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August 25, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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Tomorrow, civil rights activists will gather at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., both to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and to emphasize that the struggle for civil rights is ongoing.

Monday, August 28, is the actual anniversary of the 1963 march, which is famous today primarily because it was the occasion when the final speaker, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered what became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech.

While that speech is often excerpted to sound like King’s concerns were simply about the way individuals thought about race, in fact, the march’s organizers, Black labor leader A. Philip Randolph and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, focused on economic discrimination and the lack of decent jobs for Black Americans. In the process of organizing the march, they brought on board not only civil rights organizers but also white labor organizer Walter Reuther, the head of the United Auto Workers.

King acknowledged the economic focus of the march when he centered his speech around the idea that Black Americans had received “a promissory note” that had become “a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.” “But,” he said, “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”

Dr. King was not the only speaker that day; he anchored the event. Before him spoke the chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a young John Lewis. Just 23 years old, he had been one of the thirteen original Freedom Riders, white and black students traveling together from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans in 1961 to challenge segregation. “It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious,” Lewis later recalled.

At the Washington march, Lewis railed against the systems that kept Black Americans in poverty and permitted white men to commit violence against them, and explained that the remedy for the economic deprivation and racial violence Black Americans suffered was not in the civil rights bill proposed by the administration of President John F. Kennedy, but in the power of peaceful demonstrations and the vote. “‘ONE MAN, ONE VOTE’…must be our [cry],” he told the crowd.

“The revolution is at hand, and we must free ourselves of the chains of political and economic slavery,” Lewis said. “The nonviolent revolution is saying, ‘We will not wait for the courts to act, for we have been waiting for hundreds of years. We will not wait for the president, the Justice Department, nor Congress, but we will take matters into our own hands and create a source of power, outside of any national structure, that could and would assure us a victory.’”

The March on Washington gave national media coverage to the civil rights movement, and it, along with the assassination of President Kennedy less than three months later and the disappearance of three young men registering Black Americans to vote in Mississippi in 1964, gave momentum to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed racial discrimination and protected voting rights.

Americans determined to bring that law to life set out to increase the voting registration efforts they had been making for years. Near Selma, Alabama, in February 1965, white law enforcement officers beat and shot an unarmed 26-year-old, Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was marching for voting rights. He died eight days later.

Black leaders in Selma planned to march the 54 miles from Selma to the state capitol at Montgomery to draw attention to the murder and to voter suppression. As Lewis and 600 marchers stopped to pray at the end of Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a Confederate brigadier general, grand dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, and U.S. senator, mounted police troopers charged them with clubs and bullwhips. They fractured Lewis’s skull.

After the Selma attack, President Lyndon Baines Johnson called for Congress to pass a national voting rights bill. By a bipartisan vote, it did so, and on August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act authorizing federal supervision of voter registration in districts where African Americans were historically underrepresented.

The federal protection of minority voting was a game changer, and and opponents fought it. Since Reconstruction, reactionary racists had maintained that Black voters would elect lawmakers who would give them benefits that could only be paid for through tax levies on those with property, which generally meant white men. Black voting, they insisted, would lead to a redistribution of wealth and thus was essentially socialism.

As the Democratic Party under Johnson moved away from its historic racism, those who insisted that Black voting was socialism and segregation should be the law of the land began to swing behind the Republicans, whose opposition to government regulation of business and provision of a basic social safety net made them take a stand against a powerful federal government.

Once entrenched in the Republican Party, the idea that minority voting meant a redistribution of wealth led party leaders both to whittle away at federal power and to insist that Black and Brown voters were illegitimate. By 1986, Republicans talked of cutting down Black voting with a “ballot integrity” initiative, and they bitterly opposed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, more popularly known as the Motor-Voter Act, which Democrats passed to make it easier to register to vote at certain state offices. The following year, losing Republican candidates argued they had lost because of “voter fraud,” and in 1996, House and Senate Republicans launched yearlong investigations into elections that they insisted, without evidence, Democrats had stolen thanks to illegal voters.

