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An open letter to Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland

Dear Madam Congresswoman,

As a lifelong Democrat who eagerly voted for you to succeed Lt. Governor Heck as our community’s representative in Congress, I am shocked and saddened by your yes vote for H.Con.Res.9, “Denouncing the horrors of socialism.” This resolution states that “Congress denounces socialism in all its forms, and opposes the implementation of socialist policies in the United States of America.”

The US and many other Western democracies, now and for the last several centuries, have all engaged in various forms of socialist enterprise.

This resolution did not dignify a vote in the first place—it is not a serious attempt at governance or establishing sound policy. It is instead a disingenuous attempt by Republican ideologues to grandstand and generate talking points for the perpetual outrage machine that is modern right-wing media.

Furthermore it falsely conflates the entire concept of socialism—which can be defined simply as the people, through the state, leveraging the power of government to improve the lives of its citizens or provide a service that would otherwise be provided for profit by private actors—with the worst abuses of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes throughout history.

Socialism is not a four-letter word, nor is it inexorably tied to the heinous legacies of Stalin and Mao. Despite the fact that the US and many other Western democracies, now and for the last several centuries, have all engaged in various forms of socialist enterprise, the radical right in this country seeks to demonize the term as a catch-all for any form of government spending they disapprove of.

Since your vote comprises a denunciation of all forms of socialism, I’d like you to clarify which “horrors” of socialist governance you specifically disapprove of.

Is it Social Security, which since the Great Depression has formed a stopgap against poverty and allowed millions of Americans to retire with dignity?

Is it Medicare and Medicaid, which for over half a century have provided access to life-altering medical care for elderly and needy Americans?

Is it the Affordable Care Act and the Washington Apple Health program established under it, which has helped countless Washingtonians access affordable health insurance?

Is it SNAP and WIC, which provide essential nutrition to millions of needy families every year helping to prevent countless children from going hungry, in addition to supporting our nation’s farmers and helping to keep grocery prices lower for everyone?

Perhaps you refer to our public education system—as championed in our state by the late Governor Rogers, to whom a public memorial commemorating his advocacy for the Barefoot Schoolboy Act stands in Sylvester Park in the heart of your district—offering a free education to every Washingtonian regardless of income, race or creed?

Or perhaps you disdain our nation’s public libraries, which for centuries have helped educate and illuminate people with free access to information, and today helping Americans without computers to access the internet for job-seeking and education?

Perhaps your denunciation is reserved for the Postal Service, which guarantees any resident of this country, no matter how remote they are, the ability to send and receive mail from almost anywhere in the world? Or Amtrak, which provides transportation lifelines to rural communities far from major airports and other public transit?

Is it our best-in-the-nation minimum wage, which protects workers from exploitation by greedy employers and automatically adjusts for inflation to ensure wages keep pace? Or the guaranteed paid sick pay you yourself fought for as mayor of Tacoma, which now protects every Washingtonian from having to choose between their health and a paycheck?

All of these programs have been described in recent decades as “socialist” by Republicans who seek to gut our social safety net and leave poor and middle-class Americans entirely at the mercy of the wealthy elite.

These programs are overwhelmingly popular in your district and among the people who voted you into office. By voting to “denounce socialism in all its forms” in the guise of condemning oppressive Communist regimes, you feed the Right’s scare tactic, demonizing any government program that helps the average American as some sort of slippery slope turning the US into North Korea.

In closing, I would remind you of a profile in courage–one of your former associates in Congress, Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler. When the enormity of former president Donald Trump’s crimes against the American people in the days leading up to January 6, 2021 was laid bare before the House (you were a member at the time), Herrera-Beutler voted to impeach.

Although this decision cost her her seat in Congress, it showed her to be willing to place country before politics and do the right thing despite the target it would paint on her back. Though I don’t live in her district, she earned my respect through that act, and I hold her in higher regard than most of her fellow Republicans. I call on you, going forward, to show the same courage when faced with this type of political showmanship. When it comes time to determine who will hold your seat in the next Congress, I would hate to have to choose between a Republican whose positions I find abhorrent and a Democrat who I do not believe will stand up for her positions.

John Charles Pickford McFarland III is a grocery store worker and 19-year resident of Olympia

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