The IMI Journal: April 2021 Edition: Making Media That Can Shift Minds

Media is an essential ingredient to get someone whose mind is closed to consider thinking differently—it certainly can’t be forced, and in this digital environment where a person can spend lifetimes in media silos that reinforce their thinking, it’s all the more challenging.

But with so many issues requiring a wider shift in social consciousness to make progress, it’s essential work. Our correspondents for two IMI projects, Local Peace Economy and Earth | Food | Life, have produced so many amazing articles that I know are finding ways to crack through. I know this because I see the reactions to the work, and also because our approach of working with a wide array of publications of different stripes and ideologies in the U.S. and internationally means that it’s getting a wider exposure.

April M. Short’s two recent articles for Local Peace Economy, in which she interviews anthropologists who specialize in the history of war and peace systems, shifted my mind personally. The first explains how the culture of war-making is just one streak in human history, by no means the default; and the second describes how in a high-tech modern era, constructing peace systems is a highly pragmatic approach for all societies. I see the possibility. It’s powerful stuff—and the letters and reactions we’ve seen from all corners of society tell me it landed. Stories like these have their own pace; they change minds one reader at a time, on a time scale utterly at odds with the high-paced digital breaking news marketplace. Short’s recent spate of articles on innovations throughout the U.S. on how communities are trying to find more balanced and sane ways of living together gives me that warm glow of optimism, and I’m guessing that if you went through her recent work, it would do the same for you.

Reynard Loki’s stellar work as chief correspondent and editor of Earth | Food | Life is truly inspiring. The questions he works with go far beyond informing people about the state of our environment, and all the pessimism that stems from the steady stream of bad news one can encounter—the work points to ways that humanity can shift, to prevent the worst from happening, to find a more humane approach to living together. Loki reminded us that the sooner we as a people can recognize the damage of environmental racism, the less suffering we will inflict on each other.

Work like this takes passion—I hope you will join our circle, and reach out to us with your support to help make this world a better place.

And if you aren’t up to date, please catch up with our recent work!

PPE May Save Human Lives, but It’s Deadly for Wildlife

Reynard Loki – April 13, 2021 – Earth | Food | Life

IMI Fellow Kali Holloway to Join Panel on PBS Broadcast, ‘New American Dream: News That Needs Telling’

Kali Holloway – April 12, 2021 – Make It Right

Why Republicans Are Betting the Farm on Attacking Transgender People

Sonali Kolhatkar – April 11, 2021 – Economy for All

How Humanity Can Realistically Prevent War From Ever Happening Again

April M. Short – April 11, 2021 – Local Peace Economy

Why Disability Rights Advocates Are Pressing the Senate to Allow an Internet Voting Option

Steven Rosenfeld – April 9, 2021 – Voting Booth

One City’s Pioneering Project to Push Police Funding Into Housing the Homeless

April M. Short – April 7, 2021 – Local Peace Economy

Biden Promised to End Standardized Testing in Schools—It Was Never Going to Be Easy

Jeff Bryant – April 7, 2021 – Our Schools

‘Sacrifice Zones’: How People of Color Are Targets of Environmental Racism

Reynard Loki – April 6, 2021 – Earth | Food | Life

Thanks from Jan Ritch-Frel and the rest of the IMI team—please join our cause to produce media that can change the world.

Pandemic May Have Left Over 250 Million People With Acute Food Shortages in 2020

The following is an excerpt of an article that was originally published on Truthout.

Click to read the full article online.

As Black and Latinx families experience disproportionate food insecurity, experts warn of famine in dozens of countries.

By Robin Scher

February 23, 2021

Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough. According to a United Nations World Food Program (WFP) report, COVID-19 might have left up to 265 million people with acute food shortages in 2020. The combined effect of the pandemic as well as the emerging global recession “could, without large-scale coordinated action, disrupt the functioning of food systems,” which would “result in consequences for health and nutrition of a severity and scale unseen for more than half a century,” states another UN report.

