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October 18, 2021
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The 117th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse collection of lawmakers in American history, and yet it is far from representative of the country's population. But for congressional aides, lack of diversity at the staff level is even more of a glaring issue.
The Congressional Black Associates, which represents staffers in the House of Representatives, and the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus published an open letter to America on Friday, calling for changes on Capitol Hill to improve the recruitment and retention of Black staffers.
Congressional staffers are integral to the day-to-day operations on Capitol Hill. They write legislation, conduct research, bring in witnesses for testimony on important issues, provide constituent services and help finalize major political deals, among many other duties. Having staffers who better reflect the American public informs the critical legislative decisions made by elected officials, and ultimately leads to a more representative government.
While people of color make up 40 percent of the U.S. population, they only account for 8 percent of Senate staff directors and 16 percent of other top roles, such as deputy staff director, chief counsel, general counsel and policy director, according to a July report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The center also found that Black people make up 13 percent of the country's population, but just 3 percent of top Senate staff positions.
Last week, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island hired Monalisa Dugué as his chief of staff. Dugué joins Jennifer DeCasper, chief of staff for GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, as the only Black people to currently hold that position. Scott is the sole Black Republican currently serving in the Senate.
Additionally, only 30 of the 435 House members have Black chiefs of staff. Most of those individuals are employed by one of the 57 Black lawmakers in the House, according to the staff associations.
"These statistics are discouraging because they send the underlying message that the path forward for Black staffers to be hired or promoted to senior-level positions within their respective offices is limited," the two congressional staff associations wrote in their letter. "It is not enough to simply hire Black staff. Congress must also foster clear pathways for recruitment and career advancement."
The two staff associations would like to see four changes:
- A stronger college-to-Congress pipeline in which congressional offices develop better relationships with historically Black colleges and universities.
- More career opportunities and investments so that Black staffers can be promoted to senior-level positions by their own merit.
- Livable wages for all congressional staffers, especially given the heavy workload and high cost of living in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Purposeful and fair hiring decisions by members of Congress that reflect the constituents they serve.
"We believe that if the United States Congress wants to hold steadfast to its representative form of government, then congressional staffers hired to construct and inform legislation should be reflective of the United States' population," the letter says. "Congress can be a powerful vehicle for change when we are all at the table and well-positioned and equipped to make those changes."
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October 18, 2021
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Weichlein is the CEO of FMC: The Former Members of Congress Association.
The 2020 election was the most secure in American history and there's no evidence that any voting system deleted, lost or changed any votes. There, I said it!
Actually, I didn't say it, but rather Chris Krebs, who served as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency during the Trump administration, said it and was fired shortly thereafter by the then president.
Since last November, there have been almost six dozen related lawsuits adjudicated by state and federal judges across the country, most of them dropped for lack of evidence. There have also been several recounts, including multiple in Georgia alone, all resulting in essentially the same number of votes for each candidate. Yet a Sept. 12 poll by CNN showed that six in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agree that "believing that Donald Trump won the 2020 election" was very or somewhat important to what being a Republican meant to them.
No matter where you are politically, that number should really concern you because it means that 60 percent of the supporters of one of our two parties have lost all faith in the integrity of our elections. They don't believe their often-Republican local elections officials, conservative judges in various jurisdictions across this country, or the results of any recount or audit. To this 60 percent of Republicans, Joe Biden is not a legitimately elected president.
To many Republican officeholders at the state level, where election processes are enshrined in state regulations and law, their base's doubt has become a rallying cry to change election law. Republican candidates for secretary of state or other election-focused offices highlight the perceived failures of 2020 as they campaign in their communities. These political actors are seizing upon their voters' or constituents' doubt rather than reinforcing the mountain of evidence from court findings, recounts and other credible sources. This is the definition of solutions in search of a problem.
Given this tenor across the country, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania, Georgia or Arizona, how will the electorate ever accept the outcome of an election again? Won't a Democratic win merely showcase the same "rampant irregularities" as in 2020? Won't a Republican win merely prove that "voter suppression measures" implemented by Republican state legislatures after 2020 were successful?
