Martin Luther King Day is behind us but the issues remain. Family members of Martin Luther King, Jr spent the weekend in Arizona rallying for voting rights. Martin Luther King III, his wife and their 13-year-old daughter spoke out about U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who will not vote to reform the fillibuster so that voting rights legislation can pass, according to ABC News. Sinema claims that the fillibuster fosters bipartisanship, so should not be undercut–an old and incorrect myth, according to Vox. Martin Luther King III has an editorial on CNN urging elected officials “to legislate, not celebrate.”
1. Chess move in the House will force Senators opposed to voting rights legislation to go on record.
Back in March, the House passed H.R.1, the For the People Act. In fact, it also passed the For the People Act in the previous congressional session: we’ve been here before. In August, the House passed H.R.4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. H.R.1 would expand voter registration and voting access, limit the removal of voters from the rolls, and would require independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting. H.R.4 would reinstate limits on the changes those states with history of voting rights violations could make to voting rules. without approval of the Department of Justice (DoJ)
In an interesting move last week, the House passed additional voting rights measures by modifying H.R.5746, legislation originally intended to allow NASA to lease facilities to other companies or organizations. The original version of this legislation was passed by both the House and the Senate in December, but because the Senate version of the bill was authorized in different form than the House version, this legislation was returned to the House in order to reconcile the differences between the two. This time around, the House removed all NASA-related provisions from the bill, renamed it the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act and folded into it provisions of both H.R.1 and H.R.4 (details for this new version of the legislation are explained in this Business Insider piece.
As The Hill explains, the revised H.R.5746 now returns to the Senate, where—thanks to the Senate rules of procedure—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can bring it to floor debate without needing the 60 votes required to block a filibuster. The legislation itself can still be, and no doubt will be, filibustered, but the filibuster can’t be used to prevent debate, allowing Congressmembers to go on the record regarding the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Schumer has promised to bring voting rights legislation to the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, the first day the Senate will meet following the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. SH-P
You can urge your Senators to defend voting rights by supporting H.R.1, H.R.4, the revised H.R.5746, and the 24 pieces of election-related legislation that have been sitting idle in Senate committees. Find your Senators here. You can also thank Senate Majority Leader Schumer for—finally—focusing on voting rights and urge him to keep the issue before Congress using all possible means: Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader, 322 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6542.
2. Corporations support legislators who challenged the 2020 election and supported voting restrictions–after saying they wouldn’t
This time last year, corporate America was decrying the January 6 attack on the Capitol and declaring that lawmakers claiming attempting to overturn the 2020 election results would not be receiving their support. The New York Times notes that at a business summit last January, Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced in response to the attack, “There are some members [of Congress] who, by their actions, will have forfeited the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Period. Full stop.”
Two months later, continues the New York Times, the Chamber of Commerce had reversed course. In a memo, the chamber’s senior political strategist, Ashlee Rich Stephenson, stated, “We do not believe it is appropriate to judge members of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification.”
One hundred forty-seven Republican legislators (sometimes referred to as the “Sedition Caucus”) joined in the effort to challenge the 2020 election results. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has now published a comprehensive report looking at how those early-January promises have held up over the past year. The CREW report’s findings include the following
• One hundred forty-three of those 147 have received corporate donations totaling $18 million in the last year, with 717 corporations providing this support.
• $4.8 million of those donations came from corporations that had committed to stopping or pausing their support of Sedition Caucus politicians.
• Among the companies pledging not to support the Sedition Caucus, Boeing, Koch Industries, American Crystal Sugar, General Dynamics, and Valero Energy have made the largest donations to members of that group
• Toyota, Cigna, and AT&T were quickest to reverse course on a policy of not funding Sedition Caucus members.
The CREW report also includes a number of corporations pledged to stop making donations to politicians supporting state-level efforts to disenfranchise voters by limiting access to ballots, removing ballot drop boxes, purging voter rolls, and other means. The “pro-democracy” stances many of them took publicly disappeared as the U.S. returned to business as usual. These include Home Depot, JP Morgan, Delta Airlines, and UPS.
Additionally, corporations who signed on to a full-page New York Times ad condemning discriminatory voting legislation—including Merck, American Airlines, Ford, General Motors, and Johnson & Johnson—continued to donate to politicians responsible for those laws.