In the United States, “food insecurity has doubled overall, and tripled among households with children” due to the pandemic, states a June 2020 report by the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) at Northwestern University, which relied on data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. In a recent interview with CBS News, IPR Director Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach warned that these statistics would likely “continue to hold,” with the numbers indicating particularly dramatic rises in food insecurity among Black and Latinx families. Indeed, families of color are being disproportionately impacted. According to an analysis of new Census data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), 22 percent of Black and 21 percent of Latinx respondents reported not having enough to eat, compared to just 9 percent of white people.

Globally, the effects of COVID-19 on food security are equally, if not more, severe. According to a CBS News report, WFP Director David Beasley told the UN Security Council in April 2020 that the world is on “the brink of a hunger pandemic.” He added, “In a worst-case scenario, we could be looking at famine in about three dozen countries, and in fact, in 10 of these countries we already have more than one million people per country who are on the verge of starvation.”

“The number of chronically hungry people increased by an estimated 130 million last year, to more than 800 million—about eight times the total number of COVID-19 cases to date,” wrote Mark Lowcock, the under-secretary-general and emergency relief coordinator at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and Axel van Trotsenburg, managing director of operations at the World Bank. “Countries affected by conflict and climate change are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. Empty stomachs can stunt whole generations.”The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) warns that climate change “is likely to diminish continued progress on global food security through production disruptions that lead to local availability limitations and price increases, interrupted transport conduits, and diminished food safety.” The same might be said about the pandemic, which has made it abundantly clear: climate resilience, food security and global health are closely intertwined.

Read the rest at Truthout.

Robin Scher is a writer based in South Africa. He is a graduate of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University. Find him on Twitter @RobScherHimself.

Photo Credit: neukomment/Flickr

Bridging the Gap: When Students from Two Very Different Campuses Find a Path to Understanding Each Other

This article describes the efforts of the Face to Face project’s Bridging the Gap initiative. Read more about it here.

Two reputations, two narratives, one goal: to listen, learn and value each other.

By Kevin Brown and Meredith Raimondo

This fall, America experienced a presidential election like no other. For many college students, this was their first opportunity to vote, and what a way to enter the democratic process. After four years facing a difficult political polarization, America reminded us on Election Day, and (even more dramatically) in the days since, that we are a deeply divided nation. As a result, we demonize each other in our divisions.

From our vantage point as deans of student affairs (at two very different small liberal arts institutions), the process toward healing the divides in our nation could only be achieved through finding our collective humanity, not through vanquishing our alleged enemies.

As leaders at our respective campuses, we know that there are powerful forces in politics, media, and culture that advance the notion to disagree with the “other”—that these disagreements should be reviled and ridiculed. According to that narrative, students at Oberlin College (a renowned bastion of liberal thinking in Ohio) are elite, intolerant “snowflakes.” Students at Spring Arbor University (a private, Christ-centered, liberal arts school in Spring Arbor, Michigan) are seen through prejudiced lenses often as reactionary, intolerant, mean-spirited evangelicals.

Each is supposed to view one another as the irreconcilable opposition.

This spring, students from five colleges and universities (Cornerstone University, Hamline College, and Bethel College, in addition to Oberlin and Spring Arbor) have launched a new program called Bridging the Gap: Dialogue across Difference—a three-week project to “challenge” views that depend upon increasingly limiting labels. We felt that if our students could come together across lines of difference, it would be good for them and our institutions.

This was not a kumbaya idea animated by a naive hope that we would all just “get along.” Instead, it would build on the values and programs of our institutions while building from an experiment that began last spring by Oberlin and Spring Arbor, to “Bridge the Gap.”

There were precedents for this experiment at both institutions: In the spring of 2017, Spring Arbor began work on the “Courageous Conversations Project” through the Office for Institutional Diversity and the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee as a way to foster communication and dialogue across campus. A year later, Oberlin launched a 14-week sustained dialogue program built around listening to understand and designed to help students engage productively with perspectives and experiences different from their own. Both initiatives were widely embraced at each campus.

