Is There a Resistance Movement or Resistance Moment?

Bristol   I definitely don’t want to be standing at the station when the whistle blows that the train is moving out. I have to admit that I have my ears perked up at every sound to try to hear whether it’s the thundering feet of a movement or just the sharp cry of a moment.

I’m too jaded in this work to see Congressional town halls as the birthplace of the next revolution, but I don’t want to be blind to history either, and a snippet of the news like the one that follows makes me sit up straight and stand at total attention:

In fact, some of the most formidable and well-established organizing groups on the left have found themselves scrambling to track all of the local groups sprouting up through social media channels like Facebook and Slack, or in local “huddles” that grew out of the women’s marches across the country the day after the inauguration.

When the people are moving and established organizations and institutions are having to work overtime to catch up with them, that’s a very, very interesting sign. In a time of movement, it may be difficult for this kind of activity and anger to be channeled in the way that these same organizations and institutions are hoping to move the stream. It’s good news though for the 30 million lower income families taking advantage of the Affordable Care Act that there are many of the flags being waved as elected representatives slink home from the Congressional chaos are focusing on saving health care.

There are other signs too. When seasoned organizers report that they expected 200 at a meeting, and 1000 showed up, as my generation said, “you don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing.” The Times also reported on other barometers that people were in motion:

Anti-abortion demonstrations in some cities this month were met with much larger crowds of abortion rights supporters. At a widely viewed town-hall-style meeting held by Representative Gus Bilirakis in Florida, a local Republican Party chairman who declared that the health care act set up “death panels” was shouted down by supporters of the law.

And, perhaps more interestingly, an organizer for Planned Parenthood posed the question plainly as she tries to ride this wave of momentum:

“It doesn’t work for organizations to bigfoot strategy; it’s not the way organizing happens now,” said Kelley Robinson, the deputy national organizing director for Planned Parenthood, which is fighting the defunding of its health clinics. “There are bigger ideas coming out of the grass roots than the traditional organizations.”

If she’s right, that’s a call to arms for all of us to get ready to move, because grassroots activity needs formation, planning, resources, and direction in order to win. That’s not bigfoot, that’s soft touch, listening, and work on the ground that takes a moment and helps make a movement and births new organizations and great social change.

When that whistle blows, we have to all be on the train.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Valentines for Washington Post and Sally Yates

New Orleans   I made sure on Valentine’s Day that I was covered with my companera, my daughter, and my mother, but turns out I should have figured out a way to send a card to the Washington Post and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, because if they had not done their jobs in such a stellar fashion none of us could celebrate the early Valentine’s present from the President of finally forcing the resignation of former General Michael Flynn as National Security Council adviser.

It turns out the President had known Flynn was off the rails for weeks and weeks, and did nothing, including letting some of his gang know he was sitting on solid evidence of Flynn’s dissembling over his contact with the Russian Ambassador. He was only provoked to action first by a column in the Post that revealed that there was a transcript of the conversations he had with the Russian Ambassador picked up in packets of intercepts by the NSA, and the transcript was at odds with his claim that he had not discussed the sanctions prior to Trump’s inauguration. That column wasn’t the final straw though even as the story unraveled. The final trigger was the White House’s knowledge that yet another story was coming out in the Post on Monday. And, then and only then did Trump demand and receive Flynn’s resignation.

As the story finally dribbles out, Trump had known about this mess since shortly after the Inauguration, when Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after discussion and a greenlight from the head of the FBI reached out to the White House counsel and shared with him the information they had had since late December. The FBI had asked Yates to wait until then in order to do more investigation and interviewed Flynn within days of Trump’s taking office. The White House lawyer immediately informed President Trump that there was a discrepancy in Flynn’s version of his contact with the Russians. This is the same Sally Yates, friends, neighbors and fellow countrymen and women, who was forced out after instructing the Justice Department not to enforce Trump’s travel ban because it was inherently flawed unconstitutional, as numerous federal judges and the 9th Circuit Appeals Court have now held. We lost a good one, when she left the building.

