War has had a terrible impact on children in Afghanistan.
After almost two decades of United States development efforts, with the hopes of helping the war-weary country take a path to stability and self-reliance, little has changed on the ground for children growing up today in Afghanistan. They are not safer. They do not have more rights. And they have never known peace.
The truth is, living conditions in the country may be worse than when the “peacemaking” started in 2001.
We often see numbers and figures about the country in various survey findings, human rights reports and corruption indexes. But what do these numbers mean to Afghans?
In 2017, 8,000 children were reported killed and hurt in conflicts from Syria and Yemen to Congo and Afghanistan. Afghan children account for more than 40 percent of the total. Casualties among Afghan children had increased by 24 percent in 2016.
Beyond the physical cost is the mental toll of war. Almost half of children between ages 7 and 17, or 3.7 million, do not attend school, and the rate of out-of-school children has increased to 2002 levels. Girls account for 60 percent of this number.
War has decimated the educational system in Afghanistan. Attacks on schools have risen, especially in conflict zones, which now are expanding. Operating schools in rural parts of Afghanistan face overwhelming challenges. Since the country has one of the lowest electricity usages in the world, students have limited access to basic in-class and out-of-classroom educational resources. These conditions make learning difficult, if not impossible.
On top of that, over the past few years as a “war on peace” began, child exploitation in Afghanistan has intensified. Children have been recruited and used in combat and to plant improvised explosive devices. Many human rights organizations have found children being detained on serious charges, including being Taliban fighters, would-be suicide bombers, bomb makers and alleged associates of armed groups. A lot of these children, still under the age of 18, are being held in a high-security prison for adults without due process.
Boys in a youth prison in Feyzabad, Afghanistan, that may hold national security suspects. (Agencja Fotograficzna Caro / Alamy Stock Photo)
Afghanistan has one of the youngest populations in the world. Almost half of the country’s 35 million people are under the age of 15. Despite all the promises for protecting children’s right and improving their lives, youth still remain the most tragic victims as the country rolls from one war to another.
The U.S. and international community are not helping with their spending in Afghanistan. Instead of funding war and creating limited results that make aid dependency greater,aid should focus on meeting the needs of children, the most affected and vulnerable population in Afghanistan.
Because of extreme poverty, an estimated quarter of all Afghan children work for a living. They endure long hours for little or no pay, and toil in labor-intensive industries, including carpet-weaving, brickmaking, mining, metalwork, and farming.
The hazards of war lead to other heartbreaking consequences. Sometimes, families must sell children for food.
Still, the war machine diverts attention away from the child rights crisis in Afghanistan. While the poor suffer, the rich keep getting richer.
It’s a familiar, sad story.
Anyone who cares about justice for all must stand up for the rights of children in Afghanistan and divest from the U.S. war machine that is funding this humanitarian crisis.
If we don’t, what hope for peace do any of us have?
This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Is Islamophobia as old as Islam itself? This may be a debatable proposition. But there is no doubt that modern-day extremism in Islam’s name and Islamophobia have been feeding on each other to a point that the latter today looks like a raging worldwide epidemic. Ordinary Muslims and their well-wishers are now challenged to think in novel ways of tackling the “othering” and demonizing of a global community of nearly two billion people. This is especially true as much in the U.S. under President Donald Trump as in present-day India, which has been under the hegemony of Hindu supremacists since 2014.
One such novel initiative against the hate-hurlers came from a Muslim woman, Mona Haydar, who, along with her husband, put up a stand offering coffee and doughnuts outside a library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in December 2015. On the two sides of the stand stood two tall signboards that read, “Ask a Muslim” and “Talk to a Muslim.” To passersby, Haydar offered free coffee and doughnuts plus an opportunity for conversation. At day’s end, she posted a happy message on Facebook that said: “We weren’t out there that long today but the take away was clear: Keep your heads held high, dear Muslim family ... There is an overwhelming amount of love and so remember this post when you are faced with bigotry and hatred towards you or your faith.”
In October 2017, a small volunteer group launched a monthly “Meet a Muslim” campaign in Kansas city on the premise that, “It’s harder to demonize someone or think they’re monolithic when you actually get to know them.”
In March this year, a hate-peddler from the UK sent out an anonymous letter to some homes and businesses and Muslim Members of Parliament in East London, the Midlands and Yorkshire asking people to observe April 3 as “Punish a Muslim Day.” The letter suggested that participants award themselves “points” by engaging themselves in activities ranging from removing a headscarf from a woman (25 points) to beating up some Muslim (500 points). In response came the “Love a Muslim” events organized in several cities across Britain on the suggested date. In the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, “Stand Up to Racism” held a protest demonstration. Simultaneous to “Love a Muslim” events, was launched another initiative, “Protect a Muslim.” Volunteers signed up under the initiative to walk people home, or to stay on the phone with anyone concerned about violence.
A spokesperson from the Metropolitan police in London later said: “These messages [Punish a Muslim] seek to cause fear and mistrust amongst our communities and to divide us. Yet in spite of this our communities have shown strength in their response to such hatred and in their support for each other.”
Some such initiative in response to hate politics was waiting to materialize in India, where Muslims have been the systematic target of right-wing Hindu extremists. Under the watch of self-proclaimed “Hindu Nationalist” Prime Minister Narendra Modi, lynch mobs have been killing and maiming Muslims (and sometimes Dalits) in the name of the Holy Cow. Even in metropolitan cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, Muslims today find it extremely difficult to rent or buy an apartment in a Hindu-predominant or a cosmopolitan neighborhood. As a result, even upper-class Muslims end up living in Muslim ghettos.
In April, a member of the extreme right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a sister organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, triggered a huge debate by putting out a tweet claiming he canceled his Ola cab ride because the driver was a Muslim. In June, a woman customer refused the services of a company executive because he happened to be a Muslim.
In journalist Swati Chaturvedi’s book I am a troll, published by Juggernaut in December 2016, she charges Prime Minister Narendra Modi with being a regular follower of hate-spewing internet trolls whose full-time occupation is Muslim-bashing: “What does it say about Modi? Why does my prime minister follow those who dish out rape and death threats to women and men alike as if it is no big deal?” The allegation has since been repeated by others. But Prime Minister Modi has yet to issue a denial.
“Muslims are in an unprecedented situation today,” writes Arshad Alam, in his column published on New Age Islam. He continues:
“There is so much Muslim talk these days but then there is no Muslim voice. Muslims are either spoken about or spoken over. The only Muslims who get a chance to speak are the sponsored ones: made for TV mullahs. They speak on an agenda which is pre-configured to otherise and demonise Muslims. If this cacophony of silence needs to be broken, it must be done by Muslims themselves. There is no need to wait for others to speak up. True this loneliness is killing, but silence around the issue will only allow this loneliness to rip apart our very souls.”
What was waiting to happen in India happened in mid-July when, taking a cue from the West, a small group of Muslims and their friends launched a campaign on Twitter with the hashtag #TalkToAMuslim. The celebrity status of some members of the group ensured that the tweets went viral, with hundreds of followers re-tweeting the message.
Model and actress Gauahar Khan on July 17 tweeted:
“#TalkToAMuslim seriously didn’t think a day would come where talking to a muslim leader or a commoner would question ur patriotism or ur belief in ur own faith!!by land I am a Hindu, by faith I am a Muslim and by heart n soul INDIAN is my identity!!! #killThehate #spreadlove”Khan was referring to the BJP describing the Congress Party as a “party of Muslims.” How and why? Because a few days earlier, party president Rahul Gandhi had invited a group of Muslim intellectuals for an informal meeting. Gandhi’s response to the BJP was a tweet: “I stand with the last person in the line. The exploited, marginalised and the persecuted. Their religion, caste or beliefs matter little to me. I seek out those in pain and embrace them. I erase hatred and fear. I love all living beings. I am the Congress.”
Delhi-based writer Zainab Sikander tweeted: “I’m An Indian Muslim. I’m Human too. You can talk to me. #TalkToAMuslim.” One news portal reported that Sikander’s tweet was re-tweeted 7,000 times in just three hours: “Thousands of people including Muslims, Hindus, Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities took part in the social media campaign that was aimed to highlight the growing anti-Muslim sentiments in India,” the report said.
Popular Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar, who is not a Muslim, re-tweeted Gauahar Khan’s tweet, stating: “#India comes in all creeds, and from all beliefs. India stands for love and peace. #TalkToAMuslim.”
Not every Indian, however, thought well of the campaign. Those critical of it included some Muslims and secular-minded non-Muslims who hold no prejudice against the community. Omair Ahmad, a Muslim, tweeted: “If you think you need to #TalkToAMuslim, don’t come near me. If you can’t see another human being without seeing their ‘identity’ (race, caste, gender, whatever), you are the problem.”
The campaign is “ridiculous,” commented actor Anupam Kher. “I have come from a family who never told me that they are another religion. We have respected all religions and that (#TalkToAMuslim) is a ridiculous campaign.”