Even with ongoing outreach programs on both campuses, students said, “more work needs to be done.”

As John Walter Parker, a fourth-year East Asian studies major at Oberlin, said, “there are a lot of people at Oberlin who think that engaging conservative, evangelical ideas is bad discourse.”

Bridging the Gap was led by Simon Greer, a nationally renowned facilitator who began with a simple prompt: take seriously the things that others hold dear. If it matters to you, then it will matter to me; we are not here to convince anyone they are wrong or try to change them; and, we are curious why people think the way they do, and rather than thinking we are diminished by listening carefully to ideas we might disagree with, we trust that we are enhanced by it.

The pilot program consisted of more than 125 hours of combined classwork, fieldwork, and homework. Over three weeks, 17 students invested a great deal in this journey. They learned and practiced skills such as listening, providing feedback, and telling their stories. Kristina Grace, a senior business major from Spring Arbor University, commented, “we focused on how to have hard conversations.”

Our students spent eight days living together. They explored each other’s values, worldviews, political ideas, faith traditions, and much more. Elizabeth Stewart, a junior communications major from Spring Arbor, explains:

“We all knew it was a safe space to learn, and that meant it had to be a safe place to disagree. Simon designed it based on hearing the other perspective and made sure it was natural to disagree. Our goals were things like curiosity and intellectual humility, and it was a safe route because of the setup.”

Students were encouraged to hold to their convictions and not to blur differences or seek watered-down compromises.

The results exceeded our expectations. Elizabeth recalls, “I had a hesitancy to share my faith because I wasn’t sure if they would allow room for me to express it; my encounter was the opposite of my expectations. They respected me. They asked questions about my faith. They sought to find common ground and even encouraged me in my Christianity.”

The last phase of the program was an application of Simon Greer’s approach to a policy issue. The issue they focused on was criminal justice reform. They began the deep dive by meeting all the stakeholders in the criminal justice system, from state legislators, to corrections officers, to formerly incarcerated individuals and advocacy organizations. They even toured a prison.

Our students reminded us that whether you are secular or Christian, conservative or liberal, we all have our own stories that make us human. As Darielle Kennedy, a second-year law and society student from Oberlin, shared, “One of the biggest bridges I had to gap was talking about prison reform with corrections officers [COs]. In hearing the voices of those working in corrections, the skills I learned from Bridging the Gap, such as active listening and being curious, both helped me when I met COs who really do care about the safety and well-being of prisoners. And now in thinking about prison reform more broadly, I believe that all impacted voices, including the voice of officers, are needed if we are ever really going to improve the system, and I am hopeful that by hearing from all voices we can start to imagine a road forward that benefits all sides so no one is suffering.”

We would not be writing this op-ed together if our pilot program had been a complete success. Much more work needs to be done. But we are excited that today, despite the global pandemic, more campuses and more students are expanding on the pilot program. Engagement across differences can help us clarify and strengthen who we are, illuminate things we may not have understood, and by bringing a bit of humanity to how we understand the “other” instill some spiritual and moral health to a society in need of healing.

Our students taught us that as our future leaders, they want much more than what’s being offered today. They are ready to honor each other’s humanity and to engage across lines of difference. They want a chance to solve real problems together—by bridging the gaps that divide us.

To watch the Bridging the Gap film, click here.

Kevin Brown is the chief diversity officer at Spring Arbor University.

Meredith Raimondo is vice president and dean of students at Oberlin College.

The IMI Journal: SOS for Public Interest Journalism

We’re about 25 years into the digital news revolution, and here’s a quick rundown of what it looks like to me: when the tech giants started chipping away at newspaper ad revenues, the commercial news organizations tried to compete with what the social media companies were producing by diluting their content and prioritizing tabloid stories over substantive ones. And even then, the commercial news sites failed to pull in the audiences that social media could, and started cutting their staff and producing increasingly useless, ad-filled content.

