people for the american way

DC has a 200-year long line at the polls…but not for long

Long lines at the polls on Election Day are a problem not to be ignored. But imagine if you had been standing in line to vote since 1801. That’s where you’ll find the nearly 600,000 Americans living in DC. Thankfully, their 200-year wait is nearly over.

This morning the Senate brought DC one step closer to the ballot box by clearing a procedural hurdle placed in the way of the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009 (S. 160). I was in the Capitol as 62 Senators cast votes in favor of moving this bill forward. By the end of the week, it may very well be in the hands of the House. Then it’s on to the President’s desk. President Obama is a strong supporter of DC voting rights and a former cosponsor of the bill, which would give DC a full Representative with the same voting power as other House members.

As I joined my colleagues who had gathered for the vote, I couldn’t help but think about my own journey to get to this point. DC voting rights has had a place in my portfolio for some time, and an even longer history with People For the American Way, an organization that has worked for years in the field and on Capitol Hill alongside DC Vote and its coalition in support of DC’s voting voice in Congress.

Today is a day of great celebration for all of us who belong to this movement, including those of you who have made calls, written letters, and visited Congress to say that House representation is long overdue for DC. Thank you for everything you’ve done.

But the fight is not yet over. The right-wing has S. 160 (and its House companion, H.R. 157) in its sight and will try to derail its progress. Contact your Representative and Senators to make sure they are on the right side of history when it comes to the rights of DC residents.

And the fight will not be over even when DC can cast a House vote. It is high time the nation’s capital be given both House and Senate representation, with voting power in both chambers.

PFAW

The Obstruction Strategy

On Wednesday night, I was thrilled to represent People For the American Way members and activists at a small White House reception. When meeting the President and First Lady, as well as Vice President Biden and his wife Jill, it really sunk in that, finally, progressives are no longer locked out as we were during the Bush administration. People For's seat at the table is the Obama administration's recognition of you and all your efforts, your passion and your activism, and our collective strength.

We will still need to organize and fight to achieve our goals, but so much more is possible now and it's good to know that we have a receptive audience. Our vigilance is needed to help make sure the administration does the right thing, but it's also needed because with this shift that I've just described, the Far Right has amplified its efforts to divide Americans and obstruct a progressive agenda.

Yesterday, People For the American Way released a Right Wing Watch In Focus report exposing the Radical Right's real intentions in their efforts to obstruct confirmation of President Obama's Department of Justice nominees:

"The rhetoric used in the attacks, documented extensively on RightWingWatch.org, suggests that the campaign may be less about actually stopping any of these nominees and more about getting right-wing activists, pundits, and lawmakers warmed up for similar attacks on eventual Obama nominees to the federal judiciary, and in particular to the U.S. Supreme Court."

This is more than just "playing politics." The DOJ is a vital branch of the government and these positions are critical to fill. Americans need to be able to put the past eight years of politicization and cronyism at the Department behind us and once again rely on the DOJ as a protector of our rights and values.

As I write this, the Justice Department is at the center of some serious legal matters pertaining to fundamental checks and balances. The Bush administration pushed most people's understanding of executive power to the limit and went significantly beyond. Some members of Congress did not take it lying down, asserting their constitutional authority and acting on their duty to check the president's power and cut through the extreme secrecy. But the process will be a long and intense one and we need a full team in place at Justice to help do the job.

The Senate must not delay in confirming all of the president's nominees, and first up, due to be voted on in committee next week, is Deputy Attorney General nominee David Ogden.

Ogden is incredibly well qualified, but the Right has attacked him because of his representation of American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, and, yes, Playboy and Penthouse in First Amendment cases. They also went after him for arguing vigorously on behalf of a woman's right to choose and advocating that the U.S. follow the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child -- something that only the most fringe elements on the Right oppose.

But most of all, the Far Right is flexing its muscle in advance of judicial confirmation battles to come.

The Family Research Council has generated thousands of calls to the Senate in opposition to Ogden as a show of strength. It is absolutely necessary that senators not only hear from their side. Every senator needs to see that progressive activists are willing to stand up for constitutional values and weigh in on these fights. And they need to see it well in advance of Obama's first judicial nominations.

Please take a moment now to send an e-mail to your senators urging the swift confirmation of David Ogden as Deputy Attorney General.

Whether you live in a red state or a blue state, your senators need to hear from you. Even the most right-wing senators need to know that people in their states are spreading a counter message and are ready to hold them accountable.

Help Ogden achieve speedy confirmation for the sake of the DOJ AND to show senators that it's not only the Right that's strong.

PFAW

Rumors of their death...

Even before November's election, gallons of ink were being spilled to report the demise of the Religious Right. But, as Mark Twain might have said, rumors of the Right's death have been greatly exaggerated.

