News You May Have Missed: July 18, 2021

“Wildfire in the Pacific Northwest” by BLM Oregon & Washington is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In light of the devastating fires all over North America, devastating drought in Western US and Canada, the heatwave that cooked a billion marine animals in their shells and fruit on the trees, the flooding in Europe which has left at least 125 people dead and many more homeless, this past week feels like a tipping point in terms of both the climate and our awareness of it. In her column for the Guardian, Rebecca Solnit illuminates the dimensions of this issue, and in the New Yorker, Bill McKibben argues that the Biden administration needs to invest itself unreservedly in the “whole of government” approach to which Biden committed himself.


1. “Dreamers” once again at risk

Hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the US as children–known as Dreamers–have been shielded from deportation vis the DACA program. But on July 16, a federal judge declared the program illegal and while he did not threaten the status of Dreamers already in the program, he said that no more could apply, according to the New York Times. Immigration advocates point out that this decision illustrates the vulnerability of DACA, highlighting the urgency of legislation to stabilize the program, the LA Times noted. The House passed legislation in March that would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers but it is stuck in the Senate. Many Dreamers are by now parents themselves, the LA Times pointed out, citing figures from the  Center for American Progress saying that “roughly 254,000 children have at least one parent relying on DACA,” RLS

You can call on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act (HR6). Text GO DREAM to Resistbo at 50409. Only Congress can ensure a permanent solution by granting a path to citizenship for Dreamers that will provide the certainty and stability that these young people need and deserve. Moms Rising also has a letter you can sign and send to your member of Congress.

2. More mass shootings–see our gun legislation database

Last week we described the spike in gun violence during the pandemic.  20,000 people were killed by guns in 2020, one of the deadliest years on record, according to the Washington Post. 24,000 additional people committed suicide with a gun in 2020, Forbes notes, pointing out that 12,342 have died by suicide with a gun so far in 2021. According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of July 19, 11,117 people have been killed by guns so far in 20201; 171 of these were children under 11. Three people were wounded outside Nationals Park this weekend, according to CNN; the Gun Violence Archive lists all the deaths and injuries by guns for the past 72 hours. As we pointed out last week, 38 pieces of gun legislation have passed the House but are stuck in Senate committees; see our comprehensive database for a summary of pending gun legislation. RLS/S-HP

For your voice to be heard, urge committees with gun legislation to take action on this legislation and insist that your Congressmembers call for gun legislation to be moved beyond committee and that they support this legislation when it comes to a full vote of the House or Senate. Addresses are here.

3. Tennessee stops outreach on the COVID-19 shot–and all vaccines

Cases of COVID-19 in Tennessee have increased by 608.5% over the last two weeks, according to NPR, which drew on data from Johns Hopkins University. Only 38% of people in the state have been vaccinated. Despite this grim picture, Tennessee’s top vaccine official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, was fired without explanation July 12. According to the Tennessean, Dr. Fiscus has claimed she was fired to appease Republican state lawmakers who objected to what she called “routine vaccine outreach.”

The Tennessee Department of Health has also halted all vaccination outreach efforts, not only for COVID-19, but for all other vaccine-preventable illnesses as well; in a Monday email, the Tennessean reported, agency Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tim Jones told staff they should conduct “no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines” and “no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine,” the vaccine that prevents the virus that causes cervical cancer.

The battle over Dr. Fiscus’s outreach to teenagers began on May 12, when she issued a memo clarifying the state’s “mature minor doctrine,” which states that under legal precedents, children age 14 and older are able to make medical decisions for themselves if necessary. The memo clarifies that this doctrine extends to administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. After Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccination was given emergency use authorization for minors between the ages of 12 and 15, the state department of health began producing ads which appeared in print and on social media that featured images of minors who appeared to have received their vaccinations with messages that those ages 12 and above were eligible to be vaccinated. The state Department of Health, which manages 90 of 95 county Health Departments in Tennessee, also hosted vaccination events for teens in schools. 

