Take a Break but Don’t Quit: from simply voting to being heavily involved, for a day or the year, here’s what you can do to take political action in 2020

 First: the number one thing you can do if you do nothing else, no matter how hopeless you feel, it’s no skin off your back: GO VOTE.

Check in 30 seconds if you’re registered: https://www.vote.org/am-i-registered-to-vote/

Find out how to register to vote and deadlines in your state and county here: https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

Do you want systemic change? You don’t have to do too much else but vote. And there’s proof.  Community Change Action, along with three others reached out to infrequent and never-voters in Michigan, Nevada and Florida. What they found was astonishing:

When you add new voices and change the electorate, you can shift what is politically possible. ..This method of deep organizing blows up business-as-usual electoral politics. It threatens the huge paychecks of political consultants and strategists on both sides of the aisle who parachute into communities for elections. The progressive political industry spent $5.7 billion on congressional races alone in 2018. Much of that went to the usual Beltway power brokers who focus on tired attack ads or the vote for so-and-so emails. 

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/09/opinion/voter-turnout-2020.html

I can’t say it any better than Karine Jean-Pierre did in this article, How to take action when you’re feeling disillusioned with today’s political climate:

“Now is not the time to give up. It’s not the time to be silent. And it’s certainly not the time to quit….we can’t afford your disillusionment, no matter what side of the political aisle you are on….

Do something. Do anything! Truly, anything. Sign up to make calls for a local candidate, or your favorite presidential candidate. Commit to canvassing one day a month. Text five friends asking if they’re registered to vote and helping them figure out how if they’re not.”

PROTEST

Join the millions who have protested in Hong Kong, India, Chile, and other countries who are tired of governments bordering on fascism, fueled off hate, supportive of gender and ethnic violence, denying climate change as our earth burns, and preventing progress into a more inclusive, economically and socially just world.

Women’s March is January 18, 2020. The Women’s March has planned a week of action in Washington, D.C. leading up to the march on Saturday. TEXT “WOMEN RISING” TO 40649 for updates.

Visit the Women’s March website to find events near you. If you’re a group leader, check out the Women’s March social toolkit

CAMPAIGN SUPPORT

THE STAKES

Today, January 14, 2020, voters will decide who will win a seat to the Pennsylvania Senate in the 48th District. It’s between Republican David Arnold (District Attorney for Lebanon County) and Democrat Michael Schroeder (college history professor and community/environmental activist) when former Republican Sen. Mike Folmer resigned following his arrest for child pornography in September.

But a lot more seats are empty in Congress and real change with the steps necessary to undo the harm caused by the Trump administration as the nation heals and thrives — needs a progressive Congress that supports a progressive President. Here are the people you can vote out of office, who have been Trump enablers no matter the cost down to overlooking racism, sexism, even crime and their Constitutional duties — and who to support instead.

CAMPAIGNS: DONATE, CANVASS, OR CALL

The House

The biennial election for representatives from all 435 Congressional Districts will take place on November 3, 2020. The Democratic Party currently controls the U.S. House, where 218 seats are needed for control (when there are no vacancies). We need to keep that lead.

https://www.270towin.com/2020-house-election/

Tedra Cobb (D, NY-21) who has spent the past 30 years in public service jobs is running against the incumbent, Rep. Elise Stefanik, one of the leading GOP defenders of President Donald Trump in the House impeachment inquiry.

Shannon Freshour (D, OH-4) has a solid Twitter game and is running against possibly the most obnoxiously loud member of Congress and sexual abuse enabler, #GymJordan aka Rep. Jim Jordan, founder of the far-right House Freedom Caucus.

The Senate

Democrats need to net three Senate seats — and win back the presidency — in order to control the chamber after Inauguration Day 2021. 

M.J. Hegar (D, TX) running in the most flippable Senate seat against Republican Senator John Cornyn. Hegar is a former Air Force helicopter pilot and mom who nearly beat an incumbent Republican House member in the heart of Texas last year. Donate here.

Sara Gideon (D, ME), the Speaker of the House for Maine is running against Sen. Susan Collins, Trump enabler who voted for Kavanaugh and for tax breaks for the wealthiest. Gideon isn’t just against Collins, she’s for progressive policies.

