Fighting the Right

In Time of Crisis, Too Many Politicians Feed Fear and Scapegoating

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

In the somber days since ISIS terrorists killed 130 people in coordinated attacks on Paris, elected leaders from around the world have been searching for solutions. But far too many American politicians have fallen back, instead, on that old standby in times of crisis: Stirring up fear and finding someone, anyone, to scapegoat, no matter how unconnected the scapegoated person is with the problem at hand.

Sadly, in Congress that took the form of a House vote to in essence stop the U.S. resettlement of refugees from Iraq and Syria by imposing nearly impossible bureaucratic requirements on what is already the toughest vetting system for anyone seeking entry into the U.S. This bill was scapegoating in its purest form, framing as terrorists people who are fleeing the very violence that this bill was supposedly trying to prevent. 

The House vote -- in which 47 Democrats joined nearly every Republican -- was the culmination of a week of cowardice and bigotry sweeping the political landscape.

There was the Missouri state legislator who urged his governor to watch out for "all flavors" of Muslims and the mayor of Roanoke who invoked the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as a positive model for how to treat American Muslims. 

And there were the 31 governors who declared that their states would turn away Syrian refugees who go through the U.S. refugee resettlement program. 

Not wanting to miss out on the action, of course, Republican presidential candidates have been tripping over themselves to outdo one another. Donald Trump hasspeculated that refugees from Syria "could be one of the great Trojan horses." Mike Huckabee, in what can't even be described as a dog-whistle, has told Americans to "wake up and smell the falafel" when it comes to Syrian refugees. Chris Christie saidhe'd get tough on Syrian orphans. Ted Cruz has suggested that the U.S. only admit Christian refugees from Syria, although how he plans on testing people's religious faith is unclear. Jeb Bush has hinted at the same thing, saying he would back refugees who can "prove" that they're Christian, which shows what this is all about. If you have a system that's strong enough to "prove" someone's true religion, don't you think it could also properly vet people for national security purposes? Jeb Bush was supposed to be the mature establishment candidate. So much for that.

These politicians are feeding what a new Public Religion Research Institute pollreports is an "increased xenophobic streak in the American public." It's no coincidence that threats against American Muslims have been reported across the country in the days since the Paris attacks.

It is of course reasonable to ask that refugees be vetted -- they already are -- but if security were the real issue, our current debate wouldn't be about refugees at all. In fact, if someone were intent on sneaking into America to cause harm, exploiting the refugee resettlement program with its intensive and lengthy screening processes would be the hardest way to do it. No, what is behind the anti-refugee campaign of the Right is not reasonable concerns about security, but something much uglier.

The candidates who are now spewing cynical anti-refugee rhetoric are often the same ones who claim that their opponents don't believe in "American exceptionalism," and the movement so willing to embrace explicit anti-Muslim bigotry is the same one constantly telling us that religious freedom is under attack. They seem to have forgotten the vibrant pluralism and commitment to shared values that make us exceptional, and a beacon of freedom to the persecuted, in the first place. Looking back on the history of our country, our best days have been when we opened ourselves to people facing persecution, not the times we turned them away and demonized them. Let's not let this become the American Way.


Latinos Vote! Dolores Huerta’s Four-State Tour with PFAW

Over a two-week span, People For the American Way (PFAW) staff and volunteers joined PFAW board member Dolores Huerta for a four-state tour to get out the vote in Latino communities and push back against anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric and policies of Republican presidential candidates.

Huerta attended the last two Republican debates, spreading the message that all of the Republican candidates stand firmly against the priorities of working families and Latino communities. At the start of our tour, leading up to the debate in Colorado at the end of October, Huerta joined Colorado Latino leaders and voters to discuss how the Republican candidates are out of line with Colorado Latinos.

latin life denver

latin life denver

Huerta also spoke at a rally that thousands attended. As Suzanne Gamboa at NBC News reported:

“Huerta planned to participate in an event with other Latino leaders Wednesday afternoon to launch a voter registration campaign and protest rhetoric of the campaign and some proposals she considered to be anti-Latino.

[…]"The Republican candidates are not really reflecting or even addressing the needs of the Latino community or American families," Huerta said in an phone interview with NBC News.

After Colorado, Huerta traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to get out the vote leading up to municipal elections and to call out North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory for signing the severely anti-immigrant HB 318.

After her third radio interview of the morning – which also happened to be the day before Halloween – Huerta posed with the radio hosts of Charlotte’s La Raza 106.1.

la raza

Huerta joined Charlotte voters and activists to deliver an “award” to Gov. McCrory for his ability to disguise himself as a friend of immigrants and then to turn his back on the community.


After Charlotte, Huerta joined PFAW staff and volunteers to get out the vote in Virginia. PFAW had already begun laying the groundwork in Virginia with Spanish-language ads encouraging voters to head to the polls on Election Day.

The Washington Post’s write-up of the ad included this explanation from PFAW’s Carlos A. Sanchez:

“By highlighting in Spanish how local and national Republican politicians from [former Virginia gubernatorial candidate] Ken Cuccinelli to Donald Trump have demonized immigrants, our ad urges voters to stand up against them by going to the polls."

While on the ground, Huerta mobilized voters and volunteers in State Senate District 29 to support Democrat Jeremy McPike.

Our efforts paid off, as McPike won his race!

To wrap up our four-state tour, Huerta traveled to Wisconsin leading up to the Republican debate there. PFAW joined with Voces de la Frontera Action to shed light on the anti-immigrant, anti-Latino policies of all the Republican candidates.

dolores press conf

Huerta also joined with allies for a Fight for $15 rally urging politicians to support a $15 minimum wage. Watch Huerta discuss her efforts on local CBS.

The 4-state tour is a part of PFAW’s Latinos Vote! program. Stay tuned for more updates on our work!