If you are outraged by these corporations who pledged to support voting rights and then reneged, corporations who said they would not donate to the “Sedition Caucus” and then did, you can write to them and tell them what you think. Addresses are here.
3. Justices Unmasked
Last week, the Supreme Court heard—and supported via a 6-3 ruling—challenges to President Biden’s requirement that businesses with over 100 employees require those employees by vaccinated against COVID or that they undergo weekly testing to determine their COVID status. Six Supreme Court Justices attended the hearing and wore masks in response to the easily spread Omicron variant. One Justice—Neil Gorsuch—attended, but did not wear a mask. In non-pandemic times, Justice Sonia Sotomayor would have been sitting beside Gorsuch and Justice Breyer would have been sitting next to Sotomayor, but both chose to attend remotely, CNBC reports. Sotomayor is diabetic. At 83, Breyer is the oldest Justice on the Court. Diabetes and advanced age greatly increase the likelihood that an individual will be infected by COVID and that that infection will have severe consequences. We don’t know with certainty why Sotomayor and Breyer chose to attend remotely, but the fact that Gorsuch chose to be unmasked in a workplace situation where colleagues with COVID risk factors might have been present certainly may have played a role. S-HP
If you are appalled by Justice Gorsuch’s behavior, you can castigate him for his indifference to the health of his colleagues on the Supreme Court: Justice Neil Gorsuch, U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First St. NE, Washington DC 20543.
You can also urge Chief Justice John Roberts to insist that all Justices be required to mask during hearings: Chief Justice John Roberts, U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First St. NE, Washington DC 20543
4. All cities are sister cities
If you had any doubt that the people of the world are connected, the undersea volcanic eruptions of the coast of Tonga January 15th and 16th should persuade you. From the resulting tsunami, harbors (and cars parked near them) were swamped on the California coast while at least two people died in Peru, 6,000 miles away, caught by high waves. The people of Tonga have sent out a desperate plea for fresh water and food, Al Jazeera reports, as the water supply has been contaminated. Frantic family members outside the country have be unable to find out how their loved ones are faring, according to the New York Times. Ascertaining conditions there has been difficult, as the country’s communication lines were destroyed in the first eruption and the ashy haze limits visibility. NBC News has before and after aerial photos that illuminate what the country looks like today, compared to the period before the eruption. RLS
5. Canada finally settles with Indigenous children
The Canadian government–under a court order–has finally agreed to stop fighting Indigenous children who were or will be removed from their homes between April 1, 1991 and March 31, 2022, and agreed to compensate them, according to the CBC. Some 200,000 children and some parents and guardians will be eligible for compensation. For 15 years, the government has been refusing to compensate Indigenous children who were pulled from their homes and put into the foster care system, effectively severing them from their communities and their culture since there are very few Indigenous foster homes. In general, Indigenous children are removed from their homes for reasons related to poverty–inadequate housing and food–but instead of supporting families with basic needs, child welfare authorities have apprehended children and put them into foster homes, a costly solution that reproduces the trauma of residential schools. As the CBC quoted Assembly of First Nations Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse as saying, “First Nations from across Canada have had to work very hard for this day to provide redress for monumental wrongs against First Nation children.” RLS
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
6. New patent-free COVID vaccine
Patent battles over mRNA COVID vaccines—such as the one between Moderna and the National Institutes of Health—assume that vaccine manufacturing is a for-profit industry. The Guardian reports that at Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine, Drs. Maria Bottazzi and Peter Hotez are taking a different approach using simpler, decades-old technology to develop a simpler-to-produce vaccine. Their COVID vaccine requires only standard refrigeration, unlike vaccines that must be kept in ultra-cold storage. This new vaccine is already in production in India. Bottazzi and Hotez’ research, which has not received government funding, has been funded via philanthropy, and the scientists have announced that they do not intend to patent the vaccine. The simpler production and storage of their vaccine, along with open access to the formula and means for producing it, should greatly improve developing nations’ ability to fight COVID. S-HP
You can thank Drs. Bottazzi and Hotez, and their coworkers and donors, for their work on this basic, affordable vaccine : Dr. Maria Bottazzi, Texas Children’s Hospital, 6621 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77030. Dr. Peter Hotez, Texas Children’s Hospital, 6621 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77030
To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.
The Americans of Conscience checklist urges you to contact your Senators and try to persuade them to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. They have a list of other short, effective actions you can take.
Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.
Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.
The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.
The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.
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.
Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.