Jamie Harrison (D, SC) running against Trump’s #1 supporter, Sen. Lindsey Graham. Harrison rose from poverty to become a teacher then became the first African American man to become South Carolina Democratic Party chair from 2013 to 2017, and is an associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Amy McGrath (D, KY), former Marine fighter pilot and 2018 congressional candidate coming in strong as a contender for the uber-GOP Trump enabler’s top spot, Mitch McConnell aka #MoscowMitch whom Julian Castro rightly described as the leader who “has done as much or more damage than Donald Trump over the years to our democracy” by packing courts with conservative judges while ignoring hundreds of bills languishing in the Senate, playing dirty to prevent a Merrick Garland appointment while rushing through Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and making obstacles at every step of the way for the Mueller Report and the impeachment trials rather than do his Constitutional duty to investigate a President who may have conspired with foreign powers.

Senator Doug Jones (D, AL) beat Roy Moore, a former Alabama Chief Justice and District Attorney who sided more with sex criminals than the law and was accused by a long list of women of sexual assault, several when they were minors. Even pedophilia didn’t stop it from being a tight race in Trump country. Alabama keeps voting for leaders and policies that keep it as the poorest and one of the most undereducated states in the country. We need to keep Doug Jones.

Mark Kelly (D, AZ) runs against Sen. Martha McSally, appointed after the election to serve part of the late Sen. John McCain’s term. Kelly is a Navy veteran and retired astronaut married to former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot and seriously wounded at a constituent event in 2011.

Cal Cunningham (D, NC) and State Senator Erica D. Smith are running against Sen. Thom Tillis , “a man with the backbone of a squid and zealous supporter of President Definitely No Quid Pro Quo Donald Trump, has the lowest approval ratings of any sitting member of Congress, according to a poll from Morning Consult.” Cunningham is an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, an environmental services company leader and former legislator who served as Vice Chairman of the Governor’s Crime Commission. Smith currently represents Senate District 3 in her third term.

FAIR & JUST REPRESENTATION

Voting Suppression

Support Fair Fight. Efforts to discourage and disenfranchise voters—in voter registration, ballot access, or counting of votes—have a catastrophic effect on our democracy and our communities. Nowhere was this more clearly seen than in Georgia’s gubernatorial race between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp, who was the Republican secretary of state in charge of state elections before he beat Abrams to become Georgia governor–in charge of the very elections in which 1.4 million voters were purged, majority black voters. Now Stacey Abrams is taking voter rights protection nationwide through Fair Fight.

Redistricting

Support All on the Line. With the redistricting process less than a year away, All On The Line is already in full swing — especially because 2020 is a census year. Here’s what you need to know about the role that the census plays in redistricting. 

→ The census is the foundation for redistricting. Without an accurate count, it will be impossible to create fair maps that truly represent the communities who live there. 

→ The census count will determine how many congressional districts each state will have for the next decade. With 435 representatives total, that means states could gain or lose a district based on population changes. 

→ The Supreme Court stopped the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the census, but we expect that map manipulators will try to find new ways to suppress the power of certain communities in an attempt to maintain their own power.  

Kamala Harris’ departure signals bigger campaign policy issues and undermine our votes

We vote because we have a voice. That voice may not win out but our democracy is based on the constant struggle to make this “a more perfect union.” That’s why so many of the ills of society could be amended: to make way for the African American voice, to make way for the voice of women. That is what our vote should be. That is at the heart of how our system works and why we critique it to make it better.

Right now the biggest obstacles for a fair election are:

  • Election security: given 2016, not to mention issues in other close elections, foreign government interference and our own methods of counting votes needs major security beef ups.
  • Voter Suppression: not everyone is able to vote, which Stacey Abrams is tackling;
  • Gerrymandering: which manipulates how votes are counted giving an unfair political advantage to one party, the GOP in this case, that therefore ensures the other party’s voice is never heard
  • Special interests: the money driving candidates and elected officials.

This last issue of money is the major factor of what has driven Senator Kamala Harris out of the presidential race. Whatever you thought about Sen. Harris as a candidate, her departure was abrupt, and her voice was crucial, especially in an election where the black electorate is heavily coveted and she was a black and South Asian woman that gave voice to that community — the very demographic being wooed.