The No. 1 challenge our representative democracy faces right now is the erosion of trust when it comes to the integrity of our elections. And while the Constitution clearly recognizes the states' primary role in election administration, it also outlines specific powers and responsibilities for the federal government. Congress in the past has not been shy about inserting a federal response to shortcomings at the state level, such as the abolition of poll taxes or requiring that polling stations be accessible to the disabled. Congress could and should act again to reinject trust into the system.
Most of us envision Election Day as a singular and unifying event, with millions of Americans exercising their right to vote and engaging in essentially the same voting process across the country. Unfortunately, that vision is quite blurred; all voters are not on equal footing.
There are 51 different elections happening across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. They each come with different standards for who gets to vote. For example, in Washington, D.C., a convicted felon never loses his or her right to vote, while in Kentucky certain violent felonies may cause one to permanently lose their right to vote. This also applies to how and when one can register to vote, how and where one can cast their vote, and how that vote is tabulated and reported.
If the outcome affects us all equally, then why should it be easier for me to participate in the process than someone in another state – or even in the same state but in another county? We don't have 50 different standards for what makes an airplane safe, and because of that I trust that I'm flying safely, whether I board the plane in New York or Houston.
There already are a number of federal entities devoted to our electoral process, most prominently the Election Assistance Commission and the Federal Election Commission. But partisanship is rearing its ugly head when it comes to both of these agencies: One is woefully underfunded, while the other for years has lacked the requisite number of politically appointed commissioners to do its job. By empowering these existing organs, Congress could restore trust and integrity into our electoral process and enforce election laws so that your ZIP code no longer determines your ability to participate in the democratic process. If that isn't a bipartisan goal, then what is?
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Nearly half of all Americans have stopped talking to someone about political topics because of something they have said in person or online. Our culture of contempt continues to divide us and make governing together more difficult. In this episode of the How Do We Fix It podcast, Peter Coleman, a leading expert on conflict resolution, discusses a way forward.
Balance of Power
Steve Bannon faces criminal charges over Jan. 6 panel snub, setting up showdown over executive privilege
October 15, 2021
John Lamparski/NurPhoto via Getty Image
Carlson is an associate professor of law and adjunct associate professor of political science at Wayne State University.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is tasked with providing as full an account as possible of the attempted insurrection. But there is a problem: Not everyone is cooperating.
As of Oct. 14, 2021, Steve Bannon, a one-time aide to former President Donald Trump, has stated that he will not comply with a committee subpoena compelling him to give testimony. Bannon's lawyers have said their client is not acting out of defiance; rather, he is following the direction of Trump, who, citing executive privilege, has told Bannon not to produce testimony or documents.
Either way, Bannon now faces the prospect of criminal contempt charges.
Bannon isn't alone in being subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee. Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows, former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino, former chief of staff to the acting United States Secretary of Defense Kash Patel and former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark have also been served. Meadows, Scavino, Patel and Clark – unlike Bannon – have not said whether they will comply, although their actions suggest a degree of foot-dragging.
The responses to the subpoenas serve to delay and frustrate the committee, which now finds itself caught up in a legal fight that may deny the committee information it seeks.
It also serves to highlight that the committee has an array of tools at its disposal to gather evidence from reluctant witnesses. But there remains lingering uncertainty over how these powers of the committee rub up against claims of presidential executive privilege.
Investigating the 'darkest days'
Congress handed the committee a fairly wide charge to gather evidence. On June 30, 2021, lawmakers passed House Resolution 503, charging the committee with investigating the activities of law enforcement, intelligence agencies and the armed forces relating to that day as well as uncovering the factors contributing to the attack, including technology, social media and malign foreign influences.
Ultimately, the committee aims to issue a report with detailed findings and suggestions for corrective measures.
The select committee has already used one of its main tools for investigating the attack on the Capitol: holding public hearings and inviting testimony from key players in the attack.
Four police officers who had defended the Capitol during the attack gave testimony during the committee's first hearing.
The committee is now looking to hear testimony from former White House staffers, rally organizers and members of Congress. It can also ask for and receive information from various government agencies and private organizations.
The panel has used its power to issue subpoenas to obtain information it deems vital to the investigation from former Trump administration officials, such as Meadows, Scavino and Patel, as well as organizations that planned the Jan. 6 rally.
A subpoena is a legal order requiring a person to appear and testify or produce documents.