A small incident that was mostly ignored by the media gives a glimpse of the Radical Right's continued pull on Capitol Hill. Last week, People For's Right Wing Watch blog documented the evolution of a right-wing lie, starting with complaints by Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice that a provision in the stimulus bill discriminated against people of faith (and was, specifically, anti-Christian). In fact the provision in the bill was standard language that barred the use of federal funds to construct buildings designed for religious worship or sectarian instruction and had no bearing at all on campus prayer.  Nevertheless, ACLJ's complaints bubbled up through the right-wing echo chamber and eventually became an amendment, offered by Senator DeMint of South Carolina, to strip the provision. The amendment was ultimately defeated, although by a less-than-comfortable margin. In the end, 43 senators, including some Democrats, voted with DeMint ... on an amendment that was based on nothing but the paranoid demagoguery of a fringe right-wing organization.

The right-wing message machine is firing on all cylinders too: aggressively targeting the Obama administration. It has already weighed in heavily on the economic stimulus plan, ensuring that there was no Republican support for the Obama plan during the House vote (and little more in the Senate), and Religious Right leaders are moving quickly to increase their influence within the Republican Party and at the state and local level.

Perhaps most dauntingly, the Right is laying the groundwork for future battles over judicial nominations. Some Right Wing leaders, including Family Research Counsel President Tony Perkins, have been very explicit about linking their current attacks on DOJ nominees to future obstruction of Obama judges. And if the current attacks are any indication, they'll throw everything they've got at the President's nominees to the bench. Deputy Attorney General-nominee David Ogden, for instance, represented groups defending the First Amendment (including the American Library Association and the American Booksellers Association), and is now being smeared as a "porn lawyer" for his efforts. Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel, is being aggressively targeted because of her outspoken opposition to the Bush administration's support of torture, rendition, and warrentless spying -- to say nothing of her time on staff at NARAL Pro-Choice America.

People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation are out there every day -- pushing back on the Right's unyielding efforts. We're digging in our heels for 2009, ready to:

  • research, educate about and counter extreme claims of the Radical Right;
  • uphold and advocate for a progressive vision of the Constitution;
  • support the confirmation of progressive jurists and promote progressive legal theories while taking part in strategic litigation;
  • fight for equality for all, especially through the Foundation's work to combat homophobia in the Black Church; and
  • invest in progressive leadership.

You can help with these efforts by helping to expose the Radical Right in your community, and by staying abreast of right-wing trends by reading the Right Wing Watch blog (and signing up for regular Best of the Blog e-mail updates).

By standing with People For the American Way, you are standing against the undeserved influence of right-wing extremists in our politics and our culture. And I thank you for it.

PFAW

Dealing With the Right's Big Lies

We here at People For have been making the case since the November elections that even though the results were devastating for the Republican Party, they actually strengthened the Radical Right and increased its influence within the GOP. Republicans in Congress are now unabashedly taking their marching orders directly from right-wing demagogues and organizations ... even scarier: some Democrats seem to be falling in line as well.

Kyle at Right Wing Watch had two great posts yesterday on the Right's direct manipulation of some of the biggest current debates in Washington. He exposed how the targeting of President Obama's DOJ nominees is really being directed by the Family Research Counsel and other fringe groups and wrote about the outright lie started by Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) that a provision of the stimulus package -- now being debated in the Senate -- is an attack on people of faith.

The ACLJ’s water was carried by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) who actually offered an amendment to the stimulus package which would have stripped the 'controversial' provision -- the provision in question simply prevents the tax dollars being appropriated here from being used to support religion. So we had DeMint and others parroting lies on the Senate floor to support an amendment that had no legitimacy whatsoever.

And the amendment only failed by a close vote of 54-43 ... with several Democrats defecting and voting for DeMint's amendment!

Why did they defect? Well, in part, it's because President Obama's been sending them the wrong message about how to deal with the Religious Right. The other day, the president announced the creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, but very conspicuously did not use the opportunity to rescind the Bush-administration policy making it legal for recipients of faith-based funding to discriminate in providing services.

Equivocation on very fundamental religious liberty issues will not help the country, and it will not help the president move his agenda. President Obama is starting to get angry – and rightly so -- at the people who are trying to derail his stimulus package. Most critics are trying to Republicanize the spending package to kill some very vital spending that would aid recovery and add more tax cuts. The president correctly states that the old supply-side economic policies of Reagan and Bush -- reckless tax cuts, cuts in spending where the economy needs it most, rampant and irresponsible deregulation -- were exactly the same policies that landed us in this economic mess to begin with. But now, some Democratic Senators are being cowed by the Rush Limbaugh-led Right into compromising on key parts of the stimulus plan.

Getting beyond partisanship is a lofty ambition, but when the other side is trying to take the country backwards, firm opposition is what's needed. Our new president would be best served to stick to the principles he campaigned on and stand up to the Right's ideological agenda -- whether it rears its ugly head in the economic debate or in the arena of constitutional rights and the separation of church and state.

President Obama and all the Democrats on the Hill should read People For the American Way's new Right Wing Watch In Focus memo on The Right's "Big Lie" Strategy.

PFAW

Restoring Justice, Step by Step

On Monday, Eric Holder was confirmed as Attorney General. Big news ... and good news for Americans who depend on the Justice Department to defend their rights. A bit more under the radar, Monday also saw another important piece of news at the DOJ. Leslie Hagen, a Justice Department attorney who was fired by Monica Goodling because of rumors that she was a lesbian, was rehired to her previous job at the Department.