If money is the sole determining factor in elections, then it will continue to reflect the economic gaps based on racial inequalities. The only other minorities left are Sen. Corey Booker who is struggling to stay in the game, and Julián Castro, a candidate already active in the black and Latino communities and in touch with the issues of the times, who had to drop out but now is back in for the next debate.

That Castro was forced out so early is also a sign of inequity. While the black population may be the target of candidates, Hispanics are projected to be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the U.S. electorate when voters cast their ballots next year. 

The majority of viable presidential candidates are primarily those who do not resemble today’s America, such as two white male billionaires, a white man who is a career politician, a white man who may identify with LGBTQ community but openly has no issues with big money in campaigns; and the white supremacist favorite as per polls (can we do away with “alt right”), Tulsi Gabbard. 

Who remains do not represent those who are part of the most coveted voting demographics and those who did no longer have the national stage for 2020.

That points to systemic issues here, folks.

1) One part is the overt sexism. There always needs to be caution to view every situation or individual through the lens of an -ism but not only has the 2016 election clearly showed sexism but as early as last month, one-third of voters say they don’t believe in female leadership as per a recent voters’ poll by Ramussen.

Castro today echoed this in a video he tweeted after Sen. Harris’s announcement about the media’s double standards that worked against her campaign from the start. Whatever other issues her candidacy may have had, as even Sen. Amy Klobuchar pointed out in the last debate: Women are held to a higher standard (like this LA Times’ op-ed which cites Sen. Harris’s apparent lack of qualifications in a race where Pete Buttigieg is soaring — whose sole political qualification is that he has been a mayor since 2012) and women of color doubly so. This isn’t to say one needs decades of qualifications nor that Buttigieg isn’t qualified, it simply means Sen. Harris, with actual decades of experience, is held to a higher standard by the media and voters.

2) Campaign finance needs an overhaul. This is an obvious issue when two billionaires are able to buy their way onto the next Democratic debate while qualified candidates who polled reasonably well with voices that need to be heard on the national stage have been forced to exit.

3) Castro also pointed out another issue that cripples diverse candidates: the order of the Democratic primaries which take place in states like Iowa and New Hampshire that have predominantly white populations.

“I think there’s a narrative that emerged early in this campaign cycle that in order to win, candidates needed to appeal especially to white working class voters in the Midwest,” Castrol said. “I actually believe that in addition to the white working class in the Midwest, we also need to be able to appeal to diverse communities [in cities in the battleground states.]

Election security, the electoral college, gerrymandering, and voter suppression are outside the scope of voters other than voting in reps who will fight for reforms or for the judicial appointees that will overturn these systemic issues. The electoral college is a Congressional issue so indirectly it depends on whom you vote for.

Castro, Warren, and Sanders have publicly stated that they will not accept big money for their campaigns. Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Barack Obama, has not accepted money from lobbyists, political action committees and executives in the fossil fuel industry.

Only one candidate has actively addressed this issue and who, you guessed it, has a plan: Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (This is not an endorsement.) Here’s her statement to get big money out of politics and her very specific plan to get it done. Warren isn’t to be trifled with given she has already single-handedly conceived of and established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a watchdog agency that helps protect the little guy from Wall Street’s schemes.

No doubt that Sen. Harris will be a success in other capacities. She may become our next Attorney General. She will continue making her mark in the Senate and is going to kill it at the impeachment hearings — and has promised Trump the same.

But we can’t overlook or not examine what’s happening and why if we want this campaigning process to improve. AND we must elect the reps who will support such improvements — campaign finance reforms, the order of the primaries, a push to eliminate or revise the electoral college. Otherwise, it’ll be a vicious cycle as candidates we want can’t progress and others do who may be poorly qualified or can be bought. Such a system doesn’t reflect our choice nor our values we strive for and with poor leadership, no matter who wins, we all lose.

There was corruption in Ukraine: on the part of Guiliani, his associates, and GOP Congressman Devin Nunes

Photo Illustration by Kristen Hazzard/The Daily Beast/Getty

On Nov. 21, Daily Beast broke this story that Democrat Rep. Eric Swalwell read and submitted in the impeachment inquiry: Lev Parnas, the indicted Giuliani associate, helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for the Rep. Devin Nunes in 2018. U.S. government funds — $57,000 of our tax dollars — paid for Nunes and three of his aides to travel to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2018. Nunes is the minority ranking member of the Intelligence Committee and has been driving the GOP messaging, stance, and defense of Trump regarding the impeachment inquiry.

