Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 08.15.19

Thursday, August 15, 2019
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.

SENATE WATCH: THE FILIBUSTER

Recently, the Senate’s reputation as a broken, dysfunctional body was brought to the forefront of Americans' attention as the country failed to pass meaningful, urgent gun reform legislation after a week of three mass shootings, some of the deadliest in the nation’s history. For McConnell, who has consistently use anti-democratic rules to halt any attempt at gun control legislation, even he was willing to publicly acknowledge calls for background checks and the nebulously defined “red flag” laws, but remained true to form when he refused to call the Senate into emergency session to do it. When the country was hurting, many Senators were on vacation.

As DI Executive Director Wendy Fields said:

“It’s audacious to go on vacation while an epidemic of mass shootings is making people afraid to go out in public or travel in crowded spaces.”

It’s clear that, with an administration whose rhetoric regularly makes its way into the manifestos of the shooters and is unwilling to take responsibility and interrupt the mounting terror being inflicted on Americans (most harshly on Black and Brown communities), there’s no one to step in. That’s why the Senate’s refusal to govern is so outrageous and dangerous.

Just this past week, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called on Democratic presidential candidates to consider abolishing the filibuster to ensure our governing body actually governs. While Reid’s sights were set firmly on a timely response to the climate crisis, we recognize that Americans need timely responses to many pressing issues. Recent polling has shown that a growing number of candidates are considering filibuster reform; Paul Waldman called it “the most important question Democratic Presidential candidates must answer.” According to August polling done by Civiqs, a growing number of Americans, 45%, agree that legislation should be passed with a 51 or more vote majority.

With increasing gun violence, voting purges, trillion dollar tax cuts, stagnant wages, and vulnerable elections, however, Americans need reform now. All options are on the table until then.

JOIN US! pANEL ON THE TOXIC TRIANGLE!

When: Wednesday, September 4th from 3:00 – 4:30 pm, with a reception to follow
Where: Office of Common Cause at 805 15th St NW, Suite 800 Washington, DC 20005

Join us for a wide-ranging panel discussion covering the intersection of finance, climate change, race, and class and the little known ways that Wall Street and the fossil fuels industry exploit communities of color, including

  • How much of the racism in the financial and fossil fuel industry is intentional and how much is just a byproduct of our nation’s original sin?
  • Follow the money! How lobbying, campaign contributions, astroturf, and dark money protect elites from accountability.
  • From “police brutality bonds” to redlining in real estate, how does the intersection of wealth extraction and race and class affect people’s everyday lives?

There will be a Q&A Session and a reception following the panel! Join us for cocktails on the roof!

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS: STATE UPDATES

MISSISSIPPI—RETALIATORY ICE RAID CAPTURES 680 WORKERS FOR EXERCISING THEIR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS

On Wednesday, August 8, Immigration & Customs Enforcement officers raided the Koch Foods processing plant in Morton, Mississippi and arrested nearly 700 workers. ICE agents brought out a helicopter and rows of buses in order to tear mothers and fathers from their children; many traumatized children without homes to turn to were reported refusing to eat. According to the Washington Post's Abigail Hauslohner, it was the largest single-state workplace raid in the country's history. It was not a coincidence that it occurred on the town's first day of school.

What received less attention, however, was the fact that the raid (and several others at smaller Koch Food poultry plants) happened a year after the company settled a $3.75 million lawsuit for racial discrimination and sexual harassment at the very same plant. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who defended the workers in the suit, supervisors "touched and/or made sexually suggestive comments to female Hispanic employees, hit Hispanic employees, and charged many of them money for normal everyday work activities." Workers were apparently discharged or otherwise retaliated against if they complained. This is not an anomaly; according to labor reporter Mike Elk, this is at least the third instance of ICE raids occurring after workplace complaints/unrest.

The raid clearly illustrates the tactics large corporations wield in order to dominate their workers at the tail end of a long period of atrophied workplace protections and unaccountable industry profiteering. In fact, Koch Foods and other poultry companies often specifically hire vulnerable undocumented workers because they can deliberately use their immigration status as a bludgeon should the exploited workers complain about their treatment.

If you combine a CEO (Joseph Grendys) with a net worth of nearly $3 billion, a workforce of the most vulnerable immigrant workers without protection, and a lawsuit which exposes the cruelty inherent in the maintenance of such an exploitative system, the events leading to the weaponization of ICE become crystal clear. Until we have robust and fair protections for all workers and wealthy corporate interests are fully accountable for their actions, we can expect that this raid won't be the last.

