Fighting the Right

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.


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.

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.


Who Said It? Donald Trump Or Another GOP Candidate?

Think Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration is leaps and bounds worse than the rest of the Republican candidates running for president?

Test your knowledge by taking our quiz! Each of the statements below were made by Donald Trump or one of the other GOP candidates in the 2016 race.


Who Said It?


PFAW Telebriefing Prepares For The First GOP Presidential Debate

On Thursday, PFAW hosted a telebriefing to advise members on what to expect in the first GOP debate tonight. After an introduction from PFAW President Michael Keegan, Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated a discussion with leading political strategist and founder of Lake Research Partners Celinda Lake and PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager and Senior Research Associate Brian Trashman.

Lake stressed the widening disconnect between GOP candidates and the vast majority of the general electorate. She recommended watching for three main areas of focus during the debate: how the candidates are able, or unable, to articulate an economic message; how the candidates attempt to repair a troubled relationship with female voters; and how many times the candidates go off on tangents that reveal their extreme far-right positions. 

As Donald Trump continues to lead the polls, Tashman discussed how the media’s focus on Trump allows his contenders to seem more moderate, when in reality this is the most “extreme candidate selection we have had in a while.” Lake added that the media’s insistence on posing “crazy” questions also bolsters Trump’s poll numbers, as it inhibits other candidates from discussing their economic agenda.

To push back against the extreme rhetoric that has elevated Trump’s popularity, Borntrager outlined a variety of ways in which PFAW and its affiliates are fighting back. Speaking about the importance of a “progressive rapid response mechanism,” Borntrager urged supporters to email PFAW’s political department for ways to get involved in the grassroots effort. He noted that for the upcoming debate, PFAW is organizing a counter-rally in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as live tweeting and fact checking the candidates’ claims throughout. “This grassroots effort is, in a lot of ways, starting today,” Borntrager said.

Call participants shared thoughtful questions, including one regarding the risks associated with the Republican-backed privatization of Medicare and Social Security. Lake responded that these measures are “wildly unpopular” among the majority of Americans. She concluded that Republicans are “living on borrowed time, demographically” because they either attack or ignore discriminatory practices, welfare programs, reproductive health care access, and other issues of pronounced importance to the American people. 

Listen to the full briefing here:


Some Questions for the Republican Candidates

As the leading Republican presidential candidates prepare to take the stage on Thursday for the first official presidential debate, we know that they all share a common goal of promoting an far-right agenda in the White House.

We don’t expect to get much clarity on the Republicans’ extreme positions on Thursday. But if we had the chance to moderate the debate, here’s some of the questions we’d ask each of the candidates:

  • Jeb Bush: Why are you catering to the anti-immigrant base of the Republican Party by condemning undocumented immigrants to second class status through denying them any path to citizenship?
  • Scott Walker: You have an abysmal record when it comes to the environment and fighting against climate change. But just like you’ve punted on so many other critical questions, you’ve never actually told us your position on climate change. So, do you deny the science of climate change or do you accept that it’s a reality that must be addressed?
  • Mike Huckabee: You’ve compared Obama and abortion rights to the Nazis and their genocide. How and why did you think that was appropriate?
  • Ted Cruz: Why did you cook bacon on a machine gun?
  • Ben Carson: You’ve compared Obamacare to slavery. How is ensuring access to quality, affordable healthcare – as the ACA does – like slavery in any way?
  • Marco Rubio: This past April, before the Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality, you said that anyone who believes that gay people have a constitutional right to marriage has a “ridiculous and absurd reading of the U.S. Constitution.” Is that still your belief today?
  • Rand Paul: In a talk you once explained that while direct cheating is off the table, “I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic.” What are some examples of times that you’ve “misinformed” the American people?
  • Donald Trump: How does deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants or denying spousal rape make America great again?

What the GOP Is Calling for When They Advocate Defunding Planned Parenthood

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Today Senate Republicans are preparing to vote on legislation to defund Planned Parenthood. GOP presidential candidates including Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Rand Paul have jumped on the bandwagon, with Paul calling for a stop to "any penny of money" going to the organization. Jeb Bush called for a congressional investigation.

It's obvious that these attacks are the latest right-wing tactic aimed not only at destroying Planned Parenthood but also at a woman's right to control her own body. It's a campaign borrowing a page from a very old, very repetitive playbook.

But let's be clear about what it means when Republican politicians crusade, over and over, to defund Planned Parenthood. 

Calling to defund Planned Parenthood is calling to prevent low-income women from getting lifesaving cancer screenings. It's calling to prevent HIV testing, well-woman exams, and other basic medical services. No matter how you cut it, it's an attack on the health and well-being of women, especially on those least able to afford cuts in services.

Reproductive health advocate Clare Coleman, who formerly headed up a network of Planned Parenthood clinics in New York state, said that although their medical centers nationwide serve patients of all ages, races, genders, and incomes, she described their typical patient as "a working woman between 20 and 24, maybe in school, often with children." That patient, Coleman wrote, lives on an "edge" where "you know you're always one emergency away from everything falling apart."