It was confirmed today on Nov. 22 by the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, that Nunes will likely face an ethics investigation into the claims.

Why should this matter? For one, Nune is overseeing an investigation into corruption in Ukraine, which he himself abused power to investigate. It is a conflict of interest at best and outright corruption. Impeachment is serious and the crimes for which a president can be accused strike at the very heart of our democracy. Such manipulation and tampering undercut our need to ensure a fair impeachment inquiry and trial.

Two, you, as a taxpayer, need to know where your money is going and that your political representatives are not using it for their personal gains, such as overseas trips and entertainment unrelated to political office.

In 2018, he used political donations to pay for nearly $15,000 in tickets to Boston Celtics basketball games as well as winery tours and lavish trips to Las Vegas, according to reports from the Federal Election Commission and two nonpartisan watchdog groups.

Three, corruption left unchecked increases the harm to our communities because our reps are no longer working for us but for the highest bidder, and the system of law is weakened. Nunes has long been under scrutiny for his abuse of office in using taxpayers’ dollars for personal use since at least 2018. Instead, he became the House Intelligence Committee chairman and Trump’s foremost supporter and has sought to obstruct all inquiries for Robert Mueller’s investigation and Congress’s impeachment investigation.

In turn, his name has grown as much as his PAC. Nunes’ own PAC, New PAC, has raised $7 million, almost four times as much as the $1-2.5 million he has raised in previous years. There’s no way of knowing whether its due to the favors he curries by supporting Trump that led to such a meteoric fundraising rise because of how intransparent PACs are but it’s worth noting.

report by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center and Issue One, released Thursday, spotlighted the various ways members of Congress use leadership PACs to “subsidize lavish lifestyles on their donors’ dimes.”

Campaign Legal Center

All of this speaks to bigger systemic issues voters need to know is the dire need to reform the regulations and laws of PACs:

  • The House Ethics Committee rarely enforces the ban on the use of leadership PACs for personal use.
  • The Federal Elections Commission has not issued clear directives on whether or not the funds can be used for personal matters.
  • The CLC and Issue One report cited numerous trips by Congress members to Las Vegas. Why?

The person with the most trips to Vegas: Devin Nunes.

Obama continues his unprecedented pardons and focus on criminal justice reform with a pardon for Chelsea Manning

President Obama continues his streak of pardons and commutations with a pardon for Chelsea Manning, freeing her in five months rather than 2045. Manning is the army intelligence analyst who made Wikileaks popular.  Pres. Obama could have also just saved her life given she had twice attempted suicide and faced what the Times calls “an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at a male military prison.”

obama-commutations1The President and his DOJ staff have been on a roll. On Dec 19, he pardoned 78 people and granted another 153 commutations — the most acts of clemency granted by a US president in a single day. SO far, the President has pardoned and lessened the sentences of more people than the previous 12 presidents prior to him combined.

This fast and furious wave of pardons is warranted given fears that President-elect Donald Trump and his administration will dismantle Obama’s clemency initiative, which has resulted in the early release of 1,176 drug offenders. In addition to his ban on solitary confinement for juveniles, his directive to not renew contracts for private prisons, and his recently published Harvard Law Review 56-page article on criminal justice reform, it seems as if the President’s post-presidential professional life may be revealing its focus: our broken criminal justice system.

Given that the US has the largest number of prisoners in the world despite holding just 5% of the world’s population, Pres Obama would be a welcome and powerful ally in the fight for criminal justice reform. Nearly 1 in 4 adults in this country are imprisoned. The mass incarceration system is driven by racism, favors the wealthy, and is nothing but a swinging door that fosters a life behind bars. The criminal justice system is steeped in history of racism, is driven by profit, and criminalizes poverty and drug addiction continuing such inhumane treatment as solitary confinement. The time for reform has long past and legislators may finally pay attention if a political force like President Obama champions the cause.

Meanwhile, California continues its quest to reduce prison populations. California’s prisoner reductions came from a court order to cut prison populations after a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that conditions inside the state’s prisons — which were 200 percent over capacity — violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The state has passed some initiatives, such as Prop 47 in 2014, which released about 4,500 in its aftermath by reducing some felonies, like drug crimes and nonviolent property theft, to misdemeanors.

