people for the american way

ACORN Is Not The Problem

I'm not going to sit idly by while good people are thrown under the bus ... especially if that bus is John McCain's "Straight Talk Express." And I am not -- I repeat, NOT -- going to let the Right steal another election by demonizing community organizers while doing all they can to disenfranchise voters.

That's why People For the American Way is not taking the attacks on ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) lying down, and we're not going to let the Right's latest distraction work. We're taking out a full page ad in the New York Times to tell the truth about ACORN, the myth of "widespread voter fraud" and the actual voter suppression being perpetrated by the Right. Check out the ad and find out what you can do to help with these efforts at www.PFAW.org/ACORN.

ACORN has tirelessly worked to uplift the less fortunate and advocated for improved housing, a fair and living wage, and yes, continues to fight to give a voice to the underserved by promoting civic engagement and voter empowerment. John McCain used to know that but he seems to have forgotten.

During Wednesday's presidential debate, McCain was again over the top, saying ACORN "may be perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." No, Senator McCain, the fraud is GOP attempts to challenge the registrations of eligible voters who are on the verge of losing their homes to foreclosure ... the fraud is right-wing efforts to purge thousands of eligible voters from the voter rolls ... the fraud is the long history of your party's attempts to resurrect Jim Crow.

Let's set the record straight. ACORN plays by the rules, but they register voters the Right would rather exclude, so they are a perfect target in the ongoing effort to stoke paranoia over so-called "widespread voter fraud" (a proven myth). Out of the 13,000 field workers ACORN hired in its drive to register hundreds of thousands of voters, a small fraction submitted inappropriate registration cards. In most cases, ACORN was required by law to submit these incorrect forms, along with the valid forms, to election officials, and in most cases, the incorrect forms had been flagged for officials by ACORN as problematic. But bad registration forms don't add up to "voter fraud."

The Bush administration has spent a good deal of time on fishing expeditions to find problems with groups like ACORN that register voters. In fact, they fired US Attorneys for refusing to participate in this partisan witch hunt.

Using "voter fraud" to distract from real voter suppression is nothing new. But it's still extremely troubling that the McCain-Palin campaign has decided to put party before country and not denounce the GOP's attempts to squash voter participation. I don't think the American people are buying any of this. But even if scapegoating ACORN doesn't work, the Right will have won if they are successful in getting people to look the other way on the real voter suppression in which they are aggressively engaged.

It's up to us to make sure the distraction doesn't work.

PFAW

Full-Page NY Times Ad Stands Up to Right-Wing Smears and Shoddy Reporting

Anyone who watched last night’s debate should know that John McCain and his right-wing allies are going to outrageous lengths to smear the reputation of ACORN, a community organizing group which has registered hundreds of thousands of voters for the coming election. But many in the media – especially at Fox News and CNN – have failed the public.

People For the American Way is running a full-age ad (see below) in the New York Times in the coming days to call out the right-wing smears and the failure by many in the press to report the full story.

The truth is that there is no voter fraud problem. This is what the top election experts have consistently concluded. When Karl Rove aggressively pushed the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute voter fraud, they came up empty-handed. But all we seem to hear about from Fox and CNN is that Mickey Mouse was registered to vote.

There are already systems in place to catch petty voter registration fraud. It should be a non-issue. Meanwhile McCain and the RNC are using a handful of negligible but colorful examples to distract from the organized disenfranchisement of thousands, perhaps millions, of legally registered voters through so-called ballot security measures.

Learn more about those efforts here, read more about our ad here, and check out the ad here.

PFAW

Fighting Voter Suppression in Big Sky Country

Is “pursuing other interests” code for “ I want to figure out how to disenfranchise more people “?

After several weeks of employing controversial state-wide voter caging efforts, Montana GOP Director Jake Eaton resigned from his post to “pursue other interests.” He will be replaced by former Montana State Representative Larry Grinde.

Under Eaton’s leadership, the Montana Republican Party conducted unprecedented challenges of over 6,000 voters in Missoula, Butte-Silver Bow, Lewis and Clark, Deerlodge, Glacier, and Hill Counties. Though the party claimed that the challenges were non-partisan efforts to preserve election integrity and were based on where the most voter registration discrepancies occurred, the counties targeted were known to be Democratic strongholds.

Eaton’s resignation comes only one day after students at the University of Montana published an op-ed in the Missoulian condemning and calling for criminal penalties for the voter caging efforts conducted under Eaton’s leadership. These efforts have been determined to disproportionately affect the student population.

