The battle for Lakeland: real citizenship vs. "My Pillow" citizenship

Human connection and collaboration in public life are impossible without a common frame of citizenship. Saga Stevin wants to shrink Lakeland's frame to fit her personal cultural grievances.

For non-local readers, I’ll continue to write regularly about the mayoral election in Lakeland, FL. where I live. I think it will benefit you to read about it because of how applicable these questions of citizenship — and its defense from attack — are to every community.

Here’s my first article on her candidacy: “A Saga of bad citizenship.


People who desperately long for “bipartisanship,” or “civility,” or less “polarization,” or greater connection to fellow citizens (and I want all of those things) often fail to grasp that those things are impossible without sharing a common frame of citizenship.

As you’ll see in just a moment, Lakeland mayoral candidate Saga Stevin rejects that shared frame completely, as does a sizable faction of today’s Republican Party in Lakeland, Polk County, and beyond.

For example, here is J.C. Martin, the chairman of the Polk County Republican Party, publicly celebrating convicted felon Roger Stone a few days ago. This is the same Stone who exhorted a crowd of D.C. protestors the night before many of them became the Capitol Lynch Mob, which then brutalized police and representative democracy. See full rundown here. Here is what Stone said:

Let’s be very clear. This is not an election between Republicans and Democrats. This is not a fight between liberals and conservatives. This is nothing less than an epic struggle for the future of this country between dark and light, between the godly and the godless, between good and evil. And we will win this fight or America will step off into a thousand years of darkness. We dare not fail. I will be with you tomorrow, shoulder-to-shoulder.

That’s a tiny, spiteful, violent frame of citizenship, articulated by a criminal, that the head of the Polk Republican Party is celebrating. I’m not sure how any citizen can meet another citizen halfway — or any part of the way — when one citizen advocates for the destruction of the other.

Why Saga can win

That grinning picture of J.C. Martin and Roger Stone is why Saga Stevin has a reasonable chance of becoming Lakeland’s mayor. Republican Party leadership in this community yuks it up publicly, supportively with open allies and collaborators of violent criminals like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. J.C. Martin is on record wanting to steal the presidential election from his fellow citizens because he didn’t like the outcome. That’s where we are.

There is no public political consequence for this Republican approach to citizenship from Barney Barnett or Grady Judd or any other powerful Polk Republican leader. If Grady and Barney attacked this criminal-sympathy citizenship with 5 percent of the energy they devoted to attacking medical marijuana or public transit, they could purge what J.C. Martin is selling from the institutional Polk County Republican party tomorrow. They’ll have to tell you why they won’t. I don’t know.

Instead, supposed community “leaders” sit by silently while the Republican party faction of J.C. Martin and Saga Stevin and Roger Stone rejects the very idea of common citizenship. Just listen to what they say and look at what they do.

If there is a Republican Party faction that rejects J.C Martin/Saga citizenship — that wants to share a common frame of citizenship with the rest of us (I’m an independent) — it needs to do something about this. That faction, if it exists, needs to join the rest of us in protecting and growing our shared frame of American and Lakeland citizenship.

And if that civic-minded Republican faction does not exist, if Bill Mutz is an individual anomaly, it’s important for the rest of us not to lie to ourselves about it. We need to recognize how thoroughly our fellow citizens reject shared citizenship and despise the idea of sharing power and society and humanity with us. We need to face the reality and the consequences of resisting that — or submit to it.

To try to be collegial or collaborative or connect with people who openly reject the citizenship of others requires you to surrender your own citizenship. Or it requires you to shove vulnerable people outside of the common frame of citizenship to save yourself. I’m not willing to do either.

That’s why I’m trying to elevate Saga’s candidacy, her own words, and what she stands for. We need to aggressively confront this terrible, constrained citizenship in a sustained way, even if it puts her in power. If we don’t confront all that, we’re already surrendering to it — surrendering the very idea of America — without a fight.

In fact, if Saga wins, it will be even easier to confront this curdled citizenship because powerful local institutions — from Publix to the LEDC to the Polk Sheriff’s Office — that are cowering now will have to deal with “Q-Anon mayor” headlines and bonkers civic behavior from the mayor. That will be less than great for recruiting high skill, high class people to Lakeland, I’m sure. More on what happens if she wins in a later piece.

“I don’t believe in equity.”

At the end of the Lakeland Kiwanis mayoral debate, a club member asked a question full of longing for civic connection, which then got restated by the moderator. Both versions are quoted here:

“How are you — or how have you — been able to reach the marginalized communities — the people who think and believe and differently from you?” …

… “How are you going to represent the people who don’t believe the same way that you do?”

