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“Thanks For Asking”: How Do You Make Change Happen? Show Up

In my travels and conversations this year, I’ve been encouraged that grassroots people of all progressive stripes (populist, labor, liberal, environmental, women, civil libertarian, et al.) are well aware of the slipperiness of “victory” and want Washington to get it right this time. So over and over, Question No. 1 that I encounter is some variation of this: What should we do!?! How do we make Washington govern for all the people? What specific things can my group or I do now?

Thanks for asking. The first thing you can do to bring about change is show up. Think of showing up as a sort of civic action, where you get to choose something that fits your temperament, personal level of activism, available time and energy, etc. The point here is that every one of us can do something — and every bit helps.

Simply being there matters. While progressives have shown up for elections in winning numbers, our movement then tends to fade politely into the shadows, leaving public officials (even those we put in office) free to ignore us and capitulate to ever-present, ever-insistent corporate interests. No more. Grassroots progressives — as individuals and through our groups — must get in the face of power and stay there.

This doesn’t require a trip to Washington, though it can. It can be done right where you live — in personal meetings, on the phone, via email and letters, through social media (tweet at the twits!), on petitions, and any additional ways of communication that you and other creative people can invent. Hey, we’re citizens, voters, constituents — so we should not hesitate to request in-person appointments to chat with officials back home (these need not be confrontational), attend forums where they’ll be (local hearings, town hall sessions, speeches, meet & greets, parades, ribbon-cuttings, receptions, etc). They generally post their public schedules on their websites. Go to their meetings, ask questions, or at least say hello, introduce yourself, and try to achieve this: MAKE THEM LEARN YOUR NAME.

OK, you’re too busy to show up at all this stuff, but try one, then think of going to one every month or two. And you don’t have to go alone — get a family member, a couple of friends, a few members of the groups you’re in to join you. Make it an excursion, rewarding yourselves with a nice glass of wine or a beer and some laughs afterward.

Then there are times (“in the course of human events,” as Jefferson put it) when citizens have to come together in big numbers to protest, to insist on being heard. Lobbyists are able to meet with officials in quiet rooms, but when we’re shut out, a higher form of patriotism demands that ordinary folks surround a public official’s district office or a high-dollar fundraising event to deliver a noisy message about the people’s needs.

This is especially necessary for officials who get a substantial or even majority vote from progressive constituencies… but still stiff us on such major needs as increasing the minimum wage, overturning Citizens United, endorsing a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street speculators, and prohibiting the outrage of voter suppression. We have a right to expect them to respect our vote, and stand with us on the big issues. We’ve been too quiet, too indulgent with such office holders, and they won’t change until we start confronting them publicly.

Both in terms of having your own say and in demonstrating the strength of the grassroots numbers behind the policy changes we want, you and I are going to have to get noisier, more demonstrative, more out-front in demanding that elected officials really pay heed to those who elected them. Let’s make 2016 the year of reintroducing ourselves and our expectations to policymakers. At their every turn, we should be there, becoming a personal human presence (even an irritant) they cannot ignore.

 

By: Jim Hightower, Featured Post, The National Memo, April 13, 2016

April 14, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Elected Officials, Progressives | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Are You Waiting For, Democrats?”: Voter ID Laws Are Having Their Intended Effect. It’s Time To Do Something

The biggest news out of the Wisconsin primary isn’t about the horse race, which is largely unchanged. It’s about the election itself—about how the voting happened. As soon as polls opened in urban centers like Madison and Milwaukee, there were reports of long, almost intolerable waits. Students at universities around the state faced hourslong lines to cast a ballot. Others waited just as long for a chance to change their registration.

The proximate cause of these long lines in urban, student-heavy areas is the state’s new voter identification law backed by the Republican legislature and Gov. Scott Walker. It implements strict new requirements for valid identification that excludes most student IDs (in response, some Wisconsin schools have begun issuing separate identification cards for students to vote) and requires voters without official identification to go through a cumbersome process even if they’ve voted in the past. Writing for the Nation, Ari Berman describes elderly, longtime voters who were blocked from the polls for want of the right papers. “Others blocked from the polls include a man born in a concentration camp in Germany who lost his birth certificate in a fire; a woman who lost use of her hands but could not use her daughter as power of attorney at the DMV; and a 90-year-old veteran of Iwo Jima who could not vote with his veterans ID.”