This is just one step in cleaning up the appalling mess at the DOJ left by egregious politicization during the Bush administration. Monica Goodling, senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was by all objective standards unqualified for such a high post. Her only "qualifications" -- the only ones that mattered in the Gonzales DOJ -- were that she was a partisan ideologue who graduated from Pat Robertson's Regent University Law School and was committed to reshaping the Justice Department to operate on a right-wing agenda.

Even though the politicization of the DOJ under President Bush was shameful (and possibly criminal), some senators apparently think it should continue and are taking their marching orders from the Radical Right. The next targets of their witch hunt? Three more of the president's eminently qualified DOJ nominees: David Ogden, Thomas Perrelli and Dawn Johnsen.

Dawn Johnson, for example, has been tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) -- the office that, under the Bush administration, produced the memos that served as its guidelines for detainee treatment and executive overreaching. Johnsen has been a harsh critic of the Bush administration's legal justifications for its policies. And, in her extremely impressive legal career, she spent several years at NARAL Pro-Choice America. Already some senators like Jeff Sessions of Alabama -- who earlier this week assailed the Johnsen nomination on the Senate floor -- are suggesting that, in their view, pro-choice bona fides should be an instant disqualifier.

Quickly confirming the rest of President Obama's Justice Department team will be one more important step, but there's still much more to be done to repair what was so damaged during the Bush years.

Let's look back at just a few of the disasters born out of DOJ's right-wing politicization:

  • political firings of U.S. attorneys;
  • political firings of staff attorneys, especially in the Civil Rights Division;
  • refusal to properly enforce civil rights laws, particularly those protecting voting rights;
  • Department approval and justification of unconstitutional policies from warrantless domestic spying to the denial of habeas corpus and torture.

People For the American Way will be pushing for investigations into these wrongdoings. I know how important this issue is to our activists -- you've pitched in time and again over the last eight years as we've pushed for accountability and the rule of law at the DOJ, and hundreds of you wrote me impassioned emails last week about just how critical it is to keep pushing.

Karl Rove and others who are subpoenaed to testify or provide documents must comply and cooperate not just with Justice Department probes into these matters, but also with any and all congressional investigations. Congressional action is what's needed to get to the bottom of what happened, hold those responsible accountable and prevent similar abuses of power from happening in the future.

Making sure investigations happen and proceed effectively and making sure President Obama's other Justice Department nominees are confirmed smoothly are just two things we'll be working hard for in the coming weeks, and there will be much more.

I'd also like to take a moment to ackowledge Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who is in the hospital recovering from surgery. She's a true defender of our constitutional values and I know you'll join me and the rest of the staff of People For in wishing her a speedy recovery.

PFAW

New Rasmussen Supreme Court Poll: Garbage In, Garbage Out

This week, right-wing polling firm Rasmussen Reports heralded a new poll which supposedly revealed that 64% of Americans think that "Supreme Court decisions should be based on what is written in the Constitution," whereas only 27% think the decisions "should be guided by fairness and justice." Yes, you heard that right, Rasmussen conducted a poll which pitted "fairness and justice" against "what is written in the Constitution" and then blasted out a press release about their amazing findings.

The media all too often treats pollsters like they're interchangeable, and that's a shame. Rasmussen is infamous among pollsters for its automated polling method – computers, not people, ask the questions – which is frowned upon by mainstream practitioners. And sometimes I have to wonder whether the computers are doing more than just asking the questions. It's almost as if they're writing the poll questions and sending out the press releases too.

But back to this week's poll. Focus on the Family quickly chimed in to say it "reveals that the American people are much more conservative regarding judges than our president is or any of the liberals in Congress." This is laughable, but we can't just laugh it off.

The Right has convinced millions of Americans that the Constitution is inherently conservative and that woolly-headed liberal judges disregard the Constitution and our laws in order to reach their desired outcomes. But these are just myths they've created to help prevent what we, and the overwhelming majority of Americans, really want: a Supreme Court that interprets the Constitution in a fair and just way. There is no need to choose between "fairness and justice" and "what is written in the Constitution." We want both.

And as for Rasmussen, it's clear enough to see the game they're playing. If you ask people ridiculous questions they're going to give you ridiculous responses. You don't need a poll and a press release to tell us that.

Kathryn Kolbert is president of People For the American Way Foundation

PFAW

Executive privilege for Rove?

This was an exciting week. Our efforts to prevent the Right from building Senate opposition against Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder paid off and his nomination was approved by a 17-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And yesterday President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I was at the bill signing ceremony and it was amazing to see the leaders of our government, up to the President of the United States, so invested in enacting a law to protect civil rights.

We are not "the opposition" anymore, but we still have a vital role in passing progressive policy and making the change we need as a country happen. Many progressives have differing opinions on how best to move forward. The Bush administration was a common enemy. Its every move was predictable, motivated by its allegiance to a set of radical ideologies and ideologues. Now we are faced with the challenge of cleaning up the past administration's messes and moving our country forward. A legitimate question to ask is, how much of that effort should include holding Bush administration officials accountable for their trespasses against the Constitution and our nation's values?