You can see the full answers of challenger Saga Stevin and incumbent Mayor Bill Mutz in the clip below. But I’m focusing on Saga because of the approach to citizenship she embodies.

Short answer: Saga Stevin will not represent the people who don’t believe the same way she does. She can’t — or won’t — even see them. They exist outside her frame of citizenship.

“I don’t believe in equity,” she says to start the answer and then she ends it like this: “Lakeland’s a lovely mix of people. And I think we’re people who have American values that want a traditional family kind of lifestyle, conservative views.”

The rest of her speech meanders through some conflicting platitudes — and weird delusions — that somewhat cloud a very clear answer to the actual questions, which is:

Shrinking Lakeland’s frame of citizenship to conform to her frame is the entire reason she’s running. Not representing the people who think and believe differently is the entire point of her campaign.

Listen to her. Take her at her word.

No goals but “own the libs”

Saga has no actual clear political or policy agenda beyond somehow shrinking our city’s collective frame of citizenship to fit her own. Indeed, throughout the debate, she largely praised the mechanics of city government’s function and policies. This hater of non-existent Lakeland Marxists offered glowing praise to the leadership of Lakeland Electric, our city’s thoroughly socialist, government-owned power utility.

Thus, Saga made no political case for herself to unseat Bill Mutz, who is a Republican and a good expansive citizen. She made a citizenship case instead — or rather an anti-citizenship case.

In Saga’s fantasy Lakeland, our city’s “lovely mix of people” ends with people who want “a traditional family kind of lifestyle, conservative views.” Never mind that families of all identities live here. They’re not part of “we” unless they’re the kind of “traditional” family with “conservative views” of which she personally approves — whatever that is.

We’ll come back to what “traditional” and “conservative” actually mean at a later time. But very briefly: we’re in an era of mass, institutional Republican Party rejection of decisive and clean and fair American election outcomes and mass Republican Party sympathy for the police-abusing Capitol Lynch Mob. We’re in an era of the Polk Republican chair rolling with convicted felons who help whip up the Capitol Lynch Mob while Oath Keepers act as his security detail. We’re in an era of mass Republican rejection of shared citizenship.

So today’s use of “conservative” and “traditional” have no ideological or policy or even political meaning as words. They refer to nothing at all beyond “owning the libs,” whoever the unnamed libs are, and casting them outside one’s frame of citizenship where it’s easier to inflict cruelty — and maybe violence — on them.

For example, the Capitol Police were police until they stood and fought the Capitol Lynch Mob. Then they became libs, enemies of the dominant faction of today’s Republican Party. See the Republican behavior toward them that has followed.

It is impossible to represent someone you’re obsessed with owning, rather than winning over to your point-of-view. And Saga Stevin, representative of a large Republican Party faction, has no intention of representing or trying to win over people who don’t share her cultural obsessions.

Listen to her. Look at who she elevates on her campaign material. Look at their ties to the Capitol Lynch Mob and rejection of shared citizenship through rejecting the presidential election outcome.

A citizenship built on lies and scapegoats and targeting the vulnerable

Like I said, Saga has no clear political or policy rationale for running. But she uses a clear tagline and a storyline. In short:

Saga abandoned her actual home of Minneapolis because it was “destroyed” by “Marxists” (it wasn’t — neither destroyed, nor by Marxists); and she fled to Lakeland, city of her youth, and saw telltale signs of Marxist destruction (she called them “infractions”) emerging here, too. So she’s running to “keep Lakeland Lakeland.”

With that narrative in mind, I asked her during the debate to please name some specific “Marxists” destroying Lakeland and some of the specific “infractions” she saw them carrying out. I wanted human names. She could not provide any, except “George Soros.” See the full question and answer below.

She’s lying about all of it. Here’s a taste.

I also do know that George Soros has a lot of dark money. He’s bought 370, I believe, companies, across the US, 19 of which are in Polk County. I do know that Lakeland does have a target on its back, because Lakeland being the largest city in Polk County, Polk County being the largest county in state. They figure — they being the dark money-funded people — figure if they can take Lakeland, they can take the country the can take the state they can take the US…

… I don't have the personal names of everybody. I do know the organizations, a lot of them, like to keep a little personal and under the radar. However, I do know people who are on top of it. When I spoke to [Polk Sheriff] Grady [Judd] he filled me in on a lot of things going on. So yes, it is here.

Don’t let the delusion mask the lying about her fellow citizens, with whom she does not want to share citizenship. Bonkers is not mitigation for malicious.

Polk County is neither the largest land mass nor the largest population county in Florida. And that's the least of the anti-citizenship, delusion-fed lies on display there. Saga literally cannot name a single person executing the diabolical plan that financier George Soros has supposedly set in motion by practicing capitalism. The only source she offers for any of this information is Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

So I have a request into Grady’s office to please explain what he has told Saga about George Soros and the Marxists. And I will keep working to get that statement.

