Washington

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.

PFAW

Protesting For the Right to Stay Home And Skip Future Protests

Kudos to Join The Impact, which by all accounts organized some terrific protests this weekend against anti-family attacks like Prop 8 in California.

Here in Washington, DC we had a pretty sizable crowd which was all the more impressive considering the terrible, terrible weather. On one hand, it was remarkable to see how many people stuck it out through the wind and rain, but, even more telling were the people who didn’t. Lots of people brought their children to the march, and no matter what some anti-gay ideologues might be pushing, all children deserve to be kept safe and dry by parents who love them.

Which is kind of the point, isn’t it?

If you didn’t get a chance to join us, check out our video!


 

PFAW

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.

PFAW

Vibrations at the Supreme Court

The nature of jurisprudence is that big issues can be settled over small fights. Hence, at the Supreme Court today, the tiny Summum Church was arguing about whether religious monuments in public parks constitute private or government speech.

Adam Liptak at The New York Times covered the case earlier this week, and Nina Totenberg had a story on NPR this morning.

Although not at question in the case, one of the most interesting aspects is the Summum religion itself.

Su Menu, the church’s president, agreed. “If you look at them side by side,” Ms. Menu said of the two monuments, “they really are saying similar things.”

The Third Commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

The Third Aphorism: “Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.”

Now that’s religious diversity.

PFAW

Have You Voted?

In case you needed more reason to get out and vote, the interwebs are virtually flooded today with stories of people voting, and loving it.

In New York

Even more people out there now. I walked across the street and down the one block to Stroud elementary, and turned the corner to see the line. I have voted in this neighborhood for the past seven years, and the longest line I've ever seen was one snaking out from the gymnasium where the booths are, to the front door, about 20 feet away.

This morning, the line stretched past that point, out through the cast iron gates, turned to the left, and went nearly halfway down the New York City block street to Washington Avenue. It was 6:00 a.m. There were hundreds of people already on line, waiting patiently to cast their vote.

In Chicago

The guy behind me, in the line, was telling another voter that he hadn't voted or even registered to vote in 20 years. He had been moving around a lot and didn't have the time to register or give much thought to elections. He had recently moved from Louisiana to Texas, but this time he registered to vote. He registered twice to make sure that he'll get his card on time. I turned back and smiled at him when he said that. He was in his late fifties and looked excited to be there.

In DC

My precinct (68) has 1,740 registered voters, 814 of which turned out for the presidential primary. Voting at the precinct could be done by computer or paper ballot, and there were two paper ballot counting machines. The one I slipped my ballot into had already counted nearly 400 others, suggesting that the primary numbers may already have been topped before noon. My precinct may see something like 70% turnout on the day. Absolutely remarkable.

Lots of smiles all around.

In Maine

I popped over to the polling station in Rockland, and at 8:10 this morning there were about 40 people in line:

I ran into Rep. Ed Mazurek on the way out, and learned that over 1,400 absentee ballots had been cast in Rockland alone.

In Ohio

I waited in line for three hours to vote the other day. What amazed me was all the different people out there voting. There was this ridiculous line and a single mother was in front of me, she was trying to feed her child in her arms and scooted the baby carrier on the ground with her foot. I saw men and women in uniform, I saw elderly in wheelchairs, elderly standing in the line wheeling oxygen tanks along with them. When I got up to the poll worker who printed off my ballot for me, I asked her if it was like this every day. She said for the past week or so it had been, averaging thirty thousand people a day coming in to vote early. Then I read in the paper this morning about how Ohio is expecting an 80% voter turnout. It is absolutely amazing

In Seattle

6:45 am at Northgate - line going out the door already. 7:05 in the voting room - all booths full, lines for booths three people deep. Never thought I’d want to take a picture of me and a ballot before. I wish I had volunteered to work at a polling place, I want to be around that kind of vibe all day long!

And there are more. If you have a voting story you'd like to share, you can e-mail blogtalk@pfaw.org.

And, of course, if you have any trouble voting, you should be sure to call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

PFAW

Good News and Bad News on Hate Crime Rates

The FBI released official statistics yesterday for how many hate crimes were committed last year. The good news: there was a slight decline in the total number of hate crimes, mostly due to a drop in the number of hate crimes committed that involved bias on the basis of race and religion.