The tech giants were pretty indifferent to what information ran through their platforms, as long as it was generating ad revenue, and created new problems by fostering a wide audience for misleading information, from politics to nutrition. Not only this, but the tech companies ended up monopolizing the entire online ad business. The billionaires who cornered various markets and who now own the most influential social media companies have had an abysmal record of supporting the public interest journalism that this country desperately needs; could it be because their wealth is utterly predicated on a monopolistic and overwhelming abuse of their power. After all, it’s the very thing that good journalism would expose.

Meanwhile, TV news went increasingly down the drain, offering less and less useful information to the public. Take your pick of a cable news network channel, keep it on for a few hours, and I will wager you will not see a single substantive segment on an issue that ranks in the top 20 concerns of the public. Most of the big issues—like the state of K-12 public education, climate change, and immigration—require at least 30 minutes to broadly explain. Cable offers hundreds of channels—and yet there is hardly any TV journalism about the things that matter to society.

Visiting the websites of the few large news-gathering organizations remaining, a reader has to spend a good percentage of the time avoiding aggressive advertising or paywalls to see if there is anything worth learning. The content itself on foreign affairs is through a totally distorted lens that advances the interests of global finance; the op-ed writers are stenographers for an array of corporate think tanks or intelligence agencies that prioritize the growth of their budgets above all else. The experience of trying to nail down basic facts in the last 10 months about COVID-19 has been tricky; members of the public have had to sift through a wide array of material to get to the bottom of a simple question like “how likely is reinfection?”

Journalism in the U.S. has never been paradise, and while it’s tempting to gripe endlessly about it, the better inclination is to produce it, and get it to the broadest audiences possible. The extremely talented and dedicated journalists we work with at the Independent Media Institute are plugging away—you’ll see the recent stories below—on work to be proud of, work that deserves to be at the forefront of our national conversation.

We do our very best to keep the flame going. The thing is, there’s one more dispiriting thing: philanthropists generally have a hard time understanding the point of funding media, not just IMI—I mean media in general. It gets a fraction of the support that it deserves. There’s a host of understandable reasons for it—I’ve come to believe one problem is that it’s not tangible, not an immediate deliverable like a lot of things that philanthropy can produce; a homeless shelter, a playground, a protected wilderness.

The outcomes of a society that doesn’t produce much good journalism, and even worse is losing its appetite for good journalism, are quite apparent—there are tens of millions of credulous citizens who will believe anything a demagogue tells them to, even if it upends their system of government. We got a vivid illustration of that over the past four years, culminating in the scene at the Capitol on January 6.

Good journalism is always on the frontlines of making change. We can’t have a democratic culture without good journalism, or the many people and organizations that are required to produce it and distribute it.

I hope you might consider this a bit—and join us by supporting our work.

Thanks from Jan Ritch-Frel and the rest of the IMI team.

P.S.: Please, if you haven’t already, check out our most recent work below:

Betsy DeVos Is Gone, But Her Education Agenda Is Rolling Out Across the Country

Jeff Bryant – February 5, 2021 – Our Schools

COVID-19 Has Exposed the Fragility of Our Food System—Here’s How We Can Localize It

April M. Short – February 4, 2021 – Local Peace Economy

No Matter the Odds, the Democrats Must Stay Strong on Impeachment

Bill Blum – February 4, 2021

Exploring Local Solutions to Our Collective Crises That Actually Work—From California to Alaska

April M. Short – February 3, 2021 – Local Peace Economy

The So-Called Moderna Vaccine Is a Publicly Funded Miracle

Alex Lawson – February 2, 2021 – Economy for All

Trump Unleashed Dozens of Dangerous Pesticides on America—Now It’s Up to Biden to Protect Us