But the initiators of the campaign stood their ground. Among them is Ansab Amir Khan, an engineering student from Aligarh Muslim University (a minority educational institution in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh) who is credited as being among the first to conceive the campaign. Khan said:
“Many of our wellwishers claim we are not propagating a vision of a secular and free nation, for both majorities and minorities (through #TalkToAMuslim). However, the other-isation, the villain-isation, and the ghettoisation of the minorities had been so rampant that purposely asking for an innately natural act as a sort of last resort seemed the best way to make people realise how low the current regime has made our nation fall—as a democracy, and as a society.”
To this, Tarushikha Sarvesh, an assistant professor at the Centre for Women’s Studies at the same Aligarh Muslim University, added:
“You realise it (the gap) exists on the ground when your domestic help, who belongs to the Paasi community [a ‘low-caste’ in India’s caste hierarchy], expresses her apprehension about sharing space with Muslims and feels good that their settlements are not close to her basti. You know it exists on the ground when people want their domestic help to change their names before hiring them. The perception that Muslims ‘produce more children’ and are violent by nature is commonplace. The everyday-ness and disturbing normalcy of this reality is realised when you talk to people with an intention of actually listening to them.”
With the continuing war of words on social media, the debate for and against the campaign was soon picked up by India’s leading newspapers. The writers expressed their views without being limited by Twitter’s word limit, and deserve reproduction in some detail.
“This is no way to talk. #TalkToAMuslim campaign is patronising, reinforces community stereotypes,” writes Anasua Chatterjee, who teaches sociology at Delhi’s elite women’s college, Miranda House, in the Indian Express:
“The politics of ‘othering,’ which began with Partition, has only gained in momentum with the rise of Hindutva forces. It has worked its way towards a perceived Hindu unity by relentlessly casting Muslims as the diametrical other of the authentic Hindu self. The compelling power of this construct lies in the fact that despite the countless instances of personal friendships, the Muslim continues to remain the ultimate enemy in the average Hindu psyche. Any intervention to dislodge an idea as entrenched as this needs to organise itself very carefully and at different levels. Inexpedient social media campaigns could potentially cause more harm than good towards that end.”
To this came a response from Mohd Asim, a Delhi-based journalist who began his piece as follows:
“I am a Muslim Indian, and I am not the problem. All around I see a siege being laid for the Muslims of this country. Government, TV media, social media—everywhere there is a cacophony around the Muslims.
“This cacophony is the problem. I am not the problem.
“Hate is being mainstreamed by the very people responsible to maintain harmony, to bridge divides.
“This hate is the problem. I am not the problem.”
The highly evocative piece ends with the words: “My dear countrymen, talk to me. Don’t let some loonies define me for you. Let’s talk. Let’s cut through the cacophony of hate that has surrounded us. Let’s start a dialogue. #TalktoAMuslim.”
In a strong endorsement of Asim’s views, the Indian Express published a third article, this one was written by Nazia Erum, author of the book, Mothering a Muslim. Commented Erum:
“The hashtag is under immense derision for placing religion before any other form of identity. What would have been a healthier vocabulary? Talk to a human? Talk to an Indian? Talk to a friend? Let’s face it—all are feeble attempts to shy away from what needs to be said—talk to a Muslim, because: One, it is Muslims who are being made political scapegoats by unscrupulous political leaders and unashamed news anchors. Two, the caricatured Muslim identity rubbed in your face and brainwashed into your psyche through 24/7 television is not what the very diverse Muslim community is like. Three, religiously marked ghettos are increasingly the reality of India. This is not an overnight phenomenon but a slow process of otherisation of Muslims adopted by the Congress and maximised by the BJP. It first distanced physically, then alienated mentally and is now demonising emotionally. Four, it’s not in our hands that bracketing ‘us vs them’ narratives have successfully eclipsed social media conversations. It is also an understated truth of the conversations taking place in our drawing rooms, casual remarks of extended families and in our classrooms. The hashtag reflects this reality. Naming it, acknowledging it is vital to stop it from being normalised.”
The last word on the subject is perhaps yet to be written.
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.
We’re in the midst of an unprecedented social, political and environmental crisis that will require us to change everything. Including the one thing we won’t discuss: war.
War is the weaponization of discrimination, classism and misogyny. So why are so few women talking about it?
We talk about #MeToo and the first time (or worst time) it happened to us. We put on our pussyhats and resist and persist and insist. But the resistance that rose up in opposition to the Trump administration does not resist war, and anti-war messaging is still missing from the Women’s March. While virtually every women’s television talk show and radio program in the country now talks about politics on a daily basis, they’re still not talking about the politics of war. We’ve been told that war isn’t our concern. That was a lie, ladies. Foreign policy is a feminist issue.
Want more money for health care, jobs and education? More than two-thirds of federal spending is defense-related. Let’s check that checkbook first.
Domestic abuse your cause? Let’s talk about how wives of combat vets with PTSD are more likely to be killed by their spouses than any other demographic. Or how traumatized combat vets are responsible for 21 percent of domestic violence nationwide, according to a Yale study.
Got a problem with gun violence and assault weapons in schools? Let’s discuss the way weapons of war are coming home and how many United States gun manufacturers are also military contractors.
Concerned about climate change? The U.S. military uses more fossil fuels than the majority of nations, and the billions of dollars wasted on the Iraq war could have converted the whole planet to green energy.
Women are leading the way to protect our water and create a mass climate mobilization that responds to our ecological crisis like the existential emergency it is. Why then are we still so silent about how the war on women is the war on the world? Why so silent about America’s de facto foreign policy of using armed force to safeguard the capitalism that is destabilizing the climate? Why so silent about the fact that women—particularly women of color, women living in poverty and marginalized women—disproportionately bear the burden of war and the violence it begets?
When #WomenDisobey and righteously demand an end to putting immigrant children in detention centers, we also should demand an end to military contractors like General Dynamics and MVM, Inc., which are profiting from those centers. And making money on the misery this country creates for children overseas.
Dateline: America, 2018. All roads lead to war.
We can talk about intersectionality and proclaim "gender justice is racial justice is economic justice," as Women’s March organizers did in their powerful Unity Principles. But economic justice is a fiscal impossibility when defense-related spending accounts for slightly more than two-thirds of the national budget. This country puts more money into the military than the next 10 nations combined while tens of millions of women and children living in poverty struggle to survive. In fact, war spending makes social inequality worse, according to a June 2018 report by the Costs of War project at Brown University. An analysis of past and present wars since 1812 "suggests that the current combination of domestic borrowing to pay for war, accompanied by continuous tax cuts, have led and will continue to lead to rising social inequality in the US."
There will be no justice without peace.
Legitimate racial justice cannot be achieved while we are bombing brown people abroad and up-armoring a militarized police force that too often puts bullets in black Americans.
For as long as men are making the decisions about war and women are bearing the brunt on the war front and the burden on the home front, we will not realize gender justice. We won’t get there until we have a foreign policy that is feminist, too.
A feminist foreign policy would hold the long-term prevention of violence and armed conflict as its main goal. According to Professor Jacqui True, author of "The Political Economy of Violence Against Women," that policy would identify and address economic inequality and other "underlying gendered globalized structures … that contribute to violence and conflict." That policy "must link demilitarization and disarmament to investment in people-centered development and justice."
Feminist foreign policy is the worldwide integration of the Unity Principles and the paradigm for a peace where justice can be born. It is the ideological foundation to build a movement to divest from the war machine. Because a feminist foreign policy is not just about the common good—it’s about the global good. It is capable of deconstructing the baseline of violence upon which this nation was founded, violence that is holding us and much of the world hostage to a white patriarchal consumer culture funded and fueled by an extractive war economy.
The feminine force rising around the world has had enough of that.
So, ladies, let’s end our silence about America’s endless wars, and start talking about peace as if justice depends on it. Because it does. The thing we’ve been avoiding is the one thing—perhaps the only thing—that will change everything.
This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Traveling through my hometown in North Carolina in the days after the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., I ran into an old friend getting a drink at a bar I used to frequent. He was there with a colleague of his—a fellow high school teacher. The conversation turned to politics pretty quickly, and the friend, B., adamantly put forth the notion that there was nothing to be done except wait out the next four awful years. Look at the numbers in Congress, he said. Look at the Supreme Court. We’re all fucked.
For those of us who checked out after Obama was elected, it can be tempting to do the same now. This, too, is something I fear—that progressives will once again be pushed back on our heels, responding to those in power with, at worst, our heads in the sand, and at best, a robust “no.” Too often in this process of saying no, we lose sight of—and energy for—the work of making demands, recognizing our own power, insisting on the reality we live in, and the reality we must work toward.
B. and I began to hash it out. In his mind, he was being realistic, practical, pragmatic. From my perspective, he was being profoundly cynical, and making an argument that flew in the face of history. What about the millions of people around the world who took to the streets on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration? What about the ever-leftward-moving views of Americans—particularly among the younger generation that would soon be of voting age? What about the growth of progressive movements over the past decade, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the civil rights era?
