Honoring John Lewis by continuing his mission

An irreplaceable loss and a cause to carry forward

Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights hero and American revolutionary, passed away on Friday night. Rep. Lewis was a towering figure in the fight for racial equality and true democracy, so it’s both a tragedy and an outrage that the America he leaves behind has again been seized by hate, manipulated by demagogues, and robbed of so many of the freedoms and reforms he devoted his life to securing.

As a 1960s Freedom Rider and protestor, John Lewis was frequently beaten by racist mobs and police before being arrested and stuck in jail, but his faith in the righteousness of his cause never faltered. For decades after that, he worked in government to secure new further freedoms and provide a moral conscience. Now, it’s up to us to honor John Lewis’s legacy by continuing the fight to which he dedicated his life, especially ahead of the most important election of our lifetime.

I’ve put together a list of remarkable civil rights and voting groups, which you can read below. Please chip in whatever you can to support these brave, hard-working, and essential organizations fighting to secure equal voting rights for everyone.

Donate to Voting Rights Groups

Here are the organizations:

Black Voters Matter: A nationwide grassroots organization focused on registering Black people to vote and protecting their right to vote. With voting rights under constant attack, the organization has a multi-faceted approach, including resisting voter ID laws and fighting to expand early voting, equal access to the polls, and voter re-entry after incarceration.

Fair Fight Action: Founded by Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic House Minority Leader in Georgia who was robbed of the governor’s mansion by GOP voter suppression, Fair Fight Action works to ensure free and fair elections there and in other states across the country. Given the egregious suppression in Georgia, much of its action is focused there, but its action fund also helps state parties nationwide. Few organizations are as effective in the courtroom or in public awareness campaigns.

Black Lives Matter Global Network: No organization has been more essential to the revolution of consciousness that has swept the nation over the last two months and, more broadly, the last six years. Every dollar sent their way has a multiplying effect, fueling the fire of changes.

Georgia NAACP: Brian Kemp, first as the Secretary of State and then Governor, has led an unprecedented assault on voting rights in the state of Georgia. Under his leadership, the state has purged hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls and closed polling places in largely Black neighborhoods. The Georgia NAACP has fought him on it every step of the way. The group’s work will be more crucial than ever over the next few months.

Florida Rights Restoration Coalition: The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to overturn a court decision that affirmed a racist poll tax that will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people in Florida. After voters overwhelmingly chose to restore voting rights to ex-felons who had completed their sentences in 2018, the GOP-controlled enacted a law that required all newly eligible voters to pay off all the onerous fines and fees that are largely impossible to track and pay off. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition helps pay off those fines while the court fight continues.

Donate to Voting Rights Groups

Important News Roundup

Here are some of the big headlines you may have missed over the long weekend and late last week.

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The General Election Legal War Ramps Up

Every fall election is preceded by months of legal wranglings between campaigns, state governments, and advocacy groups, especially in states where the right to vote has been curtailed and impeded in severe, unjust ways. Between the existential importance of the presidential election, the GOP’s war on voting rights and the seismic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year will likely see a huge spike in legislative battles, court fights, and public outrage — we’ve already seen battles in Texas over absentee ballots, in Florida over the GOP’s Jim Crow poll tax, and in Wisconsin over both poll site locations and early voting.

This week, another lawsuit was filed in Texas over the state’s rules for in-person voting, with the Texas NAACP and Mi Familia Vota alleging inequalities that will put poor, Black, and brown people in more danger of contracting COVID-19 and not having their vote counted if they vote in person. Essentially, they’re saying that all of the inequities in the state’s election system will be exacerbated by both the virus and the adjustments that Texas plans to make (or not make). Those include long lines, faulty and filthy voting machines, and sparse polling locations.

The two civil rights organizations, along with two citizens who joined the lawsuit, provided a list of requests to remedy these circumstances. Those include a month of early voting, the re-establishment of mobile voting sites for early voting, a mask mandate at the polls, and curbside voting.

In North Carolina, the state elections board issued new requirements for counties ahead of the general election. They include mandatory masks for poll workers, spare masks available for voters, frequent cleaning of voting machines, and at least one early voting location per 20,000 registered voters.

