- Push for other reforms. Insist, for example, on careful conduct by the staff of penal institutions. As I’ve visited state prisons, I’ve learned about the fine points of something as seemingly mundane as entering the cell of an incarcerated person. Cell entries are moments of stress for inmates and corrections officials alike. Lots of people get hurt. Better protocols are needed, so I’ve filed a bill to make necessary changes.
- In the heat of the pandemic, even as the nation is torn apart by racism, fight the fight on climate, too. Back in January, the State Senate passed An Act Setting Next Generation Climate Policy. The Senate’s handiwork isn’t law yet. Next Gen is over in the Massachusetts House, because you need both branches of the Legislature to agree before a bill goes to the Governor.
It goes without saying that legislators have their hands full dealing with COVID, the existential crisis immediately in front of us. But climate change doesn’t know COVID. It doesn’t appreciate that we’re already busy. It won’t settle for its spot in the queue. In the next several months, while the Legislature is still in session, Massachusetts state government needs to push back against both, while advancing social, economic, and racial justice for all.