4 hours ago by
The ACLU positioned itself to lead the resistance. Now its deepest traditions could be at stake. “The ACLU has blood on its hands.” It was a not-uncommon sentiment in the wake of last week’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, in which 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed (allegedly at the hands of white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr.) and far-right activists assaulted and intimidated counterprotesters. The ACLU had sued the city of Charlottesville to allow the Unite the Right rally to happen downtown. And now, it had happened, and blood had been spilled. The ACLU’s been through this cycle before. When the ACLU famously defended the rights of a Nazi group to march through a largely Jewish neighborhood in Skokie, Illinois, in the 1970s — a case that’s set the parameters of First Amendment protections for protests for the last 50 years — it lost thousands of members and faced bitter questions from liberal American Jews about how it could defend the group that had killed their relatives (and in some cases tortured them) just a few decades before. But these aren’t the same Nazis who marched through Skokie, and this isn’t the same progressive movement — and it isn’t the same ACLU, either. The backlash has already spurred other ACLU chapters to declare that they don’t believe free-speech protections apply to events like the one in Charlottesville, and led the ACLU’s national director, Anthony Romero, to declare the group will no longer defend the right to protest when the protesters want to carry guns. The ACLU’s response didn’t resolve the underlying problem. It didn’t fully address a criticism put forward everywhere from Twitter to the New York Times, which published a column from former ACLU volunteer K-Sue Park on Thursday called “The ACLU Needs to Rethink Free Speech.” And with city governments already moving to restrict future far-right rallies to prevent a recurrence of what happened in Charlottesville — the city of Berkeley just passed an emergency ordinance allowing the police to dissolve gatherings that don’t have permits, for example, in anticipation of a forthcoming “alt-right” rally there — the ACLU is going to have to make some very quick decisions about when and how it will defend the far right in 2017. The ACLU seemed like it was in the midst of a partial reinvention as an explicitly progressive organization for the Donald Trump era. It was one of the biggest beneficiaries from the #resistance groundswell of small donations and grassroots interest after the 2016 election, and it’s leaned into the idea of itself as a movement organization rather than just the country’s most powerful public-interest law firm. But the Charlottesville rally called attention to an important fault line between the ACLU’s traditional vision of justice and the way the progressive grassroots movement sees justice in 2017: a fight over whether the best way to protect the powerless is to stand against the principles that could be used to crush them, or simply to stand on the side of people seeking social equality by whatever means are necessary. The ACLU’s new line post-Charlottesville: firearms and free speech don’t mix In the days before the Unite the Right rally, it became clear that Charlottesville would be a gathering point for both right-wing rallygoers and left-wing counterprotesters. The city of Charlottesville attempted to defuse the situation by moving the Unite the Right rally away from its original location — Lee Square, in downtown Charlottesville, featuring the statue of Robert E. Lee that was the ostensible cause of the rally — to a location farther away from the center of the city. The city argued it was trying to prevent confrontation. But to free-speech activists — including the ACLU of Virginia — it was a pretty standard attempt to use a rally permit to marginalize unpopular speech. So the organizers of the rally sued, with the ACLU’s support, and won the right to keep the rally downtown. You know what happened next. The Unite the Right rally was disbanded before it had officially begun, after the hours before the rally were marked by clashes between rallygoers and counterprotesters. The bulk of the violence was initiated by rallygoers, and as counterprotesters marched down a street hours after the rally, a car (allegedly driven by Fields, who had attended the rally carrying a shield with the logo of white-supremacist group Vanguard America) killed Heyer and injured 19 other counterprotesters. Almost immediately, some progressives began to ask why the ACLU had fought to allow this to happen. ACLU of Virginia board member Waldo Jaquith resigned, alleging on Twitter that the organization ignored signs that rally organizers were encouraging violence — and that “what is legal is not always right.” With more “alt-right” rallies planned for the weeks after Charlottesville, and mounting pressure on the ACLU to stop “defending Nazis,” the ACLU’s California affiliates issued a statement on Wednesday declaring, “We review each request for help on a case-by-case basis, but take the clear position that the First Amendment does not protect people who incite or engage in violence. If white supremacists march into our towns armed to the teeth and with the intent to harm people, they are not engaging in activity protected by the United States Constitution.” At first, it seemed like the California affiliates were subtweeting, or even splitting with, their Virginia counterpart. But on Thursday, the national organization appeared to side with the Californians — and draw a new line that would have prevented them from defending Unite the Right. ACLU director Anthony Romero told the Wall Street Journal: “If a protest group insists, ‘No, we want to be able to carry loaded firearms,’ well, we don’t have to represent them. They can find someone else.” The ACLU’s apparent shift of position angered some of the civil-libertarians who’d been defending it most forcefully early in the week. “Until now,” lawyer and blogger Scott Greenfield wrote, the ACLU has “never quite come out and announced that they will refuse to defend a constitutional right. This announcement says that when someone seeks to exercise two rights at the same time, the ACLU is outta there.” At the same time, though, it’s not clear that Romero’s statement is enough to appease the progressives who believe that the ACLU has blood on its hands for Charlottesville. Because not only is what’s legal not always the same as what’s right (as Waldo Jaquith said), but in this case, the answers to both of those questions are hotly contested. Legally, the relationship between the 1st and 2nd Amendments is complicated — and the ACLU stepped in it In practice, freedom of speech isn’t exactly absolute: “Government may not censor speech because of its viewpoint,” says former ACLU director Nadine Strossen, “but it may censor speech because of its effects.” To be specific, government can prevent speech in the case of an “emergency” — when it’s clear that there’s no other way to prevent or protect against violence. But for more than a century, the courts have wrestled with what responsibility someone has when their speech results in violence — and when it’s okay to outlaw the former to prevent the latter. One speech emergency is a “true threat” — speech that is intended to provoke a “reasonable fear that you are going to be attacked or harmed by the person engaging in the expression.” Another (the one that the ACLU’s California affiliates appeared to be invoking in their statement) is incitement: as defense lawyer and blogger Ken White puts it, “Is it intended to, and likely to, cause imminent lawless action?” The “imminent” is important. “Speech about why it’s morally appropriate to do lawless things is not incitement,” White says. An earlier legal standard held that the government could prohibit speech that had a “bad tendency” to result in lawless action down the road — a standard that was used to censor Communists and antiwar protesters, among other groups. But in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Ohio couldn’t prosecute speakers at a KKK rally simply for advocating for “reveangeance” against “n*****rs” and “Jews.” The reason, as Strossen puts it: “They were having a rally just for themselves. There was nobody else there, and nobody could see it,” so there wasn’t an imminent danger. (The KKK, in that case, was represented by the ACLU.) But as that case makes clear, incitement isn’t just about what someone says but the context in which they say it. The same is true for “true threats” — the question is what about the context in which the speech is offered makes it clear that it’s reasonable for someone to feel afraid of harm. And in the 21st century, the context in which this sort of speech is being delivered as part of a public protest is different for one big reason: guns. “The cases acknowledging an individual right to bear arms are very recent,” White points out. After decades of maintaining that the Second Amendment applies to groups of people (a “well-organized militia”) instead of individuals seeking to own and carry guns, the Supreme Court sided with the “individual right” in the 2008 case Heller v. District of Columbia. That puts it “like 50 years behind where the First Amendment is,” White says, in terms of case law about what that right actually means: who it refers to, when it applies, and what if any “emergencies” justify the government curtailing it. In other words, when groups of people decide to rally at a location for political purposes, and many of those people decide to bring guns, they’re sitting at the intersection of two different rights. And, White says, “I don’t think that we’ve really developed the law yet very well on the connection between” them. And there isn’t an obvious bright line about what kind of speech is