The majority of us inhabit a reality that exists parallel to Trump’s. I told B. that if we buy into the cynicism that there is nothing to be done, we lose sight of the world we already live in. We let the Roves and Trumps of the world dictate reality. After decades of progressive momentum, we’ve reached an important juncture where we either surrender our narrative, our reality, to those in power, or hold fast and push forward. To choose now as the moment in which we give in to cynicism and say, What’s the point?, is to throw into the fire the history books of a future generation—the ones that might tell the story of how Americans seized democracy from the clutches of an elite handful of cynical, opportunistic oligarchs.
The stakes have never been higher: Every day brings new initiatives aimed at turning back the clock, consolidating wealth in the hands of the 1 percent, slashing access to medical care and education, removing protections for the most marginalized among us. Many of us are experiencing a shift in our perception of time because of the intensity and trauma of a leadership that shocks us daily—a single day can feel like a week, a week can feel like a month. News curation projects like “What the Fuck Just Happened Today”—an email digest, billing itself as “[t]oday’s essential guide to the daily shock and awe in national politics”—have cropped up in direct response to the barrage of Trump-related headlines emerging every day.
There are now countless opportunities for action, but that also means more opportunities to feel hopeless and disempowered. If we don’t reframe our relationship to our own power and recognize the vital role we must play now, we sacrifice our current challenging reality to one that may become unsurvivable.
Now is the time for us to set the terms of the conversation, to push back with the reality we insist on.
About an hour and a couple of drinks later, B. was still unconvinced and I was still deeply frustrated. It seemed to me that he was funneling energy that could be used to fight for the reality he wanted into defending his choice to not do anything. He was weaving a narrative about how powerless we were, one that echoed Rove’s infamous quote perfectly: “We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
This is why the cynical narrative is so dangerous: it can be much easier to believe there’s nothing we can do. Hope and action are dangerous things—they speak of time, effort, investment, of giving a shit, of potential failure. For too long, hope has been associated with a kind of humorless, dewy-eyed naïveté. But look back on the civil rights era: Who would argue that those fighting to end Jim Crow laws were naive? Hope is only naive when it’s divorced from action and investment. With those forces in play, it becomes a revolutionary muscle.
Hope is the thing that makes us try, that makes us human, that makes us consciously evolve. It is what sustains long-term vision—something many of us too easily relinquish in the face of opposition. As LGBTQ activist Rea Carey entreated in the wake of Trump’s election: “Just take a few seconds and imagine a world where we are truly free, where you are truly free. What will that feel like?”
Without a vision to fight for, we relegate ourselves to a paralyzing narrative that serves as a straitjacket for the majority of Americans. At best, that narrative keeps us bound by inequality; at worst, it kills us. Hope is about staying in the fight, it’s about survival. Understood in this light, we realize that hope is not some indulgence, it is practical and pragmatic. In short: There is no other option.
Two days after our conversation, I received a message from B., referencing an interview I had recently published at Rolling Stone about the history and power of protest: “Our conversation has been on my mind, and after reading your article I see how deeply engaged you are in trying to take positive action during this dreary time. I’m really trying to rally, and felt more than a touch ashamed of my wearying cynicism. So, for what it’s worth, thank you.” It was a message I did not expect, and it was one that encouraged me to dig further, to examine the narratives that have led me and so many others to count ourselves out or sit on the sidelines.
One day recently in Brooklyn, a man boarded my subway train and let loose an impassioned and bigoted tirade. My fellow New Yorkers did their job of ignoring him admirably, but he didn’t keep up his end of the bargain, which was to move on after a few stops and pester the next car down.
After 15 minutes straight of his proselytizing, some passengers told him to shut up. He wouldn’t. Some tried reasoning with him. But here’s the thing about narcissistic ideologues: They don’t respond to logic, or dissuasion in the name of facts or reason. We could fact-check him all day and night, but he wasn’t playing by the rules of the game.
In that moment, I wrestled with a familiar feeling of resignation and powerlessness. I closed my eyes in the stuffy train and thought to myself: It’ll be over soon. But I was tired of allowing the loudest and most bombastic among us to take control by default.
I decided that if the man would not shut up, the only way to improve the situation would be to make it so we no longer had to listen to him. I told him that if he wouldn’t stop talking, I would start singing so that I’d no longer have to hear him.
He kept talking. So I sang.
The first round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” was shaky and a little off-key. It was all I could muster. But a few people joined in the next round, and by the third, everyone on the train was singing robustly—including a couple kids in strollers who clapped their hands in glee. The proselytizer tried to get loud, but we got louder. Suddenly, we were no longer the audience for a hateful man. He got off at the next stop, yet we kept singing a few more rounds, smiling at each other and enjoying the simple joy of the reality and world that we’d reclaimed.
I know we cannot simply sing Trump off the train. But I wonder at the strategic uses of ignoring the loudest bigot on the train by turning our attention and intentions toward each other—the quieter majority. I wonder at the strategic uses of denial and disbelief—that privilege I’ve occasionally allowed myself in order to feel more free as a brown woman to say and think what I please, to not police myself with the expectations of bigots and buffoons. I think about the lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights era. How at the heart of the strategy was a refusal to accept unjust laws and policies. To strategically ignore the rules and insist on a different world: one in which black men and women could sit and eat at the same counter as any other human being.
I want to take this principle and apply it more broadly. How can we actively, strategically, ignore Donald Trump?
A part of that answer lies in recognizing the power we already have and counting ourselves in rather than sitting on the sidelines, only explicitly acknowledging that we’re American when, say, checking the citizenship box on official paperwork.
History is happening now and we are history’s actors. But only if we can turn our attention to each other, acknowledge the power we have, and step up to own it. There are millions of us who are fighting for the same things—and millions more who want the same things but call them by a different name. Yet we still seem to struggle to understand ourselves as a movement, we struggle to recognize and take responsibility for how powerful we are. The shape of our potential remains a dotted line describing the parameters of something we’re hesitant to inhabit and lay claim to.
Part of this is about the anemic narratives on offer—about the marginalized, the ineffectual, and disorganized Left. For too long, we’ve accepted stories that disenfranchise us even when they fly in the face of facts, logic, and our shared reality. We have all come of age in a society that privileges white Americans— particularly straight, white, cisgender men. But this has become an increasingly odd dissonance with the reality of our population: Only 31 percent of Americans today are white men—and some fraction of them are more marginalized queer and transgender men.
The marginalized are now the majority, but our narratives around power haven’t kept up. As long as we continue to operate within the strictures of outdated narratives, we sacrifice our ability to recognize the reality of our power, our ability to produce reality, to live in the world we want (and need). History is full of narratives that correct this perspective, but these stories have been forgotten or given short shrift in textbooks. Even when they are presented, too often they’re shrouded in a tone of inevitability when the untold details speak of profound struggle and the necessity of “failed” efforts that preceded that “inevitable” turn.
What follows is an attempt to resurface stories that have gone missing, and to reckon with narratives that have been passed off as common sense when they’re anything but. These problematic narratives include a deeply flawed connotation of “objectivity” that has come to be dominant in the media and daily life; the perceived divide between the personal and political; the ineffectiveness of protest; and the conceit that we must always listen and respond to those in power. By holding these narratives up to the light, we see space for other possibilities. When we surface—and contribute—richer narratives, we see a different history and a different reality; one in which the stories of “marginalized” folks are, and always have been, at the heart of this country.
I wonder what kind of power we might find in recognizing the centrality of our stories.
Edited excerpt from The Marginalized Majority: Claiming Our Power in a Post-Truth America. Used with permission of Melville House Books. Copyright © 2018 by Onnesha Roychoudhuri.
On Monday, Fox News posted a story titled "Antifa's violent confrontations with police, journalists mar otherwise peaceful rally counterprotestors," enumerating violent clashes on at the "Unite the Right 2 Rally."
But the story was not very well fact-checked, because they made a humiliating mistake. One of the videos, purporting to show Antifa protestors beating up a passerby, turned out to in fact be footage from a protest in Berkeley last year.
Want to see what actual 'fake news' from a major outlet looks like? Check out this story from Fox News, which reports about Antifa violence in DC yesterday...by using video shot in Berkeley a year ago https://t.co/xdaPNxvSvB pic.twitter.com/gC4cOm8Zg6— Mark Follman (@markfollman) August 13, 2018
Fox News eventually deleted this video from the article and posted a correction, but not before it caught the notice of Mother Jones National Affairs Editor Mark Follman.
