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[It all boils down to this:] "Voting is like driving: if you want to go forward, you put it in D; if you want to go backwards, you put it in R."--Jamie Raskin
The 115th session of the Zoom group Grassroots Emergency Election Protection Coalition (GREEP) featured Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who gained national prominence recently as lead manager in the second set of impeachment hearings against Donald Trump in the wake of the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Farther back in time, Raskin also helped found the Progressive Democrats of America, in the company of two other pioneer activists, Mike Hersh and Joel Siegel. Most of the session focused on the upcoming elections, expectably, as well as MAGA's fascistic threats against our democracy.
The majority of this country are on our side, Raskin began; youth are registering Democratic at a ratio of two to one; all are moving in our direction. The Republican Party has been reduced to a cult of authoritarian personality around Donald Trump, a huge dive from its origins as Lincoln's party. Rightly did Biden accuse them of semi-fascist elements: "It the shoe semi-fits, you semi-wear it!'
He named actions like the attacks on early voting, weekend voting, and the mail-in ballot as well as voter challenging (happening in Georgia), gerrymandering, and the filibuster as large symptoms of the decay of democracy we must fight against.
We need more Democrats in the Senate to codify Roe v Wade and promote gun safety. The GOP thrives on the Electoral College, responsible for installing five popular-vote losers as presidents, two Republicans in this century alone. Gerrymandering isn't in the Constitution, but the Electoral College is. Presidential campaigns focus on swing states almost exclusively: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and aa few others. We export democracy hypocritically while whittling it down at home. We must have direct elections, which are indeed "democracy itself."
For Biden democracy may seem static (as he implied in a speech a few weeks ago), but for Tocqueville it was expanding or shrinking 150 years ago. Raskin specified six Amendments out of many that expand democracy: numbers 15, 17, 19, 23, 24, and 26. We must get back on that track--to a sea change that statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico would accomplish, for example. We must add an amendment on the right to vote and restore the Voting Rights Act back to the full strength that SCOTUS gutted in 2013.
"There is no solution to the ills of democracy except for more democracy." We're fighting to keep it this way.
Joel Siegel, co-convener of GREEP and former lead counsel to Congressman John Conyers, asked Raskin to specify, as a Constitutional scholar (a former professor of Constitutional law before he became a state senator in Maryland), what exact federal laws Trump had violated with the January 6 insurrection: Conspiracy to interfere with a federal proceeding, the official counting of the electoral votes?
Raskin replied, a federal statute. Halting the proceedings was the whole point of the Stop the Steal movement. "He pointed them like a loaded gun at the Capitol; he knew that they were armed. Bring down the magnetometers, bring down the metal detectors. He had been mobilizing [the opposition]. They sharpened the United States flag into weapons," the Congressman said. They have been accused and convicted of seditious conspiracy, to overthrow the US government. There is a very powerful circumstantial case to be made against them and 150 have already been prosecuted. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice are in a position to prosecute any federal crimes that they see. Many of those prosecuted point to Trump as instigator who forced them to do what they did: "If I'm guilty, then Donald Trump is guilty." And he's facing many other charges, including bank fraud, real estate fraud, and election fraud.
Another question from Siegel concerned the possibility of limiting the power of extremist groups and their violence against minorities. Why should they be allowed to threaten voters? Aren't there limitations we can put on these groups before it's too late? All 50 states ban "private" militias, Raskin said; this is made very clear in the Constitution. These can be banned. They must be banned at the federal level too. They can be prosecuted but also sued, and many such groups have been bankrupted by this process. This is probably the best way to put them out of business.
The next subject was Georgia, a hotbed of election corruption with its notorious SB 202 passed in the wake of the "Georgia Miracle" that handed the Senate majority to Democrats. Ray McClendon, head of the state's NAACP and architect of the Georgia Miracle said that early voting began last week and almost 750,000 have already voted, in a ratio of 60 percent Democratic to 40 percent GOP, numbers nearly as large as in 2020 at this time, though-mail-in votes are falling behind. Blacks are overperforming as a percent of the total black registered voters in the state, as a result of massive get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. McClendon asked Raskin how to amass more support from the funding community for these crucial grassroots efforts, which must be ongoing year-round rather than just during election seasons--how to amass more grassroots support.