turned into a threat or an incitement when there’s a gun involved. “I can certainly imagine if I were for example a counterdemonstrator, and I’m demonstrating against people who are there brandishing firearms, I think I would feel very frightened and I think that would be a reasonable fear,” says Strossen. “Even as I’m describing it, I think my imagination’s pretty good, because I’m feeling a little chill go down my body.” But White is adamant that “carrying weapons isn’t in itself incitement,” and that someone can’t argue they face “reasonable fear” from a demonstrator simply carrying a weapon in a place where it’s legal to do so. “Combine open carry with a statement like ‘we are coming for you,’ and you've got something,” he says. “But you still need a threat.” In other words, all of these cases are inevitably going to come down to the details of who said what and when — details that are hard enough to figure out in advance, when the question is whether government will allow a future event to happen, and that are certainly not easy to draw a general principle on. Strossen interprets Romero’s statement of the ACLU’s new policy as a commitment to “look even closer at the facts” before deciding which cases to take on. But “at a time when legal specificity is needed,” says White, “they’re being dangerously vague about what they think the law is.” He points out that the California affiliates’ statement “was issued in the context of imminent (right-wing) marches in California. Are they saying it isn’t constitutionally protected? Are they saying it shouldn’t be?” And are they saying that the real problem is the guns, or that the people holding them are white supremacists? The people mad at the ACLU don’t believe there’s an easy distinction between speech and violence Without being vague enough to drive lawyers like Ken White crazy, though, the ACLU’s statements would have seemed totally tone-deaf and non-responsive to the controversy raging around them. Because the question that’s engulfed the progressive movement in the week after Charlottesville is whether the mere existence of outspoken white supremacy, in public performance, is an existential threat. From a leftist perspective, there’s more to violence than physical aggression — it’s also violent to promote ideas that see other groups of people as less than human, marginalize them, or prevent them from speaking. Those are the people who believe that “hate speech” either isn’t protected as free speech, or that it shouldn’t be — because in the case of “hate speech,” speech and violence are the same thing. The NYU law professor Jeremy Waldron laid out this case in a 2012 book, The Harm in Hate Speech. He argued that the message sent by “hate speech” was “to negate the implicit assurance that a society offers to the members of vulnerable groups — that they are accepted” and that they can go about their day “with no need to face hostility, violence, discrimination or exclusion by others.” To Waldron, that’s an assurance the government is obligated to provide to all people equally, and if hate speech undermines it then hate speech ought to be curtailed. Even some progressives who don’t believe in outlawing “hate speech” in general believe that white supremacy and Naziism are inherently violent ideologies, and therefore that adhering to them is a call for violence in its own right. The debate isn’t over punching Nazis with guns, it’s over punching Nazis. But the ACLU has built its reputation, for decades, on the idea that there is no ideology so dangerous it doesn’t deserve vigorous First Amendment protections. “Going back to the organization’s founding in 1920,” says Strossen, “it was defending freedom of speech for anti-civil-libertarians, everybody from fascists to communists.” (This is something of a whitewash of the ACLU’s institutional history — like a lot of other establishment liberal organizations in the 1950s, it was too afraid of McCarthyism to defend Communists and even required members to abjure Communism in an oath — but it’s a decent account of its impact on the current state of free-speech law.) From the perspective of civil libertarians, those cases — and the Skokie Nazi case — prevented a dangerous slippery slope: any legal precedent that gets set restricting speech because of what it says can easily be turned against any other speech the government doesn’t favor. If the paradigmatic free-speech cases of 50 years ago protected racist right-wingers, the precedents they overturned had prosecuted communists, pacifists, labor unionists, and civil-rights and racial-justice advocates. It’s mind-boggling to civil libertarians like Strossen and White that any progressive, in the Trump era, would be okay with the government deciding what speech is inherently hateful or violent and what isn’t. “If people understood that US law draws very sensible lines between punishable and protected speech,” says Strossen, “I think they would have a lot more confidence that current law is the way to go.” The unspoken counterpart: if people tried to move those lines, they wouldn’t end up being able to control where the law ended up. Civil libertarians see a bright line in terms of law — they have to protect a particular legal principle unconditionally, because otherwise the principle will disappear. Meanwhile, their critics see a bright line in terms of power. To many progressives, the question of who needs to be protected is much more important than the ideas being used to justify it — and they feel it’s simply not all that difficult to step in when a principle is being used to benefit the powerless, and step back when it’s used to benefit the powerful. This won’t be the last time the ACLU comes under fire for whose rights it chooses to defend In retrospect, it’s a little surprising that the ACLU wasn’t better prepared to come under fire from the left over Charlottesville; after all, it had just survived another progressive uproar about taking on a right-wing client. The week before the Charlottesville rally, the national ACLU and the DC and Virginia affiliates announced that they were suing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which regulates the Metro subway system in DC, for rejecting ads deemed “political.” The group of rejected advertisers represented by the ACLU included a women’s-health network that specializes in contraceptives and abortion — but it also included right-wing firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos, who’s managed to squeeze 15 minutes of fame out of saying inflammatory things and being protested on (and banned from) college campuses because of them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the headline became “ACLU defends Milo.” And several progressives were annoyed at best and outraged at worst — not because they were particularly invested in keeping Yiannopoulos’ ads off the DC Metro, but because they didn’t understand why the ACLU was choosing to take him on as a client (especially when they could have taken a lower-key approach, like filing a brief on his behalf). This is the root of the progressive objection to the ACLU: not that the things it is doing are legally wrong, but that by picking battles that don’t always align with progressive objectives it’s missing the forest of justice for the trees. “The danger that communities face because of their speech isn’t equal,” K-Sue Park wrote in her Thursday New York Times column. “The A.C.L.U.’s decision to offer legal support to a right-wing cause, then a left-wing cause, won’t make it so.” It’s a charge that’s been leveled against the ACLU since Skokie and earlier. In a post-Skokie debate between the ACLU’s then-director and a leftist lawyer from the National Lawyers Guild, the leftist lawyer opened with: “The law is not neutral. The courts are not neutral. The A.C.L.U. is not as neutral as it pretends.” American Nazi Party leader Frank Collins (front left) and other members commenting on the court case in Skokie, where they ultimately prevailed with the help of the ACLU. But the progressive critique now, as articulated by Park, is actually that the ACLU is neutral, and reality isn’t. It’s an argument progressives also made in 2010, when the ACLU supported the Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Citizens United, which struck down restrictions on campaign finance as a First Amendment violation. Park writes that power determines whose speech matters, and that a real defense of “free speech” would “imagine a holistic picture of how speech rights are under attack right now” — for everything from corporations to criminal law and voting restrictions — “not focus on only First Amendment case law.” From this perspective, allowing the government to pick and choose whose speech is protected isn’t a slippery slope — it’s already happening. (The fact that state legislatures in Tennessee and Florida considered bills in 2017 that would give immunity from civil lawsuits to drivers who ran into protesters blocking streets was used both by Ken White in arguing for “viewpoint-neutral” free speech protection, and by Park in her op-ed arguing against it — with both of them using the example to make the case that the current power structure is biased against left-leaning dissent.) The difference is that it’s happening in ways that they allege are too subtle for the ACLU’s current strategy. The ACLU rebranded itself for the resistance. And now it’s reaping the backlash. What’s odd about Park’s critique is that the ACLU is involved in many, if not most, of the issues she thinks are posing a more urgent threat to free speech than attempts to restrain Nazis from marching on Lee Square. The contemporary ACLU has whole divisions dedicated to voting rights, criminal justice, and LGBTQ rights. It consistently advocates for affirmative action. It’s poured millions into an effort to protect immigrant rights at the state