By 2013 the quest to purge minority voters led to the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision gutting the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required the Department of Justice to sign off on changes to voting in states with histories of racial discrimination.

Ultimately, in late 2020, Republicans led by then-incumbent president Donald Trump organized to deprive Americans, overwhelmingly minority Americans in places like Fulton County, Georgia, and Detroit, of their vote. As the federal indictment for his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election reads, he and his co-conspirators tried “to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate one more more persons in the free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States—that is, the right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted.”

As civil rights leaders gather in Washington, D.C., today, they hope to emphasize that voting rights remain central to racial and economic equality. According to the voting-rights-focused Brennan Center, since 2013, 29 states have added 94 restrictions on the right to vote, and now House Republicans have proposed what they call the “American Confidence in Elections” Act, or ACE, which limits mail-in ballots and drop boxes, prohibits taking food and water to those waiting in line to vote, lifts remaining restrictions on campaign spending, and abolishes federal efforts to combat disinformation. Although Republicans point to increased voting in 2022 to insist that such measures don’t hurt voting rates, the Brennan Center showed that under Georgia’s new rules, the gap between white voting and nonwhite voting is the highest it’s been since at least 2014: white voting was 8.6 percentage points higher than nonwhite voting in 2022.

In contrast, Senate Democrats have reintroduced the Freedom to Vote Act, which sets national standards to protect voting access, protects election officials and workers (who have experienced attacks since 2020), prohibits partisan gerrymandering, and cuts back on the dark money that floods our elections since the Supreme Court permitted it in its 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision. When the House passed a version of the Freedom to Vote Act in 2021, every Republican in the Senate voted it down.

And yet, the Freedom to Vote Act is popular, with a supermajority of likely voters—70%— supporting its provisions shortly after it was first introduced in 2021. Protecting the vote is a cause behind which the Biden administration, particularly Vice President Kamala Harris, stands.

In 2022, speaking in the Georgia district that elected John Lewis to Congress, Harris warned that we must not be deceived into thinking laws that make it harder to vote are normal, and she noted that those pushing such laws “are not only putting in place obstacles to the ballot box, they are also working to interfere with our elections to get the outcomes they want and to discredit those they don’t. That is not how a democracy should work.”

At tomorrow’s march, the Reverend Dr. King’s son Martin Luther King III and his wife Arndrea Waters King say they plan to call on Congress to pass voting rights legislation. “This is not about issues for one group or one ethnic group,” Mr. King said. “It’s about Americans. It’s about creating a climate for America to fulfill its true promise for all of its citizens.”

Notes:

https://www.axios.com/local/washington-dc/2023/08/24/march-on-washington-national-mall

https://www.npr.org/2010/01/18/122701268/i-have-a-dream-speech-in-its-entirety

https://snccdigital.org/inside-sncc/policy-statements/march-washington-speech/

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2023/08/01/us/politics/trump-jan-6-indictment-2020-election-annotated.html

https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/georgias-racial-turnout-gap-grew-2022

https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/citizens-united-explained

https://www.dataforprogress.org/blog/2021/9/24/a-supermajority-of-voters-support-the-freedom-to-vote-act

https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2023/05/15/march-on-washington-60th-anniversary-martin-luther-king-jr-family/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/01/11/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-on-protecting-the-right-to-vote/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/03/06/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-to-commemorate-the-57th-anniversary-of-bloody-sunday/

https://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/05/10/access.lewis.freedom.rides/

https://www.klobuchar.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2023/7/klobuchar-colleagues-introduce-legislation-to-protect-the-freedom-to-vote-and-strengthen-our-democracy

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TGIF: WWIII May Come Tomorrow, But. . . Nellie Bowles

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Google employees protesting at the office. They were later fired. (Via X)

Welcome back. World War III watch over here continues. The Axis of Resistance seemed ready to kick off a major war, but then our Ayatollah stood down. The Houthi Youth at Columbia University camped out in solidarity, but the rebellion was short. Then, at press time, Israel struck back against Iran, so World War Watch resumed. You know what helps my stress? A good book. This one, by your faithful soldier, is out May 14.