The Post wonders now how far out of the loop Vice-President Pence was as well since he was having to carry water for the White House and Flynn’s credibility throughout the period when Trump was sitting on a powder keg in the Oval Office with Flynn’s name stenciled all over it. Heck, Trump and another loose cannon, Stephen Bannon, were already interviewing candidates to replace Flynn during this period as well.

There’s disruption and then there’s just plain reckless, and that’s what we’re getting now. Trump spent more time thinking about assistants on the “Apprentice” than he seems to have thought about the impact of letting wild men near the steering wheel of the ship of state. There’s no way that Flynn as a former head of Defense Intelligence, before being fired by President Obama, didn’t know that the NSA routinely monitors the phones of the Russian Ambassador, so Flynn clearly was arrogant and foolhardy in assuming none of this would matter, or he was a good soldier doing what he was told to do by his Commander-in-Chief. Either way, this is bad. Very bad.

All of this goes way past any standard notion of dysfunctional, and this is involves national security, which the Trumpsters claim is their top priority, so I hate to think how badly they are dropping the ball on domestic policy. In fact, it seems they have not picked up the ball there at all, since there has been no legislation proposed by the White House on any measure yet, leaving us clueless of the chaos over there.

Any relief has to be short lived in a time of dread.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Protest Inside the Corporate Castles and Behind the Government Walls

New Orleans   If you ever wondered whether mass protests bring social change or just more miles on your wrist FitBit, the evidence of the protests’ impact whether the Women’s March or the mass airport actions around the Trump travel ban are now everywhere including inside corporate castles and behind the walls of government throughout the country.

Perhaps there were no surprises that some of the hipper set of tech companies were quickly forced to get in formation with the protests. More than 127 of them joined the Amicus brief in arguments to the Appeals Court to freeze the ban. Many were caught in a double bind between their employees and the fact they depend on easy entry of foreigner labor for a portion of their best-and-brightest talent. But, other tech companies, less cutting edge and more mainstream, are feeling the heat as well. Almost 1000 “verified” IBM employees signed a petition to their CEO demanding that the company refuse any contract that would restrict American rights and liberties. Several young women who were part of a new acquisition by Cisco began a similar petition, and women seemed to be leading many of these inside challenges.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. More than 1000 State Department workers had earlier signed a “dissent” cable around concerns around the travel ban and the diminishment of core American values. Justice Department officials jumped on their swords on the same issue.

Five members of the Super Bowl winning New England Patriots have said they will not be traveling to the White House for the ceremonial photo op, because they do not feel welcome. Steph Curry, the NBA MVP for the last two years, and a spokesman for the Under Armour athletic wear company said he would walk away from a multi-million dollar contract with the company until the CEO backtracked from his overzealous comments seeming to give a blanket endorsement to Trump. Steve Kerr, his coach at the Golden State Warriors, said essentially that these are times of protest when players need to speak out.

Other companies from Wall Street to Main Street are hunkering down and caught between crazy at the White House and concerns expressed in employee meetings, emails, and local watering holes. Workers are scrubbing social media posts and going encrypted for conversations because of concern about increased surveillance in the new era.

This is what social change looks like. Long hair on the street and suddenly even CEOs have hair over their ears and collars. Pantsuits and low heels start showing up and ties are left at home. Those who were always quiet realize that threats to home, family, community, and country are real enough that silence is no longer acceptable.

When protest leaps over the walls and goes viral, popping up everywhere and anywhere, a tipping point may be reached where the forces of change can’t be stopped and there is a culture shift that legitimizes all protest. When all Americans believe they now have to protect American’s values and reputation, no government is secure.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Coretta Scott King on Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Little Rock   During the US Senate debate on the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions, which was ultimately achieved, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced in the debate for trying to read the following letter in opposition to his approval.

Statement of Coretta Scott King on the Nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for the United States District Court Southern District of Alabama.