level. It has become, in many ways, enmeshed with the rest of the progressive movement. But that’s also what makes Park’s critique, and the critique of others who agree with her, hit so close to home. Because the ACLU does look like a progressive organization right now, it’s particularly striking when it disagrees with the rest of the progressive movement. This was true before the 2016 election (it’s why the ACLU took so much heat for Citizens United). But in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, it really looked like the ACLU itself was embracing an identity as a leader of the progressive movement. In the immediate aftermath of the election, the ACLU became a touchstone organization for progressives (from people on Twitter to celebrities) to broadcast their support for and call for donations to. After all, it was an umbrella organization working on a range of issues that tracked with the people most likely to be made vulnerable under a Trump administration, but the fact that it was not explicitly on the Democrats’ “side” made it look like a symbol of the transpartisan decency that the country had lost by electing Trump. By February, the organization had raised $79 million since the election (from 1 million donors). Its membership had more than doubled. But along with that flood of support came the expectation that the ACLU actually do something with it, and become a #resistance leader. Grassroots movement-building wasn’t the organization’s traditional strength, but it became a new focus. Visit the ACLU’s website today, and this is the banner you’ll see, above a picture of Trump and the headline “THE FIGHT IS ON”: Screenshot of ACLU.org And they’ve used that network to mobilize on progressive economic issues beyond the organization’s traditional mission — during the fight over Congressional repeal of the Affordable Care Act, for example, the ACLU fought hard to resist cuts to Medicaid. If someone didn’t know anything about the ACLU before the election — or if they believed, with some reason, that the group was remaking itself for the Trump era — it makes sense they’d be alarmed to see the ACLU defending Trump allies like Milo Yiannopoulos, or helping the white supremacists who Trump was excoriated for calling “very fine people” in Charlottesville. That doesn’t seem like resistance, it seems like helping the people trying to crush the resistance. As far as the ACLU’s traditional values are concerned, resistance is what you do, not the side you’re on. And they’re used to members not agreeing with everything they’re working on: “no thinking person could possibly agree with every single thing that the ACLU does,” says Strossen. But she hastens to add, “I think it’s essential that there be at least one organization that is striving to do what our government is required to do, which is to defend all fundamental freedoms for all people regardless of the color of skin and regardless of the color of your ideology.” Traditionally, that principle has been immune to pressure from members. But with more members — and members with higher expectations, than ever before — it’s not yet clear whether the post-Charlottesville reset the ACLU’s attempting is a way to smooth over the difference between their vision of justice and many of their members’ — or a step to bring themselves in line with the progressive resistance group members may want them to be. source  

August 18, 2017 by
Charlottesville and a newly prominent far right have ignited debates about violence, speech, and the right way to protest against neo-Nazis. After a week in which Donald Trump blamed "many sides" for the deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and then days later described some of the white supremacists as "innocent," many Americans feel the need to pick which of those many sides they're on. Members of various councils that advise the president have been quitting en masse. Republican politicians have been criticizing Trump directly and indirectly. Uncowed, the alt-right—an amorphous movement that includes many white supremacists—is planning future rallies. The Ku Klux Klan announced a march in Durham, North Carolina, on Friday. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, which traditionally defends groups' and individuals' constitutional rights regardless of ideology, seems roiled by events. On Thursday, the ACLU announced that it wouldn't defend groups that insist on marching with loaded guns. A day before, the ACLU's California chapters denounced white supremacy, saying in a statement, "If white supremacists march into our towns armed to the teeth and with the intent to harm people, they are not engaging in activity protected by the United States Constitution." The ACLU's decision is indicative of a wider conversation happening across the country. The debate over how to treat hate speech in America is more relevant than it's possibly ever been. The prospect of actual neo-Nazis marching through a major city's street once seemed like a hypothetical—a test case about how even loathsome people have First Amendment rights to assemble. Now it feels like almost an inevitability. If one of these far-right mobs is headed to your city, you're probably wondering what you can do to voice your disgust without exacerbating a scene already filled fraught with the potential for violence and danger. Although antifa—which is short for anti-fascists—have been around since the 1920s in Europe, the majority of the American public didn't become aware of their existence here until this year, when their clashes with white nationalists and neo-Nazis have regularly made the news. And as right-wing extremists have become emboldened in the Trump era, questions about political violence that have long been debated in some leftist circles have become mainstream—in simple terms, is it OK to punch Nazis? From the alt-right gathering in Charlottesville. Antony McAleer says that if violence were the answer, the alt-right movement would have ended in Berkeley or Oregon, sites of notable recent conflicts between the left and the right. McAleer is a former recruiter for the White Aryan Resistance in Vancouver, and says that as tempting as it may be to hit someone like white nationalist leader Richard Spencer in the face, the kind of people he used to run with thrived off of media attention and violence. Hitting them plays right into their hands, and potentially fuels the widely denounced "both sides" narrative now being pushed by the president in press conferences. "I learned this lesson in high school," he said. "If I could get my teacher to lose their temper with me, I had power over them, because I was able to hijack their emotional state. When you get someone to lose their shit over what you're doing and provoke them, it's a feeling of power." A woman called Red, who got involved with Antifa International in 2011 as Occupy Wall Street was falling apart, says that the threat of violence rather than overt violence itself is a great deterrent. Suiting up in all black and wielding a giant flagpole is apparently enough to scare fascists away in most cases. "They can play a victim narrative, but in the end, what works against Nazis is a strong front," she says. "And I'm not saying necessarily violence, because a lot of antifa action that never gets covered by the media is just people standing in the street looking scary. The Nazis don't go to the media and say, 'We were gonna break all the windows in this Jewish neighborhood but then antifa got there first.'" Then there are groups like the ACLU, who say that the best way to counter bad speech is with more speech—as long as it doesn't occur at the same time. "It's our view on people power that we should try to mobilize people the day after," Faiz Shakir, the national policy director at the ACLU, told me. "If someone does a hateful rally, we want them to be like Westboro Baptist Church, where they hold a rally of 15 people. Like, hey, knock yourself out. We're not gonna support you to do crowd-building. We don't want to lend a hand to make the crowd look better than it was and help foment a confrontation that gives them what they're looking for." Billie Murray is a Villanova professor who's been focusing on how people should respond to Nazis for her entire career. The academic, who studies community responses to hate speech, says that the events in Charlottesville throw almost all conventional wisdom out the window. She doesn't buy that "more speech" argument.   Historically, she says, the best response to a white power rally has been to quarantine it and choke it of the attention. After all, attention is the oxygen fringe groups need to survive. But that method only works when the group is small and disorganized. The internet has changed white supremacists' and neo-Nazis' ability to organize, and the current administration has emboldened them to to make their views public in a moment that's completely unprecedented. Now, Murray says, drastic measures must be taken to stop the far right from metastasizing—even if that means altering the First Amendment. Any time she's mentioned banning hate speech, like many European countries do, she's been trolled. Restrictions on free speech are regarded as anathema to lots of Americans, including powerful advocacy groups like the ACLU. But now, she says we're at a unique moment in American history. Although even as recently as last week she never would have predicted that the United States might consider banning hate speech, she says that if there was ever a moment that people might get on board, this is it. "If you're really interested in free speech, think about who's free speech is being curtailed by an armed person in the street," Murray says. "The people who are scared to go [outside.] They're not being allowed to participate in their democracy." Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.