2015 Election Recap

As the dust settles from many important elections around the country yesterday, we have some great news to report.

In the race PFAW put our focus on in Virginia, we won! Progressive Jeremy McPike captured the Senate seat. I’m happy to report that PFAW’s work in this election on the air and on the ground -- which Virginia and regional PFAW members supported with their volunteer time and hundreds of PFAW members from around the country stepped up to support with donations -- was effective.

In addition to the victory in this race, we made important inroads into the Latino community that will be critical in 2016, when Virginia is expected to be perhaps THE most important swing state and the Latino vote could be THE deciding factor. We were proud to produce the first ad ever to use Donald Trump’s hateful immigrant-bashing rhetoric as a vote motivator, rightly tying that bigotry to the Republican brand.

Image - Legendary Civil Rights Activist & PFAW Board Member Dolores Huerta campaigns for PFAW in Virginia’s 29th Senate District

In other great news from Virginia, a radical anti-gay and anti-immigrant county supervisor in northern Virginia, who PFAW’s Right Wing Watch has long tracked, lost his seat. As Right Wing Watch has reported, Republican Eugene Delgaudio has said the “homosexual lobby” wants to make it legal to “rape and murder young boys” and has warned that allowing LGBT people to adopt would lead to gay men “skipping down to adoption centers to pick out a little boy for themselves.” He also referred to his county’s growing Latino immigrant population as “hordes” that are exacting “a greater and greater toll.”

And in both Maine and Seattle, voters dealt a serious blow to big money in politics!

In Maine, a Clean Elections initiative passed by 10 points that strikes back against Citizens United and bolsters the state’s public financing system. In Seattle, by an even wider margin of 20% voters passed a sweeping initiative to limit the influence of big money in politics by, among other things, capping contributions by corporations with city contracts or that spend significant funds lobbying, making it illegal for city officials and their top aides to take lobbying jobs immediately after leaving office, empowering low-dollar donors, and increasing transparency and accountability.

Election Day didn’t bring only good news though.

The results statewide in Virginia were a mixed bag, and because of strong Republican showings in other parts of the state, effective GOP gerrymandering, and, yes, a ton of money spent, the GOP was able to maintain party control of the state Senate.

And in other parts of the South, far-right -- and I mean very far-right -- Republicans won races for governor that will have a tremendously detrimental impact on the people of those states.

In Kentucky, the election of Republican Matt Bevin to governor yesterday means that the more than half a million Kentuckians who have health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act could lose their health care very soon. Bevin has promised to eliminate Kynect, Kentucky’s state exchange established under the ACA, and could undo the Medicaid expansion accepted by the outgoing Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, which insured 400,000 people alone and cut the state’s uninsured rate by more than half.

It’s worth noting that Tea Party Governor-elect Matt Bevin’s winning strategy was to turn out his right-wing base by campaigning on themes such as the backlash to marriage equality, support for county clerk and Religious Right cause célèbre Kim Davis, and promises to defund Planned Parenthood.

And, in Texas, there was the defeat of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, leaving Houston the largest city in the country and the only major city in Texas with no nondiscrimination protections for LGBT residents. That election was especially ugly. Anti-equality groups resorted to fearmongering and inflamed prejudice, distorting the true purpose of the ordinance by referring to it derogatorily as the “Bathroom Ordinance.” Sadly, there is still a lot of work to do in Texas and the South.

One thing is clear: yesterday’s wins AND losses both point to the need to keep fighting.

Americans deserve better than the regressive, draconian agenda that right-wing Republicans are offering. And because the Right is so well-funded and tenacious, we must fight to defend our gains -- some on the Right are already talking about legal challenges to yesterday’s victories for the People over big money in politics.


Coalition Nearly 200-Strong Takes a Stand and Says "NO" to Harmful Policy Riders

Far-right members of Congress take a dislike to something, say . . . the critical reproductive and preventive healthcare services offered by Planned Parenthood, and they write a line or two into an appropriations bill that says that government money cannot be used for that purpose. All kinds of programs and laws are subject to this kind of indirect assault: Just prohibit any money from being spent on it.

Courts' Vital Role in Protecting Women's Health and Everyone's Rights

A ruling for Planned Parenthood in Alabama is just one example of why federal courts are so important.

Poll Has Ben Carson Now LEADING Trump

A New York Times/CBS News poll has Ben Carson now leading Donald Trump in the GOP presidential contest. Apparently all somebody had to do to edge out Trump was to sink to his level and then keep going, by spewing even more extreme and bigoted positions!

For example, here are just a few of the things Carson has gotten press for over the last few weeks:

  • He compared abortion to slavery -- and women who have abortions to slaveholders -- and reiterated his belief that all abortions should be banned, even in cases of rape and incest.
  • He said he thought someone who is Muslim should not be president because that person’s religious beliefs are not “consistent with the Constitution,” despite the Constitution’s explicit rejection of religious tests for office.
  • He blamed the Holocaust on gun control, saying that if not for Hitler confiscating guns, Germans -- Jews and non-Jews alike --would have fought back against his plans for genocide.
  • He also blamed the victims of the Oregon mass shooting for not attacking the shooter, saying HE “would not just stand there and let him shoot me.”

The reason Carson’s rise amidst these controversial comments is so important is because it shows that the more hateful and detached from reality a candidate appears, the more the far-right base will favor him.

Make no mistake -- the demagogues of the Religious Right and the Tea Party are a problem, but base voters they are so eager to please with wild internet-fueled conspiracy theories and naked bigotry are arguably the bigger problem.

A September poll from Public Policy Polling found that 54 percent of Republican voters believe the president is a Muslim. Let that sink in.

