PFAW and Allies Rally, Deliver 3 Million Petitions in Support of Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

On Monday afternoon People For the American Way joined partner organizations, Senators, and Representatives in a rally outside the U.S. Capitol in support of the Democracy For All Amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United and get big money out of politics. As the Senate begins debating the measure, PFAW and ally organizations teamed up to deliver more than three million petitions in support of an amendment.

The rally was kicked off by People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker (pictured speaking above) and Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. Speakers included Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sen. Al Franken (Minn.), Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.), and Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.) Rally footage was featured on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and in the Huffington Post.


Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.)


Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.)


Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.)


Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.)


Sen. Al Franken (Minn.)


Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.)


Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.)

At the rally, PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker said, “Today, more money than ever is flooding our democracy. But something else is also happening: everyday Americans are fighting back. Americans are no longer willing to settle for elections auctioned to the highest bidders.” You can watch her speech here.

The massive number of petitions delivered is just one of many indicators of the broad support for an amendment to get big money out of politics. Sixteen states, more than 550 cities and towns, and public figures including former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and President Barack Obama have already voiced support for an amendment. Recent polling found that nearly three in four voters (73 percent) favor it.

Organizations contributing petitions included People For the American Way, MoveOn.org, CREDO, Daily Kos, Public Citizen, Public Change Campaign Committee, USAction, Common Cause, Democrats.com, Free Speech For People, Coffee Party, Center for Media and Democracy, Brave New Films, Progressive Democrats of America, Sierra Club, US PIRG, Communications Workers of America, Wolf PAC, Move to Amend, Food and Water Watch, Corporate Accountability International, Greenpeace, Public Campaign, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the League of Conservation Voters, and the Story of Stuff Project.

Get more information on PFAW’s Government By the People work here.

PFAW

Safe Schools Letter Campaign Wraps Another Week, Twelve Groups Have Gone on Record

The letter-a-day campaign for safe schools that PFAW is leading just finished another week, and now twelve groups have gone on record with Congress in support of safe schools legislation. Together, we are sending loud and clear the message that all students deserve far better than what they're getting when it comes to bullying and harassment in schools.

Below are excerpts from this week's letters.

Family Equality Council:

America has a rich tradition of valuing education and protecting and nurturing children through the educational process. Children with LGBT parents should not grow up feeling that their country does not value their success or the legitimacy of their parents and their families. We must ensure that all children have the same opportunity to thrive – which requires that they feel safe, supported and valued in school. Students experiencing harassment based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or because they have LGBT parents are deprived of equal educational opportunities and are too often left with few or no avenues for recourse.

The Trevor Project:

In honor of next month's Day of Silence highlighting anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment in schools, and on behalf of the more than one hundred thousand lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth served annually by The Trevor Project’s life-saving programming, we write in strong support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA, H.R. 1199 & S. 403). We thank the 226 bipartisan House and Senate cosponsors of this critical bill for addressing what has become a pervasive national problem, and we urge all members of Congress to join them.

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund:

We urge you to support SSIA in response to increasing reports of harassment and violence faced by Sikh American students in schools. Consider the experience of Akashdeep Singh Ahluwalia, an eleven year-old Sikh American from New Jersey. Like many Sikh American students, who keep their articles of faith, he was bullied. Akashdeep was bullied so often that he had to change schools. When asked how he feels about the harassment he continues to face he responded, “It really depresses me. But in the end what can I do?”

American Association of University Women:

In addition to requiring policies prohibiting bullying and harassment, effective complaint procedures, and information sharing in current reporting systems, SSIA also provides opportunities for professional development to prevent bullying and harassment and student education programs. This is a critically important bill that will make a real difference in the lives of ALL students nationwide. That is why this bill is supported by over 110 leading national organizations in the fields of education, health, youth development, civil rights and religion.

PFLAG National:

Specifically, today’s letter to you involves three bills: [t]he Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), [t]he Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and [the] Every Child Deserves a Family [Act] (ECDF).

PFLAG is the nation’s largest family and ally organization.  It is comprised of parents, families, friends and straight allies united with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LGBT)[,] and has more than 350 chapters and 200,000 members and supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities and town and rural areas in all 50 states.

PFLAG’s values are America’s values.  We believe that the welfare, safety and well-being of our children, all of our children, is an American value with a high priority that merits your attention.

Here are some of our earlier participants – more support for safe schools.

PFAW will continue to update you as we approach April 11, this year's Day of Silence – an annual event organized by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that is meant to draw attention to the "silencing effects" of anti-gay harassment and name-calling in schools and to be a way for students to show their solidarity with students who have been bullied.

Just today we released a new policy toolkit, Education Without Discrimination: Creating Safe Schools for All Students.

Please also check out PFAW's report on Big Bullies: How the Religious Right is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids and its 2012 update.

PFAW

Bullying, harassment, and hate crimes – got data?

In an effort to ensure equal opportunity, the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection surveys schools nationwide on a range of topics including staffing and finance; college and career readiness; and discipline. The most recent survey, for the 2009-2010 school year, asked about bullying and harassment for the first time in its 44-year history. The American Association of University Women analyzed the data on sex-based bullying and harassment.

As you can see, 14 of the 20 largest districts reported no bullying and harassment. If there really were no incidents, that would be great, and our work there would be done. But it’s hard to believe that’s the case given AAUW’s own data and that provided by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. (While sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t named on the DOE survey, LGBT youth often get caught up in other types of bullying incidents, especially those that are sex-based.)

For NYC, there's plenty of data. Yet their official report included no allegations of bullying and harassment. Not on sex. And not on race or disability. Then take a look at a much smaller district, my home of Jackson Local Schools. With just over 5,700 students, they reported 2 sex-based allegations, and 1 each for race and disability.

Similar inconsistencies are found when you look at hate crimes data. Nobody wants incidents like this to happen, but it’s pretty clear that they are happening.

According to the Anti-Defamation League:

The largest number of law enforcement agencies (14,977) since the start of the hate crimes annual report in 1990 participated in the 2010 collection of data. Yet, only 13 percent of these participating agencies reported a single hate crime to the FBI, which was the lowest number of agencies reporting one or more hate crimes since the 2002 report. Disturbingly, thousands of law enforcement agencies nationwide did not report to the FBI, including at least three agencies in cities with populations of 250,000 or more and at least twelve agencies in cities with populations of 100,000 to 250,000.

With a population of over 400,000 in 2010, Miami has reported zero hate crimes in each of the last 5 federal reporting years, yet the state report lists 11 for Miami-Date County in 2010 alone. And Toledo, OH, which has over 300,000 residents, hasn’t even participated. WTOL: “Chief Mike Navarre says that it's not because they don't have them. His department doesn't have the manpower to separate hate crimes from the 75,000 reports they take a year.” In contrast, Massillon, OH, a city of just 33,000, reported 2 incidents.

Whatever the reasons for underreporting or nonreporting might be, the data is still critically lacking. Lisa Maatz of AAUW:

Transparency is a first step toward understanding sexual harassment in our schools and is necessary to make schools a safer place for all students to learn.

We can’t adequately address the problems of bullying, harassment, and hate crimes without understanding how far they reach. And a federal government collection of data, with uniform definitions and requirements, is the only way that we will get a useful national picture. Only then can we hope to accurately compare one area with another and effectively track where our efforts need to be focused.

PFAW