Fox News says "it's unclear" where the video showing the Antifa beating took place—allegedly somewhere in DC yesterday. So let's clear that up for them: It took place in Berkeley, in Aug 2017. The footage was recorded by @MotherJones reporter @shane_bauer. https://t.co/PYMgX4RZa7— Mark Follman (@markfollman) August 13, 2018
The rally in D.C., a "White Civil Rights" demonstration organized by the same far-right white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville last year, and which was held just across the street from the White House, was punctuated by a few scattered reports of clashes between protestors and journalists. Nonetheless, as even Fox News admits, the overwhelming majority of protestors were peaceful.
The end result of the rally was that protestors and police far outnumbered the white nationalists who had actually come to march.
A groundbreaking exhibit challenging the criminal justice system will be opening on August 24 at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas. Walls Turned Sideways is a group show with more than 40 artists. The exhibit is curated by Risa Puleo, who splits her time between New York, Texas and Europe. She attended Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies Program and has a master’s in art history from Hunter College.
Walls Turned Sideways features work by artists from across the nation that addresses the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, and the prison-industrial complex. According to its catalogue, which includes powerful essays from participating artists, the show represents the full range of contemporary art production made in the studio and the social realm. The exhibition includes artworks that take social justice issues as a subject matter, and positions the prison and court systems as structures for dismantling through institutional critique.
I was invited to show my work by its curator. For many years I have tried to create a link between the art world and the drug war, trying to show the reason for the escalation of mass incarceration through my art. In 2006 I started a group called Artists against the Drug War styled after artist Leon Golub’s protest against the Vietnam War and his involvement with the group Artists and Writers Protest. It was the first such group to take a public stand against the war in the late ’60s.
Art as a social weapon has been around for quite a while. Artist Diego Rivera and other Mexican muralists used their work in the early 1920s as a tool for the oppressed against their oppressors. They expressed their opinions and got their message across to the literate and the illiterate alike and earned worldwide recognition. In April 1937, the world learned the shocking truth about the Nazi Luftwaffe’s bombing of Guernica, Spain—a civilian target. Pablo Picasso responded with his great anti-war painting, “Guernica.”
I was influenced by Picasso and the Mexican muralists, and it is the reason my art matured into becoming a vehicle of political protest. This was because in 1985 I was sentenced to 15-years-to-life for a first-time nonviolent offense under the Rockefeller Drug Laws of New York State, which mandated mandatory minimum sentencing policies that eventually destroyed the criminal justice system in the United States. It was in prison I discovered my political awareness. One night in 1988 I picked up a mirror and looked into it and saw an individual that was going to spend the most productive years of his life in a 6'x9' cage. I then painted this image and titled it “self-portrait, 15 to Life,” a work that depicts the atrocity of imprisonment. It will be displayed in this show. This powerful piece first exhibited in 1994 at the Whitney Museum of American Art as the centerpiece for artists Mike Kelley’s installation “Pay for Your Pleasures.” Roberta Smith, art critic at the New York Times, praised “15 to Life” as an “ode to art as a mystical, transgressive act that is both frightening and liberating, releasing uncontrollable emotions of all kinds.” The painting got me tremendous publicity, which led to Governor George Pataki granting me executive clemency in 1996. In 2016 Governor Andrew Cuomo granted me a full pardon, making me the first individual in New York State to receive bought clemency and a pardon.
The work on display in this current show will prove that art can be a powerful tool for social change. Also exhibiting is Dread Scott, an American artist whose work focuses on the experience of African Americans. His first major work, “What Is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” (1989), was at the center of controversy regarding the desecration of the American flag. It’s my hope that this exhibit will open the hearts and minds of people and make them aware of the 2.3 million individuals who are suffering behind bars in the United States.
What: Walls Turned Sideways
Where: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston: Brown Foundation Gallery
5216 Montrose Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77006 Phone: 713.284.8250
On View: August 25, 2018 - January 6, 2019; free to the public
This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Black Lives Matter grew out of the tumult and outrage in Ferguson, Missouri, after the 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by the police officer Darren Wilson. An investigation into the killing never led to any charges, even as rampant racist abuse was discovered to be endemic in the local police force.
But this week, the sitting county prosecutor Robert McCulloch who oversaw the investigation lost the Democratic primary race to Wesley Bell, a black city council member advocating reform. In response to the result, Justin Hansford, a civil rights advocate and law professor, called on Bell to reopen the Michael Brown case, assuming he wins the election.
Hansford writes in a new Washington Post op-ed:
Since 1991, McCulloch presided over a thinly disguised system of plunder. The 2015 Ferguson report revealed that, for years, the police targeted communities of color for heightened traffic enforcement to fill their coffers. This racket, at the expense of Ferguson’s most marginalized communities, combined with McCulloch’s preternatural hesitance to bring charges against police for killing unarmed black people, created a powder keg that exploded after the killing of Brown in August 2014.
He continued: "If Bell can implement the reforms he has promised, that will be perhaps the broadest impact created by this election. But Brown’s killing remains a gaping wound in the nation’s psyche."
Hansford notes that despite the fact that a federal civil rights investigation didn't find sufficient justification for federal charges against Wilson, there may be grounds for other types of charges.
"While it is true that charging and possibly even convicting Wilson would not end mass incarceration or create the broad structural change we need, it would have significance," he writes. "We need community healing, and we need to believe that this nation is still capable of pursuing justice."
For 20 years, Wisconsin prosecutors have used a state law, the Unborn Child Protection Act of 1998 (Act 292), to jail adult pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. Supporters claim the "cocaine mom" law protects fetuses from maternal drug abuse, but critics say the law's language is vague and that it unnecessarily and unconstitutionally forces some pregnant women into treatment and state supervision.
The law was found unconstitutional by a federal court last year, but state Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed, and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the law to stay in effect until the case was decided. But in June, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiff, Tammy Loertscher, had left the state.
Loertscher was 14 weeks pregnant and residing in Medford in 2014 when she tested positive for methamphetamine. Although she told her doctor she had stopped using the drug when she realized she was pregnant, a judge ordered her into inpatient drug treatment. She was then jailed until she agreed to be drug tested throughout her pregnancy. She gave birth to a healthy male child in 2015.
Loertscher was by no means alone—hundreds of pregnant women have been accused of "unborn child abuse" under the law—and the dismissal of the case means pregnant women in the state remain in jeopardy.
At the time of the dismissal, attorney Nancy Rosenbloom, director of legal advocacy for National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), decried the ruling.
"Today's decision means that all women in Wisconsin have to worry that when they seek health care, if there’s even a chance they might be pregnant, the state can take them into custody, lock them up in a drug treatment program, a mental hospital or a jail—whether or not drug treatment is really needed," she said.
Now, Rosenbloom and NAPW are taking the fight to a new arena: the court of public opinion. They have joined forces with a three-year-old national group, Reproaction, to take on the law. The group is forthright about what it wants: "Reproaction is a new direct action group forming to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice. We are proud of our left-flank analysis, and are not in this fight to protect the past or maintain the status quo," the group says on its website.
Reproaction has created the #WIFights 292 campaign to take the fight to the public. The campaign is planning educational fora across the state, a social media campaign, and information pickets, among other tactics.
"All people who experience pregnancy, including pregnant women in Wisconsin, deserve access to appropriate, confidential health care without fear of losing their rights to medical decision making, privacy, and liberty," #WIFights292 explains on its website.
"At Reproaction, we center our work around the women in Wisconsin who may be targeted by enforcement of Act 292. We are organizing activists and community leaders across Wisconsin to demand action from those in power and channel community into a movement to advance reproductive justice that will ultimately dismantle Act 292. We know that direct action gets the job done, and we will take bold action to educate the public about and put a stop to enforcement of Act 292.
For Rosenbloom and the medical and public health groups that oppose the law, the hope is that the campaign can do what the courts have failed to do: kill a bad law.
"This law only harms women and children," she said.
This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
America's political history has been written in the fierce narrative of war -- not only our country's many military clashes with foreign nations, but also our own unending war for democracy in the U.S.
Generation after generation of moneyed elites have persisted in trying to take wealth and power from the workaday majority and concentrate both of those things in their wealthy hands to establish a de facto American aristocracy. Every time, the people have rebelled in organized mass struggles against the monopolist and financial royalists -- literally battling for a little more economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity. And now, the time of rebellion is upon us again, for We the People are suddenly in the grip of a brutish level of monopolistic power.
Corporate concentration of markets, profits, workplace decision-making, political influence and our nation's total wealth is surpassing that of the infamous era of robber barons. Apple, which just became the first U.S. corporation to reach a stock value of a trillion dollars, is now larger than Bank of America, Boeing, Disney, Ford, Volkswagon and 20 other brand-name giants combined. Just five tech superpowers -- Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix -- have raked in half of this year's stock price gains by the 500 top corporations ranked by the S&P index. A recent gold rush of corporate mergers has created mega-firms and shriveled competition in most industries, including airlines, banks, drug companies, food, hospitals, hotels, law firms, media, oil and more.