Reynard Loki – February 2, 2021 – Earth | Food | Life

How the Community Helps Sustain Portland’s Ongoing Black Lives Matter Protests

April M. Short – January 31, 2021 – Local Peace Economy

How New Solar Power Projects Support the Homeless and Fight Against Fossil Fuels

April M. Short – January 30, 2021 – Local Peace Economy

500 Voting Bills Await State Legislators; 100 of Them Would Make Voting Much Harder

Steven Rosenfeld – January 29, 2021 – Voting Booth

The U.S. Economy Excels at One Thing: Producing Massive Inequality

Richard D. Wolff – January 29, 2021 – Economy for All

Reformers Seek Sweeping Changes to Fortify American Democracy

The Independent Media Institute and Voting Booth project are grateful for the support of Carla Itzkowich, in honor of her father, Moises Itzkowich, to produce special reports like these.

By Steven Rosenfeld

The Trump presidency is over and the Biden presidency has begun. The 2020 election’s legacy will now turn to examining how the institutions and laws that govern voting can be fortified, after a bruising season where Trump attacked the process as illegitimate and enlarged the GOP myth of massive voter fraud.

Normally, after every presidential election, every sector involved in elections issues post-election reports and prescriptions. While Trump’s refusal to admit defeat has delayed that process, the emerging analyses and recommendations so far have two focuses. The first concerns the maze of laws and rules governing elections. The second focus is arguably harder to solve, as it concerns the personal and societal factors that allowed the narratives of stolen elections and underlying conspiracies to take hold among tens of millions of Americans—such as 15 percent of Republicans who still support the storming of the Capitol on January 6.

“This anger on the part of some people has been building for a long time, and there can be a separate discussion of why it is that people are feeling frustrated and that leads to a willingness to engage in violence,” said Michael Chertoff, former U.S. secretary of homeland security and a leader of the bipartisan National Task Force on Election Crises, which was convened last year as Trump escalated his attacks on the legitimacy of the 2020 election. “But the fuse that lit this particular explosion was a big lie.”

“It was the lie propagated by Donald Trump and his supporters that this election was rigged and stolen and fraudulent,” Chertoff said, speaking on January 15 as the National Task Force on Election Crises issued its recommendations. “Even though, repeatedly, when evidence was requested, no evidence was provided, and every court rejected these claims. But the big lie nevertheless continued to propagate and reflects a challenge in our society in terms of truth and willingness to trust our [electoral] institutions.”

In the short run, Chertoff believes that those individuals who led the lie-based attacks on 2020’s elections—Trump, those storming the Capitol, elected officials seeking to override swing-state popular votes, pro-Trump lawyers filing falsity-filled lawsuits—must be held accountable. That near-term step will help revive factual baselines and trust in electoral institutions, he said. But the body’s recommendations, like other “what next?” discussions by legal scholars, policymakers, election officials and advocacy groups, concern other foundations of American democracy.

The task force made 28 recommendations in several areas, including: election administration, with regard to how states helped voters both to get a ballot during the pandemic and to ensure their votes were accurately counted; legal reforms, ranging from clarifying federal laws governing the Electoral College and presidential transitions to urging that states modify their post-Election Day procedures to allow more assurances that votes were being counted accurately; and social media platforms, which would do better to delete false posts, not merely add warning labels.

As extensive as this to-do list seems, it is not the full democracy reform agenda. In July 2020, a 25-member expert panel based at Harvard University and the Washington-based Brookings Institution issued a report calling for mandatory voting. As María Teresa Kumar, founding president of Voto Latino, who participated in that panel and the bipartisan task force, said, universal voting was one way to dilute the power of the most extreme political factions.

“Universal voting, in countries that practice it, actually tones down the extremism on both sides because it involves everybody,” she said. “If there are methods to promote that type of practice in the country, we will see not only fair elections but more participation… with the hopes of toning down that extremism that we are witnessing today.”