Rep. John Conyers, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has subpoenaed Karl Rove to testify before the Committee on Monday about his role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and some other matters like the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Rove along with other Bush administration officials had hidden behind "executive privilege," evading testimony by essentially ignoring congressional subpoenas. And now, even with the Bush administration out of office, it looks like he's at it again!

Through his lawyers, four days before his term was up, former President Bush informed Rove that he was continuing to assert executive privilege over any testimony by Rove -- even after he leaves office -- and instructed him not to cooperate with congressional inquiries.

People For the American Way was a leader in the fight for Bush administration accountability, helping to get Congress to pass contempt citations against other Bush officials who hid behind executive privilege. Even though a new administration has taken over, if the law was broken, if the Constitution was violated, those who are guilty should be held accountable in order to preserve the rule of law and send the message to future generations and presidents that violating the law and people's rights will not go unanswered.

Getting to the bottom of the U.S. Attorney scandal and the politicization of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division is essential to cleaning up the Justice Department and putting it back to work for the American people. And I know we would all rather see Rove squirming in a congressional hot seat than as a talking head on cable news networks.

People For the American Way will not take this affront to justice sitting down. Expect us to be out front with a strong response if Rove chooses to be a no show on Monday. We'll also let you know what you can do to weigh in and make sure Rove and others in the Bush administration are held accountable and justice is served.

PFAW

It's Our Moment, Let's Make the Most of It!

This Tuesday marks what I hope will be the beginning of a dramatic new direction for our country. The relevance of President-elect Obama's inauguration falling one day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not lost on any of us. The swearing in of the first African American president will be one of the great moments in America's history and a massive leap toward the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream, not only because of Obama's race, but because the movement that swept him into office was born of the American people's desire to pursue a more just path as a nation. That in itself is something that Dr. King would have been proud to have witnessed.

I said that I "hope" this will be the beginning of a big change in direction because it's up to all of us to make sure that change actually happens, to make sure the new administration corrects the last president's worst mistakes in a timely fashion. And it's not just the Obama administration that needs to feel constant pressure from us, it's Congress as well. I've seen reports of senators and representatives showing some reluctance to make many of the bold changes we need. And as expected, we're seeing the resurgence of the Far Right as a backlash to new progressive power. The Radical Right is not only in a position to strengthen its grip on power in the Republican Party, it's ready to pounce on any anti-government sentiment that may bubble up in the coming months and years, especially -- and ironically -- as a result of the economic hard times their very policies have left us with. Long story short: People For the American Way is more needed than ever, and we need your support and your vigilance in the months and years to come.

When a group of activists confronted him shortly after his first inauguration seeking a list of specific reforms, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, "I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it." That is what grassroots democracy is all about -- making our leaders do what's right. January 20 is the end of our eight-year national nightmare, but it's just the beginning of a new chapter in which we must all do our part.

In the first two weeks of 2009, People For's been fighting the good fight -- our long-term efforts on two pay equity bills are paying off and the legislation has passed the House and is making its way through the Senate. And we've been answering the Right's attacks against Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder, whose Senate confirmation hearing I attended yesterday. Let me say that it was VERY gratifying to hear Holder clearly state that he believes waterboarding is torture, that renditions to countries where there reason to believe they will torture is wrong and that he is committed to restoring the DOJ's Civil Rights Division to a position of prominence and effectiveness). After this week's release of the Inspector General's report on politicization in the Justice Department, it's even more apparent that confirming Holder will be a great beginning to undoing that damage.

On the legal front, the Supreme Court handed People For the American Way Foundation (and the First Amendment) a victory by upholding the policy of the Fredericksburg, Virginia, City Council requiring that the official prayers recited at the beginning of its meetings be non-sectarian. Accepting one of the most important cases of the term, it also chose to hear an appeal of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Mukasey, in which People For the American Way is defending the constitutionality of an important provision of the Voting Rights Act.

We couldn't do any of our important work without your steadfast support. And with your continued support, People For the American Way will continue to carry the progressive flag and advocate your values on Capitol Hill.

Right now is a time to celebrate. Have an amazing Inaugural weekend, MLK Day and Inauguration Day. Congratulations to Barack Obama and congratulations, America!

PFAW

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Releases Report on California's Prop 8 vote

A new report released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force this week analyzing the Prop 8 vote paints a stark picture of the work that must be done by the gay rights community to change hearts and minds.  The report shows that four main factors – party affiliation, political ideology (no surprise here), frequency of attending worship services and age – drove the “yes” vote on Prop 8.  

Countering the uproar that ensued in the aftermath of Prop 8’s passage after exit polls wrongly reported 70 percent of African American supported the ban, the Task Force puts African American support for the ban in the range of 57-59 percent.  You may remember following the elections, People For the American Way Foundation President Kathryn Kolbert released a memo explaining that blaming Black voters for passage of Prop 8 is both wrong and destructive.  Fifty-nine percent isn’t the ideal, but it’s indicative of the education that must be done.  Here’s a snapshot of some of the report’s other findings: 
 
Kitty’s post-election edit memo explaining how blaming black voters for passage of Prop 8 is both wrong and destructive, continued to get plaudits from activists, including this from Alejandro Salinas on the Washingtonian blog:  “Sadly after years of experiencing and observing the way race plays out within the LGBT community, I can’t say I was really surprised by the tone and targets of the rage. Thankfully, I have been encouraged by the words of David Mixner, Kathryn Kolbert at People For the American Way, and many of my personal and blogger friends who swiftly condemned this misdirected anger.”
 