But the bad news is pretty troubling:

Incidents motivated by bias based on sexual orientation, however, were up 5.5 percent from 2006 and those targeting people because of their ethnicity or national origin rose 2.3 percent.

Read the Washington Post's story about the report here.

PFAW

The Choice Is Clear

If you haven't already gotten a chance, be sure to read Joan Biskupic's article on the Supreme Court in today's USA Today, a good primer on the choice that voters face on Election Day.

The appointment of life-tenured judges can be an administration's most consequential legacy, as Obama and McCain observed in last week's debate. Five of the nine Supreme Court justices are age 70 or older, so a new president might have to make multiple appointments.

Because the court is tightly split over issues such as abortion rights, race-based policies and the handling of Guantanamo Bay detainees, even a change of one justice could alter the law across the nation for decades to come.

The article does contain one line of very generous understatement.

[Palin] has invoked God on public occasions and suggested she does not believe in a high wall to separate church and state.

I think that's a pretty safe inference.

The website also offers a fun little SCOTUS quiz.  (I don't mean to brag, but I aced it.)

PFAW

McCain Not Doing Obama Any Favors

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza outlines John McCain’s latest kinda-sorta-maybe change in tactics (we can’t say “strategy” because at this point it’s unclear whether McCain ever had one.)  Obama partisans are most likely very happy with the McCain campaign’s performance so far, but they might want to be careful what they wish for.

The media narrative that McCain has run a messy, unfocused, piecemeal campaign may be true, but it may also come back to haunt the same progressive activists who have been working to push it.  There’s no doubt that if Obama wins on November 4, the right wing attacks will come twice as hard on November 5.  Now, even if Obama gets the blowout win that some analysts are projecting, the right will be able to point to McCain’s ineptitude as evidence that Obama didn’t really win – he just stood there while McCain lost!  A stronger (and more socially conservative) candidate, they’ll argue, could have defeated Obama, so even an overwhelming win in the Electoral College doesn’t constitute a mandate.
 
The facts may paint a very different story, especially given the potential for big progressive gains in Congress, but facts alone have never stopped the right before.
 
Make no mistake; an Obama victory won’t spell the end of the fringe-conservative movement.  Progressives need to be ready to fight hard on day one to create a media narrative favorable to actually enacting real progressive policy.

 

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

Palin Takes Page from Bush-Cheney Abuse of Power Manual

Here's some more evidence of just how well Sarah Palin would have fit in with the Bush-Cheney style of governing, where the executive claims all the power with no accountability. It's a pretty astonishing article about how Palin's attorney general - an under-qualified person she appointed for the job - is thwarting the law by telling state employees not to comply with legislative subpoenas in the Troopergate affair. There is no legal justification, only the political claims by the governor, who has "strongly stated that the subpoenas issued by your committee are of questionable validity." It looks like what she's most likely to "shake up" if she comes to Washington is the rule of law.

PFAW

Bad Medicine

Legal terms are often so dry that it's hard to get excited about them.  After all, who could possibly be affected by something as abstract as "preemption?"

From the Times:

In the spring of 2000, suffering from a migraine, Ms. Levine visited a clinic near here for a treatment she had received many times: Demerol for the pain and Wyeth’s drug Phenergan for nausea.

“Nothing wrong with either drug,” Ms. Levine said. “They’re both safe when given the right way.”

But if Phenergan is exposed to arterial blood, it causes swift and irreversible gangrene.

You can imagine how this story ends.  Diane Levine, a musician, lost her arm because of improperly administered medication (which didn't give appropriate warning on the lable), and now the pharmacutical company insists that she's not allowed to sue under state law.

Now the case is coming to the Supreme Court, which hasn't been a particularly good friend to people like Ms. Levine these last few years.

This is a perfect example of the up-is-down, black-is-white argument that the right has been making (and winning) in courts: that the FDA should protect pharmacutical companies, not individual Americans, when something goes horribly wrong.

PFAW

Washington Post Reports Problems on Election Day Imminent

From today’s Washington Post:

Faced with a surge in voter registrations leading up to Nov. 4, election officials across the country are bracing for long lines, equipment failures and confusion over polling procedures that could cost thousands the chance to cast a ballot.

The crush of voters will strain a system already in the midst of transformation, with jurisdictions introducing new machines and rules to avoid the catastrophe of the deadlocked 2000 election and the lingering controversy over the 2004 outcome. Even within the past few months, cities and counties have revamped their processes: Nine million voters, including many in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida and Colorado, will use equipment that has changed since March.