August 18, 2017 by
Evil. Attack. Terrorism.  They are the right intonations, far more appropriate than the things we heard from the president.  But let’s talk more broadly about Sessions. About his withdrawal from consent agreements with police departments that have long records of singling out black citizens for harsh, and often violent or deadly, treatment. About his out-of-nowhere announcement that the U.S. Department of Justice would begin “investigating” universities that practice affirmative action in their admissions policies. About his doubling down on bellicose prosecution strategies that have led, over decades, to gross imbalances between the black and white prison populations in America.  So when Sessions says he’s not a racist -- something he has felt compelled to state pretty frequently during his decades-long public career -- what he means is that he doesn’t ride around on a horse with a sheet over his head and a torch in his hands, shouting racial epithets and maybe burning down people’s houses. And he can identify those who do those things as problematic, un-American, even immoral. But he doesn’t recognize the fundamental and systemic ways in which American government and culture are imbued with the intent and purpose of those garishly racist acts. He doesn’t see how systemic police abuse of African Americans throws back to the violent repression of the civil rights movement, the century-long enforcement of Jim Crow and the sheer brutality of slavery.  He sees affirmative action -- a wildly modest effort to counter 300 years’ worth of institutional imbalances that leave blacks with fewer educational opportunities -- as an attack on fairness.  And he sees get-tough prosecution as an expression of law and order, without stopping to contemplate why the nation’s sentencing commission found black drug users six times more likely to be imprisoned than white users.  Protesters link arms as they surround the Jefferson Davis Confederate statue at Memphis Park on Tuesday. The action comes days following the death of Heather Heyer following the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through a quintessentially American form of intellectual dissociation, he calls himself a champion for equality, even as he girds, defends and even accelerates policies that are an expressive outgrowth of the torch-bearing racism he vows to take on.  He says he’s not a racist, while embracing the very tenets of institutional racism that have defined the United States for centuries.  And sadly, too much of the nation feels the same way.  It's a set-up This is where, for instance, someone like President Donald Trump gains the currency to equate counter-protesters in Charlottesville with the torch-bearing racists who incited the violence in the first place.  If each side is stripped of its historical context, and everyone is seen as an individual, acting without connection to that context, then it’s easy to equate anti-fascists with white supremacists.  Violence is violence, right?  But that false narrative dangerously forgets the tremendous moral imbalances between those who have used violence, from the jump, to assault and suppress the most basic human rights of others -- and those who have indulged violence to counter it.  These differences matter, in substantive terms that are critical to the very idea of America and its claim -- its tenuous, compromised claim -- to virtue in the name of liberty. And if we don’t get that  right, we cede any connection to that virtue. We give up on the idea that liberty, and its close cousin, justice, have any meaning in this nation.  Washington vs. Lee The gap in American understanding of individual and systemic inequality also clouds the rhetoric surrounding the ongoing removal of Confederate monuments in some southern states.  Trump asked, rhetorically, where this effort might end, and whether other historical figures who were connected to bigotry might also be targeted.  Again, it’s only through falsely narrow lenses that Confederate General Robert E. Lee can be compared to George Washington.  Both men believed in, and practiced slavery. That’s undeniable. As individuals, they struggled with the same moral failings. They have both contributed to building the structures of inequality that exist today.  But Washington led a revolution against tyranny that took the shape of brutal suppression of individual liberty and freedom. The country he helped establish is a lure -- compromised by its own struggles, but resolute in its journey forward -- for freedom-seeking people everywhere.  Lee and other Confederates led a revolution to preserve their rights to dehumanize an entire race. As South Carolina, the first state to secede, said in its farewell to the north, the union had "denounced as sinful the institution of slavery ... They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection."  The south’s original sin separates it -- not completely, but importantly -- from the rest of the nation’s flawed but persistent efforts to actually fulfill the ideals behind the phrase, "all men are created equal."  The way forward, or the way back? This shouldn’t be a difficult set of concepts to understand, or embrace. And I can’t tell, honestly, whether people like Sessions and Trump are truly confounded, or cynically playing to confusion as a way of gaining political advantage from those who truly don’t understand.  Either way, it has never been more important to push back against the attempted minimization of the systemic context and history that surround race and racism in America.  The most substantive progress we've made in addressing longstanding, systemic wrongs, with policies like the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action or anti-discrimination laws, have come at precisely those moments when we've connected modern failings to that historical context.  When Sessions and Trump deny that context, it's a step toward intellectual and moral darkness, and away from the nation’s slow, steady march to equality.  But we don't have to let that happen. There's still a way forward, but only if we acknowledge the full weight of our past, and how we let it inform our future.  source

August 18, 2017 by
Documenting hate crimes in America has long presented a challenge to researchers, journalists, and social scientists. Record keeping in this area has been patchy at best, with data either woefully incomplete or non-existent. Yet, it’s never been more important that we understand them, especially after the events of last weekend, and the violent, racially driven crimes that followed Trump’s shock electoral victory — committed not by ordinary Trump supporters, but rather an emboldened and ascendant far right, who are a small yet increasingly visible and vocal presence. To try and make better sense of the issue, Google and ProPublica have teamed up to create an artificial-intelligence powered tool that parses through news articles, in order to build a bigger picture of where hate crimes are occurring across the country. Here’s how it works: The Documenting Hate News Index — built by the Google News Lab, data visualization studio Pitch Interactive and ProPublica — takes a raw feed of Google News articles from the past six months and uses the Google Cloud Natural Language API to create a visual tool to help reporters find the news happening all over the country, from Oklahoma to Florida, California to Kentucky. It’s a constantly-updating snapshot of data from this year, one which is valuable as a starting point to reporting on this area of news. The tool aggregates articles that suggest “hate crime, bias, or abuse.” This could include things like anti-semitic graffiti, or information on relevant court cases. Google plans to monitor the dataset to ensure that no erroneous events creep in — like articles that simply mention the word ‘hate.’ Users of the Documenting Hate News Index can search by date, or with keywords. It also algorithmically suggests relevant keywords, like names of offenders, places, or categories of hate crime. And to ensure that the information is always current, the database updates on a daily basis, and dates back to February of this year. Third-party researchers can access it through Google Trends’ Github page. Anything based exclusively on news articles will have its limitations. The majority of hate crimes go unreported. It stands to reason that even fewer make their way to the pages of the media. But it’s also true that the current system isn’t fit for purpose. While the FBI is legally obligated to collect information on hate crimes, they’re dependent on local authorities reporting them. As there’s no requirement to do so, not all do. Hopefully, Google’s tool will be a helpful tool to journalists and researchers alike. And if that translates to better policy, bringing down the rates of hate crimes, even better. source

August 18, 2017 by