House Resolution 503 expressly authorizes the committee to issue and compel subpoenas for documents and testimony.
Historically, congressional committees have preferred to cooperate with the other branches of government to obtain information. But if a cooperative approach does not produce the information the committee needs, it can subpoena information and testimony from members of Congress, former White House staffers, social media companies and even the former president.
While in office, President Trump repeatedly claimed executive privilege, which allows a president to withhold certain information from Congress, the courts or the public, in response to congressional subpoenas served on officials in his administration.
Now Trump has advised his former aides not to testify before or provide documents to the committee. He claims that such cooperation would violate executive privilege. He has also asserted executive privilege to prevent the release of records pertaining to his administration from the National Archives, even though the Biden administration has said that it does not object to the release of the information.
The law is less than clear about whether a former president can successfully claim executive privilege in the face of a congressional subpoena. The executive and legislative branches have historically preferred to avoid such confrontations and to negotiate the sharing of information.
As a result, federal courts have yet to determine the extent of the executive privilege retained by former presidents and when they can assert it.
Trump has extensively claimed executive privilege to cover not only matters of whether he himself can be forced to give evidence but also whether his former aides have to. In Bannon's case it is even more curious as he didn't work in the White House during the period in which the Jan. 6 committee is investigating.
Little support for claim
The resistance to the Jan. 6 subpoenas could lead the courts to revisit issues over executive privilege that have not been considered for 40 years.
In a 1977 decision, the Supreme Court held that former President Richard Nixon could claim executive privilege in challenging a federal law known as the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act. That law ensured government agencies and, ultimately, the public could have access to certain documents and tape recordings made during Nixon's presidency. Although the court allowed Nixon to make the executive privilege claim, it ultimately ruled against him and upheld the law, noting that the lack of support for Nixon's claim by other presidents weakened his arguments for executive privilege.
Trump would not have a stronger claim. President Biden has already signaled that he will not support Trump's assertion of executive privilege in an attempt to prevent disclosure of testimony or documents relating to the Jan. 6 attack. In fact, Biden's rejection of Trump's request to block the release of around 50 documents to keep them from being entered into evidence led Trump to formally claim that executive privilege should prevent their disclosure.
As to Trump's former aides, the Department of Justice has already informed Trump administration witnesses that it does not support any assertions of executive privilege on matters relating to efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Legal battles ahead?
In light of the Nixon case and the positions taken by the Biden administration, former Trump officials may face an uphill battle in arguing for executive privilege.
Meadows and Patel are in negotiations with the panel and may be trying to avoid further confrontation over the issue.
In the case of Bannon, the Jan. 6 committee's chair has said the panel will pursue criminal charges, with a vote expected to take place the week of Oct. 18.
This action shows a desire by the committee to flex its considerable power in requesting information, even if that means engaging in a protracted legal battle with the former administration.
And if Bannon and other former Trump aides continue to resist, the courts may have to step in.
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October 15, 2021
Joe, thanks for your column.
I've just moved to a new area, and by the looks of the yard signs around here I'm guessing it's pretty "red" overall.
Since I'm a democratic socialist, but also a person who wants to respect others and build bridges, my outreach idea with the neighbors was to go with the classic "bring a baked good to their house and introduce myself" thing. From there, I was just going to focus on common values if polarized topics come up, and hope for the best.
Do you see a more proactive approach? Or got any ideas for bridge building when the relationship is brand new?
Hello New-to-Rural B.,
Thanks for your letter. And thanks for sharing your strategy for introducing yourself to your neighbors. I think you have a pretty good proactive approach that certainly starts the process of building relationships with your neighbors — especially if you go with homemade baked goods! ☺
Honestly, that could be the end of my response and advice based on the information you have presented. Remember the days when a pie and a pleasant "hello" really was enough to proactively build the foundation for an amical, neighborly relationship?
But I am going to assume, based on the questions that you ask, that you are anticipating a problem with your neighbors. I often find that if you are looking for a problem, you will find a problem. Perhaps focus on relationship building, and wait on bridge building until that circumstance presents itself? Bottom line: Build trust.
