Democratic hopefuls must answer: How they will save our democracy?
Butler is executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda, a nonprofit organization that advocates for voting rights and civil rights.
Let's not sugar-coat the situation: Our democracy is under attack.
When President Trump disregards Congress' oversight authority, our democracy is under attack.
When state election officials suppress voter turnout in communities of color, our democracy is under attack.
When corporate donors anonymously funnel untold millions of dollars into campaigns, our democracy is under attack.
As Atlanta prepares to host Wednesday night's Democratic presidential debate, it's time to put the national spotlight on one topic that hasn't received enough attention during this campaign: What are the candidates going to do to protect and strengthen our democracy?
So, while topics such as health care, national security, immigration and where the candidates stand on impeachment are critical and worthy of discussion, none of those issues will matter much in the long run if this great 243-year-old American experiment in democracy fails.
Our democracy is facing grave challenges at both the national and local levels. In Georgia, we've seen the secretary of state announce plans to purge 330,000 infrequent voters from the rolls under the guise of "routine maintenance." We've seen polling places in communities of color shut down, making it more difficult for residents in those areas to vote. We've seen thousands of legitimate absentee ballots suppressed because they didn't meet an "exact match" standard — an unjust requirement that violates the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act and as well as the First and 14th amendments.
It is well past time for the candidates to talk about how they will fix our broken political system. When the candidates take the stage at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, it will be the first time that they'll appear together with less than a year until Election Day.
This is no time for grandstanding and trying to create a debate "moment."
It's time for the remaining candidates to get serious about the task at hand. It's time for them to talk frankly about our country's greatest existential threat.
Moderators Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Kristen Welker and Ashley Parker are not representing debate hosts MSNBC and The Washington Post. They are standing in for all of us, their fellow citizens.
The moderators have a responsibility to ask the candidates: How will they protect and expand access to voter rights and ensure that everyone's voice is heard?
How will they stem the undue influence of wealthy and corporate interests in our elections?
How will they restore the checks and balances so important to our system of government?
Our democracy is under attack. How will these men and women defend it?
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In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.