Such voter challenges are characteristic of nationwide partisan efforts to suppress voter turnout this election season, particularly among the student population, which continues to face numerous barriers to civic participation. The Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) is currently joining hands with local groups to fight youth voter suppression not only in Montana, but also in Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. People For the American Way Foundation and SAVE recently held a press conference on Capitol Hill with members of Congress highlighting some of the voter suppression tactics that disproportionally affect student voters.

With so much at stake in this election, and with so many young voters becoming civically engaged for the first time in their lives, it is imperative that we protect our democratic process from the egregious effects of the  voter suppression tactics like those that happened in Montana and across the nation.

PFAW

Building Progressive Power at a Dangerous Moment

The politics of Karl Rove are alive and well! As we near Election Day, we're seeing more smears and attempts at character assassination. The combination of win-at-all-costs politics and the growing financial crisis makes me nervous, because economic hardship has historically provided fertile ground for scapegoating vulnerable people.

People For is working hard to expose, refute, and defuse the kind of dangerous demagoguery the Right is pumping out. A number of pundits have blamed the housing market crash and subsequent drop in people's retirement savings on minority homebuyers who can no longer afford their predatory mortgages. They're trying to stir racial resentment and bigotry among voters who may already be uncertain about casting a vote for a black presidential candidate. The same candidate is falsely portrayed as a subversive Muslim extremist. Sarah Palin this week went so far as to accuse Barack Obama of "pallin' around with terrorists."

Sadly, these attacks work at whipping some people into a hateful frenzy. There were media reports, which were apparently serious enough that the Secret Service launched a threat investigation, that at that same speech Palin made her "terrorist" comment, a member of the crowd shouted "kill him" and another one yelled "treason" loud enough to be picked up by TV mics. It was unclear whether "kill him" was directed at Obama or William Ayers, to whom Palin was referring, but it really doesn't matter.

All of this shows what we are up against, and it shows that real progress means changing the culture as well as public policy. One of the main reasons I came to People For was that it wages the struggle for the heart and soul of America as fiercely as it fights for progressive policies. Two specific ways we'll do both are 1. winning at the ballot box, and 2. by sustaining a movement.

Winning at the polls: People For the American Way Voters Alliance is funding 24 progressive House candidates (all but one challengers) in close races against right-wing opponents in a very strategic way. The Voters Alliance issued a challenge on its ActBlue page pledging an additional $3,000 to the candidate who raises the most on that page by October 15. This encourages blogs to drive traffic to the site to support their favorite candidate, and it encourages the candidates to do the same for themselves (and it gives them the opportunity to ask for support in a different way). The page has already raised over $50,000!!! (Please consider a contribution to one or several of these great candidates and to the Voters Alliance, and spread the word!)

Sustaining the movement: People For the American Way Action Fund is using ActBlue to build the progressive movement's farm team by funding a group of bright young candidates for state and local office. The Right has engaged in similar efforts for decades — Sarah Palin is actually a graduate of GOPAC, the Right's primary candidate recruitment and training program. People For's Action Fund is running ads voiced by Rachael Maddow on Air America Radio starting next week in support of young progressives. Check out these candidates and again, consider a contribution (in these state and local races, a little bit can really go a long way).

THAT'S building progressive power.

Thanks to those of you who wrote in response to last week's note for the very warm and supportive e-mails. Keep the great feedback coming! E-mail me at Kathryn@pfaw.org.
 

PFAW

LA Times: Roe in the Balance

In case you didn't see, our president, Kathryn Kolbert, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times yesterday:

Some advocates worry that the perennial cries of "Roe is falling" has had the effect of muting such claims.

"What we find scary is that people don't understand what's at stake," said Kathryn Kolbert, president of People for the American Way. "In the next four years, one to as many as three Supreme Court justices may step down, and they all will come from the liberal end of the court."

It is absolutely critical that voters understand that the Supreme Court is on the ballot this Election Day.  The kind of judges the next president will nominate to the Court will determine its direction for decades.

PFAW

Biden on Bork

At the Vice Presidential debate last night, Joe Biden referenced his leadership against Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

And it didn't take me long -- it was hard to change, but it didn't take me long, but it took about five years for me to realize that the ideology of that judge makes a big difference.

That's why I led the fight against Judge Bork. Had he been on the court, I suspect there would be a lot of changes that I don't like and the American people wouldn't like, including everything from Roe v. Wade to issues relating to civil rights and civil liberties.

