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Pass the Freedom to Vote Act: Time Running Out to Protect Right to Vote in 2022 and Beyond

Ideally, voting rights should be a nonpartisan issue. Congress repeatedly passed extensions of the Voting Rights Act that were signed by Republican presidents. But right-wing politicians and judges have spent years trying to undermine the Voting Rights Act in the name of “states’ rights” or “state sovereignty.”

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Republican-controlled state legislatures have imposed new voting restrictions. They are getting ready to create more safe congressional seats for Republicans through abusive partisan redistricting. They are undermining faith in elections with false claims about election fraud and demands for fake “audits.”

The good news is that there is new momentum in Congress and a new bill to protect our democracy. We need to get it passed.

The new Freedom to Vote Act would protect the right to vote, end unfair partisan gerrymandering, and shine a light on the flood of dark money that allows billionaires to buy our elections in secret. It includes key sections of the earlier For the People Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives but was blocked in the Senate by Republican filibusters.

The Freedom to Vote act also addresses one of the worst things about some of the new voter suppression laws: provisions that give state officials the power to override voters and overturn election results.

There are other good things in the bill. It would make Election Day a federal holiday. Every state would have automatic voter registration, early voting and drop box accessibility. These would be major advances in making voting more accessible to everyone.

Voting rights advocates are rallying support for the Freedom to Vote Act. One of the sponsors, Democratic Sen. Joe Machin of West Virginia, worked hard to come up with a bill that he could support. He still hopes to get some Republican senators to join him.

That is an uphill battle. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled that no Republican senators will support this compromise. And he will use the Senate’s filibuster rules to prevent the Senate from passing election protections that are supported by huge majorities of the American people—something he has already done with the For the People Act.

Ideally, voting rights should be a nonpartisan issue. Congress repeatedly passed extensions of the Voting Rights Act that were signed by Republican presidents. But right-wing politicians and judges have spent years trying to undermine the Voting Rights Act in the name of “states’ rights” or “state sovereignty.”

With help from right-wing justices on the Supreme Court, states have imposed all kinds of new voting restrictions in recent years.

The number of new restrictive voting laws jumped massively after former President Donald Trump was defeated in last year’s presidential election. Grassroots organizing helped drive strong turnout among Black voters in key states, and Republicans have decided to respond by making it harder for people to register and vote.

That makes it clear that the new voter suppression rules have nothing to do with “election integrity” and everything to do with maintaining power at all costs.

The Constitution very clearly gives the federal government the right to step in when states undermine democracy with restrictive and discriminatory voting rules. That’s what Congress did more than 50 years ago when it passed the Voting Rights Act.

President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate must do whatever it takes to pass the Freedom to Vote Act. With democracy and voting rights at stake, we cannot let Jim Crow-era filibuster rules in the U.S. Senate have the final word.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way.

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Commentary

A Politician’s Shameless Bigotry

Witness North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. He abuses his position of authority to insult and demean people. But when he gets criticized for making harmful comments, he whines that he’s the real victim. 

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There’s an old saying about bullies: they can dish it out, but they can’t take it.

Witness North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. He abuses his position of authority to insult and demean people. But when he gets criticized for making harmful comments, he whines that he’s the real victim.

People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch recently began reporting on Robinson’s cruel and offensive comments. This summer, Robinson told one audience that Christians must take control of public schools because “there’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be teaching any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth.” In another speech, Robinson mocked transgender people and denounced the transgender rights movements as “demonic” and “full of the spirit of antichrist.”

Fortunately, a lot of people have called Robinson out. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called Robinson’s comments “abhorrent.” The White House called them “repugnant and offensive.” Multiple state legislators have called on him to resign.

Robinson should be ashamed of himself. But he’s not. He is puffed up with pride about promoting bigotry. He is promising to “double down.” And that’s dangerous. Robinson’s comments send a message to students and everyone else that trans people are not worthy of being treated with respect or dignity.

Robinson’s comments are part of a long and ugly history of politicians smearing LGBTQ people as threats to children. Those smears promote hatred and violence. Deadly violence against transgender people, especially Black trans women, has been on the rise in recent years.