But this was more than predictable—it was the point. “I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up,” said one Wisconsin Republican congressman, Rep. Glenn Grothman. “And now we have photo ID and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.”

If the urgency of the issue wasn’t obvious, Grothman made it plain. Voter ID laws in Wisconsin and beyond are a direct attack on democracy, an attempt to rig the game by blocking whole groups of Americans from the polls. In what appears to be a strong cycle for their party, Democrats should take what happened in Wisconsin as a siren for action. Restoring democracy and protecting it from these attacks should be at the center of the party’s agenda.

The burden of voter ID laws falls hardest on the marginal members of society, who are predominately nonwhite, elderly, or both. In Wisconsin, 9 percent of registered voters (300,000 people) lack government-issued identification and fall disproportionately under those groups. And while Wisconsin provides voter ID at no cost through its Department of Motor Vehicles, the dirty secret is that this is a difficult and cumbersome process given the extremely limited hours for DMV offices. (Just 31 of Wisconsin’s 92 DMVs hold normal business hours and most are open just twice a week.) And worse, as Berman notes, Republican legislators in the state made no provision for voter education. They also shut down the state board that monitors elections.

Wisconsin isn’t the only place where voting has been hampered by voter identification laws. In Arizona, a similarly strict law—compounded by a Republican-led drive to close voting precincts in heavily populated areas—brought long waits for people who wanted to cast a ballot. As many as 20,000 Americans weren’t able to vote, many of them Latino.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court struck down the “preclearance” provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of discrimination to get the federal government’s permission before making any changes in how they run elections. Since then, Republican legislatures like those in Wisconsin and Arizona have adopted draconian identification laws that stand as meaningful barriers to the right to vote. They act as de facto poll taxes, forcing voters to spend time and money in order to exercise their constitutional rights. Thirty-three states will require voters to show identification at the polls this November, and the likely outcome will be long lines and complications for countless voters.

Beyond the sort of educational measures that Wisconsin didn’t bother with, it’s too late to do anything this year about the spread of voter ID and other barriers. But this should be a wake-up call for Democrats. Unless there’s pushback, these restrictions will become part of the firmament of our elections, effectively disenfranchising those on the margins of American life. For Democrats now and in the future, reversing those laws—and enhancing voter access—has to be a priority. On the national level, both Clinton and Bernie Sanders should tout their plans to restore the Voting Rights Act and build more voter protections. Below that, prospective Democratic governors and state lawmakers should place voter access at the top of their agendas, a first item for incoming administrations. Everything, from automatic registration and mail-in balloting to ending felon disenfranchisement, should be on the table.

This isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. If Democrats believe that they benefit from more voters and larger electorates, then they would do well to mimic the Republican approach, but in reverse: Use their power to tilt the playing field toward more access, more participation, and more democracy.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, April 6, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Discrimination, Voter ID | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Illogical And Irresponsible”: GOP Response To Supreme Court Nomination Makes No Sense And Could Have Big Consequences

We are just beginning to see the consequences of the Senate Republicans’ refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the court deadlocked 4-4 on a case involving public sector unions. The tied decision left current law in place, a victory for the unions, but not necessarily a victory for our system of government.

The decision is the second deadlock to come out of the court since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. Last week, the court was evenly split on a case regarding possible bank discrimination.

How long can an evenly split court continue to function? Even in the face of the recent deadlocked decisions, Senate Republicans still refuse to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland for the seat left vacant by Scalia. Their refusal to move forward promises to render an entire branch of our government completely moot.

In a piece for Politico this week, University of Michigan Law School Professor Richard Primus sounds the alarm about the consequences of an incomplete court. He wrote: “A court with eight justices will often deadlock in contested cases, and therefore fail to execute the court’s major function: providing resolution on constitutional issues where the lower courts disagree.” A court that can’t function effectively is dangerous to the delicate balance of power our democracy is built upon. It disables an entire branch of government, removing an important check on the other two. Republicans’ refusal to consider Obama’s nominee means the U.S. Senate is failing in its duty to ensure the continuity of our government and move the country forward. They should reverse course immediately.