In June, the state legislature questioned Dr. Lisa Piercey, the state’s health commissioner about ads that they claimed targeted teens for vaccination, threatening to defund public health in the state. Although there was evidence that only 8 minors had been vaccinated without their parent’s consent (including Dr. Piercey’s 3 children when she was away at work), Republican legislators– some of whom are skeptical of the COVID vaccine– also shared anecdotes that students were getting pressure to be vaccinated from teachers at school. Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) claimed “A football coach or a band director or a drama teacher or whoever it is, ought not be to be telling kids, ‘Hey, just come and get done so you don’t have to sit out.’ We’re getting to the point we’re getting proactive, we’re meddling,” MSN reported. (All claims of pressure from school officials are to date anecdotal and unconfirmed.)

Dr. Piercey denied that the state Department of Health was trying to pressure teens or infringe on parent’s rights while also stating that COVID-19 vaccination is safe and effective and saying the mature minors doctrine was largely for teens whose parents could or would not be involved in their medical decisions. The Government Operations Committee nonetheless called her to appear before them in July, when they would discuss dissolving the department and its funding if the message was not toned down. 

In addition to the partisan pressure on Dr. Fiscus, several news outlets have connected Dr. Fiscus’s sacking with Dr. Piercey’s statements to the Tennessean in May that she has ambitions to run for public office in the future. Historian Heather Cox Richardson addressed the question professor Asha Rangappa and others have asked: Why is the GOP apparently willing to kill and disable its own voters by undermining the vaccine? Cox Richardson says that the most insightful response on Twitter “was that the Republican’s best hope for winning in 2022—aside from voter suppression—is to keep the culture wars hot, even if it means causing illness and death.” 

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has refused to comment on Dr. Fiscus’s firing. Representative John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) has called on the Governor and Health Commissioner to explain Dr. Fiscus’s firing, and fears that the circumstances of her dismissal will make hiring a qualified replacement difficult. JM-L

4. Critical Race Theory hysteria funded by an obscure foundation

You won’t have missed that the Right has seized on Critical Race Theory (CRT), a basic approach to analyzing the way race is not biologically based but is constructed by society, and how racism is structural. But CRT is being made to mean whatever right-wing Republicans want to mean and then attacked. For example, Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writing in the New York Post, alleged that schools”are pushing toxic racial theories onto children, teaching them that they should be judged on the basis of race and must atone for historical crimes committed by members of their racial group.” Senator Ted Cruz claimed that “Critical race theory says every white person is a racist,” as professor Ibram X. Kendi, writing in the Atlantic explained; he went on to point out that on Fox, Critical Race Theory was referred to “314 times in April, 589 times in May, and 737 times in just the first three weeks of June.” Kendi went on to quote Education Week as saying that “As of June 29, 26 states had introduced legislation or other state-level actions to “restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism.” As with other multi-state legislative initiatives, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has hosted webinars and drafted legislation in an effort to build the conservative landslide of opinion on CRT. It is clear how redefining CRT would suit the interests of conservatives who want to shut down any discussion of race and racism altogether; however, the sudden emergence of anti-CRT vitriol left many scholars bemused.

But the anti-CRT panic did not emerge on its own. As Popular Info points out, it was a concerted effort funded by a nearly invisible foundation, the Thomas W. Smith Foundation, which paid James Piereson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, $283,333 to work part-time. The Foundation, says Popular Info, “has donated more than $12.7 million to 21 organizations attacking Critical Race Theory”; a list of some of them is in their article. In a tweet, Rufo acknowledged what the strategy was: “We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” Clearly, the agenda is to stop the discussion of race and racism that has called white conservatives’ positions of power into question and to keep the historical analysis of racism out of public schools and universities. As Popular Info put it, “The foundation funding much of the anti-CRT effort is run by a person who opposes all efforts to increase diversity at powerful institutions and laments the introduction of curriculum about the historical treatment of Black people. ” RLS


5. Mainstream media misrepresent Cuban protests, ignore effects of blockade

As FAIR points out, media outlets became quite excited about the protests in and about Cuba, most articles celebrated Cubans’ complaints against their government and ignored or understated the effects of the U.S. blockade against Cuba. The shortages of food and medicine are a direct consequences of the blockade, as well as of the pandemic that has kept tourists away, along with their contributions to the economy.  The Trump administration intensified the blockade, prohibiting Cuban-Americans from sending remittances back to their families.