Robinson’s attacks are also part of a broader right-wing campaign to demonize public schools for teaching about racism and promoting acceptance of LGBTQ students. Robinson says schools are teaching students “how to hate America” and “how to go to Hell.”

He has defended himself by claiming that inappropriate materials are being “forced” on children in classrooms, but his charges don’t hold up to scrutiny. Some of the books that he complains about are reportedly not being taught in classrooms but are available in some high school libraries.

 

More importantly, Robinson claims to oppose “indoctrination” in public schools. But in his remarks to right-wing political activists in September, he said that school shootings would be prevented if public schools taught students, “Jesus Christ is the way and the light, and only through him can you receive salvation.”

In fact, Robinson has a message for the millions of Americans who are not Christians: they don’t belong. At a gathering of religious-right political activists in September, Robinson declared that the United States is and always will be a Christian nation. He added, “If you don’t like it, I’ll buy your plane, train, or automobile ticket right up out of here. You can go to some place that’s not a Christian nation.”

I am a Christian. I revere the role the Black church has played in moving the U.S. toward justice. I am proud to be working side by side with religious leaders who are bringing their moral authority and prophetic voices to the struggle to defend voting rights. I was proud to be arrested alongside these leaders recently as we demonstrated at the White House.

But I don’t want public schools to teach religious doctrine. And I don’t want public officials misusing religion as an excuse for using cruelty to divide us.

Like a lot of politicians, Robinson clearly has a very high opinion of himself. At a political conference in September, he compared himself to Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. He also made it clear that he would like to be North Carolina’s next governor. That’s the last thing the people of North Carolina need.

A politician who uses their office to promote bigotry doesn’t deserve to hold office.

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Commentary

COMMENTARY: Together, We Can Save Our Water and Our Future

As Californians, we’re no strangers to the drought, but as we anticipate another dry year, it’s more important than ever for all of us to take action to save our water for today and  years to come.

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Beautiful sunset and the windmill

For some reason, the day we learned about the water cycle in science class stayed with me. Then, many years later, when deciding on a career I knew that I wanted to help bring clean water to homes that currently didn’t have access to safe and reliable drinking water and to protect the environment for future generations.

Now that I serve on the board of the state agency that is responsible for protecting and managing California’s water resources, my view of what it means to ensure people have access to water has expanded, especially as we grapple with another drought.

Board Member Nichole Morgan of the California Water Resources Control. Photo courtesy of Lagrant Communications.

California is only getting hotter and drier. We’re seeing it all over the news as the water crisis hits closer and closer to home. Karla Nemeth, director of the state Department of Water Resources, put our harsh reality into perspective when she said, “the challenge is there is no water.”

As Californians, we’re no strangers to the drought, but as we anticipate another dry year, it’s more important than ever for all of us to take action to save our water for today and  years to come.

It is imperative for us to understand that the drought truly impacts everyone. From our state’s ecosystems to its economy, we all rely on an ample water supply; without it, we all suffer.

Climate change is ultimately driving these threats to California, including the dire drought conditions, low reservoir levels and parched landscapes seen throughout the West.

Unfortunately, we can already see some of the consequences of the overuse of water. California’s fish and wildlife are facing severe challenges, threatening the survival of species, including our iconic Chinook salmon.

The drought also affects businesses across California, especially small business, like family-owned restaurants and hotels. Many business owners are already struggling to reconcile dried out wells and limited water supply, in addition to still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Water is essential not only to keep our economy healthy, but to keep our communities thriving with business that foundation to many of our communities.

Now is the time to strengthen conservation efforts and make active changes to save water.  We know that it can be hard to change our habits when it comes to conserving water, but the smallest changes really can make a difference. If we all make little changes in our daily routine to save water, it adds up. Below are some simple steps we can all follow to conserve water both indoors and out.