But the widespread changes meant to reassure the public have also increased the potential for trouble.

We’re pleased to see that the media’s taking seriously the concerns of the voting rights community about the problems that are plaguing the electoral system.  We’ve already seen increased pressure on our overburdened electoral system with the heightened voter turnout during the 2008 primary season – registration processing, machine failures, voter ID requirements, and poll worker training to name a few problems that were documented in the report “Will Problems in Early Primaries Affect the Buckeye State?

People For has developed helpful toolkits for voters where they can find important information like the voter registration deadline, dates for early voting, and the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot.  They’ve also explain what constitutes the proper ID you’ll need at polling precincts on Election Day.  

PFAW

Voting Rights Opponent Appeals to Supreme Court

 As expected, the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (NAMUDNO), a public utility district in Travis County, Tex., filed a direct appeal yesterday with the Supreme Court from a unanimous ruling last May by a three-judge federal district court rejecting NAMUDNO's claims that it is exempt from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and, in the alternative, that Section 5 is unconstitutional.

People For and a number of other parties intervened as defendants in the district court in order to help defend the constitutionality of Section 5. Section 5 of the VRA requires all or part of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to have their voting procedures pre-approved, or "pre-cleared," by the Department of Justice or a three-judge federal district court in Washington before they can be changed.

For more information, view People For's statement on the district court ruling. You can also view the district court's ruling here.

PFAW

Reigniting the Culture War

For all the talk about reformers and mavericks, the Republican convention this week struck me as a return to the GOP's decades-old culture-war handbook, with speaker after speaker launching attacks on the "elites" in the media and Washington who supposedly look down on small-town America. At the GOP convention, there was a dispiriting number of distortions and ugly charges hurled from the podium, but nothing exemplified the spirit of the event to me more than the repeated outright mockery of community organizers.

PFAW

It’s Good to Be the AG – Forgetful Gonzales Gets Off the Hook for Mishandling Secrets

Alberto Gonzales
The Associated Press and Washington Post reported today that Justice Department investigators have faulted Alberto Gonzales for repeatedly mishandling national secrets during his tenure as Bush’s White House counsel and Attorney General. The eye-opening accounts reveal that Gonzales failed to properly secure classified information in his DOJ office and even took classified materials home with him.
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

The Power of Culture

What do seven dirty words, Big Bird and Archie Bunker have in common? George Carlin, the envelope-pushing, line-crossing comedian was probably most famous for "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." That routine provoked countless conversations about censorship and the First Amendment, both before and after the Supreme Court upheld a Federal Communications Commission order against his "indecency." I didn't remember until reading his obituary that he had actually been arrested several times for delivering "Seven Words" in a show.
PFAW

Reflections on Mildred Jeter Loving, an American Hero, and the Importance of the Supreme Court

A very heroic woman died yesterday. She probably never wanted to be a hero. She did want to be a wife, though. But back in Virginia in the late 1950s, when Mildred Jeter, a black woman, fell in love with Richard Loving, a white man, and they decided to marry, that was indeed a heroic act. Not only because of society's prejudices, but also because it was a crime — a felony punishable by one to five years in prison.

PFAW

Washington Post Editorial Gets It Wrong On Nominees

An editorial in today's Washington Post calls on the Senate to act quickly on President Bush's nominees to the Fourth Circuit. But as PFAW Legal Director Judith E. Schaeffer pointed out in a Letter to the Editor, the Post has ignored serious concerns that make these nominees very controversial, and the Senate should not rush to confirm them. You can read that letter below:

To the Editor:

PFAW

Supreme Court to Hear Controversial Gun Control Law Case

District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290
On November 20, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a highly controversial case that, whichever way it is decided, is likely to produce a landmark ruling on the issue of gun control and the Second Amendment. D.C. v. Heller is the District of Columbia's appeal from a 2-1 ruling of the D.C. Circuit invalidating D.C.'s ban on private handgun ownership. The D.C. Circuit majority (which included controversial Bush nominee Thomas Griffith) broke with most federal appellate courts that have considered this issue to hold that the Second Amendment confers on individual Americans a right to possess firearms, rather than a "collective right" stemming from the Amendment's language pertaining to a "well regulated militia."

PFAW