A new book releases today from a West St. Paul author and illustrator team. It’s called Better Politics, Please and it’s about finding common ground in our polarizing political age. It’s written by myself and illustrated by Carolyn Swiszcz of the famous “West St. Paul Song” and creator of the Zebra Cat Zebra zine.
From Apathetic to Apoplectic
I never used to be that politically engaged. I voted, sure, but that was about it. I would rant occasionally about the impossibility of finding good information about local candidates. But I never did much.
Then writing about a few West St. Paul races snowballed into getting involved, attending City Council meetings, rallying for causes, and launching this site. Now I don’t just attend City Council meetings, I write preview and recap posts. I no longer lament the lack of information about local candidates, I provide it (psst… here’s your 2020 voter’s guide).
My political engagement started right here in West St. Paul.
And it’s not always calm conversations and friendly faces. A newly elected City Council forced out the city manager on day one. A sexism controversy erupted around the city’s first female mayor, drawing national headlines. An unknown assailant endangered numerous residents, mostly women, by putting screws in their tires. An ousted former mayor waged a campaign of threats and intimidation, spending more money than anyone in recent history in a losing bid for City Council (and now he’s trying it again). We argued about basketball and apartments. The executive director of a local nonprofit accused local women of “infiltrating” city government when his plans were denied, then an estimated 350 people showed up to a heated meeting where half the Council recused themselves and those plans were ultimately passed.
Politics can be ugly, and West St. Paul has had more than its fair share.
A Higher Form of Political Discourse
But despite all of that (and maybe even because of it), I want to see better politics. I’d like to see us start more conversations and pick fewer fights. What if we could find something to celebrate in the people we disagreed with? Especially as neighbors, I think we need to find common ground.
And to be fair, we’ve also come together and West St. Paul has seen plenty of better moments as well. We’ve had a string of firsts worth celebrating. An underpass is going to make biking and walking safer. We celebrated Pride in the Park and banned conversion therapy. We skated against hate and said Black Lives Matter in big and small ways. Public art is finally coming to town. In the midst of a pandemic we encouraged and supported one another. And people gave back with food drives and pad drives, turning a negative into a positive.
As our national politics become more contentious—by the day—I’m more convinced than ever that we have to find ways to come together and make civic engagement civil. It’s not always possible. Sometimes the divide is too far or the attack too personal. But I think we have to try.
As the recently departed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it, “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
The Book’s Local Roots
So in the midst of a pandemic, and with lots of help, I cobbled together this project. It tells the stories of politicians from both sides of the aisle and all levels of government. It’s an attempt to find something to celebrate in each person, no matter their party.
The book features the incredible illustration work of Carolyn Swiszcz and the design work of Darci Read, both West St. Paul residents. I initially launched it as a Kickstarter campaign, and nearly 20% of the support came from residents of West St. Paul (thank you!). And let’s not forget that quirky Kickstarter video with a couple nods to West St. Paul.
While none of the politicians featured are from West St. Paul (I was tempted, but that felt like too much hometown bias), it’s no exaggeration to say this book is deeply inspired by this little first-ring suburb.
Better Politics, Please officially launches today. It’s available in print and digital versions (you can also grab swag featuring Carolyn’s artwork). I hope you check it out. Even more, I hope we the people of West St. Paul can model better politics as we approach the 2020 election.