Inside the Home:

  1. Wash your produce in the container instead of under running water.
  2. Only use your dishwasher and washing machine for full loads.
  3. Install low-flow shower heads as well as taking shorter showers. Showers under 5 minutes can save about 15 gallons, saving you money and the planet!
  4. Turn the water off when brushing your teeth and soaping your hands.
  5. Install a high-efficiency (HET) 1.28 gallons-per flush toilet. Check with your water supplier for current rebate information.

Outside the Home:

  1. Water your yard in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler.
  2. Check your sprinkler system and adjust them so that only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk or street to eliminate any wasteful runoff.
  3. Plant drought-resistant trees and plants! There are so many options to create a beautiful landscape that conserves water – succulents and California poppies are great options.
  4. Use a broom to clean driveways, sidewalks, patios and walkways instead of hosing them down.
  5. If you have a pool, install a pool cover to reduce evaporation and filter backwash. And, if draining your pool is necessary, make sure to find a use for that water.

We know it won’t be easy, but it’s up to us to make the necessary changes to conserve the water that we need. Let’s make sure our kids and future generations get to enjoy the California that we know and love. Together, we can make our water last. Visit www.saveourwater.com to learn more about what you can do to help.

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Advice

Commentary: Tips for Staying Safe (Emotionally) as Pandemic Drags On

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Delta variant have fundamentally changed many of our lives, the way we live and the manner in which we interact with each other, and how we live, work and play together.   

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Many of us are tired, stressed and impatient having to live our lives under this seemingly never-ending pandemic. 

In early spring, many of us were hopeful that COVID-19 was coming to an end.  We began making plans for the summer, from visiting family and friends to attending concerts, plays, planning for vacations and special milestones, and basically “just returning to normal life activities.”  

However, as life would have it, the Delta variant appeared. We were again confronted with the inability to control most aspects of our lives.  In fact, most recently, scientists have purported that we may expect additional variants for years to come.

According to the California Department of Public Health, in February 2021, only 2% of Black Californians were vaccinated. However, as of October 5, 4.2 % of all Black Californians have received at least one dose of vaccine. Representing about 6 % of California’s overall population, we as a community remain behind on our vaccination rate.   

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Delta variant have fundamentally changed many of our lives, the way we live and the manner in which we interact with each other, and how we live, work and play together.   

This pandemic has reinforced that there are so many aspects of our lives that we cannot control. And anytime we cannot control our lives and/or our environment, we tend to feel helpless which leads to anxiety and possibly depression.  

So, what can a person do, when life does not go as you planned and are impatient for this pandemic to end?  Here are some tips that have been recommended by the experts:

  1. I know this might sound cliché, but recognizing and understanding your feelings, whether you are sad, angry, stressed, or frightened. Accept, do not negate, how you feel.  
  2. The ability to bounce back and adapt to difficult situations is crucial to wellness.  You have to believe in yourself, your ability to be strong and to try your best – relying on various proven self-care methods — to stay positive.
  3. Try having an attitude of gratitude.  Think about just a few little things or events that are going well in your life daily and in the life of your family and friends.
  4. When you feel overwhelmed…. just breathe…Yes, literally, just breathe in through your nose, hold it and exhale through your mouth a few times or meditate by remembering a verse, phrase, poem, or visualizing a tranquil place for just a few seconds. Still yourself.   
  5. Look back on the good times that you have had and treasure those memories.
  6. Plan a reasonably safe event you can look forward to in the near future that will bring you joy or fulfillment. 
  7. Stop thinking negative.  It’s difficult when life feels as if it’s spiraling out of control but find ways to prove that your negative thoughts are either wrong or that the sky will not fall.  Remind yourself that life and circumstances can and do change.  Turn those negative thoughts into positive affirmations.  Have faith and confidence. 
  8. With so many things going on that are out of our control and often make us feel helpless, focus on what you CAN control in your life.  
  1. Take care of yourself. Exercise, even walking 20 minutes a day, eating healthy, sleep on a regular schedule, turn off electronic devises at least one hour before bed, avoid alcohol and substance use, especially before bedtime, connect with community or faith-based organizations, and/or reach out to your local mental health provider, employee assistance program.

Lenore A. Tate, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Sacramento, California. She specializes in neuropsychology, behavioral health and geriatrics.

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