Biden is entirely correct.  The ideology of a judge matters immensely.  Right wing judges who bring a political agenda to the courts have no business being nominated or confirmed.

Of course, Joe Biden wasn’t alone in leading the fight against Bork.  People For the American Way led the campaign in the public arena, including this ad, narrated by Gregory Peck.

PFAW

Video: Sarah Palin Doesn't Speak For Me

Against gay rights, in favor of banning books -- Sarah Palin's values aren't mainstream Americans' values. Here's a short video of People For the American Way activists (including hockey moms!) making it clear that Sarah Palin doesn't speak for them.


"Sarah Palin Doesn't Speak For Me" from People For the American Way on Vimeo.
PFAW

A Rollercoaster Week

What a roller coaster of a week! I spent a couple of days in New York this week meeting with board members, supporters and potential donors. The turmoil in the financial markets and the uncertainty about what kind of plan will come out of Washington contributed to some tension in the air. But I found that people were also focused on the bigger picture, what is at stake in this year's elections and on the importance of the work we're doing.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain was on a rollercoaster of his own: pretending to suspend his campaign to rush to Washington, then sitting quietly through a White House meeting; getting caught red-handed lying to David Letterman; calling for tonight's presidential debate and next week's vice presidential debate to be postponed, then backing down today when it became clear that the American public wasn't buying it.

I'm proud that you came through for us this week. In just a few hours, more than 30,000 people signed our petition urging the presidential debate commission not to get pulled into McCain's political charade. We have more reason, not less, to take stock of our would-be leaders at a time of crisis. Earlier today People For joined forces with other organizations mobilizing to keep the debates on schedule and together we presented more than 170,000 petition signers to the commission office in Washington, DC.

Your activism is energizing to all of us at People For. One of the most heartening things that came across my desk this week was a note from Vicki Ryder, a People For member in Rochester, New York. Hundreds of you (thank you!) have posted "Sarah Palin Doesn't Speak for Me" photographs to our website. Vicki took it a step further, organizing a gathering of 300 women in a downtown square. "The organizing was easy," Vicki told us, "since so many of us who cherish true democracy are horrified by the thought of what a McCain-Palin administration would do to further erode our fast-disappearing rights. All I did was send out an invitation to some women I know, and the word spread quickly."

Vicki got some great media coverage of the event, making sure that a lot of people heard her message about McCain's selection of Sarah Palin:

"We don't like the idea that she doesn't support the Constitution. We think that the vice president of the United States, who's a heartbeat away from the presidency, should support the Constitution. She believes in banning books; she believes in imposing religion in the public schools, there are a lot of things we find totally objectionable."

Thanks and congratulations to Vicki for going the extra mile — and giving hundreds of her friends and neighbors a way to get involved. And thanks to all of you who wrote me after last week's note to tell me how you're getting engaged in this year's important elections.

One thing everyone can do is host a house party for next Thursday's vice presidential debate — and raise a little money to support our "Sarah Palin Doesn't Speak For Me" campaign. Gather with friends, old and new. And before we all start hollering at the TV set, join me on a nationwide conference call to get an inside look at what People For the American Way is doing between now and November 4. We have a nerve-wracking few weeks ahead of us, so let's join together for Debate Watch Parties next Thursday, and let's have fun while we're working to change the world.

PFAW

People For Joins Members of Congress, SAVE to Open Dialogue on Student Voting Rights

Today, student voting rights took center stage on Capitol Hill as People For the American Way and the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) joined Congressional leaders including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn to call attention to the myriad of barriers to the polls that students will face between now and November. In addition to Majority Leader Hoyer and Majority Whip Clyburn, Representatives Jan Schakowsky, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Dennis Kucinich, Kendrick Meek, Tim Ryan, Susan Davis, Chris Van Hollen, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz were on hand to give remarks.

Tanya Clay House, Director of Public Policy, and Michele Jawando, Election Protection Campaign Manager, explained the challenges that are in play that could keep hundreds of thousands of students from the polls – deceptive practices, voter suppression and intimidation, voter ID laws, inequitable distribution of voting machines, long lines, and improper instructions on when to offer provisional ballots, among other common problems. 

What can you do?  Spread the word about People For Foundation’s voter ID toolkits.  Opponents of voting rights have always used ignorance as a weapon and information is the best defense.  Know your rights!