There are strict laws governing financial support of campaigns, said Raskin, and we can't get involved at the level of 501c3 and 501c4 organizations. We all must realize the importance of defending the right to vote at the local level and using that right to reflect the will of the people and procure effective leadership to accomplish this.
Civic engagement and civic activism are of crucial importance, Raskin continued. There is a crisis of Constitutional illiteracy. People must be educated; the MAGA component believes that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to allow people to overthrow the government and that the Constitution makes America a Christian nation. It is that kind of Constitutional illiteracy that has gotten us into this terrible situation.
Said McClendon, the Center for Common Ground is building Democracy Centers all over the Southeast that teach civics, a subject no longer taught in public schools. We're making people aware that they can become activists and participate in the government at the city and school board levels, where the other side has become involved. We need to counterbalance that. When we go into barbershops and beauty shops and out on the streets to to reach out to the people, they ask where we are the rest of the year beyond getting us to vote.
Raskin pointed to certain practices already in place year-round, including free minor auto repairs so that people won't be pulled over and harassed because they need them; diapers and food are also made available to those in need.
GREEP co-convener Harvey Wasserman, also an author and academic, emphasized how crucial it is for the Democratic Party to move away from its marriage to high-expenditure media to a far more effective level, grassroots organizing, which could win the upcoming election.
Well-known author and fascism scholar Brynn Tannehill spoke of the fascistic scapegoating of transgender populations by Putin, Orban, and Members of Congress like Margery Taylor Green and even Marcia Blackburn. "There's still a great degree of discomfort about transgender people." They will bear the worst brunt of the fall of democracy. It's extremely scary. She spoke of planning to leave the country with her family if things continue in this direction. She asked what officials like Raskin are doing to protect against this.
Raskin said he was proud to have sponsored and seen passed a gender rights bill in Maryland in 2014. He said we must protect transgender people against violence and Republicans' discrimination. For protection we must support the police rather than defund them. On January 6, mostly black and Hispanic police saved his own as well as his son and daughter-in-law's lives--they were together at the Capitol that day. The bigoted element must be eliminated, of course. But police have performed well in major cities.
Dennis Bernstein, host of the nationally syndicated radio show Flashpoints, next compared the recent voter intimidation and thuggery in Arizona to death squads in the drug-dealing Central American military who threaten those who dare to testify against them in court. Bernstein further pointed to arrests in Florida of ex-felons unaware that they still lacked the right to vote. The state legislature, Raskin added, had voted to charge ex-felons for the expenses of their imprisonment, a poll tax right out of the end of Reconstruction, in violation of the Twenty-fourth Amendment. We must address such discrimination in all of the states and get the Department of Justice to proactively protect the right to vote.
Bernstein further asked how dangerous are the threats of nuclear attack being traded by both this country and Putin. Raskin called Putin a desperate madman. "We must aggressively support the national sovereignty and democracy of Ukraine and keep diplomatic channels open," he said, expressing hope for a Ukraine victory and US intervention to get Russia to rebuild the county.
Wasserman commented on the importance of aid, worried about a GOP takeover of Congress in 2022, which might oppose it, and the consequent possibility of Putin taking over the nuclear power plants in Ukraine and thereby becoming dictator of Europe.
Activist Jim Garrison, founder and president of Ubiquity University, asked how it is possible that Donald Trump isn't already in court and in jail, given the enormity of his ongoing coup attempts, white supremacy violence, and thuggery. Where is the federal government? Why aren't Democrats taking the kind of action that will be normal?
"The walls are closing in on Donald Trump," said Raskin. In New York, in Georgia, not to mention his theft of crucial classified documents that he hid at Mar-a-Lago. It's got to be charged. There was probable cause that a crime had been committed and much more contraband found than was initially expected. "I don't know what's going to happen." Congress can discover and make known the evidence and proof, but it's up to the Justice Department to indict. How can it not indict in a situation like that? This was an overall conspiracy to interfere with government proceedings. Raskin called Trump a "notorious and hardened criminal" for this and the many other attacks on American democracy by him and his supporters.
He quoted MLK that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."
Go to https://grassrootsep.org for a video recording of the complete event.