Consideration of the nominee does not equate to confirmation. If, after thoroughly vetting Garland, Senate Republicans still find him objectionable, they can vote him down and invite Obama to submit another nominee. This process can continue until both sides arrive at a mutually agreeable result. But to insist that because Obama is in his last year of office the province of filling the Supreme Court vacancy belongs to someone else is irresponsible.

Following that line of thought, all of the House and one-third of the Senate should refrain from voting on anything during election years in case their potential successors might decide something differently. Office holders do not vacate their powers and responsibilities until they are out of office. Obama is still the president. He can take us to war, sign bills into law and nominate Supreme Court Justices. The logic behind the Senate Republicans’ actions is flawed and can have far-reaching consequences.

For over 200 years now, this country has been blessed with peaceful transitions of power that have ensured the survival of our democracy. Administrations have come and gone and political parties have won and lost without creating the instability that is rampant in other parts of the world. This has happened, for the most part, because everyone involved has respected the system enough to let it work. Senate Republicans should let the system work and consider Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court. Any other course of action starts to put our stability at risk.

 

By: Cary Gibson, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Arizona’s Voting Rights Fire Bell”: The Disenfranchisement Of Thousands Of Its Citizens

It’s bad enough that an outrage was perpetrated last week against the voters of Maricopa County, Ariz. It would be far worse if we ignore the warning that the disenfranchisement of thousands of its citizens offers our nation. In November, one of the most contentious campaigns in our history could end in a catastrophe for our democracy.

A major culprit would be the U.S. Supreme Court, and specifically the conservative majority that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

The facts of what happened in Arizona’s presidential primary are gradually penetrating the nation’s consciousness. In a move rationalized as an attempt to save money, officials of Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, cut the number of polling places by 70 percent, from 200 in the last presidential election to 60 this time around.

Maricopa includes Phoenix, the state’s largest city, which happens to have a non-white majority and is a Democratic island in an otherwise Republican county.

What did the cutbacks mean? As the Arizona Republic reported, the county’s move left one polling place for every 21,000 voters — compared with one polling place for every 2,500 voters in the rest of the state.

The results, entirely predictable, were endless lines akin to those that await the release of new iPhones. It’s an analogy worth thinking about, as there is no right to own an iPhone but there is a right to vote. Many people had to wait hours to cast a ballot, and some polling stations had to stay open long after the scheduled 7 p.m. closing time to accommodate those who had been waiting — and waiting. The Republic told the story of Aracely Calderon, a 56-year-old immigrant from Guatemala who waited five hours to cast her ballot. There were many voters like her.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, whose government does not control election management, is furious about what was visited upon his city’s residents. The day after the primary, he wrote U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch asking her to open a Justice Department investigation into the fiasco. It was not just that there weren’t enough polling places, Stanton charged. Their allocation also was “far more favorable in predominantly Anglo communities.” There were fewer voting locations in “parts of the county with higher minority populations.”

In a telephone interview, Stanton made the essential point. Long lines are bad for everyone. But they particularly hurt the least advantaged, who usually have less flexibility in their schedules than more affluent people do. It is often quite literally true that poor voters can’t afford to wait.

“If you’re a single mother with two kids, you’re not going to wait for hours, you’re going to leave that line,” Stanton said. As a result, Stanton said, “tens of thousands of people were deprived of the right to vote.”

A Democrat, Stanton asked himself the obvious question: “Am I suggesting this was the intent of the people who run elections in Maricopa County?” His answer: “In voting rights terms, it doesn’t matter.” What matters, he said, is whether changes in practice “had a disparate impact on minority communities,” which they clearly did.

And there’s the rub. Before the Supreme Court undermined Voting Rights Act enforcement, radical changes in voting practices such as Maricopa’s drastic cut in the number of polling places would have been required to be cleared with the Justice Department because Arizona was one of the states the law covered. This time, county officials could blunder — let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there was no discriminatory intent — without any supervision.

Now let’s look ahead to Election Day this fall. Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, notes in his important new book, “The Fight to Vote,” that Republicans have “moved with strategic ferocity” to pass a variety of laws around the country to make it harder for people to cast ballots. The Brennan Center reports that 16 states “will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election.”