→ Trump’s Gettysburg Address: Before Trump hit the campaign trail, I’d forgotten a little what he sounds like. In the amber of my mind, he was just “MAGA” and “Shithole countries” on a loop. Now, thanks to a campaign speech Saturday in Schnecksville, PA, we are back in the game with the craziest American orator who’s ever been in the game. The topic was Gettysburg. And our former president gave an impromptu slam poetry interpretation that left me snapping. 

Gettysburg, what an unbelievable battle that was. I mean, it was so much and so interesting and so vicious and horrible and so beautiful in so many different ways. It represented such a big portion of the success of this country. Gettysburg, wow. I go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to look and to watch. And the statement of Robert E. Lee—who’s no longer in favor—did you ever notice that? He’s no longer in favor. “Never fight uphill, me boys, never fight uphill.” They were fighting uphill. He said, “Wow, that was a big mistake.” He lost his great general. They were fighting, “Never fight uphill, me boys,” but it was too late.

Vicious and horrible and beautiful. And the sun that blazes over the October sky. Who will watch the watcher? Who will sing the song of the lonely? Check out my self-published novel in the back, Trump says. 

→ Biden continues paying off successful young voters: Sorry, I mean “forgiving student debt.” Biden this week paid off another $7.4 billion in student loans, making his total student loan cancellation something like $153 billion. And by cancellation, I mean tax dollars were used to make the ledger go to zero. How much exactly? From Penn Wharton’s analysis: “We estimate that President Biden’s recently announced ‘New Plans’ to provide relief to student borrowers will cost $84 billion, in addition to the $475 billion that we previously estimated for President Biden’s SAVE plan.” But that goes to really needy people, right? Well, actually, at least 750,000 of those households are “making over $312,000 in average household income.” Meanwhile, to anyone who questions this allocation of resources, the White House answer is to shame them from official White House accounts by listing how much in pandemic loans were forgiven for House Republicans who own individual small business, which is weird because the reason businesses needed pandemic relief was because the White House banned them from operating. It’s a trap! And the only answer is to pay off every Media Studies PhD student’s loan. Colleges, for their part, are now charging up to $100,000 a year. Yes, literally. And since that’s ultimately going to be paid for by the taxpayers, why work to make it less expensive? Why cut corners when you need to remodel the cafeteria?

→ Oh, RFK’s running mate: For a flash I was thinking, Am I an RFK voter? I’m a mom who worries about plastics, and no, I don’t like how our national conversation is getting so divisive these days. And those steely blue eyes. It just felt right. But this week, my love affair hit a snag. Here’s RFK’s new vice-presidential pick, Nicole Shanahan, arguing that the Covid vaccine is not just bad, that it’s not just something she personally doesn’t want and should have the freedom to choose not to take, but that it should be banned. Over to Nicole: “Here is the devastating reality: it is not a safe vaccine, and must be recalled immediately. Many people are suffering who took it.” I guess this is really the agenda: RFK Jr. might be just asking questions, but if Nicole is chief executive, it sounds like she’s going to be executing. And that looks like legally required sound baths and astrology readings. The government understands that you want to take antibiotics, but you haven’t even tried rubbing yourself in honey yet. 

→ Wow, Kari Lake comes out as really pro-choice: Kari Lake, the Republican running for Senate in Arizona, has released a video about how she disagrees with Arizona’s total abortion ban, a ban she previously supported. I’m all for mind-changing. I actually want our politicians to put their finger to the wind every once in a while. Here’s Lake: “We as American people don’t agree on everything all of the time. But if you look at where the population is on this—a full ban on abortion is not where the people are.” 

