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Rep. Cori Bush Made ‘Good Trouble’ to Stop Threat of Mass Evictions 

Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon who died last year, liked to tell activists that building a better world depended on people being willing to make “good trouble.”

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Representative Cori Bush/Twitter

Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon who died last year, liked to tell activists that building a better world depended on people being willing to make “good trouble.” Rep. Cori Bush has just given us an example of effective troublemaking that should inspire us to action.

Bush is in her first term as a member of Congress representing St. Louis, Missouri. She didn’t come with a typical resume of prestigious college and law school degrees and previous political jobs. Bush got into politics protesting police killings of unarmed Black men. Because her work was seen and respected in her community, she beat the odds and beat a long-time member of Congress.

Bush has experienced eviction herself. She knows how disruptive and dangerous it can be. So, she wasn’t going to stay quiet when Biden administration officials and congressional leaders were ready to let a COVID-19 moratorium on evictions expire and put millions of families at risk.

The temporary eviction ban was put in place by the Centers for Disease Control last September as a public health measure. Millions of families fell behind on rent because of the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic. The CDC knew that forcing those families out of their homes and into shelters or onto the streets in the middle of a pandemic would cost lives.

That original moratorium expired on July 31. It made no sense to kick people out of their homes just when the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus was pushing the pandemic into another deadly phase.

But the Supreme Court’s right-wing justices had signaled their disapproval for the moratorium. So, the White House and congressional leaders played a bit of last-minute hot potato before Congress left town for its August recess without taking action to protect the families at risk of homelessness.

Bush grabbed a sleeping bag and camped out on the steps of the U.S. Capitol for several days to shame people into action. You can be sure that many of her colleagues didn’t like being put on the spot as they went on vacation. Some of them anonymously criticized her tactics. Her hometown paper said she was ignoring “political reality.” Her right-wing critics ranged from dismissive to abusive.

But it worked. Bush’s troublemaking meant that public officials could not just deflect attention from the crisis that was about to engulf thousands of families. And the White House worked with the CDC to extend protection against eviction for the vast majority of people at risk.

The new moratorium is being challenged in court, and it will expire in October. But it is buying time for families at risk. It is giving local officials a chance to get money into the hands of people who need it.

Bush’s good troublemaking also brought needed attention to the fact that Congress had approved $46.5 billion to help renters and their landlords, but some states and counties hadn’t distributed a penny of it even months after they got the money.

When I saw people criticizing Bush for her tactics, I thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” He wrote that he had almost concluded that a greater stumbling block to the freedom movement than the KKK was the white moderate more devoted to “order” than justice, who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.”

Bush saw that families behind on rent were facing a crisis point. Our democracy is also facing a crisis point. In state after state where Republicans are in control they are imposing new barriers to voting as they try to prolong and expand their hold on power. They want the power to resist progress on racial equity, access to health care, and all the other issues that motivated people to turn out and vote for Joe Biden.

We can’t let them win. Voting rights activists across the country are organizing. They’re looking for people to help them make good trouble. When that opportunity comes your way, think of John Lewis and Cori Bush. And answer the call.

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

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City Government: Please Do No (More) Harm

Oakland city government declares war on the unemployed. An overstatement? Not really.

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First in a Series on Jobs in Oakland

Oakland city government declares war on the unemployed. An overstatement? Not really.

City administration professes concern for its residents who need help with access to jobs and training, while at the same time failing to issue contracts to the community organizations that stand ready to provide needed services.

The city council approved these contracts in June. As of late September, they have not been issued by the city administration.

Q: What does this mean? A: Non-profit organizations, operating on shoestring budgets in the best of times, have been required to advance their own funds in July, August, and September to serve the unemployed, with no reimbursement by the city because as the administration says, “Your contract has not been signed yet.”

Another impact: the workers who provide front line job services may not receive their paychecks on time…. creating unnecessary instability in their own households.

And who is responsible for issuing these contracts? Yup…it’s the city…. painfully tone deaf to the needs of the community, particularly those on the economic margins. Most of those served with job help are Black and Latinx residents who consistently suffer double digit unemployment. Many are returning home after incarceration.

And for this level of harmful disregard, the city receives  28 percent of scarce job training funds. Astonishing, since the city provides no direct services to job seekers.

As Oakland struggles with its horrific crime wave, it seems that attention would be paid to root causes, joblessness being paramount among them. Instead, the city administration seems intent on hobbling the very groups who stand ready to help. This happens year after year…. with no apparent consequences to an impenetrable bureaucracy.

Oakland, we can do  better than this.

We must.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Let’s Talk Black Education; Governor Newsom Should Close the Vaccination Loophole for School Employees

It leaves the rest of us — including the students — without a teacher, cafeteria worker, or janitorial staff. We have to throw on five or six hats in order to ensure that our students are educated.

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Let's Talk Black Education with Margaret Fortune

The honeymoon is over in communities where the Delta variant has taken hold.

Since back-to-school, I’ve spent weeks filling in for principals, supervising children, checking children’s temperatures and providing them masks, directing traffic in the parking lot, picking up garbage, wiping down cafeteria tables — all of which are required to run safe schools in these times.

I’ve talked to other heads of schools that can say the same thing or something similar since the start of this school year. The same culprit continues to affect us all — COVID-19. However, normally we have a village to manage these tasks. Now, we don’t.

Staffing shortages are severe and there are no substitutes to be had.

Further aggravating the situation, are public health rules that require paid school staff who test negative for COVID-19 but remain unvaccinated to stay home for 10 days at a time when they are exposed to someone who tests positive.

It leaves the rest of us — including the students — without a teacher, cafeteria worker, or janitorial staff. We have to throw on five or six hats in order to ensure that our students are educated.

Necessary? Yes. Sustainable? No.

Gov. Gavin Newsom took a good first step when he required school employees to be vaccinated, but he left a gaping loophole. He allowed school staff to ‘test out’ of being vaccinated by committing to take a COVID test twice a week.  Then he put the burden on schools to become COVID testing centers overnight for the employees who refuse to get vaccinated.

The result is that these staff who refuse vaccination have to be benched for two weeks every time they get exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Imagine, if you will, being a part of a 40-person team and every week there are 10 people who are forced to quarantine for two weeks, leaving 30 team members to do the work of 40 during that first week.

That’s one person doing their job and the additional work of three coworkers. These types of staffing outages are debilitating schools across the state. There are news reports of schools having to shut down classrooms for lack of staff.

Some major school systems with the political clout have taken matters into their own hands. Los Angeles Unified, for example, has closed the loophole and is requiring all school employees to be vaccinated.  The state of California should do the same.

California has over 6 million students who can’t afford for us to agree to anything less than 100% vaccination for school employees.

Yes, the policy could force out educators who refuse to get vaccinated but, they won’t be working anyway if they get exposed to a positive case.  Essentially, the unvaccinated have become hard to employ in a school setting.  They can go out at any time and take down our schools with them.

We can’t risk that.

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Commentary

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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US Bill of Rights and Flag with spot lighting

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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