The protests may have been part of a coordinated effort, according to the Progressive, which notes that the US funds dissident groups in Cuban and that a hashtag #SOSCuba  was circulating in Florida just days before the protests. Many news articles went so far as to describe pictures of pro-government supporters as anti-government protestors, an error which the Guardian, at least, acknowledged. As the Progressive points out, the embargo has for the last sixty years intended to cause suffering to the Cuban people; the Progressive quotes Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lester Mallory in 1960, who advocatd “denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” RLS

If you want to be heard on this issue, you could join the eighty House Democrats who have asked President Biden to rescind the ban on travel and remittances (Reuters has details). Tweet @Potus or find your Representative here.

6. Canada denied twice as many immigrants the right to stay during the pandemic

Immigrants inside Canada who have fallen out of status–workers or visitors whose permits have expired or refugees whose claims were denied–can request to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds if they can show that they are established in Canada or that it would be a hardship for them to leave. However, the refusal rate of humanitarian and compassionate applications doubled over the course of the pandemic, from 35 per cent in 2019 to 70 per cent during the period January-March of 2021, according to the Toronto Star. It is not clear why more immigrants’ applications were refused, but the costs are clear: immigrants at risk of deportation are more vulnerable to exploitation in their workplaces, which already tend to be under-regulated (as in domestic or farm work). And those who are deported may return to unsafe or unsustainable conditions. Syed Hussan of the Migrant Rights Network calls for the status of immigrants already in the country to be regularized through permanent residency: “It is not a gift or a privilege,” Hussan said. “It is the only existing mechanism for migrants to access the same rights as other residents of the country.” RLS


7. Anti-vaccination mythology originated with just 12 people

Have you heard that the COVID-19 vaccine makes women infertile? That it has killed more people than the virus itself? Two-thirds of this disinformation can be attributed to just 12 people who originated it, according to a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) called “The Disinformation Dozen.” Low vaccination rates in parts of the US–which have led to a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths–have resulted in part from this siege of false information.

The Center analyzed 812,000 posts to social media between February and March to identify the patterns in how these falsehoods were distributed. McGill University in Canada points out who the 12 people are, among them Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic doctor who has 3.6 million followers on social media, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Two of these 12 are particularly troubling; Rizza Islam and Kevin Jenkins have convinced many members of the Black community–who are already especially vulnerable to COVID–that the vaccine is equivalent to the Tuskegee experiment, in which Black people were allowed to die of untreated syphilis. While Islam and two others have been removed from social media, the other nine have been allowed to post unimpeded. The CCDH notes that social media platforms decline to act 95% of the reports of false information.

Likely as a result of disinformation, “There seemingly are two Americas: the better vaccinated states and those states less well-vaccinated,” as Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, explained. The highest number of cases are in states with the lowest vaccination rates, according to CNN and Rolling Stone. The number of deaths from COVID and the number of new cases both went up by 44 per cent this last week, according to Healthline, while the number of daily vaccinations went down. RLS


Moms Demand Action recommends a variety of actions you can take against gun violence. Moms Rising also has a gun safety campaign, focusing on confirming David Chipman as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, establishing universal background checks, banning military-type assault records, and various other points.Moms Demand Action recommends a variety of actions you can take against gun violence. Moms Rising also has a gun safety campaign, focusing on confirming David Chipman as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, establishing universal background checks, banning military-type assault records, and various other points.

Mom’s Rising also has a summer postcarding campaign that may interest you, along with a five simple, clear actions you can take each week.

Data on refugees in the US: Pew Research Center. Refugee statistics worldwide: UNHCR.

No More Deaths/No Más Muertes‘ three-part report, Left to Die, details how asylum-seekers in the desert are abandoned by the Border Patrol. Though 911 calls are routed to them, they did not respond in 63% of cases. Lee Sandusky’s piece of literary journalism, “Scenes from an Emergency Clinic in the Sonoran Desert,” eloquently describes the work No More Deaths/No Más Muertes does.

The National Lawyers Guild has a series of webinars on issues from the global repression of voting, the local suppression of voting and the detention of immigrants.

trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.

Moms Rising has actions you can take to celebrate Juneteenth–specific ways to work against inequality.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. In addition, they have a good news section that will help you keep going.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.