Senate Judiciary Committee

Thursday, March 13, 1986

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to express my strong opposition to the nomination of Jefferson Sessions for a federal district judgeship for the Southern District of Alabama. My longstanding commitment which I shared with my husband, Martin, to protect and enhance the rights of Black Americans, rights which include equal access to the democratic process, compels me to testify today.

Civil rights leaders, including my husband and Albert Turner, have fought long and hard to achieve free and unfettered access to the ballot box. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge. This simply cannot be allowed to happen. Mr. Sessions’ conduct as U.S. Attorney, from his politically motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.

The Voting Rights Act was, and still is, vitally important to the future of democracy in the United States. I was privileged to join Martin and many others during the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights in 1965. Martin was particularly impressed by the determination to get the franchise of blacks in Selma and neighboring Perry County. As he wrote, “Certainly no community in the history of the Negro struggle has responded with the enthusiasm of Selma and her neighboring town of Marion. Where Birmingham depended largely upon students and unemployed adults (to participate in non-violent protest of the denial of the franchise), Selma has involved fully 10 percent of the Negro population in active demonstrations, and at least half the Negro population of Marion was arrested on one day.” Martin was referring of course to a group that included the defendants recently prosecuted for assisting elderly and illiterate blacks to exercise that franchise. ln fact, Martin anticipated from the depth of their commitment twenty years ago, that a united political organization would remain in Perry County long after the other marchers had left. This organization, the Perry County Civic League, started by Mr. Turner, Mr. Hogue, and others as Martin predicted, continued “to direct the drive for votes and other rights.” In the years since the Voting Rights Act was passed, Black Americans in Marion, Selma and elsewhere have made important strides in their struggle to participate actively in the electoral process. The number of Blacks registered to vote in key Southern states has doubled since 1965. This would not have been possible without the Voting Rights Act.

However, Blacks still fall far short of having equal participation in the electoral process. Particularly in the South, efforts continue to be made to deny Blacks access to the polls, even where Blacks constitute the majority of the voters. It has been a long up-hill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the most fundamental right to vote. A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of those rights by Black people should not be elevated to the federal bench.

The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods. Twenty years ago, when we marched from Selma to Montgomery, the fear of voting was real, as the broken bones and bloody heads in Selma and Marion bore witness. As my husband wrote at the time, “it was not just a sick imagination that conjured up the vision of a public official, sworn to uphold the law, who forced an inhuman march upon hundreds of Negro children; who ordered the Rev. James Bevel to be chained to his sickbed; who clubbed a Negro woman registrant, and who callously inflicted repeated brutalities and indignities upon nonviolent Negroes peacefully petitioning for their constitutional right to vote.”

Free exercise of voting rights is so fundamental to American democracy that we can not tolerate any form of infringement of those rights. Of all the groups who have been disenfranchised in our nation’s history, none has struggled longer or suffered more in the attempt to win the vote than Black citizens. No group has had access to the ballot box denied so persistently and intently. Over the past century, a broad array of schemes have been used in attempts to block the Black vote. The range of techniques developed with the purpose of repressing black voting rights run the gamut from the — straightforward application of brutality against black citizens who tried to vote to such legalized frauds as “grandfather clause” exclusions and rigged literacy tests.

The actions taken by Mr. Sessions in regard to the 1984 voting fraud prosecutions represent just one more technique used to intimidate Black voters and thus deny them this most precious franchise. The investigations into the absentee voting process were conducted only in the Black Belt counties where blacks had finally achieved political power in the local government. Whites had been using the absentee process to their advantage for years, without incident. Then, when Blacks realizing its strength, began to use it with success, criminal investigations were begun.

In these investigations, Mr. Sessions, as U.S. Attorney, exhibited an eagerness to bring to trial and convict three leaders of the Perry County Civic League including Albert Turner despite evidence clearly demonstrating their innocence of any wrongdoing. Furthermore, in initiating the case, Mr. Sessions ignored allegations of similar behavior by whites, choosing instead to chill the exercise of the franchise by blacks by his misguided investigation. In fact, Mr. Sessions sought to punish older black civil rights activists, advisors and colleagues of my husband, who had been key figures in the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. These were persons who, realizing the potential of the absentee vote among Blacks, had learned to use the process within the bounds of legality and had taught others to do the same. The only sin they committed was being too successful in gaining votes.