Calling to defund Planned Parenthood is calling to take away medical care from women who are already struggling to make ends meet. 

I have dedicated decades of my life to the opposite work: the movement to make sure women can make our own medical decisions and shape our own futures in a system that respects our autonomy. The struggle to make sure all women, especially women of color and low-income women, have access to reproductive health and reproductive justice.

These GOP leaders, despite lip service to "rebranding" efforts aimed at reaching more women, seem dead-set on just the opposite.

If they are truly concerned about reaching women, maybe they should avoid making the most marginalized women the target of their regressive policy proposals. Maybe they should avoid attacking medical centers that one in five women has relied on. 

While GOP politicians repeat tired, dishonest talking points about defunding the "abortion industry," dedicated staff at Planned Parenthood health centers willcontinue to provide critical medical care to people across the country. Who's really fighting for women?

Read our new Right Wing Watch In Focus report on the right-wing activists behind the attacks on Planned Parenthood. 


Jeb Bush Thinks 50 Years of Medicare Is Long Enough

In 1965, 29 percent of people above the age of 65 were living in poverty. Fifty percent were uninsured. One in four went without medical care due to cost concerns.

That started changing 50 years ago today, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare and Medicaid programs into law. In the half-century since then, these programs have guaranteed some of the most vulnerable members of our society access to lifesaving healthcare when they need it most. Today, 98% of seniors – that’s 46 million people -- are covered by Medicare. Life expectancies have increased, and the poverty rate among seniors has decreased by half. There’s no question that Medicare is helping older Americans live longer, healthier lives in 2015.

But under a Jeb Bush presidency, we could see that progress backslide. Bush told attendees at a town hall event in New Hampshire last week that we “need to figure out a way to phase out” Medicare. Bush’s campaign later said that he would support dramatic changes to the Medicare program, like those proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, that would privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher system. But while Republicans claim these changes are meant to strengthen the program, the truth is that they would  end the guaranteed benefit of Medicare for all seniors.

For a man who still has no regrets about his horrific handling of the Terri Schiavo controversy, Jeb certainly does seem to be showing a lack of interest in keeping millions of Americans alive.



No to ALEC: California Fights Back

This post was written by Johnson Pham, a Young People For fellow.

Last Wednesday, I joined thousands of folks as we gathered together to rally against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during their annual meeting in San Diego. This was a massive protest to resist this right-wing organization, and they were met with many faces including workers, community organizers, faith-based leaders, and an assortment of other progressives.

ALEC is a national, corporate-funded organization that marries the interests of conservative legislators and corporate lobbyists. ALEC has been instrumental in drafting harmful legislation in many states, ranging from the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, to legislation  weakening environmental sustainability measures, to bills challenging women’s access reproductive health services. Notorious allies of ALEC include figures like Scott Walker and the Koch brothers.

ALEC pays for legislators to go on extravagant trips, where they collaboratively write legislation to be introduced word-for-word in their home states. ALEC’s event at the Hilton in San Diego was one of these opulent vacations afforded to legislators, and their presence in California was naturally met by resistance from progressive groups, who have clear stakes in resisting flagrant conservatism.

I went to this rally with the United Domestic Workers (UDW) Local 3930, a worker union that represents home-care providers in California. Homecare providers are one of the targets of ALEC, which has written bills targeting worker unions and pushing lower wages and benefits. We arrived at the Embarcadero Marina Park in San Diego close to noon and were met by hundreds of other progressives who greeted everyone with an embrace. It was truly a staggering experience to see such unconditional love and community expressed across the board.

The speak-out portion of the rally was studded with champions from the labor movement, including the legendary Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) movement and now sits on the board of PFAW. Dolores has been one of my heroes since I learned who she was, and I had the opportunity to meet her in living flesh at the rally. She spoke with conviction and presence and talked about our individual ability to bring others into the movement. She implored us to never give up this good fight, and communicated her love for this community and for the movement.

pham and dolores

The rally was a short walk from the park to the hotel, where folks continued to give their testimonies about why they are in this fight, and the challenges we face. This continued until 5PM, until hotel security brought in a squadron of police officers in response to rumors of a civil disobedience action occurring soon in the hotel lobby. I left the rally on my bus with the union, and we were unified in our sweat, laughter, and fulfillment from the day.

As a new YP4 fellow, I shared a lot about my love for the labor movement during our regional retreat, and this experience has only further cemented this deep-set appreciation. As someone who comes from a working-class background, there I’m deeply committed to making sure that families do not have to struggle to feed themselves or their children. Seeing for myself how resilient working families are in the face of billionaires and their lobbyists gives me incredible hope for this movement.

alec rally

Corporate-backed institutions like ALEC are antithetical to the values my parents passed to me when I grew up, like having respect and compassion for everyone, and supporting the people who need it the most. I learned from this action that this collective movement is larger than what I could have ever believed. That this movement consistsed of leaders who came before me, my elders, and will continue on past what I will be able to do in this line of work. It is indisputable that ALEC got the point that they are not welcome or liked in California, and even now, organizers behind the protest are getting ready for a follow-up action in the coming weeks.

