Prior to this year, I had never really thought about getting involved in politics. Don't get me wrong. I've always had strong opinions about political issues. It's just that I placed higher priority on other topics. My major areas of interest were mathematics, video games, education and the intersection thereof, so that's where I focused my time and effort. I held the belief that if I could address the problems in education, that the political issues I cared about would eventually be addressed by having a more informed electorate. However, a recent turn of events has forced me to reevaluate my strategy. I'm no longer sure if the problems in education can be fixed without political action.
In the spring of 2013, I was working two part time jobs while finishing up my Masters in Education. I was teaching math as an adjunct faculty member, while also serving as a lab manager for one of the campus tutoring centers. I loved both positions thoroughly and found great fulfillment in watching students overcome obstacles to succeed in their educational goals. Between these two positions and finishing up my thesis, I perhaps wasn't paying enough attention to the political wheels that were already set in motion. The Virginia state budget for 2013 included a provision in response to the Affordable Care Act which limited the hours of wage employees to "29 hours per week on average per month". At first, I didn't even think this would affect me. My hours as a wage employee were already limited. I didn't consider my work as an adjunct to count towards this limit, because the position was under contract per credit hour and not a wage position. Little did I know that the Virginia Community College System was coming up with a formula to convert "credit hours" to "average hours per week" as a precautionary measure against being forced into providing healthcare for adjuncts. Since both of my positions were for the same employer, this meant that sum of the "equivalent hours" worked in each position could not exceed 29 per week. Essentially, my two part time positions had been rolled into one and my income was sliced in half.
Now, I don't blame my employer for what happened. They were simply doing what any rational person or organization would do: control for risk in the face of uncertainty. What frustrated me were the political games that lead to this situation. There's a disconnect between the language used in the Affordable Care Act and that of the Virginia 2013 budget. I'm no fan of the ACA, instead supporting a single-payer system, but at least it provided a "way out" by means of a fine. The Virginia budget language does not. The most plausible explanation of this, at least in my opinion, is a political game of "Red vs Blue". The Republican controlled Virginia legislature seemed to be making an active effort to make the ACA as difficult to implement as possible. After all, they stand to benefit from "Obamacare" developing a negative public image and what better way to make it look bad than by putting teachers out of work? The Federal Government says one thing. The State Government says another. Employers then need to interpret this mess and don't even have a full picture to convey to their employees. It's like a game of "telephone" gone horribly wrong. The irony in all of this is that I already had health insurance to begin with.
As an underemployed recent graduate with staggering amounts of debt, I began searching feverishly for job in the midsts of an economic recession. In between resume submissions, I started paying more and more attention to the Virginia Green Party's listserv. I'd been following the listserv since I moved to the state 5 years ago, but never really had the time to participate actively. With the lack of success in my job search, I found myself with the time to speak up about my political views. Perhaps to the neglect of this blog, I wrote at great length about the issues I felt the party was facing. In particular, I was very vocal about the need for better outreach to younger voters.
Last week I tweeted about attending my first meeting with the Green Party of Virginia (GPVA). To say this meeting would "be interesting" might have been an understatement. I found myself being nominated for, and elected to, the office of Press Secretary. This came as something of a surprise to me because I don't really have any experience dealing with the press. Normally a "Press Secretary" is someone with a background in journalism or communication, while my background is in education. After further consideration, I started to wonder if my experience might be relevant than I had thought. Maybe what the Green Party needs right now is education. The party needs to educate voters about how they differ from the existing two major parties to establish name recognition among voters. I feel like I'm stepping out of my comfort zone in this new position, but also recognize that the act of stepping out of one's comfort zone is precisely how we learn and grow as a human beings.
I look forward to this new position and am excited about the prospects of improving the Green Party's public outreach. With 42% of Americans now identifying themselves as Independents, I think the timing is right for a 3rd party to stand up for common sense government policies that we can all agree on. People just need to know that there are viable electoral options outside the false choice of "Red vs Blue". There is a tremendous opportunity for the Green Party to make its name as a organization that places the people's interests above party politics, and I hope this is a message I'll be able to convey as the new GPVA Press Secretary.
I don't expect the content of my blog or twitter feed to change much during this time. This has always been a collection of my thoughts on math, video games and education, with the occasional bit of politics thrown in. Nothing said on this blog should be interpreted as being representative of the Green Party. Official press releases will be published on the GPVA Website.
Fun side note to this story: the GPVA's new co-chair is also a math professor. It's about time for more math teachers to step into the political arena and make a difference!