Imagine voting debacles like Arizona’s happening all across the country. Consider what the news reports would be like on the night of Nov. 8, 2016. Are we not divided enough already? Can we risk holding an election whose outcome would be rendered illegitimate in the eyes of a very large number of Americans who might be robbed of their franchise?

This is not idle fantasy. Arizona has shown us what could happen. We have seven months to prevent what really could be an electoral cataclysm.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 27, 2016

March 28, 2016 Posted by | Arizona, Democracy, Discrimination, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Supreme Court Fight Is About Democracy”: Conservatives Want To Bring Back Pre-New Deal Jurisprudence

There’s a reason beyond garden-variety partisanship that Senate Republicans resist even holding hearings on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Their gambit evades a full and open debate over the conservative judicial agenda, which is to use the high court in an aggressive and political way to reverse decades of progressive legislation.

The central irony here: The very conservatives who use “judicial activism” as a battering ram against liberals are now the aggressive judicial activists. It’s precisely because Garland’s record reveals him to be a devout practitioner of judicial restraint that an intellectually frank dialogue over his nomination would be so dangerous to the right. It would expose the radicalism of their jurisprudence.

Some conservatives are quite open about this, and few have been more candid than George F. Will, my Post colleague. To begin with, he deserves credit for making clear in his most recent column that Garland really is a stout advocate of judicial “deference” and for pointing out the absurdity of the Republicans’ refusal to take up his nomination. And in the past, Will has been unusually direct in defining the stakes in our battles over the role of the courts.

In a 2014 column aptly headlined “Judicial activism isn’t a bad thing,” he wrote: “Conservatives clamoring for judicial restraint, meaning deference to legislatures, are waving a banner unfurled a century ago by progressives eager to emancipate government, freeing it to pursue whatever collective endeavors it fancies, sacrificing individual rights to a spurious majoritarian ethic.”

Will’s attack on “a spurious majoritarian ethic,” of course, is another way of criticizing the workings of democracy. Where does this lead?

It leads to the Citizens United decision (which Will supports as emphatically as I oppose it) that overthrew decades of precedent and a century of practice involving limits on the power of big money in politics; to the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act; and to the scrapping of all manner of legislation aimed at protecting workers’ rights, the environment and consumers. Historically, it’s an approach that, more often than not, leans toward employers over employees, creditors over debtors, property owners over less affluent citizens, and corporations over individuals.

We know what this approach looks like because it’s the one the court pursued for decades before the New Deal. It is this pre-New Deal jurisprudence that conservatives want to bring back. Some conservatives have talked openly about the “Constitution in Exile,” referring to the way our founding document was once read to overturn many New Deal and Progressive Era laws. Starting in the late 1930s, the court moved to a different approach that gave Congress broad latitude to legislate on matters related to social justice and economics and saw its task as intervening primarily on behalf of individual rights.

Will’s outright embrace of “judicial activism” has brought him some critics on the right. One of them is Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a leading defender of the Senate Republicans’ current strategy. “Most contemporary conservative proponents of judicial restraint,” Whelan has written, “are also proponents of originalism and see judicial restraint merely as supplementing originalist methodology when that methodology fails to yield a sufficiently clear answer to a constitutional question.”

Whelan added that his approach would, like Will’s, allow judges to “enforce the rights, and limits on power, that the Constitution, fairly construed, sets forth.” But it would also “prevent judges from inventing rights and powers that are not in the Constitution.”

Here’s my translation of Whelan: He’s instructing Will to notice how originalism — the conservative theory that insists we can apply the original meaning of the Constitution’s words and the Founders’ intentions with some ease — leaves judges with plenty of power to toss out progressive laws. At the same time, it gives conservatives grounds to oppose liberals on such issues as abortion and gay marriage.

I’ll stipulate that there are some legitimate conservative arguments against liberals on their own forms of social-issue activism. But I’d insist that we will understand this court battle better if we pay attention to Will’s straightforward language: Through originalism and other doctrines, conservatives have embraced an astonishingly aggressive approach to judging. It allows them to reach outcomes through the courts that they cannot achieve through the democratic process.

At heart, this is a debate over how we define democracy. It’s also a struggle over whether government will be able to serve as a countervailing force to concentrated economic power.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 20, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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