This isn’t just benign wackiness that’s confined to Republican nominating contests, it’s a SIGNIFICANT chunk of the American electorate. And it’s the people who represent those views who are now IN CHARGE of Congress and fighting to get into the White House!

Rep. Paul Ryan looks all set to come in as the new Speaker of the House -- and there’s a faction of House Republicans who are accusing this rigidly anti-choice, Medicare-slashing Ayn Rand fanboy of being “too moderate!”

And whoever the eventually wins the GOP nomination for president, we know he or she will be one of the most right-wing candidates, pursuing one of the most extreme right-wing agendas, ever.

The GOP lives to serve its base. Let’s not forget exactly who is in charge. Ben Carson’s rise is a good reminder.

* * * * *

For much, much more on Ben Carson’s radical views, check out

Here are some particularly off-the-wall examples:


Why Next Week's Election in Virginia is So, So Important

Next Tuesday, November 3, Virginia will have its state elections and who votes, how they vote, and the work that goes into mobilizing voters in advance of Election Day are all critically important to 2016.

Virginia is more likely than not to be THE deciding swing state in 2016. So we need to lay the groundwork NOW for victory next year, and that means building voter turnout infrastructure, especially for the Latino vote, in key parts of the state.

A recent analysis from Moody’s Analytics projected that (based on current economic and political indicators), Democrats would win the White House by just 2 electoral votes -- which would be the closest margin in U.S. history. Their findings concluded that one state -- Virginia -- would deliver the election for the Democratic nominee.

There are few states that can change the electoral math more than Virginia, and one of the most important factors is the Latino share of the electorate -- a crucial 5% of the vote that will determine who wins and loses in the state.

PFAW is already on the air in Virginia with a Spanish-language ad that’s been getting a lot of press attention – highlighting for Latinos the importance of voting against the party of Donald Trump and its anti-immigrant, anti-working family agenda.

Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión said of our ad (translated):

“It’s the first ad that uses Trump to drive Latino voters to the polls, but it won’t be the last. Its focus on women and on two generations, immigrants and first generation, is innovative.”

And it’s not just 2016 that makes Virginia important on the national level. The upcoming 2015 elections for Virginia’s state legislature matter too.

In a recent court filing, Republicans ADMITTED that the GOP intentionally rigged the state’s congressional districts in order to produce a delegation heavily tilted their way.

It’s the Republican state legislature that has made Virginia one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. In 2012, President Obama won Virginia narrowly, but Republicans still picked up 8 of the state’s 11 congressional seats under the GOP-friendly maps drawn by the state legislature.

Now, party control of the state legislature is up for grabs.

If we can flip control of the State Senate away from right-wing Republicans, it will be a MAJOR DEFEAT for the Radical Right in what was once one of their most reliable strongholds!

Virginia not only housed the capital of the old Confederacy, it's the home of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, the Founding Fathers of the modern radical Religious Right -- as well as the foundational institutions of the movement they created, like Robertson's Regent University and Falwell's Liberty University.

It's so sweetly fitting that People For the American Way -- the organization founded to counter their hate that was a constant thorn in their sides -- would be instrumental in finally turning what was once their deep red home state solid blue.

La Opinion Quote

Virginia is an Early Opportunity to Tarnish the GOP Brand

This year’s fight for control of the State Senate in Virginia has emerged as an excellent opportunity to engage Virginia’s Latino community and to further attach the extreme rhetoric and policies of the Republican Presidential candidates to the overall GOP brand. Targeting the Northern Virginia area, with its large Latino population, we’ll have an impact in the Senate District 29 race -- which is likely to determine party control of the state Senate. It will also allow us to connect with the Latino community and deepen the association of radical, anti-immigrant sentiment with the Republican Party at the local, state, and national level.

Building on our previous work and refining it ahead of 2016, PFAW’s 2015 plans include:

  • Radio and digital advertising targeting the Latino community in Northern Virginia, with the message that the state elections are the best way to make their voice heard ahead of 2016.
  • Media strategies to capitalize on the consistent stream of anti-immigrant remarks from national Republican candidates.
  • On the ground events and mobilizing volunteers along with partner organizations and PFAW Board Member Dolores Huerta ahead of Election Day.

Not only will these efforts boost Latino turnout in 2015, they will further damage the Republican brand with Latinos and help increase civic participation -- boosting the “muscle memory” of voting ahead of 2016.

Turn this purple state blue

PFAW’s Proven Track Record of Success

People For the American Way has a demonstrated record of mobilizing Latino voters, especially in Virginia, where our Latinos Vote! campaign has been active since 2012. That year, we made a full investment in Virginia and built a comprehensive program of outreach to the Latino community through TV, radio, digital, and direct mail. In the 2013 Governor’s race, we worked hand-in-hand with the McAuliffe campaign to secure victory over Tea Party darling Ken Cuccinelli and in 2014, we ran targeted digital ads to help secure Senator Warner’s re-election. In each of these races the Latino vote proved decisive in the Democratic candidates’ success. 2015 presents an excellent opportunity to continue to engage the Latino community and to further build the overall narrative about the dangerous policies and ideology that Republican candidates hold.

Is this a plan you can support? If so, please help PFAW fund this work with a donation today>>


Why Is Jeb Bush Courting Pat Robertson?

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Jeb Bush, battling slumping poll numbers, will travel to Regent University this Friday for an interview with the school's founder, televangelist Pat Robertson.

Jeb's decision may be mystifying, particularly to millennial voters who knowRobertson mostly as a televised buffoon given to outrageous and embarrassing comments, bad advice, faulty predictions, and personal conversations with God about presidential politics. But while Robertson's influence has diminished over the years, he has had a lasting (and damaging) impact on American culture and politics.