The results of fewer and bigger corporations is that those few attain overwhelming power over the rest of us. They are able to control workers' pay, crush unions, jack up prices, squeeze our smaller businesses, dominate elections, weaken environmental projections... and become even fewer, bigger and more powerful. Thus, they are waging all-out corporate class war on American people, and on our democratic ideals, and they're winning.
These monopolies are not merely un-American, they're virulently anti-American, suppressing our fundamental values of fairness and opportunity for all. That's why, throughout our history, the people have instinctively rebelled at the arrogant assertions of monopoly avarice -- the Boston Tea Party, the Populist Movement, the rise of unions, Teddy Roosevelt's trustbusters, the Progressive Party, the muckrakers, the New Deal, Ralph Nader and on and on. Yet, in the stunningly short period of the last couple of decades, corporate political money and the public officials it bought have enshrined monopoly power as a legitimate form of business in our land, aggressively protected from public "meddling" by lawmakers, regulators and judges. For example, after our grassroots economy was crushed in 2007 by the greed of too-big-to-fail Wall Street banksters, officials bailed out the villainous banks at the taxpayer expense and deliberately made them bigger, more powerful and more dangerous than ever. Today, just five banks control nearly half of all financial assets in the U.S.
You'd think such a massive power grab by bank monopolists would produce an equally massive, 24/7 barrage of coverage by the nation's multitude of media outlets, which purport to be our defenders of democracy. And sure, an occasional story pops out here or there about monopoly abuse, but nothing comprehensive and cohesive to rally a public rebellion against what's become the United States of Monopoly Rule.
Why? Look at who owns America's mass media. Three decades ago, 50 large media conglomerates controlled 90 percent of the media. This year, after yet another merger of giants is completed, just 5 mega-media monopolists will control 90 percent of what we see, hear and read. It is not in their interest to inform the public about the threat that monopolies pose to our democracy.
As a paragon of journalistic integrity, A.S. Liebling, warned nearly 40 years ago, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."
Dear Michael Harriot,
Your latest article in The Root—arguing that Russia hijacked the 2016 presidential vote count (that was taken down due to mistaken assumptions—such as that the computers with voter databases are the same as vote counters; they’re not), and the “updated” essay attempting to clean up those errors but not backing down—isn’t merely another edgy musing with dots that don’t that connect, or substituting your gut feeling for proof.
You’re doing something much more destructive. You’re sending the wrong message to a slice of prospective 2018 voters who don’t need to be reminded about what’s wrong in America. You’re telling them voting doesn’t matter, their votes don’t count, and it’s worthless to think otherwise this fall. Why? Because you’re arguing Russians stole the election for Trump with targeting so astute and precise that it pierced key nodes in computers spanning America’s 6,467 election jurisdictions, 168,000 voting precincts and thousands of vote-count tabulation centers—and nobody saw, stopped or looked into it.
As your updated piece summarizes, “I contended that the evidence showed that it was ‘most likely’ that votes and voter rolls were changed in the 2016 election. The problem with this argument, though, is that it rests on the idea that just because one cannot prove that something didn’t happen, it follows that it did.”
There are many reasons why Hillary Clinton lost—including black voter turnout that dropped by 5 percent compared to 2012, including the three final states where Donald Trump won by less than 1 percent. Let’s not get into Hillary. Your view that a giant electronic conspiracy has rendered everything else about voting moot is not new. It’s been a fixture on the left since 2004’s Ohio defeat of John Kerry by George W. Bush. It was picked up by Trump in fall 2016, and predictably discarded once he won. (I was among those who contributed to this narrative—and made incorrect assumptions along the way, but more on that later.)
I’m no stranger to feeling frustrated by America’s democracy. But it’s a big error to assume our process of voting is not chaotic, unpredictable, or opaque, and many in the ruling classes of both major parties are fine with that. When it comes to modern voter suppression, whose top proponents are the Republicans, they have deployed a “do everything” strategy because elections are unpredictable. They cast wide nets over entire states, over-policing the process in myriad ways, which they publicly justify by fabricated excuses of preventing a phantom menace of illegal voting. In reality, and they have been caught saying this, they don’t always know how voter turnout will break. Therefore they nickel-and-dimed the process to tilt the likely popular vote results their way. That’s what’s behind extreme gerrymandering—segregating voters, stricter voter ID laws, new limits on early voting, students, etc.
Sorry if this begins to get a little weedy, or granular, or technical. That’s the reality of voting in America. The Democrats, supposedly the party defending wider participation, have their anti-democratic features too. But let’s not digress. Many people who have studied and reported on these obstacles, including myself, know that the only way that the current GOP regime will be stopped from imposing a racist, theocratic, oligarchic and thuggish agenda is if this fall’s turnout is disproportionately high among Democrats and independents. How high? That is the very question your Russia-stole-it diatribe eclipses.
How about calling it like it is? There are smarter forces, not just darker forces, gaming the nitty-gritty of American elections. The smarter forces are happy to have writers like you telling distracting narratives that have nothing to do with what’s really going on. So what’s really going on? The GOP, in swing states, has created structural advantages this decade (gerrymanders segregating voters by district, stricter ID peeling off turnout, etc.) that add up to a 10-point lead before the votes in typical elections are counted. To win this fall, the percentage of Democrats and independents voting has to be 60 percent or more of their base, to simply attain popular vote majorities in local counts. (Actually, it needs to be higher, because there are always polling place snafus and other unintended human errors that end up disqualifying votes). The Republicans have been smarter than the Democrats, because they tilted the rules so they could likely triumph based on turning out their most reliable voters—like 2008’s John McCain voters, their worst presidential defeat this century. Democrats, instead, pin their hopes on newly registered voters, who somehow don’t sufficiently materialize on Election Day. This is smarter, not darker.
Why not tell your audience how partisans have been rigging the rules and winning? There’s no shortage of real evidence—from academia to the courts. Why not tell them that these smarter forces have devalued the vote—just as they have devalued the public interest in campaign finance law, where anonymously spending big money has more constitutional protections than an individual’s right to vote? This is at the heart of what perpetuates inequality. This transcends party. This is about what citizenship means, what representative government means. It’s not some sci-fi fantasy that Russia may steal it again, so why bother to vote?
Consider this quote about conspiracy theories from Don DeLillo’s novel, Libra, about the recruitment-gone-awry of Lee Harvey Oswald and John F. Kennedy assassination:
“If we are on the outside, we assume a conspiracy is the perfect working of a scheme. Silent nameless men with unadorned hearts. A conspiracy is everything that ordinary life is not. It’s the inside game, cold, sure, undistracted, forever closed off to us. We are the flawed ones, the innocents, trying to make some right sense of the daily jostle. Conspirators have a logic and daring beyond our reach. All conspiracies are the same taut story of men who find some coherence in some criminal act. But maybe not.”
My Mistaken Assumptions
I have been covering voting rights, and presidential vote counts, as much as anyone since 2004. I have been part of teams that have done the research you say investigators didn’t do—with examining evidence—after the 2016 election. (Actually, some journalists tried, but let’s not go there.) In 2004, I helped raise the funds (by putting people on national radio) that paid for Ohio’s flawed recount, and paid investigators to examine the ballots for months afterward, and co-wrote articles and books describing how the Republicans had stolen the presidency for George W. Bush. Yes, stole it.
We made lots of discoveries that were shocking—and ignored by mainstream media. We broke the story that the Ohio Secretary of State’s official website, posting the returns that every news organization took to be facts, was hosted on servers with scores of other GOP websites. So when results froze after midnight, with Democrat John Kerry ahead, and then unfroze with Bush winning Ohio and the presidency, we thought we knew how the Election Night count was flipped: the GOP had backdoor access to alter the Ohio’s reported results. Over time, we drilled down into where the totals could have been padded to cover those inflated results, and found traces of apparent ballot stuffing in Ohio’s Bible Belt counties.
We found the GOP’s do-everything-to-win catalog, which still endures. But we couldn’t prove definitely that Republicans went beyond playing dirty to outright cheating. We had lots of suspicions. We also made assumptions—dots we connected in articles and books, some of which turned out to be wrong. One has always been glaring to me. We looked at voter turnout in urban and neighboring suburban precincts, where voting machines weren’t uniformly deployed (black precincts had fewer and long lines, white precincts had more and no lines). We conservatively tried to say how many more votes would have been cast for Kerry if all voters were treated the same. We estimated 17,000 Kerry votes were lost in the Columbus area alone. (The Washington Post trashed us, later estimating a slightly lower figure.)
But guess what? I was back in the same precincts four years later. Ohio had a new Secretary of State, a Democrat, who made sure there were enough machines in city precincts, on universities and colleges. The race was Ohio’s primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, a point in 2008 when they ran neck and neck. There was every reason for the Democrats’ historically underrepresented cohorts—non-whites, poorer people, women, and young people—to vote. And guess what? The turnout was terrible. Instead of approaching 50 percent like we estimated it should have been in 2004, it was closer to 30 percent.