An even longer-standing reform effort led by voting rights advocates is calling for swift passage of H.R. 1. That 791-page House bill addresses election intricacies, campaign finance and ethics. It is comprised of reforms proposed mostly by Democrats from more than 50 bills that failed to pass during the past decade when Republicans controlled at least one chamber in Congress. A growing coalition of 170 center-left groups are pushing for H.R. 1, even though most of it was drafted before the pandemic dramatically altered how 2020’s general election was conducted, including greatly expanding the use of mailed-out ballots and early in-person voting. One day before Biden’s inauguration, a version of H.R. 1 was introduced in the Senate.

On the same day, Marc Elias, who led the Democratic Party’s voting rights litigation, published his initial ideas based on the 2020 election. They include “shoring up the weak points in our system that Trump and his allies exploited,” such as streamlining post-election certification of winners, improving access to ballots, minimizing bureaucracy surrounding mailed-out ballots, and better audits and transparency to assure voters are not being disenfranchised.

“As we transition to an America without Trump as its president, the days are still dark—an epidemic is raging and the assault on democracy continues,” he said. “Although the man will leave the White House, it has become clear that Trumpism will remain, now deeply embedded in the Republican Party. The damage that it has done and, until rooted out, will continue to do to our nation and its institutions and values is structural and will not be easily repaired.”

Where to Begin?

The early post-election reports, related briefings and other discussions suggest bold action is needed to counter the damage done to the institutions and procedures undergirding American democracy. Even though Trump and his allies lost 64 out of 65 post-election lawsuits (and gained no votes in the suit they won), the constitutional roles surrounding who regulates elections must be clarified. The steps instituted to help voters during the pandemic have not been codified into law—and may even be rolled back in red-run states. The architecture of online media that spread Trump’s stolen election lies remain in place.

Every new presidency has a window to pass a fraction of its agenda. When it comes to dealing with the damage done to America’s elections, the emerging question is what steps are likely to most immediately fortify democratic institutions. Put another way, if the bedrock of American democracy was shaken and tested, what steps—possibly beyond what was on the table in 2020’s elections—are needed to strengthen representative government?

On January 14, a dozen of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars met on Zoom for an Ohio State University forum, “Picking Up the Pieces of the 2020 Election.” Two divergent focal points drove the discussion. The first was what to do about the millions of Trump voters who believe that one of the best-run national elections in memory (record turnout, more voting options, more verification of vote counts, etc.) was illegitimate. And second, what should most immediately be done to fortify the laws and structures behind elections to restore public trust?

The country faced a crisis that was bigger than the fine print of election law and procedure, said University of California, Irvine School of Law professor Rick Hasen. Laws and election reforms can only go so far—as both are based on facts and rules of evidence—if people rejected the law, or felt that their identity as citizens had somehow been threatened and required patriotic rebellion.

“There is only so much that election law can do if people are not willing to comply with the rules of the game,” he said. “We can structure rules that try to create fair elections and that, if people are willing to believe the truth, should give assurances that elections were conducted in fair ways. But if you’ve got a significant part of the population [unwilling to believe the truth], led by someone who is spouting lies about the integrity of the election, it turns out it is very difficult to fight against that.”

Others said that the county was not quite at the abyss, but agreed that the moment called for remedies other than what many democracy advocates are coalescing around, which was the swift passage of H.R. 1.

“Some of the things in H.R. 1 are good and we should think about them, as well as things that came up in this election related to mail balloting and the like,” said Nathaniel Persily of Stanford Law School. “The impact that they’re actually going to have on some of the problems that we are seeing in the short term is relatively minimal. You can support gerrymander reform, [party] primary [election] reform and the like, as I do, but I don’t think that it’s going to respond to our current crisis.”

“There are things that can be done now, though, that are worth spending political capital on, like [Washington] D.C. statehood, Puerto Rican statehood, and the like,” Persily said, “that I think would have a dramatic effect on the composition of Congress, as well as the Electoral College.” He went on to say that Congress must regulate online speech, as it has in other settings depending on time, place and manner, instead of allowing “Google, Twitter and Facebook to be those judges.”