From a neuroscience lens, while you will all be exchanging niceties with smiles, small talk and pie, the fight-flight-freeze survival part of their brain will be sensing on a non-verbal, unconscious level the vibe and attitude you are giving off — detecting if you are "safe" or not. Why? I would imagine that the most important priority for measuring someone new to the neighborhood is not who they voted for, but if they will feel safe in their home with you nearby. Remember, you are the "outsider" and the one who could be perceived as different.
If you are open and inviting, that part of their brain will register that you are "safe," setting up a deeper opportunity for a friendly relationship based on trust, and making the difficult conversations that may come in the future less reactive and easier to navigate. Imagine how the relationship will unfold if you step into the first engagement with them with any sense of opposition or righteous judgment. That would lock in an unconscious feeling that you are "unsafe." This feeling will be very difficult to alter moving forward.
It sounds like you haven't met your neighbors yet and you are basing your viewpoints of them on their yard signs. Perhaps the proactive strategy is to get to know them before you draw your conclusions, and give them the benefit of the doubt. From the perspective of Fierce Civility, the problem begins the moment you give yourself only two options in any given situation and then, unnecessarily, pit those two options against each other — like red and blue. Remember that in most elections, there are really only two choices, even though the viewpoints and beliefs of members of one political party may perhaps need 12 candidates to cover the spectrum of where they all stand politically. In other words, there are many shades of red and blue.
We are all more than who we vote for and our political beliefs. Think of the multitude of ways you can engage and find common ground with your neighbors. Your instinct is a healthy one — base your relationship on common values. However, instead of stating your values, simply "be" them. Initiating contact and bringing a gift already says a lot about who you are and what you value most! Perhaps, for this first encounter, let that be enough, and continue to come up with ways in the future to demonstrate your values.
I share over and over again that the No. 1 priority of our time is to seek out and build alliances in surprising places. The more we engage with those who hold different views, the quicker we soften the rigidity of the current state of extreme polarization. By moving to a new area with many of "them," you have set yourself up for doing the noble work of our time, whether you like it or not.
Stay courageous and generous,
"Ask Joe" is dedicated to exploring the best ways to transform tensions and bridge divides. Our resident advice columnist and conflict resolution specialist, Joe Weston, is here to answer your questions in order to resolve tension, polarization, or conflict.
To Ask Joe, please submit questions to: AskJoe@Fulcrum.us.
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October 15, 2021
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Alper is the founder of Common Sense Strategies Group and a political strategist focusing on democracy and government reform.
The eyes of the political world were locked in when the candidates for governor of Virginia stepped on the stage for a debate on Sept. 28. With the race between Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe tightening, the table was set for a dramatic, head-to-head affair. However, by debate's end, the showstopper unexpectedly was another candidate for governor: Princess Blanding.
Like her Democrat and Republican opponents, Blanding has secured a place on the November ballot. Running under the banner of the Liberation Party that she created, she will make history as the first Black woman to appear on the state's gubernatorial ballot. And yet, despite sharing a place on the ballot with Youngkin and McAuliffe, there was no such place for her on the stage. Rather than meekly accepting the refusal of debate organizers to leave her out of the — she was instead offered a placatory seat in the audience with the hopes she would sit quietly and watch her opponents participate — she protested her exclusion, claiming she had earned the right to be on the stage, and that explicitly leaving her on the sidelines was a form of censorship and voter suppression. Moderator Chuck Todd responded by calling security, who promptly removed Blanding from the venue.
Blanding is right to protest her censorship. Instead of being chucked out of the audience, she should have been on the stage in the first place.
Despite voter discrimination and suppression becoming a national issue that has been used by the two major parties to assail each other and rile up their political bases. In reality, the duopolistic system they have created and fought to maintain is designed to disenfranchise the largest coalition of voters in the country: independent and third-party voters. According to the most recent Gallup polling, 40 percent of registered voters self-identify as unaffiliated from either major party. By creating an election system designed to discourage and disadvantage independent candidates, the parties have left millions of politically homeless voters without a representative voice.
The parties have gotten creative with their tactics to keep independent candidates out of the process. Ballot access requirements, such as pay-to-play fees or petition signatures, are often dramatically higher for independent and third-party candidates and frequently result in candidates getting locked out of the general election.