A statue of the U.S. Supreme Court justice who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and denied citizenship to African Americans was removed from the grounds of the Maryland State House early Friday. The statue of Roger B. Taney (TAW-nee) was lifted away by a crane at about 2 a.m. It was lowered into a truck and driven away to storage. The bronze statue was erected in 1872, just outside the original front door of the State House. Workers sits the monument dedicated to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney after it was removed from outside the Maryland State House, in Annapolis, Md., early Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. Maryland workers hauled several monuments away, days after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly. Three of the four voting members of the State House Trust voted by email Wednesday to move the statue. House Speaker Michael Busch, a Democrat who was one of the three who voted to remove it, wrote this week that the statue "doesn't belong" on the grounds. His comments came after the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, with clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters. A woman was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of people who were there to condemn the white nationalists, who had rallied against Charlottesville officials' decision to remove a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said this week that removing the statue of Taney in Annapolis was "the right thing to do." Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford voted on behalf of the administration to remove the statue. One member of the trust, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, criticized holding the vote without a public meeting. "This was certainly a matter of such consequence that the transparency of a public meeting and public conversation should have occurred," Miller, a Democrat, wrote in a letter Thursday to Hogan. While the statue's removal was not publicized, a couple dozen onlookers watched as workers started the removal process shortly after midnight Thursday. Some witnesses cheered as the statue was lifted from its pedestal. The statue was removed two days after Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered the removal of four monuments from her city under the cover of night, including another statue of Taney. Taney was born in Maryland and practiced law in Frederick before becoming the nation's fifth chief justice. Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet, were slaves who sued for their freedom after they were taken from the slave state of Missouri into territory where slavery had been prohibited by the Missouri Compromise. This year marked the 160th anniversary of the 1857 decision. In March, a family member of Taney's apologized to the Scott family in front of the statue that was removed Friday. Charles Taney IV of Greenwich, Connecticut, apologized to the Scotts and all African Americans for the "terrible injustice of the Dred Scott decision." Lynne Jackson, a great-great-granddaughter of Dred Scott, accepted the apology for her family and "all African Americans who have the love of God in their heart, so that healing can begin." source Read More: Confederate Monuments Are Coming Down Across the United States. Here’s a List.

August 18, 2017 by
"I want them to talk about racism every day." That is White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s deepest wish about the Democratic party, according to an interview with The American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner. “If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” It’s a bit hard to interpret what Bannon’s saying here. Does he think that emphasizing racial issues is a losing approach to campaigns, that the party that does it will suffer, and that both Democrats and Republicans would perform better by talking exclusively about the economy? Or does he mean that he wants Democrats to bring race up, because Bannon thinks that when race is the topic at hand, the result is a public backlash to racial tolerance, which benefits the President? If the latter is what Bannon means, then he might not be wrong. There’s a substantial body of research in political science and political psychology suggesting that even very mild messages or cues that touch on race can alter political opinions. The landmark book on the subject is Princeton professor Tali Mendelberg's 2001 book The Race Card, which marshaled a wide array of evidence to show that implicit racial messages are used with shocking regularity by American politicians, and have real effects. Mendelberg looks back to George H.W. Bush’s 1988 attacks on Michael Dukakis for furloughing murderer Willie Horton, which weren’t explicitly racial, but she argues compellingly that tying Dukakis to a black murderer successfully appealed to white voters who already held racially conservative views. Mendelberg also runs her own experiment to explore the idea. She conducted a study with a random sample of Michigan voters where she showed fake television news stories about a gubernatorial race; in the stories, the conservative candidate was arguing that welfare recipients were an unfair burden. Some of the fake stories featured B-roll of black welfare recipients; others featured B-roll of white recipients. They were otherwise identical — but the stories with B-roll of black recipients led respondents to express significantly more hostile views toward government programs to assist black people. In fact, the effect on their expressed racial views was stronger than the effect on their expressed opinions on welfare. But the cues can be subtler still, as other research points out. Nicholas Valentino, Vincent Hutchings, and Ismail White manipulated a 2000 campaign ad by George W. Bush that wasn't even about welfare — it was about health care and taxes — by adding imagery of black people counting money, or a white nurse assisting a black mother, while a narrator says, "He'll reform an unfair system that only provides health care for some." In their control group, which saw no ads, measured levels of racial resentment didn’t do much to predict support for Bush versus Gore. Among people who saw the ad with racial cues, their preexisting level of racial resentment was hugely predictive of their presidential preference. My favorite study on this topic comes from Harvard political scientist Ryan Enos. He sent pairs of native Spanish-speaking Latino men to ride commuter trains in Boston, surveyed their fellow riders' political views both before and after, and also surveyed riders on trains not used in the experiment as a control. "The results were clear," Enos wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. "After coming into contact, for just minutes each day, with two more Latinos than they would otherwise see or interact with, the riders, who were mostly white and liberal, were sharply more opposed to allowing more immigrants into the country and favored returning the children of illegal immigrants to their parents’ home country. It was a stark shift from their pre-experiment interviews, during which they expressed more neutral attitudes." Dwell on that. Merely being in the presence of Latino people changed liberal voters’ attitudes on immigration. That’s among the most subtle cues imaginable. And this is a study conducted in the field, among real people, not in a lab. Now let’s talk about the Trump administration. People take their opinions from elites — and Trump is a political elite now All of this research suggests that priming white people to so much as think about race, even subconsciously, pushes them toward racially regressive views. So consider the fact that the constant racial controversies of the Trump administration are going to keep racial issues in the news, and on the minds of white Americans. The optimistic read is that this will disgust Americans who want unity and progress — they also elected Barack Obama, and by a wider margin, didn’t they? The less optimistic read is that by putting the issue at the forefront of everyone’s consciousness, the controversies will drive white people to become more hostile to black, Latino, and Muslim people. This is a particularly concerning point given the voluminous body of political science research indicating that people take their policy views largely from elites. UC Berkeley political scientist Gabriel Lenz's book Follow the Leader makes this point in great detail, and it’s been powerfully illustrated in recent experimental work by Stanford’s David Broockman and Washington University in St. Louis’s Daniel Butler. Broockman and Butler got a number of state legislators to randomly send out letters to constituents; some explained a policy position of the legislator in detail, some only briefly and with minimal justification, and the others were neutral controls. They also surveyed the constituents receiving the letters, both before and after. They found that receiving letters often led constituents to adopt their representative’s opinion, even when they had disagreed before. This inverts our normal understanding of politics. We tend to think politicians are poll-obsessed creatures who follow public opinion. In fact, they are often trusted authorities who lead public opinion. Think of the Republican Party turning its voters against the individual mandate, an idea conservatives had come up with, or the Obama administration carrying out drone wars that would have shocked liberals if they had been conducted by George W. Bush. And now that Trump, the most covered politician in the country, is overseeing a series of racial controversies, it seems likely that his supporters, and Republicans in general, will respond like Lenz, Broockman, and Butler have found they do: by adopting their preferred candidate’s views as their own. By following their leader. Take Trump’s response to Charlottesville. His opponents will point out, correctly, that it is racist. But the research on elite opinion and mass opinion suggests that people who voted for Trump will hear his