The scope and character of the investigations conducted by Mr. Sessions also warrant grave concern. Witnesses were selectively chosen in accordance with the favorability of their testimony to the government’s case. Also, the prosecution illegally withheld from the defense critical statements made by witnesses. Witnesses who did testify were pressured and intimidated into submitting the “correct” testimony. Many elderly blacks were visited multiple times by the FBI who then hauled them over 180 miles by bus to a grand jury in Mobile when they could more easily have testified at a grand jury twenty miles away in Selma. These voters, and others, have announced they are now never going to vote again.

I urge you to consider carefully Mr. Sessions’ conduct in these matters. Such a review, I believe, raises serious questions about his commitment to the protection of the voting rights of all American citizens and consequently his fair and unbiased judgment regarding this fundamental right. When the circumstances and facts surrounding the indictments of Al Turner, his wife, Evelyn, and Spencer Hogue are analyzed, it becomes clear that the motivation was political, and the result frightening — the wide-scale chill of the exercise of the ballot for blacks, who suffered so much to receive that right in the first place. Therefore, it is my strongly-held view that the appointment of Jefferson Sessions to the federal bench would irreparably damage the work of my husband, Al Turner, and countless others who risked their lives and freedom over the past twenty years to ensure equal participation in our democratic system.

The exercise of the franchise is an essential means by which our citizens ensure that those who are governing will be responsible. My husband called it the number one civil right. The denial of access to the ballot box ultimately results in the denial of other fundamental rights. For, it ‘ is only when the poor and disadvantaged are empowered that they are able to participate actively in the solutions to their own problems.

We still have a long way to go before we can say that minorities no longer need be concerned about discrimination at the polls. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans are grossly underrepresented at every level of government in America. If we are going to make our timeless dream of justice through democracy a reality, we must take every possible step to ensure that the spirit and intent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution is honored.

The federal courts hold a unique position in our constitutional system, ensuring that minorities and other citizens without political power have a forum in which to vindicate their rights. Because of his unique role, it is essential that the people selected to be federal judges respect the basic tenets of our legal system: respect for individual rights and a commitment to equal justice for all. The integrity of the Courts, and thus the rights they protect, can only be maintained if citizens feel confident that those selected as federal judges will be able to judge with fairness others holding differing views.

I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence, and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court. Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband’s dream that he envisioned over twenty years ago. I therefore urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to deny his confirmation.

I thank you for allowing me to share my views.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

All Hail, Public Servants with Honor!

Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre

New Orleans   There can’t be a question that the President was going to fire Sally Yates as the Acting Attorney General of the United States as soon as she ordered the Justice Department to not defend Trump’s refugee and Muslim ban as not only likely illegal, but also simply not right. One could be cynical and say, she knew she might only have one or two days more at most as AG, as former Alabama Senator Sessions nears confirmation despite his tragic record on civil and human rights, so she was trying to just go out in a blaze of glory, because she was on her way out anyway.

The fact that Yates has been a career employee of the Department pokes a hole in that story though. If you can suspend disbelief for a second, imagine that someone who has worked their entire career at the Justice Department and risen from the ranks to being confirmed by a bipartisan Senate to a position where both the outgoing and incoming Presidents would have confidence that she would be a straight shooter during the transition, would really believe in the department, its values, and traditions so much that she felt she had to stand up for the law and the country against the bans, no matter what the price. I hate to sound corny, but she likely believed in the American myth that we are a country ruled by laws, rather than the rich and privileged, and that honor and integrity, as well as her oath to uphold the laws was a bigger weight to carry than the likely scalding abuse from the President and his people.