Even when independent candidates manage to get on the ballot, they are forced to play catch-up in what is already an uphill battle. In states that hold partisan primaries, winning candidates transition into the general election with formidable resources and press exposure already banked, while independents must generate that momentum from scratch. Excluding independents from polls and debates is a tactic designed to keep such candidates on the sidelines, out of sight of the voters.
Even public election financing, long championed by reformers as a critical effort to reduce the influence of big money in our elections, discriminates against independent and third-party candidates. In New York City for example, candidates who participate in closed primary elections receive public funds for the primary and general elections, whereas independents who qualify are only eligible to receive general election grants, ensuring they will face a 2:1 spending deficit.
Instituting nonpartisan primary elections, standardizing ballot access and public financing rules, and mandating the inclusion of all general election candidates in public debates are all simple steps that can be taken to end the discrimination against candidates who have the audacity to run outside of the two parties, leveling the playing field for all candidates regardless of party affiliation.
These critical reforms must be made to achieve a democracy that is more healthy, equitable and representative of the American people.
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October 14, 2021
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The 2020 election not only saw a significant increase in youth voter turnout, but also prompted more young people to become active in social movements. However, continued growth will require additional support in the form of resources and collaboration, researchers found.
Half of people under 30 voted in last year's election — up from 39 percent in 2016, according to research from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. And more than a quarter of Americans ages 18-24 reported participating in at least one march or protest last year — a big jump from just 5 percent of young people in 2016.
The rise in both youth activism and youth voter turnout in 2020 led CIRCLE researchers to examine how the two trends connect. They found that young people who participated in social movement organizations gained more knowledge about the electoral process and voting rights.
For the first part of its research, which was mostly qualitative, CIRCLE identified and studied five social movement organizations, focused on climate change and gun violence issues, that were geographically and racially diverse: Sunrise Movement, Youth Climate Action Team, March for Our Lives, GoodKids MadCity and Palmetto Youth Movement.
Although some of the people involved in these groups believe that voting alone is not sufficient to effect change, they do largely agree that voting is extremely important.
More than half of people who participated in these organizations said they learned a lot about how government elections affect their community, how to impact government policy and how to educate voters. A majority of young people also reported they learned a lot or a moderate amount about voting rights, how to get involved in local elections, how to help others register to vote and how to persuade people to vote.
While young people became more civically engaged last year, they also faced a number of challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic and a national reckoning on racial injustice.
"Amidst these reiterative crises of health, social isolation, economic downturn and systemic racism, the young people in our study displayed outstanding resilience, mobilizing quickly to meet the needs of their communities and developing new solidarity practices," the CIRCLE researchers wrote in the report, released last week.
However, despite their resiliency, young activists still reported high rates of burnout, limited funding and complexities in organizational structure. To mitigate these issues, CIRCLE researchers offered several recommendations to voter engagement groups led by older people, funders and other organizations that collaborate with young people.
For voter engagement organizations, researchers recommended continuing collaborations with youth-led groups and amplifying their work, while also exploring new partnerships. Funders are encouraged to make more long-term investments to help with sustainability. And other organizations should look for ways to integrate "get out the vote" efforts with other issues, as well as offer leadership development opportunities for young people.
The second part of CIRCLE's study used quantitative analyses to show the links between youth voter turnout and youth activism. Researchers found a sizable increase in protest participation during Donald Trump's presidency, with a sharp spike in 2018. However, protest accessibility was not the same across the country. Young people in the Deep South and Great Plains had to drive on average more than 75 miles to the nearest in-person protest.
Simply having a protest did not have a measurable effect on voter registration, researchers found. Places where there were more protests about climate change did see modestly high rates of youth voter registration, though.
However, following the killing of George Floyd by police and the nationwide protests that ensued, voter registration among 18- and 19-year-olds saw a modest, but significant uptick.
To better tap into protests as a means for getting young people to the polls, CIRCLE researchers recommend organizers facilitate voter registration efforts and follow up with participants about voting in upcoming elections. Researchers also noted that many young activists may already be likely to vote, so organizers should partner with schools to target individuals who are less engaged with politics.