 

PFAW

Activists Rally in Rochester to Say "Sarah Palin Doesn't Speak For Me"

Rochester Rally

Photo: Ira Srole

Vicki Ryder, a rock-star People For the American Way supporter in Rochester, New York, rallied 300 women this weekend to say "Sarah Palin Doesn't Speak For Me."

A Rochester news crew got some footage of the rally, including this explanation from Vicki of why Palin's views aren't in line with many women's:

We don't like the idea that she doesn't support the Constitution. We think that the vice president of the United States, who's a heartbeat away from the presidency, should support the Constitution. [Palin] believes in banning books; she believes in imposing religion in the public schools, there are a lot of things we find totally objectionable.

Vicki was modest, saying the organizing was easy since so many in her community “cherish true democracy and are horrified by the thought of what a McCain-Palin administration would do to further erode our fast-disappearing rights.”

“All I did was send out an invitation to some women I know, and the word spread quickly,” Vicki said, adding, “it was not a ‘rally’ in the traditional sense — no speeches, no electioneering — just women getting together to make their voices heard.”

Well, Vicki, your voices were heard … loud and clear. Thanks for the inspiration!

Watch the news footage of the rally here and see a larger version of the photo above — featuring the protestors and their signs — here.


PFAW

Don't Mourn, Organize!

If you're following the election news as closely as I am, you're probably finding a lot of reasons to holler at your TV. How about Todd Palin refusing a subpoena from the legislative committee investigating "Troopergate" in Alaska, and Sarah Palin ducking requests to testify with claims of "executive privilege" (sound familiar?) — haven't we had enough of executive branch officials insisting they're above the law? Or maybe for you it's the sight of the "get government out of the way" Republicans suddenly claiming that they're the ones to bring more effective government oversight to Wall Street. So much for free-market fundamentalism! Or maybe it's the implication by the McCain-Palin campaign with their "Country First" signs that anyone who does not support their ticket is not patriotic!

Another thing that is making me furious is that people may be kept from casting their vote. Our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation has been documenting and mobilizing opposition to voter suppression efforts around the country — but conservative officials keep finding new ways to try to keep some voters away from the polls. In Michigan — a key presidential battleground state — the Republican Party is training people to challenge voters at the polls, and is even planning to try to deny voters the chance to cast a ballot if their home has gone into foreclosure. It's disgusting, but it's only part of a much bigger picture -- we're seeing official efforts in other key states like Virginia, Ohio and Florida to find reasons to knock people off the voting rolls.

Whatever is driving you to distraction this week, keep in mind labor organizer Joe Hill's famous admonition: "Don't mourn, organize!"

There's a huge amount of exciting organizing People For and other progressive groups are doing right now — and a lot of ways for you to get involved in these last few weeks before the election.

First and foremost you should VOTE and take at least five friends to the polls with you. If your state lets you vote early, do it. But don't stop there. Here are three other things you can do to keep the White House and Supreme Court out of the hands of the radical Religious Right:

  1. Get your ringside seats on October 2 when "Amtrak Joe" debates "Mooseburger Sarah"... Host a People For vice presidential debate watch party with your friends. We have been documenting Sarah Palin's record of extremism, and we're going to keep it up — we'll help you host a great party and send people off with new ammunition for their conversations with friends and family. Sign up at http://site.pfaw.org/parties.

  2. Volunteer some of your time to a progressive campaign during the next six weeks. Campaigns need help with voter identification and turnout, and in a close election year, this kind of ground work is vitally important -- and it's a fun way to get to know others in your community who share your political passions. Soon we will have a complete list of the candidates who are endorsed by the People For the American Way Voters Alliance. Click here to affirm your membership with People For in one simple step so we can share those endorsements with you.

  3. Be on the front lines to protect voting rights and democracy. We can help you find a way to volunteer in key states on or before Election Day. Sign up here!  

Let's make sure that on November 5, we're tired but elated!

P.S.  Are you doing something new this election year that you've never done before? Do you have a creative idea for energizing people to take action? Let me know and we'll share some of your stories. You could inspire someone else to take the next step — and you could help turn the tide! E-mail me at Kathryn@pfaw.org.

PFAW

More on the Human Toll

Earlier this week, People For the American Way Foundation released its Human Toll report with eye-opening stories of American men, women and children whose cases have come before judges nominated by George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate. It puts a human face on the dangers posed by the political ideology of Bush judges. They are not alone in coming to this conclusion.  Check out this op ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. And check out as well this piece in the Legal Times on the recent Brookings Institution study indicating that under a McCain presidency, Republicans could increase their current 15 percent majority on federal courts of appeals by another 18 percent.  Thanks to my colleague Glenn Sugameli at Earthjustice for bringing these items to my attention.

