Voter suppression and its history in racist practices are the topics of Heather Cox Richardson’s most recent three columns. As she puts it, “The story today—and always—is the story of American democracy.” Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon, a Black woman, was arrested for continuing to knock on the Georgia governor’s door while he was signing the draconian voter suppression act, NPR reports, a signing witnessed by six white men sitting under a painting of the Calloway plantation where 100 Black people had been enslaved, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. President Biden points out that the fact that the legislation prohibits giving water to people waiting in line to vote proves that it is simply punitive, not about voter fraud at all. 253 voter suppression bills have been introduced around the country, as the Brennan Center notes, while 704 bills which would expand voting rights have been introduced. Fair Fight, the organization that Stacey Abrams started, has more information on the Georgia bill and how people can fight back.
1. Mass murder takes out bright lights
In another season of tragedy, those killed in the Boulder shootings as well as the shooter himself had been caught in history. The family of the first person killed, 23 year old Neven Stanisic, had fled violence in Serbia for what they thought would be safety in the US. The shooter himself, 21 year old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, had come to the US as a small child from Syria (years before Obama-era asylum policies, contrary to right-wing assertions). In 2002 when they arrived, reform efforts in Syria were being crushed by the then-new president, Bashar al-Assad. Alissa’s brother told CNN, “He always suspected someone was behind him, someone was chasing him.” Each of his victims had a unique story, a unique light that they brought to the world, from Eric Talley, the officer who was killed, the father of seven children, to a Central California coast journalist’s father, Kevin Mahoney, who volunteered at the food bank, to Suzanne Fountain, an actress who worked signing seniors up for Medicare. Boulder’s ban on assault weapons had been overturned by a federal judge just 10 days before the massacre, the Washington Post points out. RLS
President Biden has called on the Senate to pass two background-check bills approved by the House and for Congress to launch another effort to pass a ban on assault weapons. If you support this initiative, you could contact your senators and your representative. In addition, Mom’s Rising is working on a campaign for universal background checks.
2. Restoring the right to organize
“From 1979 to 2019, relentless attacks on workers’ rights cut union membership by more than half. During the same time, average incomes for the bottom 90 percent of households increased just 1.1 percent, while average incomes for the wealthiest 1 percent increased more than 184 percent.” So explains a Fact Sheet from the House Education and Labor Committee, detailing why H.R.842, Protecting the Right to Organize, passed by the House, is necessary. The bill affirms workers’ rights to unionize; makes it more difficult for employers to categorize workers as independent contractors, which is a means of preventing worker organization; and sets clearer, stricter expectations for employer-union relationships. H.R.842 is with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has an important piece in Common Dreams on union organizing and in particular the Amazon opposition to unionization.
Meanwhile, a New York Times opinion piece by Steven Greenhouse lays out an agenda of actions President Biden can take that do not require Congressional action to improve workers’ rights.
– Biden can install a $15 minimum wage for federal contractors;
– Biden can issue an executive order barring federal contracts for companies that fight against unionization;
– He can appoint union advocates to the National Labor Relations Board;
President Biden has taken some pro-union actions already. Marty Walsh, his nominee for Secretary of Labor, used to lead Boston’s federation of building trades unions. He fired the National Labor Relations Board anti-union general counsel Peter Robb.
As with so many other issues, the extent to which unions and workers benefit over the next four years will depend on overcoming the Senate super-majority requirement, either by ending or modifying the filibuster or by finding a work-around to the super-majority requirement. S-HP
If you want to support the right to organize, you can urge quick, positive action on H.R.842 by the Senate HELP Committee: Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, 428 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-5375. @PattyMurray.
You can also thank President Biden for what he’s done so far to support workers’ rights and call on him to continue to take the actions he can to support U.S. workers: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS.
3. Children arriving alone swamp border facilities. Families continue to be deported.
As we noted last week, the Biden administration is being criticized for the numbers of people arriving at the border, though in fact, most of them who are not unaccompanied children are being turned away. A PBS graph of the numbers of asylum seekers demonstrates that spikes of people arriving occurred in previous administrations–including the most recent one. The Washington Post , too, says that the numbers represent a predictable pattern. The American Immigration Council (AIC) clarifies this situation as well, insisting that the primary challenge is a humanitarian one. Mexico is refusing to accept the deportation of families with young children at particular locations, so the U.S. is flying them to other locations on the border and deporting them there.
