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  • Jay Kaufman


My journey in public life was animated by a mix of youthful idealism about this country inherited from my immigrant parents and a deep-seated disappointment and anger about how far we were off the mark. That idealism still burns within, but so too the anger and disappointment about our shortcomings and outright failures.

I’ve seen democracy at work from the inside, and the picture is far from perfect. The Massachusetts House is alpha-male dominated and, too often, good at avoiding the difficult issues or papering over rather than tackling the problems that are all about us. That makes me mad.

My parents escaped Nazi Germany in the 1940s and would be horrified by the growing anti-Semitism in our day. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s offered a promise that has yet to be fulfilled and the nation’s 400 years of racial prejudice continues to cost and ruin lives. The climate crisis is the result of shortsightedness and greed, and we still have not managed to find the will to address it. The gap between the haves and have-nots, big in my youth, is overwhelming and dangerous now. I don’t think democracy can survive with our nation so divided along lines of class, wealth and opportunity. The politics of divide-and-conquer and the rise of authoritarianism on top of our economic, social and environmental challenges produce a toxic mix. And our challenges - the global pandemic, deep divisions within this country, and peoples around the globe facing fires and floods fueled by changing weather patterns – point to a governance crisis. State and national boundaries mean something different now than they did when our Constitution was written. How do we save democracy in this period of crisis, and what leadership qualities, characteristics and skills are needed to meet the moment? These are the thoughts that cost me sleep at night and energize my days.

So while I’m no longer employed in public life, I am still very much engaged. My 24 years of advocacy for METCO has morphed into partnering with the METCO leadership. The original METCO vision was racial integration, not just moving Boston students to suburban communities. Now we’re looking to move beyond educating students to advancing anti-racism. I am also part of an emerging non-partisan, non-ideological team focused on democratizing and reinventing the Massachusetts legislature. For the past year, I have been writing and finding a new way to use my voice, my experience, my anger, and my faith that we can – and must - do better. I’m grateful that the State House gave me a platform, and now grateful that I have found new partners and new energy to carry on the work. We’ve got a lot of work to do, we can only do it together, and I’m as eager as ever to do my part.

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