But that did nothing except shift the problem from state to local jails. The underlying roots of this issue (and see “13” by Ava DuVernay on Netflix for an in-depth look) such as racism, LGBT bias (like how transgenders such as Manning are viewed, convicted and treated), drug rehabilitation programs, mental health facilities, and focusing on reform over retribution for nonviolent crimes and youth have not been seriously addressed by legislation. With civilian Obama and the tide shifting to a greater focus on mass incarceration, the tides may be shifting. If not, we must make them shift.

Don’t blame Trump supporters. Democracy didn’t fail us. We failed us. Apathy, selfishness, and a dash of sexism got him elected.

Don’t blame Trump supporters. Democracy didn’t fail us. We failed us. Apathy, selfishness, and a dash of sexism got him elected.

[originally published on Medium 11/14/16]

For the past year, I’ve worked vehemently on something more than the Hillary campaign: Get Out the Vote. Through interviews that led to videos, researching for stories, and plain old canvassing, I met more than a few Trump supporters. They always planned to vote even if it was more an anti-status quo rather than a Trump vote. They did their civic duty and made their voice heard.

They were energized through direct meetings in churches and schools and wherever else, they posted memes and messages on Facebook like liberals did after the election but did so when it meant something because whatever else, they did not want Hillary to win. They never lost sight of the goal:

Michael Moore in his prophetic, and best analysis of the outcome predicting Trump’s win, said it succinctly months ago:

…if people could vote from their couch at home on their X-box or PlayStation, Hillary would win in a landslide.But that is not how it works in America. People have to leave the house and get in line to vote…And therein lies the problem for November — who is going to have the most motivated, most inspired voters show up to vote? You know the answer to this question. Who’s the candidate with the most rabid supporters? Whose crazed fans are going to be up at 5 AM on Election Day, kicking ass all day long,

The people who handed him this election is not rural America, it was not white women, it was almost half this country who didn’t vote. 49.4%.

Sure, protest now but where was that energy for Get Out the Vote? I rarely debated Trump supporters about voting. There was no lack of warning about what a Trump win could mean or lack of calls for mobilization during the campaign reminding voters that he had a real shot at winning — and all that happened was “eh I’m not thrilled with her.”

The only people I actually debated about voting itself were “liberals” and “progressives” still sore about Sanders or were sore that there was no third party or who thought all the sexist talk wasn’t a big deal because some other right or issue was all that mattered to them, screw all else.

No facts in the world could make them see the process through which third parties can become a reality or that it takes voting to dissolve the electoral college, because in addition to mass mobilization, what you need above all is a majority of Congress and President who is open to those reforms. Given the odds, not voting was a vote for Trump and would set those kind of agendas back even further.

Meanwhile no such debates happened in Trumpland. They galvanized. Some of them did believe in climate change but put that aside for the greater good. Some of them were appalled by his behavior but put that aside to get him elected for all else he represented. You can say they put it aside due to racism or selfishness but the selfish argument swings both ways.

If one believes Trump supporters are sexist, voting him in despite his misogyny, then I wouldn’t put those who didn’t vote due to soreness about the Democrats so far behind. After all, not voting, not participating in the political process most definitely won’t change a party. It is sexist to pit this election as a “replacing a 40 year old black man with a 70 year old woman” (as per Chris Rock in this past week’s SNL) without keeping in mind — especially if you are a minority or woman about to be radically affected — that the 70 year old woman has 40+ years of public service experience who, whatever else she may be, would not be on board with racist, sexist, xenophobic policies and would keep to Obama’s agenda. To boot, she had progressive watchdogs like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who she made political deals with and would make her toe the line so there’d be a real shot at ensuring a Democratic party was its progressive ever.

And by the way, the alternative to that “70 year old white woman” is an even older white man who would, and has, put forth a Cabinet and policies that would work against every progressive, social justice, women’s rights agenda. If that’s not sexist then that is dangerous stubbornness and that is the other side of the coin of the dangerous stubborn ideology of the most ardent Trump supporter.

Bottom line: on November 8th we had two choices. Whosoever did mobilize, whosoever voted even if they weren’t thrilled about him spoke up, and won. Democracy didn’t fail us; we failed us.