[Update: I got this in response to my inquiries with the sheriff’s press people: “thanks for the email and phone call, but we are not going to engage in the discussion.” I’m really not sure what that even means. But there are few discussions the sheriff is reluctant to engage in.]

A very telling obsession with the words “black” “lives” and “matter.”

In her answer, Saga cited four specific “infractions” that signal Lakeland’s impending Marxist doom.

  1. Moving the Confederate monument from its city centerpiece position in Munn Park.

  2. State government’s South Florida Avenue “road diet” — a trial reduction from four lanes to two lanes in the hope of making it safer and ultimately more walkable.

  3. City Commission measures to slow COVID spread in the early parts of the pandemic.

  4. The brief, somewhat violent, menacing interaction of a few people and one car long after a peaceful George Floyd protests had concluded, in which no one was hurt and police handled easily and promptly. Saga laughably called that “a riot.”

She blames these so-called “infractions” on George Soros and the words “black lives matter.” I say, “the words,” because she is literally unable to cite any action of any organization called “Black Lives Matter” or name any person affiliated with it. Again, she’s simply lying in a way that is overshadowed by her delusions. Neither Black Lives Matter nor George Soros had anything to do with those four items, whatever your opinion of them.

[I’m going to come back at a different time to Saga’s extremely telling obsession with the words “black,” “lives,” and “matter.” She reduces any advocacy for civic change expressed by a black citizen based on his or her lived experience of blackness into a derisive, make-believe bucket she dismisses as “Black Lives Matter.” She uses the phrase to shove the agency of black citizens right outside her frame of citizenship.]

Only one of these so-called “infractions” — the monument — was really even an independent political choice made by the City Commission, which must be Marxist by Saga’s logic. And that choice happened after two giant public meetings in which the people within Lakeland’s full frame of citizenship were overwhelmingly in favor of moving the monument to a more appropriate location.

I took part in both of those meetings. To my knowledge, Saga Stevin did not.

Saga is completely ignorant of how Lakeland civic life has developed

In fact, Saga Stevin has almost no understanding of how Lakeland civic life has developed while she did not live here or participate in its civic life. She has done none of the work that the rest of us have done to build it. A pair of small points make that clear:

I went to Kathleen [High School]. I know everyone makes fun of it: “that’s a farmer’s school,” whatever.

No one mocks Kathleen High as a “farmer’s school.” I was a Polk County School Board Member from 2016-2020. Literally no one ever mocked Kathleen as a “farmer’s school.” It has a strong FFA program. We celebrate it; we don’t mock it. But Kathleen is really quite similar to Lakeland High. It’s a diverse urban high school, with all the strengths and challenges that come with that. Saga seems stuck in 1989, or whenever she was there, if people said that then.

Saga has also talked enthusiastically about her visits to the Lakeland Downtown Farmers Market, both in her campaign material (she has a little video) and during the debate. As most of you know, my wife runs the Farmer’s Market and has been an engine of citizenship in downtown for almost 20 years. I don’t and won’t speak for her here in any way.

But I’ve had an intimate view of how Downtown’s frame of citizenship has developed during my time in Lakeland. I have personally dedicated countless hours of volunteer citizenship to a city core committed to an expansive and welcoming view of citizenship. There’s a reason the Farmer’s Market — started by Anne Furr and Becky Abel and Janet Tucker while Saga wasn’t here— is probably the most powerful and beloved communal civic experience in Lakeland today.

It welcomes everybody: from “Black Lives Matter” to Kathleen High grads that nobody mocks to Saga Stevin herself.

When Saga fled in culturally-aggrieved terror from her actual home, Lakeland’s maximal citizenship values — built by other people — welcomed her. Those are the exact same maximal, welcoming values that removed the Confederate monument as the centerpiece of our city because real citizens respect their fellow citizens and want them all to feel welcome. Real citizens don’t think accommodating fellow citizens is a “silly infraction;” and my family, with our “American values” has done a hell of a lot more work to build Lakeland than a 1000 Saga Stevins.

Rather than criticizing the work of other citizens, Saga should put down the Internet conspiracy sites and engage in some productive community collaboration. Instead, she wants to mooch those welcoming values we’ve built when they benefit her personally and reject them when they annoy or aggrieve her. Sorry, she can’t have it both ways, even if she wins.

Lakeland’s frame of citizenship will keep expanding despite Saga’s George Soros delusions and imagined infractions, although the process may feel more stressful for a time.

That’s because the selfish and the deluded and the culturally aggrieved liars are a voting and political force in every community; but they are not the engines of citizenship.

We, the whole people, are.