You can’t say that wasn’t a race with nothing to vote for—the most cited excuse for lousy turnout. I’ve been around the election beat for a long time, initially discovering things that were truly maddening. I’ve connected dots based on real reporting that glossed over gaps. I was pretty embarrassed to later realize that there was more going on than what myself, co-writers, or researchers were so sure of.
There was no one reason why Kerry lost Ohio in 2004, just as there was no one reason why Hillary lost Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan in 2016. (Actually, she probably won Michigan because of GOP-led institutional racism that disqualified a majority of ballots cast around Detroit, but that’s another story.) If you’re going to write about voting, try to understand the true nature of the process and the obstacles—and conversely, where there has been serious progress opening up the process if people were willing to vote. But you’re not helping anyone by perpetuating a narrative that voting doesn’t matter.
Let me tell where this it-can-be-hacked-so-why-bother narrative has led. There’s a cottage industry of voting conspiracy promoters that emerged on the left starting in 2004 that continues today. There are some legitimate grievances there, all tied to Congress’s idiotic embrace of privatized paperless voting machines after Florida’s 2000 election. But there also are people—including book editors I’ve had—who say what you wrote: just because you haven’t seen the proof doesn’t mean it’s not out there or isn’t real.
That stalemate is how conspiracies endure. But they come with a cost. If supposed watchdogs are crying wolf, or saying the next election will be stolen no matter what, no one will heed real problems in real time—like the mass disqualification of Detroit’s ballots before that red-run state shut down its presidential recount and certified Trump as the winner. This entire narrative tells people that the one limited form of power that they have to change who is running the government is worthless.
I’m not going to get into where your Russia-stole-it theory erred. You didn’t even know the basics about the different computer systems used. But you’re not alone in making that mistake. Politico just had a report making the same error. It complained that money appropriated by Congress in April wasn’t going to help states buy new machines before 2020—saying that was not going to address hacking. Those threats have little to do with what technology is used. Meanwhile, possible Russian hacking is being addressed so aggressively in 2018 that it froze out the GOP’s top voter purge organization.
I’m glad you’ve been drawn into what’s screwed up in voting in America. But what are you doing to change that? You argue that Russia electronically hacked the vote count—with no proof—and may do it again. You generated eyeballs. You generated heat. How about shedding some light?
If you want to do more than vent, why not explain to readers that in November, because of many ways Republicans have changed the rules of voting in many states, Democrats have to bring out at least 10 percent more voters than Republicans to achieve popular vote majorities? That’s because of gerrymanders. It is because of stricter voter ID laws. Those aren’t conspiracies; those are facts with real metrics.
Why not start arguing it’s time to increase the perceived value of voting? Why not tell your audience what has to happen to break the GOP lock on federal power? Explain the obstacles. Say why the GOP has been smarter than Democrats. Don’t make up crazy stuff about Russia hacking that only reinforces the narrative that voting doesn’t matter. It’s the only hope that sane Americans have in 2018.
This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
As a key deadline approaches next week on updating statewide voter rolls before the November election, it appears a controversial data-mining operation mostly used by red states to purge legitimate voters is withering, or at least dormant, in 2018.
The Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program, known as Crosscheck, has been blasted in the press, academia, legal briefs, and federal court rulings for sloppy analytics that generate tens or hundreds of thousands of suspected duplicate voter registrations in member states. (It uses few data specifics, including common names, producing false positives.) Some of those states have used Crosscheck’s analyses to turn a bland voter roll bookkeeping process (removing dead people, people who moved) into a partisan cudgel. This June, a federal district court issued a restraining order against Indiana election officials to not use Crosscheck to prematurely purge its voter rolls.
Recent national reports about purge trends, such as Purges: A Growing Threat to the Right to Vote, from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, have detailed Crosscheck’s sloppy methodology and anti-participatory impact. For example, the Brennan report noted that Virginia’s use of Crosscheck’s data in 2013 (when the GOP dominated the state’s executive branch and legislature) resulted in up to a 17 percent error rate.
However, the Indiana ruling and Brennan report (the Brennan Center is part of the team suing Indiana) also contain revelations about Crosscheck’s downward spiral, if not its possible demise. That storyline runs counter to the widespread progressive narrative that voter purges are an enduring and widespread threat in American elections—including in 2018’s midterms.
At the very least, Brennan’s report suggests that Crosscheck is withering in 2018.
“In recent years, at least eight states have left the program altogether and no longer share data with or receive data from Crosscheck,” the Purges report said, citing Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington in endnotes where it added a ninth state. “Arizona informed the Brennan Center that it is no longer participating in Crosscheck.”
“Additionally, seven other states have curtailed their use of Crosscheck data by not using it for the purposes of voter-list maintenance,” it continued, then listing, in its endnotes, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia. Purges went on, “Illinois announced it would no longer transmit data to Crosscheck… ‘until security issues are addressed to our satisfaction.’”
That overall tally means that 17 out of the 28 states that were in Crosscheck as of early 2017 have backed away, at least for now. That list of states, that, under a legal memo, agree to share some of their voter data for analytics overseen by the Kansas Secretary of State, comes from a Supreme Court legal brief filed by ex-Bush administration officials known for overly policing the process. They supported a new purge process in Ohio.
But there’s more going on than a mass exodus or distancing from Crosscheck, as Illinois’ reference to “security issues” alludes. Last fall, Indivisible Chicago, a Democratic activist group, posted documents online showing Crosscheck security lapses: emails with logins and passwords; statements that it did not change passwords; and observing that it didn’t encrypt voter data. Since then, some of the attorneys defending Crosscheck in court have acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security sees Crosscheck as a cyber-security risk. That development led more states to suspend its interactions with it.
(Illinois’ voter registration database was the only known one successfully “penetrated” by Russian hackers in 2016, according to the National Association of Secretaries of State. Thus, the system run by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who at that time co-chaired President Trump’s since-disbanded election integrity commission—a panel wanting every state to turn over its voter databases—was an easy hacking target.)
That reality of states leaving Crosscheck for cyber-security reasons was noted in a June federal restraining order against Indiana, barring it from using Crosscheck data in tandem with a just-passed state law that would rapidly purge registered voters—violating federal timetables. U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt’s order noted, “During oral argument, Defendant’s [the state’s] counsel admitted concerns regarding the reliability and security of Crosscheck,” accompanied by this footnote:
“Defendants’ counsel Jefferson Garn (‘Garn’) argued the following: ‘This isn’t a part of the record, but my—what’s going on, I believe, and from my understanding, is that there are, as with many organizations, the federal government, state governments, there are concerns about data breach, and there’s a Department of Homeland Security review being done of Crosscheck right now.’ (Filing No. 62 at 49).
“Thereafter, the Court asked; ‘So are you saying the Crosscheck database process is flawed and they may be subject to data breaches?’ and Garn responded, ‘It’s not because our system is flawed. It’s because we just want to make sure that we’re trying to stay one step ahead of people who are trying to hack. And so that’s the concern.’”
But Crosscheck’s system is flawed. It has seen an exodus or distancing by nearly two-thirds of the 28 states that were members in 2017, when it told these states they had 7.2 million suspicious registrations. And that list of wary states might be an understatement. Kevin Morris, the Brennan researcher and Purges report co-author, told the Independent Media Institute that no state appears to be using Crosscheck in 2018 for updating their voter rolls. (Others told IMI that no state has taken its data since 2017.)
“In 2018, it has not been used because of data security problems with the program, but there has not been any report that it will not be used again,” Morris said.
Where have many of the Crosscheck states gone for help in updating voter rolls? At least 11 of them that were members in early 2017 have joined a newer effort called ERIC, or the Electronic Registration Information Center, which identifies all eligible voters in a state and requires its members (now 24 states) to contact those people and urge them to complete the registration process. ERIC uses more specific and deeper data mining, in addition to sophisticated encryption, to help election officials in member states make their voter rolls more accurate, current and cost-efficiently managed.
Those 11 states that were in Crosscheck as of 2017 and are in ERIC are: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia. Some states have been members of both organizations concurrently, with former ERIC officials saying many of these states stopped using Crosscheck’s analytics. (The job of maintaining accurate voter rolls is endless, as people die, move, lose their voting rights if convicted of a felony in 48 states—or register as new voters. That does not make legitimate removals nefarious; it’s only when that is done by partisans to shape the electorate to favor one party that it is foul play.)
Crosscheck’s ongoing demise—and potential exclusion from being used in 2018 due to cyber-security risks—is a major unreported development. It is a pending big victory for people who seek a more inclusive and less predatory system of voting in America.
The 90-Day Deadline for Removals
In coming days, it will become clear whether any of the remaining Crosscheck states will be conducting questionable voter purges before 2018’s midterms. That’s because the law governing voter roll updates and removals—the National Voter Registration Act—bans states from removing voters within 90 days of a federal election (November 6, 2018).