denials, and his counterattacks, and progressively become more and more okay with more and more troublesome racially biased policies and statements, until by the end of his administration they’re expressing more racially retrograde views than they started with. And that could effect a shift in public opinion that damages politics for years. More broadly, Trump’s racial controversies — and the justifiably outraged reactions of Democrats and other political opponents — are going to keep issues of race salient in a way they weren’t under the Bush or even Obama administrations, both of which took pains to avoid blow-ups on issues of race. Under Trump, race will stay in the headlines, at the forefront of political debates, on news chyrons, just as it was throughout the 2016 election. If merely thinking about race pushes white people, even liberal white people as in the Enos study, to be more racially resentful, that could have major consequences even outside a rally-around-the-leader effect. The issue being a persistent topic at all could produce a more racially resentful white electorate. Is Trump too explicit in his racial provocation to really capitalize on it? One reason for optimism is that Mendelberg and other researchers have often found that explicit racial appeals — for example, mentions of not just the undeserving poor while imagery of black people rushes by, but of undeserving black poor people — are less effective than implicit appeals. The reason is that people have internalized a pretty strong norm that they’re not allowed to express open antagonism toward black people, or explicitly racist views. “The social prohibition against making racist statements in public acts as a constraint against playing the race card in a recognizable fashion,” Mendelberg writes. “Violating this norm is costly for Republicans … it is costly even with their core constituency of racially resentful whites.” In fact, Mendelberg argues that this makes calling attention to implicit racial appeals a power tool for anti-racist activists. When Jesse Jackson pointed out that Bush’s Willie Horton attacks were tinged with racism, it turned the implicit racial appeal of Horton into an explicit one and lessened the attack’s effectiveness. In other words: People can fight racism by pointing out that racist stuff is racist. Trump’s appeals are pretty explicit, by these standards. During the campaign, he wasn’t oblique about the danger of terrorism and immigration, but talked about Muslim people and “rapist” Mexicans specifically. That should, in theory, lessen the attack’s effectiveness. This view isn’t unchallenged in political science. One notable critique of Mendelberg’s work agreed that implicit racial appeals can work, particularly with less educated voters, but argued that explicit appeals work just as well. But it offers reason for hope. So does the research of UC Irvine’s Michael Tesler, a leading scholar of race and public opion. Then again, Tesler has found that Trump’s unpopularity could be reducing the public’s attraction to his more out-there racial views. Support for the border wall actually fell during the 2016 campaign, for instance, including in polls tracking the exact same individuals. Public attitudes to Muslims also improved during the campaign. Tesler calls this “trickle-down tolerance,” and there’s a surprising amount of evidence for it, even overseas; there’s reason to believe disgust with Trump might have contributed to UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s surprisingly weak electoral showing in the June election. “I actually think Trump's unpopularity will help liberalize racial attitudes in the long-run,” Tesler says. “The problem for racial divisions, though, is he also polarizes attitudes about things where there should be consensus, like condemning white supremacists and that could lead to a revival of overtly racist beliefs.” source Read More: The battle over identity politics, explained

August 17, 2017 by
It has been a difficult week in American history, and a lot of educators have been wondering how to speak to their students about the white supremacist rally that took place on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the violent aftermath. JSTOR Daily, which offers scholarly context to the news, seems well-positioned to provide help in this regard. Here, we often find ourselves telling origin stories or pointing out historical precedent to current events. That’s because we believe, we hope that there are lessons in the past. We trust in the peer-reviewed, fact-based, careful thinking and writing that scholars do to help us understand everything beautiful and ugly about our world. A spectrogram of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA resembles a distorted American flag The essays and articles below, published over the course of JSTOR Daily's first three years, demonstrate this. We join in the tradition of N. D. B. Connolly & Keisha N. Blain's “Trump Syllabus 2.0” in seeking to illuminate the cultural, economic, and political currents that led to the present moment. As Audre Lorde wrote in 1991: “Racism cuts a wide and corrosive swath across each of our lives.” This small selection of articles reminds us of the complexity of this statement. As always, free access to the underlying scholarship cited in the stories is available to everyone. The Legacy of Slavery: Institutionalized Racism and American Culture The History of the KKK in American Politics So-called white nationalists have long been involved with mainstream American politics. In the 1920s, during what historians call the Ku Klux Klan’s “second wave,” Klan members served in all levels of government. Ossian Sweet's Black Life Mattered One man's life shines a light on issues still facing black Americans today: not just segregation (prescribed or by default), but also injustice at the hands of those meant to keep the peace. The Psychological Power of the Confederate Flag An experiment in political psychology points to just how powerful the Confederate flag continues to be in stirring up racist attitudes among whites. The Devastation of Black Wall Street Despite racial discrimination and Jim Crow segregation, the Greenwood district in Oklahoma offered proof that black entrepreneurs were capable of creating vast wealth. For those who supported black subjugation, witnessing blacks thrive and defy the stereotypes of black inferiority was too much. The Lasting Fallout of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study Decades after the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, health statistics continue to illustrate the lack of trust black Americans have for healthcare professionals. Why Racism is Bad for Everyone's Health Racism has shaped American health care policy since our very first forays into creating a social safety net. Anti-Semitism Henry Ford's Anti-Semitism The industrial giant distributed anti-Semitic articles throughout the 20s, and later expressed regret for the screeds. The Deafening (((Echoes))) of Marked Language Even in ordinary, everyday language use, the very words and expressions we use are already marked for our cultural and social biases. How Hitler Played the American Press By regurgitating pieces of “news” planted by Nazi press agents, the American press got duped into acting as a megaphone for Nazism. How the Word "Shoddy" Became an Anti-Semitic Slur Gary L. Bunker and John Appel detail how “shoddy” also came to have anti-Semitic connotations during the Civil War. The Displacement and Genocide of Native American Peoples The Little Known History of Forced Sterilization Of Native American Women The Indian Health Service in the 1960s and 1970s is thought to have performed the procedure on one out of every four Native American women at the time, against their knowledge or consent. Remembering Wounded Knee at Standing Rock Elizabeth Rich explains the connections between the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, the 1973 protests, and the contemporary protests at Standing Rock.   Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears The seventh President ushered in an era of more expansive American democracy. In recent years he has become an icon of populism, and a symbol of hands-off federal government that promotes states’ rights. He was also a slave-holder and an “Indian fighter” responsible for the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced removal of Native Americans from their homelands in the southeastern United States. More than 4,000 died along their journey west, via the “Trail of Tears.” The Truth Behind Buffalo Bill's Scalping Act Cody’s gruesome act is the first thing that won him widespread fame, and it was so popular that he included a reenactment of it in most of his early Wild West shows.   