Still, because families are not being permitted in, children and young people–about 550 per day–are coming alone to seek asylum, leading the administration to open huge facilities, as Mother Jones explained last week.. And the AIC explains that “logistical challenges in getting these children into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement have led to thousands of children backed up in inadequate conditions in Border Patrol facilities.” The surge is also leading to cutting corners that some find alarming. In particular, the Biden administration while still requiring criminal background checks for caregiving staff, is a waiving the more rigorous FBI background checks, WGME reported. The New Yorker, in a piece this week, clearly sketches the history of asylum-seeking at the border and the Biden administration’s multiple dilemmas. RLS
With the arrival of so many unaccompanied children–and the deportation of desperate families–organizations that assist people on the border are hard-pressed to cope. The Al Otro Lado bail fund makes it possible for asylum-seekers in detention to be released to sponsors. The fund revolves, so that when the asylum-seeker has met all their obligations, the funds become available to someone else. The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project in Arizona provides free legal and social services to detained men, women, and children under threat of deportation. RAICES believes that “no child should go to court alone,” and so represents children and families pro bono on immigration issues in Texas–over 37,000 of them in 2018.
4. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied
Lest you think that the ERA is a vestige of second-wave feminism that need not be revived, listen for a moment to Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), quoted in Ms. Magazine: “For those who still question the need for the ERA, they need look no further than the gender wage gap that continues to keep women and families from achieving their full potential, pregnancy discrimination that forces women out of the workforce, persistent and insidious violations of the rights of survivors, and more.” Speier introduced the resolution to extend the deadline for ratification, H.J.Res.17, which the House passed but which only four Republicans supported. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. If you want to read about the history and purpose of the ERA, Equal Rights Amendment.org is a good source. Only one more state is needed to ratify the amendment. Section 1 reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” RLS/S-HP
If you’d like to see the ERA move forward at last, urge the Senate Majority Leader to assign the ERA deadline extension and the renewal of VAWA (see below) to the appropriate Senate Committee(s) and explain that we’ve already waited far too long: Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader, 322 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6542. @SenSchumer.
5. Violence Against Women Act reauthorized by the House
Just a day after seven women were murdered in Atlanta and six more women (of ten victims) were killed in Boulder, the Violence Against Women Act, H.R.1620, was reauthorized by the House. It has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. According to Ms. Magazine, this version of the act has significant improvements: “Ensuring Indigenous tribes’ jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault and domestic violence on tribal lands; strengthening enforcement of court orders that require convicted abusers to relinquish their firearms, and extending protections to immigrant women and transgender women. In a provision adamantly opposed by the National Rifle Association, VAWA reauthorization broadens protections from firearm homicide for victims of dating violence. Under current law, only spouses or formerly married partners convicted of stalking or abuse are prevented from purchasing guns.” President Biden advocated strongly for the reauthorization. RLS/S-HP
If you want to help VAWA move forward, you can email the Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations, Diane DeGette, who represents the 1st district of Colorado, and urge her to act swiftly on VAWA, getting it moved to the Senate.
6. How long should legislators wait to lobby?
Lobbying is the most popular occupation for legislators when they leave office, the Atlantic reported in 2018, and the “revolving door” in which lawmakers arrive from industries they are expected to oversee and then return to them as lobbyists has long undermined the integrity of the House and Senate. Currently, representatives may work as lobbyists after a one-year “cooling off” period, while senators must wait two years. The Halt Unchecked Member Benefits with Lobbying Elimination (HUMBLE) Act, H.R.459 would prohibit former members of Congress and elected officers of Congress from lobbying Congress at any point after they have left office. It would also prohibit members of Congress from owning individual stocks. The complete prohibition on lobbying is likely to doom the bill; however, an alternative bill, H.R. 2389, which would have prohibited lobbying for five years, appears not to have moved forward. This legislation is currently with four House committees: Administration; Rules; Ethics; and Judiciary. Within the Judiciary Committee, it is with the Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.
If you’d like to put a stop to the revolving door, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.459 by the appropriate committees and subcommittee, the addresses are here.