Like the late Jerry Falwell, Robertson was a pioneer in the use of television to build a Christian ministry, and Robertson joined Falwell and other televangelists who teamed up in the late 1970s to create the Religious Right political movement. Falwell was a fundamentalist Baptist and Robertson a charismatic Pentecostal, but they found common ground in promoting a sustained, religion-based attack on separation of church and state, feminism, gay rights, unions, and other enemies of the right-wing political strategists, like Paul Weyrich, who recruited them into politics

Robertson actually ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. He didn't get very far as a candidate, but he built a huge list of supporters. Political operative Ralph Reed turned that list into the Christian Coalition, which at the beginning of the 1990s set itself the goal of taking working control of the Republican Party.

Pat Robertson, in other words, helped create today's polarized politics -- a Republican Party that is much further to the right than Ronald Reagan's and far less willing to engage in the compromises required to govern, and a Religious Right movement that continues to poison our political climate by treating politics as spiritual warfare and political opponents as demonic enemies of faith and freedom.

A memorable example of that attitude came just after the 9/11 attacks, in which Robertson joined Jerry Falwell in blaming the attacks on gays, feminists, defenders of church-state separation, and People For the American Way. But we can hear the same attitude from GOP candidates and right-wing activists every day.

Regent University, where Jeb Bush will speak on Friday, is part of the massive cultural and political infrastructure that Religious Right leaders like Robertson have built in recent decades. Religious Right schools of government and law produce people like Michele Bachmann and former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who see public office as a way to make America conform to their "biblical worldview."

Another part of Robertson's infrastructure is the American Center for Law and Justice, which he created to be a Religious Right counterpart to the ACLU. The ACLJ has undermined church-state separation in the U.S. and promotes global culture war through offices in Europe, Russia, and Africa. While it portrays itself as a champion of religious freedom, the ACLJ fought bitterly against the building of a Muslim community center that was falsely dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque." 

ACLJ founder and chief counsel Jay Sekulow is scheduled to moderate the audience Q&A at Bush's appearance. He may or may not mention that his son Jordan, executive director of the organization, was hired earlier this year as an adviser to Jeb's Right to Rise PAC.

Jordan Sekulow's hiring was seen as a signal that the Bush campaign was serious about competing for conservative evangelical voters who might initially be more excited about other candidates. Bush's pilgrimage to Regent University is another sign that even "establishment" Republican candidates are dependent on the Religious Right activists who make up a big part of the party's base.

And Bush, whose plans to run as the financially dominant above-it-all powerhouse were derailed by Donald Trump, is back to the GOP primary slog. And he's looking for support from Religious Right leaders with their own political agenda, one that threatens the rights of women, LGBT people, religious minorities, and anyone who doesn't meet their definition of a real American.


PFAW's Right Wing Watch Riles Up the Far Right

At Right Wing Watch – a project of People For the American Way – we know we’ve done our job when we’ve made the Right Wing really, really mad. So if the coverage we’ve been seeing in the right-wing media is any indication, we’ve been doing our job especially well lately. Here’s a roundup of some recent anti-endorsements:

  • The conservative blog Newsbusters calls Right Wing Watch PFAW’s “hit squad” in an article we couldn’t have written better ourselves. In addition to crediting PFAW with “destroying Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s reputation in the 1980s,” the article touts some of Right Wing Watch’s greatest successes – including its coverage of the anti-choice and anti-gay HGTV stars David and Jason Benham. Newsbusters correctly notes that Right Wing Watch broke the news when then-presidential candidate Scott Walker defended mandatory and medically unnecessary ultrasounds as “a cool thing out there” (though they incorrectly allege that the reporting “twisted” Walker’s words). And while the Newsbusters article fails to achieve its goal of discrediting Right Wing Watch, it does provide many great examples of Right Wing Watch’s reporting appearing in major news outlets like USA Today, MSNBC, Salon, Slate, and the Huffington Post.
  • In an interview with Family Research Council Vice President Jerry Boykin, far-right radio host Rick Wiles suggested that the gunman in the recent mas shooting at Umpqua Community College might have been inspired by reading Right Wing Watch. Boykin went on to accuse Right Wing Watch of using the “exact same tactics as ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
  • Despite messianic rabbi Jonathan Cahn’s doomsday prophecy, the United States didn’t experience a cataclysmic disaster this past September, which must have rattled right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson who have spent months anticipating it. Right Wing Watch pointed out that the prophecy didn’t come true -- much to the frustration of WND, a Religious Right news site that Right Wing Watch has been reading and covering for years. WND took specific issue with Right Wing Watch blogger Brian Tashman, who had reported on the Cahn prophecy, for his “slander” and “lack of truthfulness.” It’s not clear how pointing out that the world didn’t end last month qualifies as slanderous, but you can read the rest of WND’s criticism here.
  • Right Wing Watch might consider outlandish criticism from the Radical Right to be a sign of a job well done, but many on the Right feel the same way about a mention on Right Wing Watch. Ann Corcoran, an anti-refugee resettlement advocate, has made several appearances on Right Wing Watch for her xenophobic remarks about Syrian refugees, posted on her blog that she considered the coverage to be “a great honor” and “a goal to work toward” for other right-wing activists.

Right Wing Watch is as committed as ever to monitoring and exposing the activities of the right-wing movement – no matter what they might say about us. Read more Right Wing Watch coverage.


President 'Stuff Happens'?

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

On Thursday, Americans braced ourselves as reports trickled in about yet another mass shooting, this one at a community college in Oregon, leaving 10 people dead.

It was a horrific scene that we’d seen too many times before. But Jeb Bush was taking it in stride, and told an interviewer on Friday that although the shooting was “very sad,” it didn’t require government action.

“Look,” he said, “stuff happens, there’s always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

Remember the good ole days of the Bush administration when right after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as Bagdad was collapsing into chaos, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went before the press to inform us that “stuff happens”?

