No matter what issue you care about, it is key that you can have your voice heard. Living in a representative democracy means putting trust in an individual who ideally shares your values, but instead of each representative voting in line with their constituents’ wishes, it appears representatives in the Massachusetts State House vote however the Speaker of the House votes. This means the speaker holds a disproportionate amount of power instead of constituents. They act as a puppet master and use political incentives and the position of committee chair to encourage other House members to follow their lead.
An example of this is a vote earlier this year in which the speaker accidentally voted “no” on a rule change and then switched to “yes” and 63 representatives — yes, 63 whole adults — suddenly switched their votes from “no” to “yes” as well. This demonstrates a real problem: Legislators do not consider the needs of their individual constituents nor do they consider the contents of a bill at all. Instead, they fall in line behind the speaker and act like robots instead of the elected officials that they are. There are times when party unity enables difficult but necessary bills to pass, but for representatives to simply vote a certain way on a bill because the speaker did is a clear problem. If representatives follow the speaker rather than represent their constituents, there must be change.
We have strayed away from the values of democracy and need decisive action to guarantee that governments work to fix real people’s problems. Representatives should be vouching for their communities after talking to their constituents and learning about the difficulties they have. A government that is truly for the people would have so much power to create real, meaningful change, but the Massachusetts state legislature is showing that it does not want real change. Creating an accountable group of representatives should not be a special case, it must be the baseline expectation.
Although the current situation is bleak, it is not unchangeable. An organization called Act on Mass is now taking action toward a more transparent and democratic state house. An official rule change cannot be passed until the start of the next session, but in the meantime the group has created a pledge for legislators to sign onto saying they will stand for roll call for any bill they have co-sponsored. If you want to hear updates from them and to show your support for the pledge, go to bit.ly/ActOnMassPledge. Our local Somerville Representative Christine Barber has not signed on yet, so to specifically get involved with a team of Tufts students working to convince her to sign, go to bit.ly/TuftsTeam. When we see unjust and undemocratic rules perpetuated, it is time to stand up and get angry and then turn that anger into action!