She says, “I chose life, but I’m not every woman.” She pivots to Europe, which has all those annoyingly sensible abortion laws, and which is my exact same move: “I had the opportunity to visit Hungary, and it completely changed my view of how we should deal with this complicated, difficult issue.”

Is this Kari Lake sounding normal? In case you need to be reminded of the old Kari, here she is shaking hands with a statue. 

→ Oh no, “get out the vote” helps. . . Trump? Now that young people are for Trump and old people are for Biden, there’s another switcheroo: those who vote less or have never voted are more likely to be Trumpers. Call off the Rock the Vote campaigners! Return the blue t-shirts! The new message for Democrats to win needs to be: do not register new voters. Keep on keeping on. Stay home, save lives.


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April 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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I will not spend the rest of 2024 focusing on Trump and the chaos in the Republican Party, but today it has been impossible to look away.

In Trump’s election interference trial in Manhattan, Judge Juan Merchan this morning dismissed one of the selected jurors after she expressed concern for her anonymity and thus for her safety. All of the reporters in the courtroom have shared so much information about the jurors that they seemed at risk of being identified, but Fox News Channel host Jesse Watters not only ran a video segment about a juror, he suggested she was “concerning.” Trump shared the video on social media.

The juror told the judge that so much information about her had become public that her friends and family had begun to ask her if she was one of the jurors. Legal analyst Joyce White Vance noted jurors’ fear for their safety was a concern normally seen only “in a case involving violent organized crime.”

Nonetheless, by the end of the day, twelve people had been chosen to serve as jurors. Tomorrow the process will continue in order to find six alternate jurors. 

It is a courtesy for the two sides at a trial to share with each other the names of their next witnesses so the other team can prepare for them. Today the prosecution declined to provide the names of their first three witnesses to the defense lawyers out of concern that Trump would broadcast them on social media. “Mr. Trump has been tweeting about the witnesses. We’re not telling them who the witnesses are,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said. 

Merchan said he “can’t blame them.” Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche offered to “commit to the court and the [prosecution] that President Trump will not [post] about any witness” on social media. “I don’t think you can make that representation,” Merchan said, in a recognition that Trump cannot be trusted, even by his own lawyers.

An article in the New York Times today confirmed that the trial will give Trump plenty of publicity, but not the kind that he prefers. Lawyer Norman L. Eisen walked through questions about what a prison sentence for Trump could look like.

Trump’s popular image is taking a hit in other ways, as well. Zac Anderson and Erin Mansfield of USA Today reported that Trump is funneling money from his campaign fundraising directly into his businesses. According to a new report filed with the Federal Election Commission, in February and March the campaign wrote checks totaling $411,287 to Mar-a-Lago and in March a check for $62,337 to Trump National Doral Miami.

Experts say it is legal for candidates to pay their own businesses for services used by the campaign so long as they pay fair market value. At the same time, they note that since Trump appears to be desperate for money, “it looks bad.”

Astonishingly, Trump’s trial was not the biggest domestic story today. Republicans in Congress were in chaos as members of the extremist Freedom Caucus worked to derail the national security supplemental bills that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has introduced in place of the Senate bill, although they track that bill closely. 

The House Rules Committee spent the day debating the foreign aid package, which appropriates aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan separately. The Israel bill also contains $9.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and other countries. A fourth bill focuses on forcing the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell the company, as well as on imposing sanctions on Russia and Iran. 

At stake in the House Rules Committee was Johnson’s plan to allow the House to debate and vote on each measure separately, and then recombine them all into a single measure if they all pass. This would allow extremist Republicans to vote against aid to Ukraine, while still tying the pieces all together to send to the Senate. As Robert Jimison outlined in the New York Times, this complicated plan meant that the Rules Committee vote to allow such a maneuver was crucial to the bill’s passage.