FLORIDA—FEATURED: DESMONDE MEADE ON RESTORING VRA

Desmonde Meade, a 2017 Democracy Champions Award Recipient and Executive Director of the Second Chances Florida campaign, which led the fight to pass Amendment 4 and restore the ability to vote to 1.4 million Floridians, penned a new op-ed for the Tampa Bay Times on the need to restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Meade makes the connection between regaining the ability to vote and the need to protect the vote of others crystal clear, and highlights the crucial need to restore the landmark Voting Rights Act in a country where “millions of Americans across the country are still being denied their constitutional right to vote, as tactics such as voter roll purges, mismatched signature laws and excessive identification requirements become more common.”

Meade outlines the path to building demand on the ground, by “[joining] together at the grassroots level, not based on partisanship, but in a common love for the values this country holds,” and pushing for Congress to take action by passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act. Ultimately, the voices of the people will be drowned out by special interest money and legislative gridlock until we institute “a system of governance that our children and grandchildren can prosper under.”

Read the full op-ed here.

MICHIGAN—VOTERS NOT POLITICIANS SUE TO PROTECT REDISTRICTING COMMISSION

A few weeks after a nonprofit tied to the Republican party sued Michigan’s Secretary of State to prohibit the creation of the new independent redistricting commission overwhelmingly approved by Michigan voters, Voters Not Politicians has filed suit to stop the overruling of the people’s will.

Executive Director of Voters Not Politicians Nancy Wang gave the following statement in response to the opposition’s last-ditch efforts to stop the voter-approved initiative from going into effect:

“Voters made it loud and clear that they support a fair, impartial and transparent redistricting process to ensure that voters choose their politicians — not the other way around. We’re confident that the amendment will survive this and any other legal challenges, just as it overcame previous challenges by many of the same special interests who are behind this suit, on the way to the ballot.”

Read more here.

GEORGIA—BRIAN KEMP'S RECORD SHOWS US WHAT 2020 WILL LOOK LIKE

New stories of Brian Kemp’s record of voter suppression have continued to surface after his 2018 gubernatorial victory, a win aided heavily by his own deployment of suppression tactics as then-Secretary of State.

Most recently, the story of the Quitman 10+2 has resurfaced, which details the arrest and charging of county school board member Nancy Dennard and 11 others with 120 separate felonies to intimidate them. As black candidates who won against white incumbents institutionally backed by a traditionally white power structure, Kemp singled out these candidates in a racist demonstration of power before releasing them without conviction or jailing. There’s no reason to suspect 2020 will be any different without significant reform efforts.

Read more here.

TAKE ACTION—WE MUST DEMAND SECURE ELECTIONS

Join DI partners and allies Mueller Book Club, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, Stand Up America, and others to take action to shame Mitch McConnell and other Senators for shutting down much needed election security funding and keeping our democracy as vulnerable as possible to attack.  The coalition is specifically focusing on targeting vulnerable GOP Senators and non-ally Senators in the relevant Senate Appropriations Committee.

JOIN THE EFFORT NOW

Here are a few opportunities to engage:

  • Continuous Action: Call and demand our elected officials take election security as the urgent necessity it is! Call-in number: 1-833-413-5906
  • Tuesday, August 20: Movement Grassroots call at 8:30 p.m. with the Mueller Book Club. RSVP HERE.
  • Tuesday, September 17: Election Security Day of Action. Press events outside of Senate offices with a focus on target Senate Districts.

DI BOARD MEMBERS ON THE MOVE

Last week, DI Board Co-Chair and AFL-CIO Executive President Tefere Gebre spoke with Rep. Ilhan Omar and others on a civic engagement panel at the Empower the Community Weekend: Habesha Conference. The conference, hosted in Washington DC, was a groundbreaking event that brought together the largest East African community in the DC metro area.

SAVE THE DATE: DI 2019 ANNUAL MEETING

DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE JOB OPPORTUNITIES

DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE—GRASSROOTS ORGANIZING INTERN

The Democracy Initiative, a dynamic network of 72 organizations, representing 45 million members, is seeking a talented Grassroots Mobilizing Intern to join our team. Working under the supervision of the campaign team, the Grassroots Mobilizing Intern will assist with message development, organizing campaigns, training, and mobilizing democracy issues to our partners. This is a paid internship.

See the full posting here.

DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE—COMMUNICATIONS INTERN

The Democracy Initiative, a dynamic network of 72 organizations, representing 45 million members, is seeking a talented Communications Intern to join our team. Working under the supervision of the Communications Strategist, the Communications Intern will assist with message development and implementation, social media engagement, and online mobilizations for our diverse issue partners. This is a paid internship.

See the full posting here.

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