The fight continues.

PFAW Foundation

Dolores Huerta and Activists Protest ALEC and Scott Walker

The call and response chant, “Tell me what democracy looks like,” “This is what democracy looks like!” rang true as activists rallied against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during its annual meeting in San Diego this week.

ALEC is a far-right organization that connects corporate executives to policy makers in order to craft and enact state-by-state legislation that raises corporate profits while stomping on the rights and economic prospects of working families. For instance, ALEC is behind Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law and the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida that helped George Zimmerman to walk free.

At the protest, more than a thousand participants from faith communities, labor unions, environmental groups, immigration groups, and more proclaimed that ALEC corrupts democracy by allowing corporations to – literally – buy a seat at the table with state legislators.  Common Cause President Miles Rapoport described the ALEC meeting as “a festival of closed-door deal-making by politicians, corporate executives and lobbyists. They gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest.”

Civil rights leader and People For the American Way board member Dolores Huerta revved up the crowd, telling activists, “The only way we can stop [ALEC] is to go back to our communities, we’ve got to organize. People do not know how perilous this organization is. Let’s say ‘abajo (that means down) con ALEC!’”

After Huerta’s speech, activists – including a Young Elected Official (YEO) with the YEO Network, a project of People For the American Way Foundation – sought out Huerta to introduce themselves and share the work they're doing in their communities.

Activists then walked to the hotel where the ALEC meetings are being held to continue the protest. Huerta and others highlighted the message that Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker – who spoke this morning at the conference – and ALEC are unified in their support for corporations at the expense of working families.

In addition to participating in the rally, PFAW released Spanish- and English-language digital ads criticizing Walker for his alliance with ALEC. The Huffington Post also published an opinion piece yesterday by Huerta that details the anti-immigrant, anti-worker efforts of ALEC and how Walker has a long history of partnering with ALEC.


The Planned Parenthood Smear And The Right's 'Abortion Industry' Lie

This post originally appeared on PFAW's Right Wing Watch.

By now, it has been proven and proven again that Planned Parenthood is not “selling aborted baby parts” for profit, as a pair of deceptively edited videos from a conservative group with close ties to a number of extreme anti-choice groups purport to show.

Yet this new line — the women’s health organization as a horror-movie butcher looking to enrich itself off helpless pregnant women — has quickly become an established “fact” not only within the anti-choice movement, but in the larger conservative movement and among Republican politicians.

This is not because they have been given any new information. Again, the central premise of the new videos is easily disproved — Planned Parenthood follows standard medical guidelines in donating fetal tissue for medical research with the patient’s consent. It is because the videos (or what they claim is in the videos) illustrate an attack that the anti-choice movement has been attempting to level at legal abortion providers for years.

As the anti-choice movement has rebranded itself to be about “protecting” women from legal abortion, it has taken to calling abortion providers the “Abortion Industry,” alleging that they are more interested in turning a profit than in providing health care. This charge is most frequently leveled at Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that both the health care provider and its advocacy affiliate are nonprofit organizations.

Back in January, the anti-choice legal group Americans United for Life released a report titled “ Abortion, Inc.,” which attempted to show that Planned Parenthood is on a “Big Abortion, Big Profits trajectory.” The report concludes by alleging that the health group’s advocacy arm fights anti-choice laws that chip away at abortion access in order to “protect its abortion business’ financial success.”

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins made a similarly outlandish claim last week when he tied the false claims about Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue and its advocacy affiliate’s opposition to laws banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregancy. “This suggests why they may have been opposed to bans such as this, these five-month bans, because the longer the pregnancy goes, the more valuable the parts,” he claimed.

In recent years, the Religious Right has attempted to portray itself as the victim of LGBT rights, a David-and-Goliath scenario in which conservative Christians are the brave warriors outspent and outnumbered by “Big Gay” — no matter that the very same activists previously spent decades trying to drive LGBT people out of public life.

A similar rhetorical trick is going on here. Anti-choice groups want to stamp out legal abortion and drive women seeking abortion to dangerous, underground alternatives. They also want to destroy Planned Parenthood, which provides a wide range of medical services to more than five million people a year, only a small percentage of which include abortion. But in order to do so, they are painting abortion providers as a big, bad industry out to get the very women who seek their services.

It’s clear that these videos were made with the “Abortion Industry” talking point in mind. There is a legitimate debate to be had over the legal use of fetal tissue for medical research, which has led to a number of medical advances, including vaccine development. But that isn’t the point of this smear. Instead, it is a dishonest attempt to undermine abortion rights by portraying abortion providers and pro-choice groups as profit-hungry predators. This smear is nothing new — this is just its most lurid and best-publicized iteration.