  • More than 70 percent of voters who were Republican, identified themselves as conservative, or who attended religious services at least weekly supported Proposition 8. Conversely, 70 percent or more of voters who were Democrat, identified themselves as liberal, or who rarely attended religious services opposed the measure. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of voters 65 or older supported Proposition 8, while majorities under 65 opposed it.
  • When religious service attendance was factored out, however, there was no significant difference between African Americans and other groups.  In other words, people of all races and ethnicities who worship at least once a week overwhelmingly supported Proposition 8, with support among white, Asian and Latino frequent churchgoers actually being greater than among African Americans. 
  • Overall support for marriage equality has increased by 9 percent since 2000, with support increasing among every age group under age 65, across all racial and ethnic groups and among Protestants, Catholics and Jews. There are three “holdout” groups where voting patterns have not changed: Republicans, conservatives, and those 65 and older.  The largest gain — up 16 percent — was among voters 45-64 years of age, followed by a 13 percent increase among voters 18-29.
PFAW

Vote for the 2008 Equine Posterior Achievement Award!

EPAA Award ImageThe Equine Posterior Achievement Award has been created to honor that leader whose abilities to misrepresent an issue, manipulate his/her followers, brazenly disregard reality or pander to our baser instincts reach such ridiculous levels that we don't know whether to laugh or cry. In other words, a genuine "horse's patootie."

To that individual we are pleased to present PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY's Equine Posterior Achievement Award -- this year, to be known as the Honorary McPalin Equine Posterior Achievement Award.

The duo of John McCain and Sarah Palin -- the latter, especially -- exemplified the spirit of this award in a unique way. But moving beyond the obvious, we wanted to focus this year on some people who may have slipped under the radar or just deserve consideration in their own right.

The nominees are listed at http://site.pfaw.org/epaa Go there now to cast your vote for this year's winner!

PFAW

Beyond the Sigh of Relief...

Earlier this week, People For the American Way Foundation hosted -- and I moderated -- a panel at the National Press Club to discuss what the election of Barack Obama means for the future of the Supreme Court and what kind of justices we should be fighting for. The event's title, "Beyond the Sigh of Relief," says a lot in itself, and it's fantastic that our conversation could focus on the prospects for a return to justice on the High Court rather than strategizing about how to forestall complete disaster.

I hope to have video of the full discussion to share with you in a week or two. The next day, Maryland State Senator and Constitutional Law Professor Jamin Raskin (who was on the panel) and I were on Pacifica Radio in a very substantive joint interview on the same topic. You can listen to that segment here.

Sen. Raskin is also the director of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project and shares my passion for civic education -- I've known and worked with him for years, going back to my time at Justice Talking. The other phenomenal panelists were: Julius Chambers, former director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and founder of Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham & Sumter PA; John Payton, President, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and one of the finest Court journalists out there, Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor of Slate.

Any conversation about the future of the Court needs to start with acknowledging the voter mandate Obama received on Election Day to appoint judges with a strong commitment to constitutional rights and values. Redefining the conventional wisdom that the Supreme Court is an issue that only the Right Wing cares about, this time it was Obama voters who said that the Court was extremely important to them.

Here were a few quick highlights from the rest of the event:

  • Julius Chambers made some great points about the Court's role in protecting the poor. It's not just disputes over civil rights for minorities, workers rights and environmental protections on which the Court must sometimes weigh in when the government or companies violate constitutional rights. The poor deserve to be protected by the Constitution like we all do, and too often, they certainly do not receive equal justice under the law.

  • There was much discussion about promoting racial and gender diversity on the Court and there was a consensus among us that race, religion, gender and even sexual orientation could be important considerations because they can bring different perspectives to the Court. John Payton in particular stressed just how vital this diversity of perspectives is in having a Court that functions for the best benefit of the people and the law. We also speculated on the pedigrees and career tracks of recent and not so recent nominees -- why should they all come from the corporate world or the major law firms? There are tremendous lawyers working to advance justice at places like nonprofit organizations and unions.

  • Dahlia Lithwick stressed that we need to make sure people know that the judicial philosophies we believe in are based on rigorous interpretation and a sincere love of the Constitution. The public debate over judicial philosophies has too often bought into the Right's claims that so-called "strict constructionism" is the only rigorous approach to the Constitution. But the ideals embodied in both the main articles of the Constitution and the amendments are what John Payton referred to as "aspirational" -- and it's that aspirational view of the law and justice that we subscribe to and that we think President-elect Obama does as well. It's an understanding that the Constitution is a guardian of rights and opportunity for all Americans, including those without much power in our society.

