YEO Network

PFAWF Celebrates Confirmation of Julián Castro as U.S. HUD Secretary

Andrew Gillum is the Director of Youth Leadership Programs at  People For the American Way Foundation.

Julián Castro, current mayor of San Antonio, was just confirmed in the Senate by a 71-26 vote to lead the Housing and Urban Development Department. Castro, one of the earliest members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, is the first to become a Cabinet member.

I remember meeting Julián at our very first YEO convening in 2006, and being impressed with his passion to serve and better his community in Texas. We are incredibly proud of Julián and excited to see what he’ll accomplish in this new position. His proven leadership in fostering urban revitalization and economic growth make him a natural fit for this position, where he will be able to combat homelessness and help secure access to affordable, quality housing for more Americans.

Julián’s confirmation yesterday demonstrates how supporting young elected officials in our movement can reap tremendous results. I often say that YEOs are the state and local leaders of today as well as the national leaders of tomorrow. While Julián will be the first (former) YEO member to serve in a cabinet level post, I am sure he won’t be the last.

PFAW Foundation

Holder: Protecting Voting Rights a ‘Moral Imperative’

In a groundbreaking speech last night, Attorney General Eric Holder promised that the Obama administration would fight back against attacks on voting rights – whether they’re launched by individuals committing voter intimidation or state governments suppressing the vote through restrictive and discriminatory laws.

Holder said the administration would fight for voting rights on three levels: prosecuting voter intimidation, ensuring that state redistricting efforts are not discriminatory; and urging lawmakers to reform election laws “in ways that encourage, not limit, participation.”

A People For the American Way Foundation report in October examined the proliferation of right-wing attacks on voting rights, from restrictive Voter ID laws to illegal but hard to trace deception campaigns.

Holder addressed the efforts of dozens of states to make voter registration more difficult, saying:

As concerns about the protection of this right and the integrity of our election systems become an increasingly prominent part of our national dialogue – we must consider some important questions. It is time to ask: what kind of nation – and what kind of people – do we want to be? Are we willing to allow this era – our era – to be remembered as the age when our nation’s proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended? Are we willing to allow this time – our time – to be recorded in history as the age when the long-held belief that, in this country, every citizen has the chance – and the right – to help shape their government, became a relic of our past, instead of a guidepost for our future?

For me – and for our nation’s Department of Justice – the answers are clear. We need election systems that are free from fraud, discrimination, and partisan influence – and that are more, not less, accessible to the citizens of this country.

Today, Senators Ben Cardin and Charles Schumer introduced legislation that would impose tough penalties on those who create and distribute deceptive information about voting and elections. PFAW Foundation’s Andrew Gillum responded:

Right-wing politicians and talking heads have aggressively pushed the myth that ‘voter fraud’ is a great threat to the sanctity of our elections. However, the evidence shows that the real threat to our democracy comes from laws that discourage whole communities of people from voting and from devious voter suppression practices like those that took place in Maryland last year. We must fight suppressive laws, like Voter ID requirements, at the legislative level. Deceptive practices can, and should, be combated by law enforcement. This bill takes an important step toward ensuring that all Americans are free to exercise their right to vote without intimidation and harassment.


Videos: Norman Lear, Alec Baldwin, Young Elected Officials Celebrate 30 Years of PFAW Foundation

Last week, celebrities and political leaders gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate the 30th anniversary of People For the American Way Foundation.

We posted some photos from the event here.

We’ve now posted a couple of videos of the event. The first is Norman Lear speaking about what led him to found People For and why the organization’s work is still important:

PFAW Foundation board member Alec Baldwin:

And finally, three members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network – network director and Tallahassee City Commissioner Andrew Gillum, Georgia State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan and South Dakota State Sen. Angie Buhl – spoke about how they got involved in progressive politics and how People For the American Way Foundation has helped them along the way. Watch:



Guest Post: Local Governments Speak Out Against Citizens United

By Cynthia Wolken

City Councilwoman, Missoula, Montana & Member of People For the American Way Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network

Across the nation, Americans are mobilizing against the damage done to our democracy by Citizens United. The only way to fully correct the decision is through a constitutional amendment, and activists all over the country are debating exactly what an amendment would look like. But there is one important point of agreement: We must reclaim our democracy from powerful corporate interests. As the blog post below by Missoula city councilwoman Cynthia Wolken demonstrates, members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials are part of this continuing dialogue.

I am proud to live in a community where this November, 75% of voters agreed that corporations are not people and should not have the same rights as you and I. This common sense opposition to corporate ‘personhood’ spanned party affiliation, age, gender, and yes, even class. The resolution that I referred to the ballot was so common sense that it overwhelmingly passed with only a bare-bones, grass roots, word-of-mouth campaign that raised and spent less than $5,000.00. Five thousand dollars! And now, like a good old fashion Montana prairie fire, communities across the state are hoping to run similar campaigns to raise awareness of the issue among their friends and neighbors and push our state and federal elected officials to fix this mess we’ve found ourselves in.

As a newly elected official serving on the City Council in Missoula, Montana, the last thing on my policy agenda was thinking about ways to tinker with the United States Constitution. I was elected to do the people’s work, and at the time, I thought that meant fixing potholes and making sure their leaves were picked up on time (which I can assure you, I did and still do spend plenty of time on). But what I heard knocking doors in my community was an overwhelming and disheartening sense of despair about people’s relationship to their own government. Many did not vote because they didn’t think their votes mattered – they believe that those with the most money wield the most influence.

Before Citizens United, I would have tried to convince them otherwise. Now, it’s hard not to agree, even as we fight for change. In Citizens United v. the FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court majority declared that corporations are people and that they have a first amendment right to spend as much money as they like defeating or supporting their favored candidates or ballot issues. Because of this ruling, Montana’s own campaign finance laws are on the chopping block, challenged by a group that doesn’t believe in complying with our contribution limits or disclosure laws.

This ruling violates our fundamental sense of fairness and rules of logic. Even the most educated of voters can be fooled by dishonest ad campaigns funding by corporate front groups with misleading names. Astroturf groups use names with words like ‘freedom, justice, prosperity, and liberty,’ when their aims are often the complete opposite. I could never have predicted that our little ballot referendum campaign in Western Montana would coincide with Occupy Wall Street and its subsequent demand to abolish corporate personhood, but I think this speaks to the depth and breadth of the appeal of getting our representative democracy back on track.

The only way to right this wrong is to amend the Constitution to explicitly state that corporations are not people. As a lawyer myself, I know the City of Missoula can’t amend the United States Constitution. So why a referendum on the Missoula City ballot? Local government is the forum left where citizens’ voices are heard the loudest, that is why I referred this to the City Council – I felt the voters of Missoula deserved to have a say on this issue. This is what grass-roots government looks like – I am honored to represent intelligent, informed voters who supported this effort to demand transparency and accountability. After all, as my constituents remind me, on-time leaf pick-up doesn’t mean much if we were living in a full-fledged corporatocracy.