Fascism and Neo-Nazism Defining Fascism What is fascism? You might think you know it when you see it, but a generic definition of this 20th-century-born totalitarianism is actually difficult to pin down. The Pledge of Allegiance's Creepy Past A few decades after the Bellamy Salute made its debut, fascists in Italy and Germany started doing one just like it. Old English Has a Serious Image Problem The American neo-Nazi movement that calls itself the “alt-right” is resurrecting medievally tinged celebrations of “European heritage” as part of its racist agenda. Sophie Scholl and the Legacy of Resistance How did a young woman named Sophie Scholl become the face of resistance to Nazism? The Historic Echoes of Trump's Immigration Ban Discriminatory citizenship restrictions were abolished in 1965, but a complex quota system remains to this day. A Nation of Immigrants The 1917 Immigration Act That Presaged Trump's Muslim Ban In 2017, debates over who belongs and does not belong in America, and who is “worthy” of admission, still employ ethnic, racial, and religious terms. The Making of Asian America Morrison G. Wong has found that an increased Asian immigration has more of an effect on the state level than on the national level. When Mexico Was Flooded with American Immigrants One early complaint of Mexican officials was that many of the settlers came without passports and were from the uneducated classes in the U.S. Immigration and National Security in George Washington's Day Both the British Parliament and the colonies actively tried to attract foreign immigrants to North America. Migrants, Refugees, and Expats: How Humanity Comes in Waves How has the word migrant, which once simply referred to a person who moves from one place to another, acquired a negative connotation? The Italian-American Immigration Experience Historically, Americans have been opposed to each major wave of immigration while it is happening. Later, though, we look back on the newcomers as having contributed greatly to our nation. How the Chinese Fought Discrimination in 19th Century Arizona Anti-Chinese sentiment resulted in discriminatory legislation throughout the American West during the second half of the 19th century. Lessons from a Japanese Internment Camp Trump ally Carl Higbie recently cited Japanese internment camps during World War II as a “precedent” for a proposed registry of Muslims in the U.S. The "Model Minority" Myth and the Hidden Discrimination of Asian Americans Asian-Americans have long held a complex place within the American racial hierarchy, writes researcher David Quan. Race in American Education Can College Cure Racism? New reading requirements at Harvard have added fuel to an ongoing debate about diversity in curricula. At HBCUs these fights had a different dimension. Little Rock, Then and Now Segregation and inequality are still major issues in Little Rock today. Though the laws that held the institution in place have been repealed, corrupt housing policies and the creation of expensive, predominantly white private schools have kept many of those structures in place. Constructing the White Race In his critical review of “the new history of race in America,” Peter Kolchin says that “at best these works have underscored the historical process of racial construction, showing how assumptions about race and races have changed over time and exploring human agency in the making of race." Project Implicit Reveals Your Hidden Prejudice The Implicit Association Test demonstrates that the majority of people are at least a little bit racist. Can anything be done to counter this? The Rise of the Crowd-Sourced Syllabus The rise of the crowd-sourced syllabus is an important leap in both disseminating and gathering knowledge and in shaping active learners, no matter their age or location. source

August 17, 2017 by
Members of the City Council's Progressive Caucus and supporters of the family of Ramarley Graham once again called on the NYPD to release information about Graham's killing by an NYPD officer in 2012. In addition, the Progressive Caucus announced they had submitted an amicus brief with Graham's family in their suit against the NYPD seeking that information. The Graham family filed a Freedom of Information Law request and was rejected, so they sued the department. The records they're requesting include the police department's reasoning behind why officers targeted Graham and two of his friends, the chain of custody for pieces of evidence from the shooting, like the officer's gun, information on how police and first responders treated the crime scene and Graham's body following the shooting, and any information about members of the NYPD who might have accessed Graham's sealed criminal history to leak that information to the press. Constance Graham, Ramarley's mother, addresses the media at a press conference this morning. Graham's mother accused the NYPD of tampering with the crime scene following the 2012 shooting, when they moved Graham's body from his grandmother's bathroom. "It's important to know how the body was positioned, and they could have lost other evidence that was needed," Constance Graham said last year. "For an administration that has repeated commitments to better transparency and accountability around the better policing conversation, it remains aggravating to hear these commitments, while simultaneously keeping information from Ramarley Graham’s family regarding the circumstances around his murder," Council Member Jumaane Williams said at the press conference. Williams also said that NYPD accountability is even worse under the de Blasio administration than it has been in previous administrations. While Richard Haste, the officer who shot and killed Graham eventually faced an internal disciplinary hearing after a Bronx grand jury declined to indict him for the 2012 shooting, two other officers involved in the killing have yet to face hearings. Haste quit the force after the department determined he should be fired, but Officer John McLaughlin and Sergeant Scott Morris have still not faced hearings that the NYPD claims they would bring against the men. Graham's family settled a civil suit with the city in 2015 for $3.9 million. Gideon Oliver, a civil rights attorney who brought the FOIL lawsuit on behalf of Graham's family, criticized the NYPD for the delays and for hiding behind the idea that revealing information about the case would prejudice the hearings. "We are asking the Court to reject the NYPD's unsupported claims that releasing records about the shooting from 2012 would interfere with their trials by revealing NYPD’s prosecutorial strategy or inciting public opinion against them. The NYPD already revealed its prosecutorial strategies, during Haste’s trial, where Morris and McLoughlin testified. And, if the NYPD ever schedules them and if they ever take place, Morris and McLoughlin’s trials would take place before an NYPD administrative judge, unlikely to be influenced by public opinion." Earlier this year, Haste's disciplinary records were leaked to the website ThinkProgress. While the police misconduct claims against Haste weren't proven, "unsubstantiated" claims aren't the same as getting exonerated. source

August 17, 2017 by
In Charlottesville, three people are dead and many injured after a group of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK rallied to “Unite the Right.” Meanwhile, we've seen hateful speech aimed at Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. In 2012, Sen. Stewart-Cousins made history by becoming the first female legislative leader in New York state history. Two years earlier, Sen. Jeff Klein had led three of his colleagues to split off from the larger conference and align with the State Senate Republicans. In 2013, more Democrats split off. Stewart-Cousins found herself now leading a minority party that really was in the numerical majority. As such, she did not have input into important decisions and was denied access to state budget negotiations, meaning that the voices of millions of New Yorkers her conference represents were ignored. Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, speaks with lawmakers and community groups urging New York Gov. Cuomo and the State Senate majority to join the State Assembly in supporting fair-share tax policies on billionaires and millionaires in this year's budget during a news conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, in Albany, N.Y. In 2015, the Westchester Women’s Agenda, a coalition of individuals and organizations that advocates on behalf of women in Westchester County, launched a Pink Chair campaign, advocating for Stewart-Cousins to have a seat at the budget table. Fast forward to 2017, Stewart-Cousins, is still fighting for a seat at the table and to be recognized as a “suburban legislator.” In a private meeting, Stewart-Cousins courageously asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo why she is seen as an African-American woman rather than an elected official from Westchester County.  In response, Daniel Loeb, a Cuomo supporter and a charter-school advocate, accused Stewart-Cousins on Facebook of having done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood,” making reference to the Ku Klux Klan. The WWA finds this post repugnant, incendiary and simply not true. Stewart-Cousins has been a fierce advocate for children, especially children of color, in New York state. She tirelessly advances educational equity for all. The time is now for Stewart-Cousins to be given her seat at the table and to be respected and heard. It’s time for Klein and other politicians to ensure that Stewart-Cousins takes her place in history and becomes the first woman, and first African-American woman, to serve as New York State Senate Majority Leader. Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from the violence in Charlottesville is that each one of us has the responsibility to take a stand against racism, bias and white supremacy. The time is past due to fix this wrong and work together to get New York on the right side of history, with Andrea Stewart-Cousins as our Senate Majority Leader. Antoinette Klatzky The writer is co-chair of Westchester Women's Agenda.