The stimulating conversation left me feeling optimistic about advancing the constitutional principles that have been under attack from right-wing organizations and the Bush administration. After eight years of seeing right-wing ideologues nominated to the federal bench, there is immense opportunity to restore constitutional values. The only thing standing in our way is the Right and the senators who are already gearing up to fight good nominees -- senators like John Kyl (R-AZ), who promised a filibuster of any Court nominee he deemed too liberal... only three days after the election.

People For the American Way will be ready for Sen. Kyl, other right-wing senators and the Right's media echo chamber. Together, we'll make sure President Obama fulfills his mandate to give Americans the Supreme Court justices they deserve.

PFAW

Great Idea Posted at Change.org/ideas: Dept. of Innovation

I wrote a post yesterday about a Change.org in which People For the American Way is participating: Ideas for Change in America. It's actually a collaboration with MySpace as well, and many organizations and everyday citizens have become involved. The ideas so far are GREAT. I hope some readers here have the chance to add their own.

One idea that I particularly liked is for the creation of a Department of Innovation. The idea in itself is incredibly innovative, and it might be just what the doctor ordered to help overcome some of the enormous challenges facing us as a country and a planet.

Here's more:

We need to harness the creative imaginations of all americans as individuals and collectives to overcome the great challenges of our time. We know we need to do this, but do we know how?

Yes. We can:
- help leaders articulate the need for innovation and focus American's creative energy on the areas that matter most and can most benefit from creative solutions
- help individuals collaborate to come up with even better ideas than they already have or could come up with on their own
- manage ideas and the innovation process so that the most promising ideas are identified, and the very best implemented successfully
- engage more and more americans in contributing creatively to solving our challenges

You can read more about this idea and others at Change.org/ideas. I also stongly encourage you to add your creativity to the process if and submit your own idea or ideas if you have any. But remembe: you can vote for many ideas! So please make sure to support National Early Voting to help it to the next round in the Civic Engagement category.

PFAW

Vote for Ideas to Change America

Change.org is running a great contest to get ideas for real change and innovation from the public and presenting some of the best ones to the Obama transition team.

From Change.org:

What's Your Big Idea for Change in America?

President-Elect Obama says he wants to hear ideas from all Americans, so we're taking him up on his offer. Submit your ideas for how to change America, discuss with others, and vote for your favorites.

The "Top 10 Ideas for America" will be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day. We will then build a national campaign to advance each idea in Congress, marshaling the resources of Change.org, MySpace, and our dozens of partner organizations and millions of combined members.

There are a bunch of issue categories under which you can enter ideas. I already entered National Early Voting as a People For the American Way-sponsored idea in the Civic Engagement category. Please read more and support the idea by clicking the vote count button so it can make it to the second round.

Click here:

http://www.change.org/ideas/view/national_early_voting_great_way_to_safeguard_fair_elections

Then cruise the change.org/ideas site, read about some other ideas and ENTER YOUR OWN!

If you post an idea that you think People For the American Way would like to sponsor, please send me the link for your idea, after you post it, at bbetz[at]pfaw[dot]org.

Good luck with your idea or ideas. And tell your friends!

PFAW

New Senate Can Deliver Some Quick Victories

A Washington Post article today points out that even not counting the two yet-undecided Senate contests in MN and GA, the Democrats could have the filibuster-proof 60 votes to move several key pieces of legislation by picking up a few Republicans. The article highlights several possible bills - two of which are civil rights bills of particular interest to People For the American Way.

First up: DC Voting Rights. The right of voters to be fully represented in Congress is paramount to the health of our democracy. Shamefully, the institutional disenfranchisement of Americans is probably most egregious in our nation’s capital, where 600,000 taxpayers have a congressional representative with no voting power.

Voting rights in Congress for the District of Columbia is another example. Legislation to expand the House of Representatives from 435 to 437 seats by giving the District and Utah an additional vote each were three votes shy of the 60 needed to end a filibuster in September 2007. Eight Republicans voted with the Democratic majority, which is 51 to 49 and includes two independents.

In addition, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - for which People For the American Way was far out front in leading the fight - could have the support it needs to correct a terrible Supreme Court decision (a decision supported by both of President Bush's right-wing Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito).

In April, 50 Democrats and six Republicans supported legislation that would have amended the 1964 Civil Rights Act by allowing more time for workers to file discrimination complaints. Five new Democrats will be replacing Republicans who opposed the legislation named after Lilly Ledbetter, the female employee who lost her suit against Goodyear Tire and Rubber over discrimination claims. The Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter should have filed her claim within six months of the alleged incidents.

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As my daughter would say... OMG!

It's been quite a time here in Washington DC. Lots of excitement in the air about he new administration. People we know and love are taking new jobs with the Obama administration (how good does that sound!) and helping to plan for one of the truly historic changes we've seen in recent years. Staff here at People For are excited about all the opportunities we will have to push some new creative ideas forward, both at the federal level and in the states. And to top that off, I got the news that the National Journal has rated People For the American Way the number one most effective advocacy organization at "winning the ground game" and helping to expand Democratic power this year.

Earlier this week I had another opportunity to celebrate. People For founder Norman Lear and his good friend, poet Maya Angelou, came to my hometown of Philadelphia to be honored with the Marian Anderson Award, which is given to honor people who use art and culture to further social justice.