We’ve seen this before in the Saturday Night Massacre at the Justice Department under President Nixon. The President in power will always find someone to work his will, but that doesn’t mean that power should not pay a price.

One hundred State Department civil servants have signed a so-called “dissent” memorandum for the incoming Secretary of State about what they believe will be horrifying consequences, especially in the Middle East, affecting America’s reputation and the security of all Americans, because of this order. The White House says they should just shut up and quit, but this has been a time-honored way in which such mild protest has been constructively channeled at the State Department in both Democratic and Republican Administrations. Why is the White House getting all uptight about this? They need to walk outside and stand for a minute on Pennsylvania Avenue and look around. This isn’t the Kremlin or Red Square, fellas. Take a breath!

In other countries, ministers regularly resign in protest when they cannot abide or represent the policy of their country. We saw this recently in the back and forth in Britain over Brexit, pro and con.

Someone needs to get a message to the Tweeter-in-Chief that he and his gang need to take a chill pill or something. This is America. People not only have the right to disagree, but they are going to do so. Protest will come in many forms from mass marches to airport rallies to whatever it takes, and sometimes there will be public officials and government employees who protest as well in their own way.

I find it comforting in this time of turmoil to find that we have public servants with a code of honor and some who will be willing to take the risks and act with integrity to prove good faith between the government and its people. Remember, its government of the people and by the people, not just government for the people.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Refugees Stuck in Place, Countries Banned, and Airport Actions Everywhere

New Orleans   I use Facebook, but I don’t trust it. Nonetheless, I have to say it was valuable yesterday and as shocked and humiliated as I was, along with all Americans who love their country and its ideals by President Trumps banning orders, I was proud of my friends.

There was a moment when I could scroll down my timeline and see my friends protesting at airports from Chicago to Atlanta to San Francisco to Washington to New York City to Boston, and even New Orleans. There were videos of rallies and actions, so even though I was coming out of ACORN’s annual Year End / Year Begin meeting, I felt like I was there at least by proxy. In New York City, 10,000 made the schlep to JFK airport within hours of social media blowing up over the Trump edict. A second rally at Battery Park – with a great view of Ellis Island — drew 20,000 in less than 10 hours of posts, texts, and tweets. A new watchword in the age of Trump will have to be to stay flexible and ready to move on a moment’s notice to keep them from storming the gates.

I also loved the fact that I was finding out that there was an quick response boycott of the ride-sharing service, Uber, that has bullied its way into cities all around the world, displacing taxi workers everywhere, not for something that they did exactly, but for something they did not do. Lyft, their ride-sharing competitor, pledged $1 million to the ACLU in support of their work fighting the ban and winning court orders in four different jurisdictions around the country, while Uber was silent. I’m not sure that Lyft is all that much different than Uber really, except that it allows the drivers to be tipped, but, hey, any port in a storm. AirBnb made a pledge to provide housing to any refugees that needed it, though I’m not sure that was anything more than a press release. Starbucks said it would hire something like 10,000 refugees over the coming five years, but given the turnover of baristas and the number of their employees, I bet they already do that. But, hey, I don’t want to quibble, at least they are sending messages to our foot soldiers that they don’t go for this mess, joining the Catholic Church, veterans groups, slews of mainstream politicians, and others.

The message so far seems to be that protests work, at least a little, and that’s good.

The Trump team is confused. They don’t seem to understand the important distinction between having power and being able to govern.

Yes, they now have the power to create mayhem and bring their chaos and crazy to the country and the world. No, that is not the same as governing, especially where there are laws, courts, other elected officials, and a free and vocal population. Verified reports indicate that they were briefing the former general who is the head of Homeland Security at the same time his staff, listening to the call was watching Trump on television signing the order. Regardless of the breach of our beliefs, values, and the foundations of our country, we pay taxes for something better than a Mickey Mouse operation where one arm has no idea what the other arm is doing, and the mouth seems completely disconnected from a mind.

***

Please enjoy One Small Voice by Carole King.

Thanks KABF.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail