By Yolanda "Cookie" Parker
I almost heard one of the most famous speeches in American history from a first aid tent on the National Mall.
On August 28, 1963, when I was 17 years old, my older sister and I snuck out of our house in Maryland at 6:00 am and traveled to the March on Washington, despite our parents’ objections. The day was hot and I hadn’t eaten anything. Standing in the front row, listening to the day’s first speeches, I fainted. The next thing I knew, I was in the first aid tent and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was about to begin his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. My sister and I rushed back out into the huge, alive crowd. It was a sight I will never forget.
Fifty years later, I listened to President Obama speak in the same place as Dr. King. I have come a long way since then – besides being lucky enough to have a chair this time – and, so has our country. Returning to the site of the 1963 March, it was impossible not to be moved by the sight of our first African-American president speaking in the same place that Dr. King had spoken.
My own story speaks to the extraordinary success of all those who fought for Civil Rights when I was growing up. However, it also reminds me that we have not achieved an easy pat ending of racial equality simply because we have our first African-American President as many on the political right would like us to believe.
I grew up in a military family – my stepfather was in the Air Force – which meant that my mother had to bring her own civil rights movement with her as we moved from base to base.
I started high school at a segregated school in Biloxi, Mississippi, where all girls in the 9th grade were not allowed to take science, and instead had to take home economics. After my parents went to the school board and got a special dispensation for me to take science, I was forced to sit in the back of a classroom full of boys. I still won the school’s science contest.
We then moved to Hamilton AFB in Marin County, California and lived on base. A little more than a year later my stepfather was transferred and since we could not go with him we had to move off base. The only area we could move to in those days was pretty dilapidated so my Mother repeatedly petitioned officials in the Kennedy Administration, and refused to move off base for months until my family was allowed to move into decent housing, which was in an all-white neighborhood. Before we could move in, Air Force officials went door-to-door, checking to see if any of our new neighbors minded if a “colored family” moved in. They didn’t – and ultimately, some of those neighbors became good friends.
In the last semester of my senior year in high school, we were transferred to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland where I had to attend a newly integrated high school in Suitland, MD. I remember one teacher who was astounded that I had an aptitude for math and science. When I did well on my initial exam, she said in astonishment, “Oh, Yolanda, I didn’t know colored people could do math!”
Eventually, I built a career at IBM, worked for a tech startup and then started my own company with software I developed.
Throughout my career, I’ve known that none of this would have been possible if not for the relentless determination of my mother and the principled impatience of civil rights leaders like Dr. King and Whitney Young, Jr. As President Obama said on the anniversary of the March, “The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn't bend on its own.” There were a lot of hands bending that arc.
Although I’ve come from being banned from science class to starting a tech company, from fainting in front of the Lincoln Memorial to working as hard as I could to help elect our first African-American President, I know that achieving Dr. King’s dream, and my mother’s dream, is still going to take a lot of work.
When my son got his driver’s license in 1993, my husband and I still had to give him “the talk” about being a young black man in America – the same talk my husband’s father gave him. And today, my friends who have young children of color must explain what happened to Trayvon Martin and why, heartbreakingly, they need to understand it.
Decades after my mother fought to get my family into decent housing and to give me an equal education, the income and wealth gaps between African-Americans and whites are continuing to widen. The unemployment rate for African-Americans is still twice that of whites. Our schools still provide a wildly different quality of education to children of different races. And even the protections for voting rights that were secured by the Civil Rights Movement were just torn apart by the United States Supreme Court.
Coretta Scott King once said, “Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.” When I hear that, I think of my mother and of the young people today who are now picking up the mantle.
The truth is that for all of us, the story of the progress of our nation is the story of our own individual lives. And in all of our stories, we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go and therefore must keep fighting for economic justice, voter justice and educational justice.
Yolanda “Cookie” Parker is the founder and president of KMS Software Company and a member of the board of People For the American Way. She also served on President Obama’s National Finance Committee.
At an AFL-CIO convention this weekend, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called out the increasingly pro-corporate lean of the U.S. Supreme Court. Politico reports:
On the opening day of the AFL-CIO’s convention, Warren — the highest-profile national Democrat to address the gathering here — warned attendees of a “corporate capture of the federal courts.”
In a speech that voiced a range of widely held frustrations on the left, Warren assailed the court as an instrument of the wealthy that regularly sides with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She cited an academic study that called the current Supreme Court’s five conservative-leaning justices among the “top 10 most pro-corporate justices in half a century.”
“You follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business,” Warren said, drawing murmurs from the crowd.
The study that Warren was referring to is a Minnesota Law Review study that found that the five conservative justices currently on the Supreme Court have sided with corporate interests at a greater rate than most justices since World War II. All five were among the ten most corporate-friendly justices in over 50 years. Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts were the top two.
The Supreme Court majority’s consistent twisting of the law to put the interests of corporations over those of individuals is one of the main characteristics of the Roberts Court, but it is not the only extremely influential court with such a pro-corporate bent. In fact, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to which President Obama has nominated three highly qualified candidates, has been following the same trend, also because of the influence of judges named by George W. Bush. This is the court whose ultra-conservative justices declared that cigarette label warning requirements violate the free speech rights of tobacco companies and that requiring that employers inform employees of their right to unionize violates the free speech rights of the corporations.
While there is not currently a vacancy at the Supreme Court that could affect its balance, there are three at the DC Circuit. That is why Senate Republicans are working so hard to keep them empty.
Between the Supreme Court’s decision to neuter Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the passage of one of the nation’s most restrictive voter ID bills in North Carolina, with many other states also passing bills to restrict voting and registration, it’s been a tough year for the right to vote in America. And it just got worse in Virginia, where elections are just around the corner.
According to a report by Think Progress, around “57,000 Virginians have been flagged as being registered in another state, and counties are removing some from the voter rolls without any notice or opportunity to rebut the claim.” This is a crucial point in this case: it’s one thing to make thousands of registered voters jump through hoops to prove they’re eligible to vote in the state, but it’s quite another to remove those voters without any notice, less than two months before an election and less than six weeks before the registration deadline. If the voter was removed in error, the burden is on that voter to fix the state’s mistake in time to vote this November. As Think Progress points out, 57,000 voters is around 3% of the number of voters in 2009—more than enough to make the difference in a close election.
This is disturbing news, particularly following reports that Florida may be looking to take another shot at purging their voter rolls, which they failed to do in time for the 2012 election. Oh, and Iowa, too. Any other swing states feel like joining in?
For more information on voter purges, take a look at the Brennan Center’s report, as well as our report on voter fraud, The Right To Vote Under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box.
Right Wing Watch reported this summer about the creation of the Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA), a new anti-immigrant group designed to appeal to African Americans, which is just the latest member of a closely knit circle of anti-immigrant groups tied to Nativist leader John Tanton.
Also part of that circle are the three most prominent groups working to stop immigration reform in Congress: The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and Numbers USA.
Our friends at the immigrants’ rights groups America’s Voice, Black Alliance For Just Immigration and Center for New Community have put together a great, short video illustrating the ties between these groups and how they’re working together to try to bring down the new immigration law.
In our recent report, “Chipping Away at Choice,” we examined the ways that conservatives in state legislatures are quietly undermining the right to choose by passing laws meant to shut down abortion providers.
An analysis by Bloomberg BusinessWeek published today finds that that strategy has been enormously effective. In fact, Bloomberg finds, almost one out of every ten abortion clinics in the country has closed since 2011, as conservative lawmakers have passed 200 abortion restrictions – as many as in the previous ten years combined.
At least 58 U.S. abortion clinics -- almost 1 in 10 -- have shut or stopped providing the procedure since 2011 as access vanishes faster than ever amid a Republican-led push to legislate the industry out of existence.
A wave of regulations that makes it too expensive or logistically impossible for facilities to remain in business drove at least a third of the closings. Demographic changes, declining demand, industry consolidation, doctor retirements and crackdowns on unfit providers were also behind the drop. More clinics in Texas and Ohio are preparing to shut as soon as next month.
Opponents have tried to stop access to abortion through civil disobedience, blockades and legal action. Clinics were bombed and doctors killed. Now, legislatures are proving to be the most effective tool after Republicans made historic gains in the 2010 elections. Their success is creating one of the biggest shifts in reproductive health care since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 legalized abortion in all 50 states.
The pace began accelerating in 2011. Since then, through Aug. 1 of this year, state lawmakers passed 200 abortion restrictions, according to Guttmacher. That’s about the same number that had passed in the prior 10 years combined.
The reporting by Bloomberg, coupled with data from Guttmacher, which surveys providers every few years, show that clinics have closed at a record pace since 2011. During the past three years, an average of 19 closed each year. That’s more than double the rate in the decade ending in 2008.
Interestingly, Bloomberg’s data comes from Operation Rescue, a militant anti-choice group that keeps a public database of abortion providers. Operation Rescue, of course, is thrilled by the developments. Spokeswoman Cheryl Sullenger – who served two years in federal prison for a plot to blow up an abortion clinic and has been linked with the man who murdered Kansas abortion provider George Tiller -- told Bloomberg that such laws are a doing some of her organization’s work for them: “People who don’t have power protest on the street. People who have influence work from within to enact change.”
Yesterday, we brought you the story of the Corbett administration comparing gay marriage to marriage between 12-year-olds. Now, Governor Corbett is attempting to tamp down criticism without making any substantive changes to policy. A brief filed by his administration argued that gay marriage licenses had no “value or legitimacy” and that issuing those licenses would be like issuing marriage licenses to 12-year-olds:
“Had the clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old . . . is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his ‘license’?”
On Thursday, Corbett admitted that “[t]he analogy chosen in the legal brief filed on August 28th is inappropriate." Whoa, settle down, Governor— “inappropriate?” Strong word there, that’s some real no-holds barred talk.
Generous as it is of Corbett to acknowledge this comparison was inappropriate—let alone offensive, dumb and condescending—this admission doesn’t change much. The brief still stands; the lawsuit to stop marriage licenses being issued in Montgomery County will continue; and the officials who wrote the brief still work for the governor. The official who wrote this, who thinks that gay people are as incapable of legitimate consent as children, is still a part of the state government, charged with serving the people of Pennsylvania and representing their interests. Sadly, though, with Corbett as governor, a weak apology like this might be the best we can hope for.
At the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this Wednesday, Reverend Al Sharpton made the case that people of color are facing a new generation of Jim Crow-type laws. “Jim Crow had a son,” Sharpton said, a son who writes voter suppression, Stand Your Ground, and stop-and-frisk laws. His name? “James Crow, Jr., Esquire.”
At Rosa Park’s funeral in 2005, Sharpton made similar comments:
The one we’ve got to battle is James Crow, Jr., Esquire. He’s a little more educated. He’s a little slicker. He’s a little more polished. But the results are the same. He doesn’t put you in the back of the bus. He just puts referendums on the ballot to end affirmative action where you can’t go to school. He doesn’t call you a racial name, he just marginalizes your existence.
A case in point of the slicker, more polished push for policy that disproportionately harms people of color is the assault on voting rights in North Carolina. The Institute for Southern Studies released the results of an investigation yesterday finding that mega-donor Art Pope has played an important, if largely hidden, role in making restrictive voting laws in the state a reality. Whether through funding conservative think tanks disseminating lies about voter fraud or by financially backing Republican elected officials involved in pushing the sweeping anti-voter law, Pope’s influence in bringing about what The Nation described as “the country’s worst voter suppression law” is clear.
At PFAW, we often write about the danger of individual Americans’ voices being drowned out by the roar of moneyed interests in our democracy. Through organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporate lobbyists can quietly help get Stand Your Ground and voter ID laws on the books. Art Pope’s support of North Carolina’s draconian voting law shows one more example of why the struggle to protect individual voices and votes in a democracy being flooded by the money of wealthy special interests is an uphill battle – but a battle unquestionably worth fighting.
Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has been floundering recently, facing personnel problems and dire poll numbers. But his abysmal public approval ratings aren’t stopping the governor from charging full steam ahead on his extreme agenda. A brief filed by the Corbett administration today in its lawsuit to stop Montgomery County, PA from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples argues that gay marriage licenses have no “value or legitimacy,” and that issuing those licenses is just like issuing marriage licenses to 12-year-olds:
“Had the clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old . . . is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his ‘license’?”
Unfortunately, we’re all too used to this form of argument, where homosexuality’s legitimacy is dismissed or ridiculed by comparing it to any number of things, from bestiality to alcoholism or even murder. Now, we know that the governor of Pennsylvania is also struggling to understand the concept of consent, which is what makes gay marriage actually nothing at all like children getting married: children can’t consent, adults can. These actions show Corbett’s deep misunderstanding of marriage equality, and an inability (or refusal) to see it for what it is. They also show that, despite the great Supreme Court victories for gay rights this year, there’s still a lot of work to do.
Yesterday Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s) and Edward Erikson had a great op-ed at CNN.com connecting the student debt crisis with the broader issue of big money’s influence in our political system:
But the education system isn't broken -- it's “fixed.” If we're serious about tackling the issue of affordable education and student debt, we need to strike at the root of the problem -- the influence of money in politics.
Private corporations like Sallie Mae -- which own 15% or $162.5 billion dollars of total student debt -- rake in private-island-purchasing profits while students suffer.
Indeed, from student debt bills to workers’ rights legislation to environmental protections, policies that protect everyday Americans will continue to face uphill battles until we can limit the influence of wealthy special interests in our democracy.
Cohen and Erikson point out:
It's time to dam the deluge of cash and corporate influence in Washington once and for all….Thanks to the leadership by groups like People for the American Way, Move to Amend, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and Public Citizen, 16 states have passed referendums calling on Congress to take action and over 150 members of Congress support the amendment strategy. (emphasis added)
And with so much amendment momentum at the state and local level, PFAW and allies are shifting our focus to Congress. As part of our “160 Summer” campaign, money in politics groups are working toward a goal of getting 160 members of Congress to sponsor an amendment resolution limiting the deluge of big money pouring into our elections by overturning Citizens United. Has your representative already voiced their support?
As Cohen and Erikson put it, “This is our future and our fight to win.”
Last week, People For the American Way issued its latest Right Wing Watch: In Focus report on the stark choice presented to congressional Republicans: stand up for the comprehensive immigration reform supported by a strong majority of Americans, or stand with anti-immigrant extremists using lies and bigotry to derail it.
On Tuesday, we hosted a telebrieifing with PFAW members to discuss the report, the prospects for reform in the House of Representatives and how activists can help make a difference.
If you missed it, you can listen to the call here.
And, of course, take a look at the report itself, Congressional Republicans' Clear Choice on Immigration: Stand With Pro-Reform Majorities or Cave to Anti-Immigrant Extremists.
In June 2013, President Obama nominated three extremely well-qualified people to fill the three vacancies on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, a court that has been deemed “the second most important in the United States.” As the nominees - appellate attorney Patricia Millet, Georgetown law professor and appellate advocate Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, and D.C. District Court judge and former public defender Robert Wilkins - make their way out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and towards the Senate floor, Senate Republicans are threatening to ramp up their partisan gridlock by blocking votes on any of them.
The far right has accused the president of trying to “pack” the courts just for making nominations to existing vacancies, as the Constitution calls for. Senate Republicans have even introduced a bill to eliminate the three judgeships, just to keep President Obama from filling them.
In anticipation of the fight we expect to see this fall, People For the American Way has drafted an activist toolkit for concerned citizens across the United States who understand the importance of the courts, and who know we must stand up against Republican obstruction. Check it out here:
Pat Robertson’s theory that gay men in San Francisco intentionally infect other people with HIV/AIDS using special sharp rings earned Robertson a spot on Anderson Cooper’s RidicuList last night.
Robertson made the comment on Tuesday’s broadcast of the 700 Club, which his producers then edited out of the version of the show posted online. Luckily, Right Wing Watch found the missing section of the video on the 700 Club’s YouTube account before the network yanked that as well. Since then, Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network has been trying desperately to remove our copies of the video from YouTube – an effort that has just brought more attention to Robertson’s comments.
In his RidicuList segment last night, Cooper played our video of Robertson’s comments, and for context added our clips of Robertson speculating that homosexuality is “related to demonic possession,” wishing for a Facebook “vomit” button to use on pictures of gay couples kissing; advising a man to “move to Saudi Arabia” so he can beat his wife; telling a woman whose husband cheated on her to not worry about it because “he’s a man”; and marveling at the popularity of “50 Shades of Gray” among women.
In a video posted today, Slate also explores CBN’s attempted cover-up of Robertson’s theory:
Sadly, we’re sure that we will have collected many more of Robertson’s unique insights by the time his next turn on the RidicuList rolls around.
As the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meets in a swanky Chicago hotel for its 40th annual summit this week, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) has raised some important questions for the corporations that may be funding the group.
Roll Call reports that Sen. Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s civil rights subcommittee, has reached out to more than 300 corporations that are possible ALEC funders to ask for their positions on “Stand Your Ground” laws. Durbin announced last month that he will hold a hearing on these laws in the fall.
Because ALEC operates behind closed doors, it can be a challenge to expose the corporations, corporate trade associations, and corporate foundations backing its damaging work. Durbin’s letter notes:
Although ALEC does not maintain a public list of corporate members or donors, other public documents indicate that your company funded ALEC at some point during the period between ALEC’s adoption of model “stand your ground” legislation in 2005 and the present day.
Despite the potential roadblocks, Durbin’s letter shines a spotlight on the clear link between ALEC, an organization that connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators, and the “Stand Your Ground” laws it helped to get on the books in over two dozen states. And this is a critical connection to highlight, because as PFAW President Michael Keegan wrote last month, these are laws which “help create a climate like the one that encouraged George Zimmerman to use lethal force against an unarmed teenager.”
As you may have heard, 2010 Tea Party candidate Ken Buck has decided to throw his hat into the ring for the 2014 Senate race in Colorado. Unfortunately for him, no one has forgotten the extreme record that led voters to reject him last time around.
All photos by Scott Foval.
Bill Moyers once called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) the “most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of.” Today, PFAW is helping to change that – coming out in full force to shed some light on the harm ALEC’s extreme agenda causes to everyday Americans.
As ALEC holds its 40th annual meeting in Chicago, PFAW is there – along with ally organizations, labor groups, and advocates from around the country – to crash their party. The protest happening now outside Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton is the biggest anti-ALEC protest to date.
The mass of people at the rally underscores the growing momentum to expose and fight back against ALEC, which connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators to pass special interest legislation in all fifty states. For four decades, ALEC has worked behind closed doors to get laws harmful to everyday Americans on the books – working against paid sick days, pushing tax policies favoring the rich, and helping “Stand Your Ground” become law in more than two dozen states. As our signs say, “ALEC corporations write laws, real people suffer.”
And today, we’re calling them out.