“Stuff happens,” he declared, “and it’s untidy and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that’s what’s going to happen.”

More stuff happened throughout the Bush years. Remember the Katrina stuff?  And yesterday it was reported that the Jeb! team is considering bringing George W. Bush out on the trail so he can bolster his sagging poll numbers and the entire country can relive the dream!

Regarding this most recent use of “stuff happens,” it perfectly encapsulates the attitude about gun violence that is now prevalent in the Republican Party, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the NRA and its fellow gun groups. The fact that this “stuff” happens more in America than anywhere else in the developed world doesn’t seem to change their mind that mass shootings are an inevitable act of nature.

But it also encapsulates a disturbing view of the role of government in solving national problems. Bush wasn’t saying just that our representatives in the government shouldn’t act when “stuff happens.” He was also saying that we should just let the stuff keep happening. Stop me if you’ve heard about this presidency before.


Celebrating Banned Books Week

For decades, the Religious Right has used public school students as pawns in the "culture wars," fighting to impose a political agenda on textbooks and curricula in school districts across the country. This has included battles over sex education, school-led prayer, publicly funded vouchers for religious institutions, and shaping what children learn by controlling the content of textbooks and access to books in school libraries and classrooms. People For the American Way Foundation has a long record of resisting censorship and defending the freedom to learn.

People For the American Way Foundation is a sponsor of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read -- and an opportunity for readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, and First Amendment advocates to call for continued vigilance against efforts to restrict that freedom. This year’s Banned Books Week has a focus on Young Adult books, which are challenged more frequently than any others.

"These are the books that speak most immediately to young people, dealing with many of the difficult issues that arise in their own lives, or in the lives of their friends,” says Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee. These are the books that give young readers the ability to safely explore the sometimes scary real world. As author Sherman Alexie said in response to the censorship of one of his young adult novels, “Everything in the book is what every kid in that school is dealing with on a daily basis, whether it’s masturbation or racism or sexism or the complications of being human. To pretend that kids aren’t dealing with this on an hour-by-hour basis is a form of denial.”

Platt describes the importance of Banned Books Week at the Reading Rainbow blog:

Banned Books Week is celebrated each year because efforts are underway in many parts of this country to remove “offensive” materials from public libraries, school libraries, and classroom reading lists. Arguments can be made for involving parents in the education of their children, and giving them an opportunity to voice objections when some reading material runs counter to their own values, but problems arise when that parent wants to dictate what all children can or cannot read. In the Coda to Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury said: “There’s more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”

Many libraries and bookstores are sponsoring events honoring Banned Books Week. Kelly Adams, a children's book specialist at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater, Minn., spoke with Minnesota Public Radio:

"Banned Books Week is my favorite week of the whole year. Seriously, it's better than Christmas.... Promoting books that have been banned or challenged shines a light on these attempts at censorship. It is an eye-opening experience for many.... We are basically a country built by rebels. When someone tells us 'you can't read that,' we naturally pick it up and read it."

In response to a recent article dismissing Banned Books Week as unnecessary, Peter Hart at the National Coalition Against Censorship argues that censorship is not just a thing of the past:

Graham thinks several hundred cases a year isn't much to get worked up about. But those numbers are a very conservative estimate of the problem. As Chris Finan of the American Booksellers for Free Expression pointed out recently, the American Library Association believes that as many as 80 percent of challenges go unreported. A Freedom of Information Act research project in two states confirmed this; the vast majority of formal challenges are never revealed publicly.

And what about librarians or school officials who seek to steer clear of controversy by avoiding potentially controversial books altogether? There is no doubt that this kind of chilling effect is real. A survey of over 600 librarians released by the School Library Journal in 2009 revealed that 70 percent reported that the possible reaction from parents affected their decisions not to buy a book. About half of librarians reported that they had gone through a formal challenge, and 20 percent of them revealed that the experience affected their book-buying decisions going forward.

So there's strong evidence that there are far more challenges than are reported, and that those challenges affect institutions over the long run. Self-censorship, as the School Library Journal put it, is "a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about."

The Banned Books Week website includes case studies on two of the most frequently challenged books, Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Marjan Satrapi’s Persepolis.

You can take the New York Public Library’s banned books quiz at And you may be able to find an event near you.

Here’s more information on the impact of censorship challenges from People For the American Way Foundation’s “Book Wars” report:

While individual challenges don’t always succeed in removing a book from a school curriculum or forcing a textbook publisher to alter its content, they can have far-reaching effects.  Attacks on ethnic studies curricula or challenges to books that deal frankly with the lives and histories of marginalized communities can have divisive results beyond their original goals. For example, organizing a protest of a textbook that supposedly “promotes jihad” may not accomplish its stated goal, but might still succeed in stoking fear and resentment against Muslim Americans in that community.

Attacks on multicultural curricula in schools – like Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies classes – are joined by continuing efforts to ban books that acknowledge gay and lesbian families, teach about world religions, or deal frankly with the history of race in America. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, People For the American Way Foundation tracked challenges to books and curricula that included frank discussions of sexuality, race, and the less palatable truths of American history. In the 2000s, challenges focused also on books accused of promoting the “occult” or “undermining” Christianity, leading the Harry Potter series to top the American Library Association’s list of the most challenged books of the decade.

One common theme among many challenged books is their frank portrayals of the experiences of marginalized people. Toni Morrison’s Beloved and The Bluest Eye are unflinching explorations of being a Black woman in America. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian chronicles a Native American teenager’s experiences living in an impoverished reservation, while going to school in a wealthy nearby town. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man explores African-American identity in the mid-20th century. Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima, is a landmark piece of Chicano literature. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale offers a dystopian tale about the oppression of women. Marjane Satrapi’s renowned graphic novel Persepolis, is about a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution.