August 17, 2017 by
Self-care is a radical form of resistance, especially for black women. As a social justice activist, trauma is an ever-present factor in my work. In fact, witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event is often the spark that ignites people to take action in the first place. It was for me. And as you can imagine, steeping yourself in pain to effect change can get exhausting. To combat this, there’s a practice within the activist community known as “step up, step back,” which refers to activists and organizers taking turns being on the front lines of an initiative versus playing a more supportive role. This practice is necessary for the sustainability of movements—and for the sake of the people involved. The author meditating on a beach in South Carolina. Courtesy of Bree Newsome This past weekend I was in step-back mode, watching events unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a white supremacist rally had sprung up in response to the scheduled removal of a Confederate statue. After being in conversation with clergy who were organizing a demonstration to counter the white supremacists, I watched in real-time as the religious leaders joined arms and marched into danger, standing firmly in the spirit of nonviolence and truth. I felt inspired but also deeply concerned for their safety as news began emerging of violent clashes and a delayed police response. Apart from sending my friends encouraging words, the most I could do was use my platform to amplify what was happening and why it was significant. I committed myself to that role, using both social and traditional media outlets to help get the word out. As 8 p.m. approached on Saturday, I sent out a final tweet for the day, announcing it was time for me to practice what I preach and take some time for self-care in a black joy space. For me, self-care is about physical regeneration and spiritual restoration. I'm an introvert, so I often enjoy time in quiet and seclusion, but I also find joy and healing in being around friends and loved ones. In either instance, I practice mindfulness—being fully present in the moment—as a way of centering myself and clearing my head. I already had plans to attend a gathering of local artists on Saturday night, but after a day focused on the traumatic events unfolding in Charlottesville, it became even more important for me to be intentional about attending. I haven’t always been so disciplined about self-care—I have a tendency to go, go, go until I burn out. In times past, I likely would’ve skipped the artists' gathering and continued to tweet while following the breaking news beat by beat. Balancing activism with self-care didn't come naturally to me at first. But since committing myself to fighting for social justice a few years ago, it's something I've developed out of necessity. My activism began with a sprint, and it wasn’t until realizing I was running a marathon that I learned the importance of pacing myself. Trayvon Martin's murder in February 2012 and the subsequent acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, were deeply traumatic for me. As Zimmerman was acquitted in July 2013, North Carolina was waging an attack on voting rights after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Although I’d always been socially conscious and politically active, this combination of events convinced me of how easily and quickly my rights could be taken away. I had to do more to ensure that didn’t happen. I volunteered to be arrested during a voting rights sit-in at the North Carolina statehouse and shortly thereafter traveled with a group of youth activists from North Carolina to Florida to join the Dream Defenders. They were occupying the statehouse in Florida in protest of the stand-your-ground laws that had permitted Trayvon Martin’s murderer to walk free. Over the next two years, I committed myself to protesting in the streets and raising awareness around the continuing problems of systemic racism in America. I organized many protests and meetings in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, as I gradually transitioned into the role of becoming a community organizer. That’s the work I was engaged in when, in June 2015, a white supremacist walked into Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and murdered nine black parishioners during a prayer meeting. My decision to participate in lowering the Confederate flag at South Carolina’s statehouse was a response to this trauma, along with many historical traumas as well: the four little girls killed in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, the enslavement of my ancestors in South Carolina, the assassinations of so many civil rights activists over the years. Newsome removing the Confederate flag in front of South Carolina's Statehouse in 2015. In preparing to scale the flagpole, I spent a lot of time in contemplative prayer, during which I made peace with the danger I was facing and the possibility of my own death. When that didn’t happen and the flag removal was successful, I faced another scenario of circumstances I hadn’t spent as much time preparing for. The year following the flag removal, I often felt caught up in a whirlwind. It was a time of excitement but also a time of tremendous stress, and self-care became essential. I had to adjust to having a national platform for my advocacy. I spent much of that year traveling the nation and speaking at various colleges and universities about the legacy of slavery in America and the issues confronting our society. There was one question audience members asked most frequently regardless of where I spoke: “What do you do for self-care?” This question was most often posed by young black women, indicating to me a particular need for black women to emphasize self-care and to make sure I was practicing self-care as well. Images and conversations depicting me as a black female superhero are amazing and empowering, but they also remind me that black women are often called upon to demonstrate superhuman strength, usually to the detriment of our health and well-being. We're living in a society that was built upon the enslavement and dehumanization of black people, a society that targets black women in specific and heinous ways. Being intentional about caring for ourselves and each other and carving out moments and spaces for joy is itself a radical form of resilience and resistance. I'm still engaged in both leading and supporting various efforts and initiatives in the fight for social justice. However, I’ve finally learned to pause and step away when I need to, unplugging from the work and plugging into my immediate surroundings, finding moments of stillness and peace. The movement began before I arrived, and I can be certain it will still be here when I return. Bree Newsome is an artist who drew national attention in 2015 when she climbed the flagpole in front of the South Carolina Capitol building and lowered the Confederate battle flag following the white supremacist terrorist attack at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston. source