PFAW

The Human Toll

Today, People For the American Way Foundation* put out a report titled The Human Toll: How Individual Americans Have Fared at the Hands of Bush Judges.  It’s essentially a review of the stories of individual Americans who have found themselves in front of judges put on the bench by George W. Bush.  In many cases, the result isn’t pretty.

With that in mind, let me point out an important fact: John McCain has supported every single one of George Bush’s judicial nominees.

So, for that matter, have most of the incumbent GOP Senators up for reelection this year.  John Sununu (NH), Elizabeth Dole (NC), Ted Stevens (AK), Gordon Smith (OR), Norm Coleman (MN), James Inhofe (OK), and John Cornyn (TX) are probably the ones in the closest races.

You might want to keep that in mind while you read the report.  It’s a pretty interesting read, if I do say so myself.

* - (Which is affiliated with People For the American Way in ways too complicated to get into here.)

PFAW

A Judicial Victory For Church-State Separation in Florida!

Yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling that rejects the latest efforts by the far right to undermine religious liberty in that state and pave the way for the return of a state voucher program. Just a few hours after hearing oral argument, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously held that two proposed state constitutional amendments that would undermine religious freedom and overturn the Court's ruling a few years ago striking down the state's publicly-funded school voucher program cannot be placed on the November ballot.
PFAW

Olympic Fever at People For

The Olympics begin today -- with some very personal excitement at People For. David Banks, the son of Executive Vice President Marge Baker, is competing on the U.S. Olympic rowing team in Beijing. I know many of us will be up in the wee hours cheering for David and the team, and looking for a glimpse of Marge and her family in the crowd. This year, American viewers of the Olympics can expect to see a lot of ads for our presidential candidates, bringing our domestic politics more noticeably into an event that always strikes me as a complicated mix of internationalist spirit and patriotic rooting for the home team. And here in the U.S. we'll go pretty much straight from the Olympics into the political parties' nominating conventions and into the final sprint toward Election Day.
PFAW

Olympic Fever at People For

The Olympics begin today -- with some very personal excitement at People For. David Banks, the son of Executive Vice President Marge Baker, is competing on the U.S. Olympic rowing team in Beijing. I know many of us will be up in the wee hours cheering for David and the team, and looking for a glimpse of Marge and her family in the crowd. This year, American viewers of the Olympics can expect to see a lot of ads for our presidential candidates, bringing our domestic politics more noticeably into an event that always strikes me as a complicated mix of internationalist spirit and patriotic rooting for the home team. And here in the U.S. we'll go pretty much straight from the Olympics into the political parties' nominating conventions and into the final sprint toward Election Day.
PFAW

Matching the Right's Passion

This week gave me a sobering reminder of just how motivated and organized the Radical Right is. I think it's a real challenge to us to match their passion and commitment. On Wednesday, national and local Religious Right leaders convened a call of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pastors and activists at 215 locations in California, Florida and Arizona. Those are the three states with constitutional amendments banning marriage for same-sex couples on the ballot this year. They rallied their troops for what they describe as nothing less than warfare against "Satan." The call's main focus was Proposition 8 in California, which Watergate felon-turned-Religious Right organizer Chuck Colson called "the Armageddon of the culture war."
PFAW

Rededicating Ourselves to Human Dignity

I'm writing to you today from San Francisco, where it's been an energizing, thought-provoking week. Last night, Ambassador James Hormel, a member of People For's board, hosted an event at his home to help me get acquainted with some friends and People For supporters. Jim's commitment to public service has benefited San Francisco and the country in many ways, and he is an incredible asset to People For. Joining me was Rev. Kenneth Samuel, who is helping lead People For the American Way Foundation's efforts in California this year to create constructive conversation in black churches around discrimination and marriage equality.
PFAW

Staking Out Our Principles

A lot of my friends and colleagues — and political journalists and bloggers — have spent a good chunk of time this week debating whether or not Barack Obama is "shifting to the middle," or how much he is shifting, or whether it's politically necessary or smart or disastrous for him to do so. You and I might not answer those questions the same way, and could probably have great discussion over dinner or drinks. But I've been thinking more about a different set of questions. What should we expect -- or demand -- from progressive candidates in an election year? How can we most effectively advance our principles and mobilize our supporters to make a difference in these important public debates?
PFAW