And here are some things you can do to fight censorship in your community:

1.       Attend school board meetings. School boards and other school decision-makers need to hear from parents, students, and community members who oppose censorship. Attend school board meetings, and stay in touch with board members and principals — even when there are no censorship challenges — to let them know that you care about fair, accurate, and inclusive schools.

2.       Stay informed. If a parent or activist group challenges a book in your community's school or district, read the book and learn about its author and its history. Then share what you've found with fellow community members and the local media. A strong, well-informed argument is always an effective weapon against misinformation and prejudice.

3.       Make some noise. Start a petition among students and parents in your school or district in support of a challenged book or curriculum, and tell the local media about it. You could also consider holding a protest in favor of the challenged material. In most cases, activists challenging books represent a small fraction of a community; it sends a powerful message when the rest of the community speaks up for its values

4.       Look for outside voices. While the most effective arguments against censorship are made by local students and parents, in some cases it can be helpful to bring in outside experts. If the author of a challenged book is living, consider inviting him or her to join a discussion in your community or to send a statement to school leaders. Free speech advocacy groups, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Library Association, and People For the American Way Foundation can also provide resources and advice on how to fight for free speech in schools.

5.       Run for office. If you don't like the way your elected officials handle censorship challenges, consider becoming an elected official yourself! Run for school board or volunteer to serve on a school committee that handles challenges against books.


PFAW Foundation

Who's Behind the Anti-Choice Smear Campaign on Planned Parenthood?

Congressional Republicans continue to push for a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding, but the ongoing smear campaign against the healthcare organization that anti-choice activists are using to justify defunding hasn't held up to honest scrutiny. But who's behind these dishonest and strategically edited videos?

PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery writes in The Hill this morning about the real intentions behind the radical anti-choice attacks on Planned Parenthood:

The Center for Medical Progress was created by anti-abortion activist David Daleiden for the purpose of conducting the kind of "stings" used in previous efforts to “take out” Planned Parenthood. Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Conyers have urged an investigation into potentially illegal actions by Daleiden and CMP. But Daleiden’s lawyers have said he will invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than defend his actions.

Read the full article in The Hill here.

PFAW's latest Right Wing Watch: In Focus report, entitled "Operation Rescue’s Big Break: How an Organization Rooted in the Radical Fringes of the Anti-Choice Movement Is Threatening to Shut Down the Government," offers an in-depth look at David Daleiden's history within the radical anti-choice movement.


Bush Will Back GOP Nominee, Even If It’s Trump

Last week, Jeb Bush said “Of course I would” support Donald Trump if he won the Republican nomination. Bush’s embrace of Donald Trump and, in turn, Trump’s xenophobia, racism, sexism, and homophobia is disturbing but unsurprising. As PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager put it:

“Naturally Jeb Bush has no qualms about supporting Donald Trump. From speaking out against increases to the minimum wage to opposing a woman’s right to choose, Bush and Trump are united in pushing an extreme agenda that would be devastating to working class families. Moreover, the fact that Bush would support Donald Trump and his mass deportation policies shows that Bush’s loyalties lie only with the extreme Republican base, not immigrants or working families.”

Bush, Trump, and the rest of the GOP presidential candidates have shown time and again during the primary campaign that no idea is too extreme if it can win votes from the party’s radical base. 

From ignoring the science of climate change to supporting tax plans that favor the wealthiest in our society while harming  working families, on critical issues, PFAW Coordinator of Political Campaigns Carlos A. Sanchez pointed out, “Trump and his less flamboyant competitors all share virtually identical positions.” At points, Trump has even been the voice of moderation in the GOP field. As PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker wrote last month, Trump has been one of the few Republican presidential candidates to speak out against the undue influence of big money in elections.

In every primary election, candidates cater to their base. But Republicans have outdone themselves this year. Pledging to support Trump if he becomes the party’s nominee, as Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates have done, is just the latest example of how extreme Bush, Trump, and all of the leading GOP candidates are.


House Judiciary Committee Takes Up Planned Parenthood Witch Hunt, Women And Voting Rights Suffer

An overwhelming amount of energy spent rehashing decades of settled law and Supreme Court precedent at the expense of women who seek not only abortion services from Planned Parenthood, a very small portion of their work, but a wide range of reproductive and preventive healthcare.

House Judiciary Committee Investigates Planned Parenthood But Still Refuses To Hold VRA Hearing

The Committee is putting its commitment to this far-right smear campaign ahead of its commitment to democracy. As they take up Planned Parenthood, Congress is more than two years past due in restoring what the Voting Rights Act lost in 2013 through the Supreme Court's damaging Shelby County v. Holder decision. They should instead be holding a hearing on the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Millennials Won't Fall for the Koch's 'Generation Opportunity'

This piece by Joy Lawson, Director of YP4, was originally published in the Huffington Post.

Despite attempts to label millennials as unengaged and apathetic, there's no denying the younger generation's vote means a lot in elections. A-list celebrities like Lena Dunham and Lil Jon are the new faces of the Get Out the Vote movement, and reports from 2012 reveal the youth vote was decisive in President Obama's victory.

So it's no surprise that the Koch Brothers, notoriously right-wing billionaires, are using their fortunes to promote radical, conservative priorities to millennials through their organization, Generation Opportunity.

However, reading through American Bridge's report about the group, it's clear that they'll face an uphill battle. That's not just because young people tend to disagree with the priorities the Koch Brothers are putting forth, but especially because young people are actually working against the very issues that GenOpp stands for.

Generation Opportunity opposes government subsidized student loans, federal aid to colleges, lowering loan rates - basically, any realistic measure that could make a college education more accessible to millions of students. With 71% of students graduating from college with debt and low-income students bearing the greatest brunt of tuition increases, making college more - not less - affordable is critical in order for students of all backgrounds to attend college. That's a big reason why every day, I work with students through People For the American Way Foundation's Young People For (YP4) program that are fighting directly against Koch priorities that seek to restrict college access.