7. Clemency for Reality Winner
Reality Leigh Winner is currently serving a sentence of five years and three months for leaking the documents that brought to light Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. As she has been suffering a number of health complications from COVID-19 as well as the trauma of having been sexually assaulted by a guard, Friends of Reality Winner, the Facebook presence of Stand with Reality, has called for letters to the U.S. Pardon Attorney and President Biden: “When Reality Winner first petitioned for clemency in Feb 2020, former President Trump was in office and there were over 13k petitions backlogged due to Trump skipping over the U.S. Pardon Attorney and taking his cue of whose petition to grant from celebrities and those with money. The current U.S. Pardon Attorney is Rosalind Sargent-Burns, who was appointed by Bill Barr in May 2019. With so many petitions backlogged, U.S. Pardon Attorney Sargent-Burns has a lot of work in front of her. Advocates need to help her and President Biden become aware of Reality Winner’s petition for clemency that has been in pending status for over a year.” Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency who was also a whistleblower, told Military.com, “She was treated as an enemy combatant within our own country. She paid the ultimate price for what was her final act of public service.” S-HP
You can sign the petition for clemency and write the US Pardon Attorney–instructions are here. Please call 202-616-6070 (option 4) and leave a message in support of #RealityWinner, prisoner 22056-021, clemency petition C289645.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
8. Unused treatment for Covid-19
High-risk people who test positive for COVID-19, who have symptoms and are not yet hospitalized can benefit from monoclonal antibodies, Dr. David Kessler, chief science officer for the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response, told Rachel Maddow in February. Trump was treated with one of these; Kessler says there is a supply which is not yet being used–70% of what has been shipped has not been used. In the U.S., the FDA approved this use in November, noting that for patients who are hospitalized or on oxygen, their use may backfire. Health Canada has not yet approved the use of the combination of monoclonal antibodies approved by the FDA, according to iPolitics, but has approved one of them, bamlanivimab, according to CTV. (In case you were thinking about taking the Ivermectin that was prescribed for your horse, please don’t. Here is the explanation from the FDA. Basically, it’s that Ivermectin is not an anti-viral–it is used for parasites in animals and topically on people for conditions such as rosacea.) RLS
You may want to print out this page from Health and Human Services: keep it handy in case you get COVID-19–and send it to high-risk family and friends.
9. Counting COVID cases in prisons
COVID-19 cases have been rampant in American prisons, with 390,951 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Marshall Project. 2,501 people have died. In Canada, there were as many new cases in jails and prisons in the month of January as there were in the previous nine months, according to CTV. The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act (H.R.1072 in the House; S.324 in the Senate) would require federal, state, and local correctional facilities to begin providing a publicly accessible standardized set of COVID-19 data. H.R.1072 is with the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce Committees. S.324 is with the Senate Judiciary Committee. S-HP
If you want to act on this issue, you can insist that the public, health professionals, and government leadership all need consistent accurate data on COVID-19 transmission and urge swift, positive action by the appropriate committee. Addresses are here.
10. California waterways too polluted to drink from, swim in
Roughly 95% of all waterways in California remain too polluted for safe swimming, fishing, and drinking. California Coastkeepers Alliance (CCKA) states that the California Clean Water Act, AB-377, would “eliminate impaired waterways and make all California waters drinkable, swimmable, and fishable by 2050. Specifically, the bill will require the State and Regional Water Boards to close permit loopholes, ensure that all dischargers are in compliance with water quality standards, and direct a larger proportion of existing funding toward cleaning up impaired waterways. The effects of this bill will be especially significant in underserved communities, where water is disproportionately likely to be polluted or even undrinkable.” AB-377 is currently with the California State Environmental and Toxic Materials Committee, which will be holding a hearing on the legislation on April 7.
If you are a Californian, you can urge quick, positive action on AB-377 by the California State Environmental and Toxic Materials (ESTM) Committee:Addresses are here.
Moms Rising, whose members made over 230,000 calls and email contacts to support the passage of the American Rescue Plan, suggests that we all now thank the people we wrote. They also have other quick, effective actions you can take.
The Americans of Conscience Checklist also has a new list of quick, effective actions you can take.