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October 14, 2021
October 14, 2021
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Anderson edited "Leveraging: A Political, Economic and Societal Framework" (Springer, 2014), has taught at five universities and ran for the Democratic nomination for a Maryland congressional seat in 2016.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has rejected the idea of meeting one on one with Sen. Joe Manchin to try to resolve their differences over President Biden's $3.5 trillion proposed social services bill. When asked about it last week, Sanders said, "This is not a movie." On the other side, Manchin has not said if he supports the idea. Moreover, President Biden said, jokingly, such a meeting would lead to "homicide."
The current stalemate within the Democratic Party is not primarily a fight between the chairman of the Budget Committee (Sanders) and the centrist (some would say conservative) Democratic linchpin (Manchin). Whoever suggested these two men be put in a room to resolve their conflict may have been thinking about a movie about the 1950s or 1850s.
The reality of this historical drama is that the conflict is not only within the Senate or even centered around the Senate. After all, it was the House Progressive Caucus led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal and members like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who refused to vote in favor of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill until the Senate Democrats, notably Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, supported the $3.5 trillion social services bill.
Even if Sanders and Manchin agreed to a figure, even one as high as $2.75 trillion, that doesn't mean Jayapal and other House progressives would be satisfied — or that Sinema would either.
In short, the conflict is not focused on two powerful men or the Senate. It also concerns powerful women, and it also concerns the House. The very idea that this is a two-man Senate fight is really absurd. Speaker Nancy Pelosi herself is thoroughly immersed in the conflict within her full House Democratic Caucus. If anything, it is the House Progressive Caucus, led by women, that has emerged as the major force in this two-chamber, progressive vs. centrist battle.
Moreover, the idea of putting Sanders and Manchin in a room together, at this stage, is stupid. While it would most likely not lead to homicide, it would probably be a nasty, brutal, loud discussion.
Last week I argued in The Baltimore Sun that House and Senate leaders needed to get together, at Biden's invitation, at Camp David. Indeed, I wrote that Manchin and Ocasio-Cortez needed to "talk under the trees" and be "in nature" outside of Washington. I was not joking. They had a terrible exchange via the media a few weeks ago. It is time for them to meet face to face in an unthreatening environment.
Sanders' outburst reinforces my belief that powerful men and women from both chambers need to join Biden not for a conference table meeting in D.C. but for less structured, more personal interactions ranging from taking a walk to playing shuffleboard.
Do the precise opposite of one-on-one meetings or traditional meetings with two camps represented. Many of the players barely know each other, if they know one another at all. I also argued that the bills in question are not Biden's bills but legislation actually owned by both chambers and the president. And I said make them for five years, not 10. To be sure, the details have to be worked out.
This is 2021 not 1950 or 1850. It's not an old boys' club matter, and there is not going to be a duel. But this drama has a good ending if all parties involved remember that our democracy, thanks to the other party, is on the verge of disintegration. The men and women in powerful positions need to leave their unwillingness to compromise in Washington and head off to Camp David and make the country proud.
It falls on President Biden to issue the invitations.
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October 13, 2021
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Coalition building is the bread and butter of the democracy reform movement. Working together helps organizations expand their reach and grow momentum for change.
A recent example of this collaborative nature is the merger, announced Tuesday, between Civic Nation, a civic engagement nonprofit, and We The Action, a community of more than 41,000 lawyers who offer pro bono services to address issues that include voting rights, racial justice and immigration.
Civic Nation houses several initiatives started during the Obama administration or by Barack and Michelle Obama themselves after they left the White House. We The Action will join the nonprofit as its seventh venture, alongside initiatives like It's On Us and When We All Vote.
"Civic Nation continues to grow and we are excited to welcome We The Action into the fold," said Civic Nation CEO Kyle Lierman. "We look forward to engaging their community of lawyers to continue to protect voting rights, advance gender equity, combat the Covid-19 pandemic and respond to crises wherever they arise."
Other recent mergers within the democracy reform community include End Citizens United and Let America Vote, Make America Dinner Again and Living Room Conversation, and the Bridge Alliance and The Fulcrum.
Collaboration has been integral to Pearce Godwin's work with the Listen First Project, which aims to bring people together across differences. When first starting the organization in 2013, Godwin said his "instinct was to see if we can have a greater impact by working together, by collaborating to reach farther and impact greater than any one of us could alone."