While they were a step in the right direction, advocates are less than impressed. They want to see further pro-voter measures, including “expanding voter registration opportunities, easing assistance restrictions for absentee ballots, allowing county boards more flexibility in the hours they offer voters for early voting, and guaranteeing PPE and ballot drop boxes for voters.”

Arizona is also experiencing new litigation, including the state suing over a law that allows some localities to control election dates.

School’s Out… For… The Fall?

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person instruction at schools across the country by mid-to-late March, sending parents and school systems scrambling to implement some kind of at-home education system for the rest of the school year. Given the vast inequalities in internet access, supportive living conditions, and adults able to facilitate distance education, it’s clear that having students in classrooms is ideal for children, but given the country’s inability to control the pandemic, resuming regular schooling is also remarkably risky.

New data we’re seeing from around the globe is grim; in South Korea, students over the age of 10 have been found to be just as prone to contracting and spreading the coronavirus as adults.

As with wearing masks, the reopening of schools has been transformed into a political debate instead of a nonpartisan matter of public health. Unsurprisingly, this is especially the case in places where COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket.

In both Florida and Georgia, Governors Ron DeSantis and Brian Kemp, Trump acolytes who adamantly refuse to mandate masks or allow cities to do so, are pushing to resume in-person instruction from the start of the school year. DeSantis has pushed more punitive measures than Kemp, as some Georgia counties have already announced the year will begin with remote learning.

In Florida, schools will be required to offer both in-person and online learning, but they’ll be permitted to delay the in-person part until the pandemic begins to recede. Because the school year begins so early in Florida, some counties like Palm Beach have already delayed the start of instruction. Other counties are still uncertain about their plans. Gov. DeSantis continues to push for as much in-person instruction, citing false statistics about the transmission rate in children — in Florida, they’ve been just as likely to carry the virus and even more likely to transmit it. Pediatricians in the state are not pleased.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, is also going to require in-person and online instruction but is allowing for up to four weeks of online-only schooling if local boards of education so choose. Teachers unions in the state, which continues to be ravaged by the virus, marched in protest in Austin on Saturday.

Over in California, where the virus is also surging, Gov. Gavin Newsome issued new guidelines governing the reopening of schools on Friday. There will be a number of safety measures required, including social distancing, mask mandates, and low case counts in individual counties, and at the moment, most schools are likely to begin digitally.

A running list of school reopenings is available here.

Trump Is Screwing Florida

Last week, I wrote about how Donald Trump’s quixotic crusade against voting by mail is already actively hurting both his own prospects for re-election and the campaigns of down-ballot Republicans. Simply put, GOP faithful take Trump’s word as gospel, and so increasingly, they’re swearing off voting by mail, which has at least been just as helpful to Republicans as Democrats in the past.

Voting by mail has been a particular boon to Florida Republicans over the last decade, but they now trail Democrats by over 400,000 in voters who have requested absentee ballots. Stymied by the president’s attacks, the Florida GOP has resorted to drastic measures: Censoring Trump’s tweets to cut out his attacks on the process.

In a mass-solicitation designed to boost flagging interest in registering to vote by mail, the Republican Party of Florida featured a Trump tweet from June 28 that praised absentee ballots but that had his opposition to mail-in voting strategically edited out.

“Absentee Ballots are fine. A person has to go through a process to get and use them,” Trump said in the tweet. The rest of the quote was blurred out: “Mail-In Voting, on the other hand, will lead to the most corrupt Election is USA history. Bad things happen with Mail-Ins. Just look at Special Election in Patterson, N.J. 19% of Ballots a FRAUD.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has wrecked the state with his fealty to Trump during the COVID-19 crisis, turning it into the worst hotbed of disease in the United States. The raging pandemic makes voting by mail even more essential, which puts them in even more trouble.

This is also becoming a potential problem for the GOP in Arizona. Traditionally, about 80% of Arizona voters cast their ballots via mail, but in a new poll, there was a stark difference between Democrats and Republicans on the issue: A full 80% of Democrats said they plan on casting their votes via mail, but only 47% of Republicans are now planning on doing so. With the coronavirus spiking there as well, this could be a big concern. We’ll see what happens in the primaries on August 4th.