Norman, of course, broke new ground and social taboos with television programs that provoked countless conversations in American homes, founded People For the American Way, bought and shared with the American public a first printing of the Declaration of Independence, and created Declare Yourself, which got more than 2 million young voters signed up this year. He never stops!

The awards event, as you'd expect, included great music and art, from the Philadelphia Orchestra to hip hop poets and gospel music. I was especially touched by director Jonathan Demme talking about his belief in People For the American Way, the work we do and the television ads he created for us many years ago. 

If this wasn't enough activity for one week, I also spent a rainy Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia protesting the passage of Proposition 8 in California. One of the best parts of the demonstration (about 500 people outside Philadelphia City Hall) was that the event was only one of many demonstrations held across the country on that Saturday. Back in D.C., People For staff and activists joined the local march and many of you were kind enough to share notes and pictures from marches you attended in your communities. Thanks so much. You truly understand how much is at stake if we allow the Right to chip away at the constitutional values that lie at the heart of America.

All in all, this week has been incredibly inspiring. It was truly great to see how appreciated we are at the Marian Anderson event, to see how committed so many of you are to the cause of equality, and knowing that I lead an organization so uniquely qualified to help bring about the positive change this country needs.

We're already seeing a newly energized Radical Right. Although their unpopular president is leaving office, they are already taking aim at the incoming Obama administration. They're digging in their heels to do all they can to keep this country from moving forward. And that's where we come in. As long as the Right is willing to sustain their attacks on constitutional values, we'll need your help to protect them -- it's the American Way.

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This American Moment

I think one of the most exciting things about the recent presidential election is the amazing number of Americans who have been inspired to get involved -- to work phone banks, join neighbors in door-to-door canvasses, talk to friends about why they were working so hard to achieve change. And on Election Day, we saw that all that work can not only make a difference, it can make history.

I've talked to some friends who were deeply involved in election activities and who are asking, what now? I'd like to offer you an answer.

I take seriously our responsibility to nurture progressive leaders and activists. One way People For the American Way Foundation does that is through our leadership programs like Young People For and the Young Elected Officials Network, which support and mentor outstanding college activists and young public servants. But we also want to give progressive activists of all ages and experience levels an opportunity to volunteer their time to promote constitutional values and progressive change.

We're in the process of developing a national network of Change Agents. We'll supply information and activist tools online, and connect our Change Agents from the across the country with each other. The Change Agent network will be critical in monitoring right-wing attacks on our constitutional values and promoting those same values in your communities, states and on the national level.

Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks as the program takes shape. The Right is already gearing up to block the change that Americans voted for -- and we can't let them do it.

Even this Election Day reminded us that our constitutional ideals are never safe -- and that promoting those ideals is never a once-and-done process. The bitter defeat of marriage equality in California and the passage of other anti-gay constitutional amendments in other states made it clear that there's still plenty of work to do. But that bad news came with a silver lining. In 2000, California voters backed a ban on gay couples getting married by about 20 percent; this year, after a well-funded campaign of lies by the Right, the ban passed by only four percent. Younger and first-time voters overwhelmingly voted to uphold marriage equality, which means that if we keep pushing, victory will be in our future. I am not selling short the heartache felt by the thousands of Californians who have been denied the opportunity to marry, or the personal heartache I feel on their behalf. But the trend is positive. This is what progress looks like.

And the defeats have sparked an exciting and encouraging outpouring of grassroots action. Tomorrow, there are coordinated rallies going on all around the country in support of LGBT equality -- and in protest of Prop 8's passage. This mini-movement grew out of a few scattered protests when some energized individuals took it upon themselves to launch a web site encouraging people to organize more. Now there are rallies scheduled in cities in all 50 states!

I'll be attending the rally in Philadelphia. I hope you can show up to one near you. Find out more about where they are taking place at http://jointheimpact.wetpaint.com/.

If you do attend a rally, please take pictures and send them my way (or video, via a YouTube or other host site link) along with a note about your experience at Kathryn@pfaw.org.

In the fight for full legal equality and on so many other fronts, whether or not we achieve real and lasting progress is up to us. In Washington, restoring the terrible damage done by the Bush administration needs to be at the top of President-elect Obama's, and the new Congress's, agenda. The fundamental constitutional principles that define us as a nation need to be restored. People For the American Way is collecting petition signatures to make sure this stays a top priority in the transition process -- things are moving fast and key staff positions and appointments are soon to be named so please add your name now.

We'll make history in the next few years, but only with the crucial participation of activists like you!

P.S. As we mourn the temporary defeat of marriage equality in California, this week we can celebrate that same-sex couples began to wed in Connecticut following the court ruling upholding marriage equality there. People For the American Way Foundation had filed an amicus brief in the case.

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We're Number One!

Actually, you are.

National Journal recently ranked People For the American Way as the most successful advocacy group of the ’08 election cycle. And since People For is made up of hundreds of thousands of members from coast to coast, that means you’re the most successful advocacy group of the cycle.

Congratulations!

This is the most exciting thing to happen since you were named Time’s Person of the Year!