The Listen First Project has now grown its bridging divides coalition to more than 350 organizations across the country. Their collaborations consist of "all hands on deck" national efforts and smaller, more focused initiatives in local communities.
A newcomer to the Listen First Coalition is The Great Reset, a nonprofit that encourages civil conversations around divisive issues, such as health care, immigration and racial inequality. The Great Reset started two years ago with a simple gathering of people around Kalinda Fisher's dining table in Nashville, Tenn., and from there it has grown to establish community roundtables in 26 states and 10 countries.
Joining the Listen First Coalition has been beneficial for a small nonprofit like The Great Reset, Fisher said, because she can connect with other organizations and learn from them, rather than "reinventing the wheel" herself.
"I was simply thrilled to connect to other organizations that are working to empower others to have conversations and civil dialogue," Fisher said. "It's not about any one of us getting bigger and better and faster and further, it's about all of us doing well. And so that collaboration, to me, is imperative."
At a time when there are dire threats to American democracy and Congress is mired by partisan dysfunction, the only way to find real solutions is by "mobilizing we the people," said Carolyn Lukensmeyer, former executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and founder of AmericaSpeaks.
A vast majority of Americans know about these issues and they want to do something about it, but they may not have the tools to do so or know how to get involved, Lukensmeyer said. As a result, over the last several years, there's been an explosion of groups dedicated to strengthening American democracy and building collaboration from the community level to a national scale.
"Now more than ever in the 30 years that I've been doing this work, it is a time where collaboration is both needed and more possible," Lukensmeyer said.
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October 13, 2021
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Connor is the founder of Bunker Labs and the Collective Academy and the chief executive officer of Veterans for Political Innovation.
Nearly half of all U.S. veterans are independent or "unaffiliated" voters. Following a recent change in Maine, 13 states now use closed primaries, where independents are excluded from participating in publicly funded primary elections. Other states severely limit the participation of unaffiliated voters. Congress has a dismal approval rating, consistently in the 15 percent to 25 percent range, and yet 95 percent of members are re-elected. And, because of uncompetitive districts, in 2020, only 10 percent of eligible voters elected 83 percent of our Congress.
The primary election has become the primary problem in this country. What does it say about a country where the very women and men who don our nation's uniforms and fight for our nation's interests are among those whose participation in our political process is so structurally limited?
The system is not working. Or, rather, it's working as designed, just not working for us — the citizens. You do not need to be an independent, a Republican or a Democrat to understand the fundamental design flaws in a system that continues to produce terrible outcomes: partisan gridlock, misguided priorities and dangerous dysfunction. When people don't see a path for their voice to be heard and well-represented, they will seek extra-political means — a very dangerous place for any country to be.
I recall a tax professor in business school explaining, simply, that complicated tax structures benefit the rich because they have the resources to exploit such a system. In this country, overly complicated closed primary elections, and built-in anti-competitive political structures, limit choices while benefiting the incumbents and insiders. But it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, it isn't this way in many other countries, a few states and several cities.
One powerful solution is called final-five voting, which combines an open (single-ballot) primary election, where the top five candidates advance (regardless of party), with a general election that uses ranked-choice voting to pick a majority winner. Final-five voting gives voters more choices, has candidates competing for ideas and things (instead of throwing fear and outrage against one singular opponent), and creates healthy competition and a fresh marketplace of ideas. In a final-five election system, fears of spoiler candidates and wasted votes go away. The structural incentives that reward extreme behavior, while preventing broader, consensus-based candidates from stepping forward, go away. Negative campaigning goes away. Final-five voting doesn't change who wins, per se, but it changes how you win. And that, it turns out, makes all the difference in the world.
We've been exhausted working within the current system: frantic fundraising emails, fear over what bad actors who only narrowly appeal to a very small, ideological primary election constituency will do, and never feeling like we are ever voting for candidates, but just voting against those we view as more dangerous. We wouldn't accept these conditions when shopping for cars, restaurants or ketchup at the grocery store, and we sure as heck should not accept them in our political process.
Final-five voting is informed and inspired by the ground-breaking work of Katherine Gehl and Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter as a solution to recreate healthy competition, once again, in our elections. There is a bill in Wisconsin that has garnered support from over 20 elected officials, of both parties, who recognize we cannot continue our dangerous polarization death-spiral. A recent statewide poll found that 84 percent of Wisconsin voters believe Washington is broken. We need solutions, and with final-five voting they've found a great one.