Look no further than Torii Uyehora, a student at Southern Oregon University and YP4 fellow. As a college student she knows the struggles of student loans, and she recently organized 75 students to attend a rally to support public funding of higher education. Taynara Costa-Maura, a YP4 Fellow from Santa Monica, CA is encouraging her friends and fellow students to engage in the progressive movement through advocating for college affordability measures, like Prop 30, which prevented massive tuition increases and saved her community college - and many other community colleges across the state - from having to make big cuts to classes offered.

Torii and Taynar are just two of the thousands of students across the country pushing for affordable higher education. It's comical to imagine a headline of "Students Lobby for Higher Debt" or "Rally at University Calls for Raising Student Loan Rates." But that's what the Kochs support. Students agree with - and fight hard - for progressive measures so that more students can access higher education. Unless they're able to deceive millennials about their real motives, I'm not sure the Kochs will get anywhere trying to change that.

It's not just college affordability. While Generation Opportunity speaks out against net neutrality, 77% of 18-29 year olds believe in the principles of net neutrality. And student activists are engaging their fellow students to discuss how critical net neutrality is.

Another YP4 Fellow, Areeba Kamal at Mount Holyoke College, has written pieces for outlets including USA Today about why net neutrality is so essential. She detailed the efforts of young people on this issue: "Students and young adults have organized teach-ins in public locations, where they explain the issue and reiterate their support for net neutrality to the general public."

The fact is, millennials increasingly align themselves with progressive priorities, spanning from gay marriage to immigration. As Chris Cillizza wrote in the Washington Post last year, "More important -- and ultimately more impactful, politically speaking -- is how millennials feel about issues in the national conversation. Time and again, they come down on the more liberal side of those arguments."

Generation Opportunity can give out all the beer koozies and pizza they want (yes, they tried that to stop young people from signing up for health care...), but millennials won't be fooled by the shiny packaging--their peers are already fighting against the failed right-wing policies that the Kochs promote.

PFAW Foundation

Shame on Those Who Smear Planned Parenthood, an Essential Resource to Latinos

This piece by PFAW board member Dolores Huerta was originally published in the Huffington Post.

Despite all of the undeserved controversy and lies swirling around about Planned Parenthood, many -- but not all -- of us already know how essential the work of the organization is to our nation as a whole and the Latino community in particular: In 2013, millions of people visited Planned Parenthood for a wide variety of health services -- and 22% of those patients were Latino.

That's a high number, and it underscores how critical Planned Parenthood's work is in our community. Latinos are disproportionately uninsured and more likely to have trouble affording contraception. We're at a higher risk of death from cervical cancer and breast cancer and of contracting HIV and other STDs. Sadly, the list could go on and on. But that's exactly why the sexual and reproductive health services that Planned Parenthood provides are absolutely vital to the health and wellbeing of our community. In particular, when Latinas most need health services but have nowhere else to turn, Planned Parenthood is there.

People who oppose women's access to health care have spent years attacking Planned Parenthood with too many smears and distortions to count. But the one that truly makes my blood boil is the claim that because so many women who turn to Planned Parenthood are people of color ... Planned Parenthood must be racist! A spokesperson for the right-wing Libre Initiative just made this attack, accusing Planned Parenthood of "target[ing] minority communities" and of working to diminish the "political power" of women of color.

That's as ridiculous as it is offensive.

When we say that Planned Parenthood does extensive work in communities of color, that's because women in those communities are deciding for themselves that they need the help Planned Parenthood offers. When a woman -- especially a low-income woman -- needs or desires access to contraception, a cancer screening, and yes, even an abortion, she can go to Planned Parenthood. Having that access means she has the ability to control her own health and her own future. That is not targeting or diminishing women. Instead, it's allowing them to have the dignity of making their own medical decisions, a right that so many people in the United States take for granted but that Latinas are too often denied.

Hundreds of thousands of Latinos turn to Planned Parenthood every year, but it's not just about the numbers. I've worked all of my life with members of our community, fighting for our rights, and I've seen far too many times the harm that lack of access to affordable, quality healthcare has done to our community. That's why I've worked so hard on grassroots efforts to promote health care access among low-income families and families of color during my time leading the Dolores Huerta Foundation. There's so much more we can and should be doing right now to better the health and wellness of Latinos across the country, but one step that would only make matters much worse would be to defund Planned Parenthood.

To put it simply: Attacking Planned Parenthood for providing Latinas with reproductive health services is another way of saying that Latinas shouldn't have access to reproductive health services at all.

If some people want to attack Planned Parenthood, that's their right. But they should be honest about what they're attacking. They're attacking our access to health care, birth control and abortion. Latinas have made clear that we want and need access to those services. And that's exactly why it's so important that we stand with Planned Parenthood.

Dolores Huerta is a civil rights leader and board member of People For the American Way.


The Constitution The Republicans Can't Stand

This post was written by PFAW President Michael B. Keegan and originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

If you are running for office as a Republican today, you have to mention your reverence for the Constitution at least as much as you mention your love for Ronald Reagan.

The Second Amendment-- every word should be taken literally because it was literally ordained by God! The First Amendment protects my right to discriminate against gay people! Neither the Constitution nor the Bible contains the word "Obamacare"!

But Republican politicians have a few glaring blind spots when it comes to the Constitution. One of those is the 14th Amendment, a pillar of our inclusive democracy, a key component of which Republican presidential candidates are now asking us to ignore or change.