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Power to the Palm Cards

Last night, volunteers in DC gathered to do People For the American Way Foundation’s part in a project that will touch hundreds of thousands nationwide.

People For the American Way Foundation partnered with the SEIU to produce educational voter ID palm cards that inform voters of what they need when they show up to cast their ballots.  They are specific to the following states (based on where there are bad voter ID laws and where we expect to see aggressive voter suppression efforts): AZ, CA, CO, DC, FL, GA, IN, KS, MI, MO, NC, OH, PA, TX, and VA.

The volunteers were so excited to help distribute these materials. About 20 people crowded three different areas of People For the American Way Foundation’s DC office and didn’t rest until every activist who placed an order had what they needed. In this historic moment, their energy should give everyone hope for the future.

If you are not a palm card recipient, fear not – also available are voter ID toolkits and two-page flyers for the same states as we have palm cards for.  People For the American Way Foundation created these in collaboration with the NEA, SEIU, and other state and local partners.  We've been getting them to election officials and allies as a resource in training poll workers and people doing voter protection work.  These materials are available for you to download and print at http://site.pfaw.org/VoterID.

For more information about voting issues, please visit People For the American Way Foundation at http://www.pfaw.org or http://govote.org/. Report all voting incidents to 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).

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Samuel L. Jackson Says: You Have the Right to Vote!

Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, and Rosie Perez are helping the Election Protection coalition get the word out about the Election Protection hotline — 1-866-OUR-VOTE — which voters can call through Election Day for help if they're facing voter suppression tactics or they just have questions about voting. People For the American Way Foundation is part of the EP coalition. The L.A. Times did a nice writeup of the campaign here.

Check out the PSAs below, and please spread the word about the hotline: again, the number is 1-866-OUR-VOTE.





 

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Change Doesn't Just Happen

With just over a week to go until the election, things are popping at People For. I want to let you know how we're using your support to make an impact on many fronts.

The Voters Alliance: Building Progressive Power

People For the American Way's federal political action committee is helping build a progressive majority in Congress. We were thrilled that an extremely successful online contest run by the Voters Alliance raised more than $130,000 for 24 progressive House candidates. And now the Voters Alliance is working with Oscar-winning director Errol Morris and volunteers from the award-winning advertising firm Chiat Day (of Apple fame) to create short but powerful online profiles of moderate voters who have decided that Obama has earned their vote. The spots are being digitally filmed and edited this week in time for a final pre-election push. I'll let you know when they're ready to watch online and forward to your friends.

Sounding the Alarm: The Court is at Stake

People For the American Way has succeeded in getting media and progressive candidates talking about the importance of the Supreme Court in this election. Now we're kicking it up a notch, with TV spots for Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon, reminding voters that senators have hurt their interests by backing Bush's extreme judges. People For the American Way Action Fund has been running radio ads holding John McCain and other senators accountable for voting to confirm Bush's worst judicial nominees.

Confronting Homophobia and Anti-Gay Discrimination

In California, where the Right has stirred a vicious backlash against a state Supreme Court ruling protecting marriage equality, People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council has launched a radio ad campaign calling on African Americans to reject anti-gay discrimination. Check out the ads here. This work is part of a long-term effort to engage clergy and challenge homophobia in the Black Church and in African American communities. Rev. Kenneth Samuel, the courageous and inspiring head of AAMLC's Equal Justice Task Force, is on the ground in California now, and he'll be leading this groundbreaking effort to create social change in the months and years ahead.

Calling out the Promoters of Fear and Hatred

We're also challenging campaign tactics that are stirring up a dangerous brew of fear and bigotry. For example, when John McCain falsely accused a progressive voter registration group of trying to steal the election, its offices were barraged with hateful and threatening messages. We made it impossible to ignore this hostility and bigotry by posting images and audio of the actual messages online for the world to see. And with a full-page ad in the New York Times and other media outreach we have worked hard to help people understand that bogus charges of voter fraud are meant to give cover to the real threat to the election from right-wing voter suppression. Our Right Wing Watch blog has been all over the Religious Right's bigotry and fearmongering.

Overcoming Voter Suppression

People For the American Way Foundation's Democracy Campaign staff have been traveling the country training community organizers who are running election protection efforts and distributing in-depth, state-specific voter protection toolkits. With the help of SEIU, NAACP, NEA, Unity 08, Democracia Ahora and other partners, our Foundation has distributed more than 180,000 palm cards in key states to help voters understand and protect their rights. The Foundation is working with allies to recruit poll workers where they're sorely needed and will be distributing inexpensive video cameras to members who will document what happens on Election Day. There's no way to stop all the dirty tricks that the Right has in store, but People For Foundation has been working hard to put protections in place, and after the election it will work hard to figure out what went wrong this time, and fight for legal and regulatory fixes. Two New York Times editorials in the past week have confirmed that voter fraud is a myth and affirmed the importance of the Election Protection work the Foundation is doing to help voters understand and assert their rights.

Change is in the air, but as you know, it doesn't just happen. We all need to make it happen. With your help, we and our allies are going to change the country! Thanks so much for making it all possible.

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