Those states that are not ERIC members, and have not withdrawn or suspended their relationship with Crosscheck (as cited by the Purges report) are: Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee. (The Kansas Secretary of State’s office did not respond to IMI’s request to verify the latest Crosscheck members, when it last shared analytics, or to comment.)
Needless to say, voters in states with heavy-handed voting rules should check their registration status to ensure they can vote this November—especially if they moved within the same county, as that’s not likely to transfer. But registering (or re-registering) to vote has never been easier, as three-quarters of the states have online registration and the earliest deadlines fall in early October. Some of the Crosscheck states (Idaho, New Hampshire) also have Election Day registration, meaning one can register and vote.
Whether or not Crosscheck revives itself before the 2020 election remains to be seen. But for now, contrary to the conventional wisdom in progressive circles, it looks like the most notorious voter purge operation in red-run states has been sidelined for 2018’s midterms.
This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
In these darkest of days, here’s what gives me hope:
First, Donald Trump has been a giant wake-up call that we can’t take democracy for granted. The young people of America get this. I’ve been teaching for 40 years and I don’t recall a generation as committed to social justice, reforming this country, and making it work for all and not just a few.
Look at those kids in Parkland, Florida. Or the millions more who are getting involved in their communities and in politics. They are America’s future, and they won’t give up.
The second thing that makes me optimistic is occurring at the grassroots of America, where there’s more activism than I remember in half a century. The #MeToo movement, Time’s Up, #BlackLivesMatter, #Neveragain, the Poor People’s Campaign, Indivisible.org, swingleft.org.
They and thousands of other groups and millions of Americans are united by a commitment to end abuses of power – whether by sexual predators, or the police, the National Rifle Association, or billionaires out to undermine our democracy.
Third, Fueled by Trump’s election, more women are running for office than ever before. According to Emily’s List, more than 36,000 women are interested in running for office in 2018 and beyond. By comparison, 920 women contacted Emily’s List in the 2016 campaign.
Fourth, I’m optimistic because America’s history shows that every time we’ve gotten off track, Americans mobilize to get our country back on track. We did this after the Gilded Age of the 1880s and 1890s, when robber barons monopolized the economy; politics was poisoned by money; and poverty, and disease, and horrendous working conditions claimed thousands of lives each year.
We did it again in the Depression decade of the 1930s, after the economy collapsed because of Wall Street’s excesses. And again in the 1960s and 1970s, when we embraced civil rights and voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid, and environmental protection. If history teaches us anything, we will again reform this system.
Fifth, I’m also optimistic because these grueling years of the Trump presidency have made us all realize how fragile our democracy really is, and what we need to reform–from the Electoral College and super-delegates to gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and hacker-proof voting machinery.
And most of us now know how important it is to vote.
Finally, I’m optimistic because I don’t like the alternative. We must have hope.
The fate of this nation depends on every one of us becoming an activist, joining with others, and reclaiming this land from those bent on destroying it.
In San Bernardino County, California east of Los Angeles, Deputy District Attorney Michael Selyem—an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump—has been under paid suspension for racist and misogynist posts attacking African-Americans and Latinos. And the pressure was turned up this week when, on July 25, 11 representatives of civil rights organizations sent a joint letter to Bernardino County DA Mike Ramos calling for Selyem to be fired.
Those who signed the letter included the Rev. Al Sharpton (president of the National Action Network and host of “Politics Nation” on MSNBC), Sherrilyn Ifill (president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund), Kristen Clarke (president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) and the NAACP’s Derrick Johnson as well as representatives of the National Urban League, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Women’s Law Center, IMPACT Strategies, the National Council of Negro Women, and Campaign Zero.
In the letter, the civil rights activists asserted that they had “grave concerns over recent revelations of intolerably bigoted and biased comments by a deputy district attorney in your office.”
The letter went on to say, “As recent media reports have indicated, Deputy District Attorney Michael Selyem has demonstrated a disturbing pattern of racist and sexist social media commentary aimed at women and people of color, including barely-veiled threats leveled at U.S. Representative Maxine Waters. The remarks represent a clear violation of professional ethics and basic norms of civility, and are categorically disqualifying of a law enforcement official charged with ensuring equal justice under law.”
Sharpton did not mince words in the leader, which quoted him as saying, “Keeping Deputy District Attorney Selyem on payroll after his disqualifying attacks on Americans of color and a respected U.S. congresswoman shows the outrageous complacency of our law enforcement mechanisms in addressing even the most outright bigotry in our criminal justice system. Failure to ensure accountability for his hate-filled remarks flies in the face of the office’s duty-bound obligation to uphold the letter and spirit of the law.”
Selyem has been with the San Bernardino County DA’s Office for 12 years, but he seemed to become especially inflammatory after Trump became president. And he didn’t like the fact that Waters was critical of Trump’s immigration policy, which Selyem enthusiastically supports.
The prosecutor used his Facebook page to his attack Waters, posting, “Being a loud-mouthed cunt in the ghetto, you would think someone would have shot this bitch by now.” Selyem’s Facebook page has since been deleted, although screenshots of his anti-Waters tirades were published in the San Bernardino Sun.
Waters wasn’t the only political figure Selyem went after via social media. The prosecutor also attacked two former first ladies: Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. Selyem posted a doctored picture of Obama saying, “Trump grabbed my penis.” And in a different post, Selyem mentioned Clinton while explaining why he preferred white immigrants over non-white immigrants.
Selyem sounded very Trump-like when he posted, “I am all for white males immigrating here legally and starting a business. It is the terrorist assholes sneaking in here wanting to kill me (and) my family that I am opposed to. I cannot believe how shallow Democrats are. They must really think people are stupid. I guess that is evident because they actually thought Hilary (sic) Clinton could win a presidential election… TWICE!!! LMFAO!!!”
Before his suspension, Selyem was in charge of the anti-gang unit of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office—and a post that discussed predominantly Latino gangs depicted a man in a giant sombrero with the words “Mexican word of the day: hide.”
After finding out about Selyem’s posts, Rep. Pete Aguilar asserted that it wasn’t enough for Selyem to face suspension—he needed to be fired. Aguilar (who represents San Bernardino County in the U.S. House of Representatives and is seeking reelection in the November midterms) expressed his displeasure on Twitter, posting, “We cannot allow racism and bigotry to have a place in our society, especially not in our government. The comments made by Deputy District Attorney Michael Selyem are unacceptable, and he should be fired immediately.”
Before this week, most of the criticism of Selyem was coming from Southern California. But with Sharpton, Ifill and others now calling for him to be fired, the controversy has gone national in a big way.
If past is prologue—and in the world of elections it often is—the race for the next governor of Georgia may be one of the dirtiest of 2018.
That’s because the winner of this week’s runoff for Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, is among a handful of high-ranking state officials who have notorious records tilting the fine print of the voting process to create barriers aimed at the opposition’s presumed base. His Democratic opponent is Stacey Abrams, a black tax lawyer, author and voter registration activist who served in the state legislature for a decade, rising to be House Minority Leader—who has clashed with Kemp before.
Republicans in Georgia are not shy about aggressively preserving their power. This year, they came close to passing a bill that would have closed polling places in Atlanta an hour earlier and curtailed voting on the Sunday before Election Day.
They showcased similar bad behavior in 2016—just as they did in the 2014–2015 cycle, underscoring the state would be politically purple were it not for GOP efforts to preempt voters and stymie voting to keep its rule red.
This pattern can be seen locally and at the highest reaches of state government, where they have been led by Kemp. One eyebrow-raising local example came in 2015, when white Republicans in rural Hancock County, who are a majority on its county board of elections, sent sheriff deputies knocking on the front doors of more than 180 black voters in the town of Sparta. They weren’t concerned about real crime; they were questioning voter registrations. Their goal in dogging one-fifth of the town’s voters was to help a white mayoral candidate, a lawsuit that followed said. The county attorney, a Republican state legislator, defended the police action by alleging sloppy voter rolls. This was outright intimidation by whites to keep blacks from voting.
While Sparta was a local drama, a fight with statewide consequences involving registrations broke out that same year between Kemp and Abrams. Seen from afar, it looked like Kemp was modernizing the process by instituting online voter registration that year. But Abrams was leading an effort called the New Georgia Project that was running traditional voter drives, where canvassers went door-to-door and registrants filled out paper forms. In October 2014, it emerged that more than 41,000 of the 87,000 forms led by the Project were not going to be processed by Election Day.
This disclosure was not accompanied by the usual gripe from local officials about voter drives—that activists dump mountains of paper on their desks at the last minute. Instead, Kemp announced he was launching a major voter fraud investigation as one of his state’s biggest drives in years was cresting. That accusation and the bureaucratic stonewalling that ensued was completely disingenuous. His investigation, completed months after Election Day, found problems with 25 of the 87,000 voter forms submitted—0.03 percent. But there’s far more that Kemp did to block voters in the 2015–2016 cycle.
