It's about Respect

The following testimony was submitted to the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.

 

Chairman Pacheco, Chairwoman Gregoire, and Members of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight:

My name is Jonathan Cohn, and I am the chair of the Issues Committee of Progressive Massachusetts, a statewide grassroots advocacy organization focused on advancing progressive policy here in the Commonwealth.

One of the most foundational progressive values is respect—treating every person with dignity and worth—and that is why we urge you to give a favorable report to H.2776/S.1877 (Resolve providing for the creation of a special commission relative to the seal and motto of the Commonwealth) and H.3572/S.1898 (An Act promoting equality and respect in the legislature).

Changing the State Seal 

The most charitable way one could describe the Massachusetts state flag and seal is archaic. However, its celebration of the historical oppression of Native people in Massachusetts (and the nation as a whole) is unmistakably racist, and it is part of a history that merits critical engagement and redress, not adulation.

H.2776/S.1877 establishes a 20-member commission to oversee the creation of a new flag and seal, and, importantly, ensures that Native voices are represented. As we near the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower, this is especially timely and necessary.

Equality and Respect in the Legislature

The #MeToo movement shed light on the often-ignored fact that sexual harassment is widespread throughout many institutions and industries. Moreover, according to research, more than 60% of people are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace. The Massachusetts State House is no exception.

Women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community all face higher likelihoods of being the targets of workplace harassment. The expectation of such a negative workplace environment can be a deterrent to those considering running for office, or for re-election. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, Massachusetts is below average in terms of the percentage of legislative seats held by women. We fall behind—sometimes significantly—our New England neighbors of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont

As the authors of the new MassINC report MassForward: Advancing Democratic Innovation and Electoral Reform in Massachusetts so clearly stated, “From its local officeholders to the leadership of the state legislature, Massachusetts is not producing a body of representative leaders equipped to do the work of the entire people.” This leads to critical issues being ignored and voices left unheard.

Massachusetts residents deserve a truly representational government, with legislative members and staff representing the full diversity of the Commonwealth.

There is no quick fix for this, but improving the work environment at the State House is a necessary first step. Just as the government should be a model employer, the State House should be a model workplace, setting an example in terms of both rules and norms. Depoliticizing the investigation of harassment allegations is essential to creating trust in the process and discouraging wrongful conduct, and ensuring that qualified candidates representing the full diversity of our Commonwealth hold office.

Both of these bills rest on a fundamental request: do we believe that everyone should be treated with respect? We hope your answer is yes.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jonathan Cohn

Chair, Issues Committee

Progressive Massachusetts

 

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