The extremist House Republicans were adamantly opposed to the plan because of their staunch opposition to aid for Ukraine. They wrote in a memo on Wednesday: “This tactic allows Johnson to pass priorities favored by President Biden, the swamp and the Ukraine war machine with a supermajority of House members, leaving conservatives out to dry.”

Extremists Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) vowed to throw House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) out of the speakership, but Democrats Tom Suozzi of New York and Jared Moskowitz of Florida have said they would vote to keep him in his seat, thereby defanging the attack on his leadership.

So the extremists instead tried to load the measures up with amendments prohibiting funds from being used for abortion, removing humanitarian aid for Gaza, opposing a two-state solution to the Hamas-Israel war, calling for a wall at the southern border of the U.S., defunding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and so on.

Greene was especially active in opposition to aid to Ukraine. She tried to amend the bill to direct the president to withdraw the U.S. from NATO and demanded that any members of Congress voting for aid to Ukraine be conscripted into the Ukraine army as well as have their salaries taken to offset funding. She wanted to stop funding until Ukraine “turns over all information related to Hunter Biden and Burisma,” and to require Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to resign. More curiously, she suggested amending the Ukraine bill so that funding would require “restrictions on ethnic minorities’, including Hungarians in Transcarpathia, right to use their native languages in schools are lifted.” This language echoes a very specific piece of Russian propaganda.

Finally, Moskowitz proposed “that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene…should be appointed as Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy to the United States Congress.” 

Many congress members have left Washington, D.C., since Friday was to be the first day of a planned recess. This meant the partisan majority on the floor fluctuated. Olivia Beavers of Politico reported that that instability made Freedom Caucus members nervous enough to put together a Floor Action Response Team (FART—I am not making this up) to make sure other Republicans didn’t limit the power of the extremists when they were off the floor.

The name of their response team seems likely to be their way to signal their disrespect for the entire Congress. Their fellow Republicans are returning the heat. Today Mike Turner (R-OH) referred to the extremists as the Bully Caucus on MSNBC and said, “We need to get back to professionalism, we need to get back to governing, we need to get back to legislating.” Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) told Juliegrace Brufke of Axios:  “The vast majority of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives…are sick and tired of having people who…constantly blackmail the speaker of the House.”

Another Republican representative, Jake LaTurner of Kansas, announced today he will not run for reelection. He joins more than 20 other Republican representatives heading for the exits.

After all the drama, the House Rules Committee voted 6–3 tonight to advance the foreign aid package to the House floor. Three Republicans voted nay. While it is customary for the opposition party to vote against advancing bills out of the committee, the Democrats broke with tradition and voted in favor.

Notes:

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/18/opinion/donald-trump-trial-prison.html

https://www.politico.com/live-updates/2024/04/18/congress/hfc-on-alert-00153097

https://www.jns.org/house-rules-committee-debates-israel-aid-package-as-house-speaker-confronts-right-flank/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-new-york-court-criminal-trial/

https://www.thedailybeast.com/jesse-watters-goes-juror-by-juror-to-sow-doubt-in-trump-hush-money-case

https://www.salon.com/2024/04/18/juror-quits-over-fear-of-being-outed-after-fox-news-host-singled-her-out/

https://www.rawstory.com/jake-laturner/#cxrecs_s

https://www.cnn.com/2024/04/18/politics/mike-johnson-speakership-rules

https://www.rawstory.com/freedom-caucus-2667810851/

https://rules.house.gov/bill/118/hr-8034

https://rules.house.gov/bill/118/hr-8035

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2024/04/18/trump-campaign-funnels-money-to-his-businesses/73344744007/

https://www.axios.com/2024/04/18/mike-johnson-gaetz-motion-to-vacate-ukraine

https://www.axios.com/2024/04/18/jake-laturner-retire-house-gop-kansas

https://www.axios.com/2024/03/27/house-members-retiring-quitting-productivity

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/18/us/politics/house-israel-ukraine-aid-package-explainer.html

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April 17, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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