Voter registration may seem like a straightforward process; fill out some fields in a registration form, swear you are a citizen and eligible voter—under penalty of perjury—and do so before state filing deadlines. Those data fields are one’s name, address, birth date, and driver’s license or Social Security number. Kemp deliberately politicized a process that is similar to what is used in many states. When people do not register online, local election offices end up typing the information from paper forms into computers and the statewide voter file. Beyond illegible handwriting and typos that occur—and cause some people to not be registered—local officials also do electronic checks to verify the information. States validate a would-be voter’s identity by pinging their driver’s license database and the federal Social Security database using the last four digits of an applicant’s Social Security number. Some also ping prison records to screen for felons. Under Kemp, any unconfirmed match rejected the registrants.
Where this becomes insidious is every one of those databases has had known accuracy problems or shortcomings that disqualify eligible voters. In 2009, the Social Security Administration (SSA) Inspector General’s office assessed how reliable its voter verification was. Compared to “other [Social Security number-based verification] programs used by the states and employers... (the voter registration) no-match rate was two-to-five times higher,” rejecting an additional 16 percent of registrants, it found. Why? That bigger gap was because other SSA programs used the full nine-digit Social Security number, while the voter program only used the last four digits. Less precise matching yields more errors.
In 2005, Congress’s Government Accountability Office issued a report finding state driver’s license databases confuse names, including full names, names with or without middle initials, aliases, etc. “Even a 1 percent error rate on a match validating names, driver license numbers, etc., could generate tens of thousands of bad matches,” the nonpartisan congressional analysts reported.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted how this process unfolded in their state in late 2014. “If everything goes right, a match comes back and the voter’s name is sent to the Secretary of State’s Office. But it sometimes does not go right,” they wrote. They cited the problems with Social Security and driver’s license data, and noted why state prison records also were unreliable. “County officials must also ping the state Department of Corrections database, which may lag by up to several months in its information,” the paper wrote. “The Social Security Administration database only comes back as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ match, giving county officials no help in determining what further information may need to be provided by the applicant. A hyphenated last name can cause hiccups with the state’s identification database, as can unintentional data entry errors by county clerks, said former North Carolina [state] election director Gary Bartlett, who submitted an affidavit on behalf of the voter groups [who sued over the botched processing of registrations].”
In other words, Kemp did not just masquerade behind the badge of fighting nonexistent voter fraud to thwart a registration drive led by a powerful elected Democrat. He also was winnowing voter rolls to impact the finish line—who can vote on Election Day. And there’s more. Between October 2012 and November 2014, he purged more than 370,000 inactive voters, which exceeded the number of newly registered voters.
But at the starting line—voter registration—he was knowingly using a shoddy verification process to disqualify or hold registrants in limbo. Using porous data and imprecise analytics produces a politically expedient result: false positives. A lawsuit over Kemp’s matching that was settled in early 2017 found that of the nearly 35,000 registrants whose registrations he canceled between July 2013 and July 15, 2016, 64 percent were black, 8 percent were Latino, 5 percent were Asian, and 14 percent were white. Meanwhile, of those 41,000 registrants that Kemp kept from voting in 2014, 18,000 were approved after the election in which they registered to vote. This is how nuanced and targeted voter suppression works.
Kemp’s tactics, especially using error-prone data mining, are not unique. One of its top proponents is Kris Kobach, who, as Kansas secretary of state, oversees the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. That project was created in 2005 by state election directors with the goal of identifying voters registered in more than one state and instances of illegal double voting. It does so by matching first and last names, birth dates, and state turnout data. It was used by 28 states in 2016. You would be correct if you concluded that it surfaces hardly any illegal activity—single-digit instances from states each with tens of millions of voters. But its imprecise methodology generates hundreds of thousands of false positives. (A July 2018 report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School said eight of those states have since left the program and another eight have stopped using its data for voter registration purposes.)
Yet in 2015, Crosscheck helped Kemp identify some 540,000 Georgia voters who were in danger of being purged before the 2016 election. That’s one-eighth of the Georgians who voted in the presidential election that fall. This points to another fight in the lead-up to the election—mass purges by GOP secretaries of state of tens of thousands of infrequent but legally registered voters in Democratic strongholds. In early 2017, Georgia and more than a dozen red states filed a brief at the Supreme Court urging it to hear a case in its fall term over Ohio’s purge of 144,000 infrequent voters in blue epicenters before the 2016 election. These red states sided with Ohio’s partisan mass purge. The Court this June upheld Ohio’s removal procedure, based on Ohio exploiting ambiguity in the wording of federal voting laws.
Meanwhile, the battle between Kemp and Abrams is far from over. Both are running for governor in 2018 (as is Kobach in Kansas). But the tactic that Kemp and Kobach engaged in—targeting and freezing out new voters, and partisan purges of infrequent voters—is all about cynically exploiting what should be a simple bookkeeping process for political gain.
Meanwhile, investigative journalists have found that some of these same voter suppression barriers targeting Georgia’s blue voters remain. As Reuters noted in a report this spring, the state’s blacks are being disproportionately disqualified for registration form errors:
“The tiniest discrepancy on a registration form places them on a ‘pending’ voter list. A Reuters analysis of Georgia’s pending voter list, obtained through a public records request, found that black voters landed on the list at a far higher rate than white voters even though a majority of Georgia’s voters are white.
“Both voting rights activists and Georgia’s state government say the reason for this is that blacks more frequently fill out paper forms than whites, who are more likely to do them online. Paper forms are more prone to human error, both sides agree. But they disagree on whether the errors are made by those filling out the forms or officials processing the forms.
“Republicans say the aim of the ‘exact match’ law is to prevent voter fraud. Voting rights groups, however, object to the tiniest, inadvertent error creating an obstacle to a person’s fundamental right to vote.”
And who is the Georgia official who is overseeing the state’s election of its next governor? It’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the GOP nominee for the job.
(This report is an updated excerpt from Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election, by Steven Rosenfeld, Hot Books.)
This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
I am so sick of news. Aren’t you?
I’m sick of Trump’s face on the front page of every newspaper and magazine. I’m sick of turning on the TV and seeing him on every channel. I’m tired of my daily email from the Columbia Journalism Review having something about mainstream media and Donald Trump in the subject line. Every. Single. Day.
Of course, this is a mild exaggeration. But it certainly feels that way, doesn’t it?
That’s because Trump has been playing mainstream media like a great orchestra conductor since before most of the people reporting on him were even born.
“'Donald Trump is the Michael Jackson of real estate,' says Mr. Fischer. 'We've been dealing with him since he was 16. He was an old trouper at age 25.'
“His success also derives from his marketing skills. 'I want to bring a little showmanship to real estate,' Mr. Trumps says…
“How do you sell a one-bedroom apartment costin[g] as much as a line item in the Department of Defense budget? 'You sell them a fantasy,' Mr. Trump explains.”
The man is, basically, a carney. P.T. Barnum would be in awe. Longtime Village Voice writer and author Wayne Barrett wrote extensively on Trump, going so far as to name his 1991 book Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth.
The problem—one of many, of course—is that Trump is also president of the United States. But he is still acting like a carney.
Do you know how to get a carney to shut up?
You stop going to his show.
That is—seriously—the only way to get rid of him. What happened when “Celebrity Apprentice” received poor ratings? Being careful not to offend Trump by using the “c” word (canceled), NBC simply stopped producing new episodes.
And that’s what needs to happen with this awful season of “Trump White House.”
Give the show poor ratings. Change the damn channel and watch something else.
But don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend everything is hunky-dory.
Consider: There are literally thousands of media options. Do you really need Facebook or CNN or Fox or MSNBC or ABC to tell you what is going on in the world?
Or A1 of the New York Times? The Times doesn’t even cover what’s happening in its own backyard.
No matter where you live, there is something critically important happening right now, in your own community—and it’s probably not happening on A1, or CNN.
It might be a worker’s strike, a garbage incinerator, toxic waste, heavy industry, Amazon, police brutality, undrinkable water, school bullying, mental health issues, homelessness, hungry children, veterans, unconscionable prisons… the list goes on. There is absolutely something happening, right now, in your community, that if you paid attention to it and started to take small actions toward resolving, might actually change your life, and the life of your community, for the better.
You might even feel good, logging off Facebook and getting involved, one-on-one, in your community.
And there’s a lot happening there.
It might even involve the Trump administration, or the EPA or DOJ or ICE. But I guarantee the solution to those problems will not be found by breathlessly watching every tweet, or every so-called break in the never-ending “Russia Scandal!” season one.
After all, the “Russia Scandal!” show isn’t scheduled to end any time soon. With ratings like this, there is no way it’s going to be canceled.
And every moment spent watching “Trump White House” or “Russia Scandal!” is going to guarantee a season two. Worse, it’s going to distract you from being able to understand what’s happening in your own backyard, and taking action on it.
Don’t let Trump, and mainstream media, do that to you or to your community. Change the channel, get involved, and watch what happens—in your own life.
This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.