Indeed, six southern states use ranked-choice voting for their overseas and military ballots. This incredible, common-sense innovation prevents thousands of wasted ballots. If ranked-choice voting is good enough for our military abroad, then ranked-choice should be good enough for all of us here at home.
Veterans for Political Innovation will bring veterans to this political fight, not as partisan actors but as patriots who fear the continued degradation of our democracy and who want to see citizens' power returned. It can happen. I think it will happen, if we do the work and implement these election innovations. In some states these election innovations can happen though the state legislature enacting new laws. In other states these reforms can happen by citizen ballot initiative. This could be, as other eras in American history have been, a golden age of innovation, the age in which competition is restored, extreme voices are quieted, and elections focus on, once again, what you're excited about and not just what you're scared of. It's up to us. I know where I stand.
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October 13, 2021
Barbara Thomas is a lifelong liberal. Rick Hotchner is a committed conservative. As a couple, they are one of a dwindling number of politically mixed marriages between Democrats and Republicans in America. On this episode of the Braver Angels podcast, they discuss their enduring relationship as a model for our divided country.
Coyle is a retired minister who writes about the intersections of faith, culture and politics. She is the author of "Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God's Story of Love and Grace."
Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister, theologian, author, speaker and persistent advocate for social justice. I so appreciate her affirmation of something I believe deeply: there is an overwhelming number of us humans who live our lives with kindness, fairness and compassion. There are more of "us" than there are of "them."
In all my years of traveling around the world, one thing has been present in every region, everywhere. One thing has stood out and convinced me of the certain triumph of the great human gamble on equality and justice.
Everywhere there are people who, despite finding themselves mired in periods of national [disruption] or personal marginalization refuse to give up the thought of a better future or give in to the allurements of a deteriorating present. They never lose hope that the values they learned in the best of times or the courage it takes to reclaim their world from the worst of times are worth the commitment of their lives.
These people, the best of ourselves, are legion and they are everywhere.
I really do believe this along with Sister Joan but, at the same time, I often doubt this truth because of the way our newsfeeds abound with the other kinds of stories: revelations of greed and corruption, incidences of violence and intimidation, reminders of arrogance and petulance.
Too many of our fellow humans in too many places across history and around the globe have bent justice into injustice. Too many twisters of truth justify their willful ignorance and live in alternative realities in which down is up, dark is light, wrong is right.
This bending and twisting is nothing new. And it, too, is everywhere.
Please understand I am not talking about political party affiliation. Nor do I refer to religious differences or ethnic diversities. Those altogether too neat distinctions mislead us into unnecessary and unfruitful divisions. I do believe that – within the human family – there is more that unites us than divides us.
During these dark and stressful days, I will hold on to hope that compassion and kindness are more powerful than hate. I will keep on trusting that truth seekers outnumber deceivers. I will continue to believe that love cannot be thwarted and light cannot be extinguished.
I believe there are more of us. And I believe that "tomorrow there will be more of us" again. Sister Joan agrees:
It is the unwavering faith, the open hearts, and the piercing courage of people from every level of every society that carries us through every major social breakdown to the emergence again of the humanization of humanity. In every region, everywhere, they are the unsung but mighty voices of community, high-mindedness, and deep resolve.
They are the prophets of each era who prod the rest of the world into seeing newly what it means to be fully alive, personally, nationally, and spiritually . . .
The difficult challenge set before us is this: No matter the circumstances of the next week or the next few years, even if we do find ourselves "mired in periods of national [disruption] or personal marginalization," we too must persevere. Like other "unsung and mighty voices" that came before us – we too will speak truth, fight for justice, and live in love.
This is my path anyway. And I have no doubt I walk together with countless other prophets of hope. We are legion and we are everywhere. There are more of us.
Joan Chittister, The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage (Convergent: 2019), 5, 18, 27, 38.
"Tomorrow there will be more of us" poster cites words from the Hamilton musical. This phrase has become popular during the justice protests in the Summer of 2020.
A version of this article was first published at CharlotteVaughanCoyle.com.
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