In its infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the descendants of enslaved people were disqualified from U.S. citizenship. After we fought a civil war, the U.S. ratified the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868, which overturned Dred Scott in its opening lines, declaring, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

During the congressional debate over the 14th Amendment, both its supporters and detractors recognized that this birthright citizenship clause would apply to everyone born on U.S. soil, not just the descendants of slaves. In 1898, the Supreme Court ruled that even after the passage of the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act, the U.S.could not deny citizenship to Wong Kim Ark, a California-born son of Chinese immigrants, because the 14th Amendment guaranteed him citizenship.

Yet, anti-immigrant activists and their allies in the GOP are now fighting against this most American of constitutional principles.

In an immigration plan released this week, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for ending birthright citizenship. No matter that he didn't say how he would do that(while most people acknowledge that it would take a constitutional amendment to change the policy, some claim it was never included in the 14th Amendment in the first place). His Republican rivals started jumping to join him. Scott Walker told reporters that he "absolutely" wanted to change the Constitution's definition of citizenship, adding, paradoxically, that "to me it's about enforcing the laws in this country." Ben Carson said it "doesn't make any sense" to allow "anchor babies." Bobby Jindal joined the fray. So did Lindsey Graham. Rand Paul and Rick Santorum had already expressed their support for undoing the citizenship provision, with Paul sponsoring a constitutional amendment to do so and Santorum saying the 14th Amendment doesn't even say what it says.

Jeb Bush has been getting unearned credit for acknowledging that birthright citizenship is a "constitutional right" that we shouldn't "take away" -- just a few days after implying that if he had a "magic wand" to change the Constitution he would use it to do just that. Similarly, John Kasich has renounced his previous support for repealing birthright citizenship, but now says he doesn't want to "dwell on it." Carly Fiorina's and Rick Perry's passionate defense of the 14th Amendment is that it would take too much work to change it. This is what now passes for moderation. What ever happened to defending basic constitutional rights?

The Republican presidential contenders' rush to badmouth a basic constitutional right -- in an apparent attempt to appeal to their supposedly Constitution-loving far-right base -- speaks volumes about what they really mean when they talk about constitutionalism. They use their pocket Constitutions for the parts that come in handy. The rest of it? Not so much.


Kasich and Bush: More Like Other Extreme GOP Candidates Than Perceived

This post by PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager was originally published in the Huffington Post. 

Discussions of Governor Kasich's role in the 2016 election have centered around his strategy of defining himself to voters as an alternative to Jeb Bush: a moderate, compassionate conservative without Bush's last name. This strategy presupposes that both Bush and Kasich are in fact middle-of-the-road Republicans who hold moderate positions that would make them electable next November.

That proposition is false. While Kasich and Bush certainly took a more measured tone in the first Republican debate compared to, say, Donald Trump, their policy positions and records as governor in Ohio and Florida show that they're just as extreme and far-right as the rest of the Republican field.

Few issues demonstrate the extreme agenda of Bush, Kasich, and the Republican Party more than a woman's right to choose. Kasich has directly targeted access to legal abortion in Ohio though enacting medically unnecessary, cumbersome laws that closed abortion clinics. He signed a bill including a policy that restricts rape crisis counselors from providing referrals to abortion services to rape survivors. Jeb Bush calls himself the "most pro-life governor in modern times." As governor, he tried to restrict the ability of a mentally disabled rape victim to have an abortion. The "Scarlet Letter" law enacted during Bush's term as governor required a single mother who did not know the father of her child to pay for a month-long newspaper ad before putting her child up for adoption. The ad had to include personal details about the mother and her sexual history, complete with dates and locations where the child could have been conceived. Bush and Kasich are just as bad as their fellow candidates like Scott Walker, who recently signed a 20-week abortion bill even though he promised voters in his last campaign that the right to choose is between a woman and her doctor; or Marco Rubio, who co-sponsored a 20-week abortion bill in the Senate.

On Social Security, Kasich and Bush support former President George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. Had his plan been enacted, the stock market crash of 2008 would have decimated Social Security savings of seniors across the country. That doesn't seem to bother anyone in the Republican field other than, of all people, Donald Trump. He's actually spoken out against cuts to Social Security and Medicare, calling them "not fair" to workers. On immigration, Kasich and Bush have used less offensive language than Donald Trump, but both - and the rest of the leading Republican candidates - oppose President Obama's policies that protect DREAMers and families from deportation. Neither Bush nor Kasich nor any leading Republican candidate supports comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, even though that's a commonsense policy that would enable undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, stay with their families, and contribute to the American economy.

Kasich and Bush have reiterated time and again that their economic experience would make them ideal presidential candidates. The extreme GOP base might like those policies, but the fact is, they've made it more difficult for working class families to get ahead. After accounting for inflation, the average Ohio household earned less in 2013 than it did in 1984. Kasich's 2015 budget cut taxes by only $24 for middle-class Ohioans, raised taxes by $20 for taxpayers in the lowest income bracket, yet included a $10,000 tax cut for the wealthiest Ohioans. Bush keeps trumpeting his tenure as governor, but as the Washington Post reported, "Florida owed a substantial portion of its growth under Bush not to any state policies but to a massive and unsustainable housing bubble -- one that ultimately benefited rich investors at the expense of middle-class families." Bush also provided tax cuts to the wealthiest Floridians while cutting funding for essential programs for senior citizens and children. Kasich and Bush's failed economic policies are par for the course for Republican candidates: Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie have both been hammered for their states' economic woes.

Far-right policy positions defined the gubernatorial terms of Bush and Kasich. Now that they're running for president, we can't let them run from their records. Bush and Kasich's extreme agendas are in line with every single other Republican candidate that was on stage during the first debate.

Randy Borntrager lives in Ohio and is the political director of People For the American Way, D.C.-based progressive advocacy organization. He has previously served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy and the communications director and interim executive director of the Ohio Democratic Party.