Others at the Ohio State University forum were more measured. They pointed to clarifying the constitutional questions involving the Electoral College and state certification of winners. They said that administrative decisions and emergency rules that helped voters during the pandemic should be codified—put into law. They suggested that political parties, especially Republicans, might rein in extremist flanks by revising their rules for primary elections. They agreed American public education lacked a sufficient focus on civics.

Looming overhead during the forum was an unnerving question posed by several scholars. Democrats could use their control of Congress and the White House to impose their vision, as the Republicans have done for years—such as red states imposing barriers to Democratic voting blocs after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. But doing so might further provoke a violence-prone right wing, some scholars said, suggesting that progressives might have to step back to allow moderate Republicans to reclaim control of their party and return to respecting elections.

“Prior to November 3, I thought where we would be now is, conceptually, having the Democratic Party having control of the Senate, control of the House, control of the presidency, [and the leadership] asking itself to what extent it was appropriate, and how could it impose its conception of fair play and fair elections on the system, because it would have the ability to do that,” said Edward Foley, who directs Ohio State University’s election law program. “This was the moment. Use the power. And just have a new Voting Rights Act and new reform agenda that would come out of the Democratic Party and its values.”

“I now think that would be a terrible mistake,” Foley continued, “because it will embolden the Trumpian right wing of the Republican Party to say, ‘The system is rigged. It’s their system. It’s not our system. It’s not a shared system. And we’re not going to play by your rules. We’re not going to play this game.’” Foley said that Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell needed “to build a bilateral conception of what America needs by way of an electoral system that both sides can buy into and accept. It can’t be one side’s vision. It can’t be the other.”

The possibility of ceding ground to Republicans to get their post-Trump party to heed facts, and to follow the law and evidence in elections, disturbed Franita Tolson, a University of Southern California Gould School of Law professor. She said such a response lent false credibility to years of Republican lies that elections were fraudulent unless Republican candidates emerged victorious.

“This agreement that we have to appease those who believe in election security [to overly police the process], while also expanding access to the ballot, to me, it just seems like an odd starting place because it gives credence to this idea that on the election integrity side that we have an equal problem there—similar to the problem that we have with access to the ballot,” Tolson said. “I may be in the minority here, but I actually don’t think that’s a good starting point. I think that to the extent that we are worried about people questioning the legitimacy of this election, we have to stop pretending that there are problems with the legitimacy of this election. This is a narrative that’s been building, really, for over the past two decades.”

Clear Frames and Goals

These big questions and frames offer ways to assess post-election recommendations. In the meantime, other key voices have yet to weigh in.

In presidential battleground states, election officials have yet to submit reports to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and to private foundations about how they used millions in grants to better conduct elections during a pandemic, said Tammy Patrick, a member of the National Task Force on Election Crises and senior adviser to the elections program at the Democracy Fund.

“The election itself was a raging success, in the midst of a raging pandemic and some of the worst rhetoric around the integrity of elections that the Republic has ever seen,” said Patrick, who counseled against fast federal action, such as passing H.R. 1, despite its many laudable elements—including reliable federal funding.

“There’s so much going on,” she said. “If the states take the false narrative of the 2020 election as a reason or a way to implement regressive law [as GOP-majority legislatures in swing states may do], I think we will have to have some sort of baseline federal legislation get passed in order to make sure that all Americans have some semblance of equal access to the ballot.”

Meanwhile, others, such as Stanford’s Persily, said now was not the right time to talk about election intricacies, especially with Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate.

“Now’s not a time to be talking about ballot drop boxes and absentee ballot signatures, when… the basics of American democracy and government are under assault,” he said. “I believe the Biden folks when they say that they are worried that a trial sometime soon after he takes office will make it very difficult for the Senate [to focus elsewhere].”

In other words, the odds that constitutional or electoral reforms will emerge quickly depends on how the impeachment unfolds—including whether or not Republicans vocally reject Trump’s false claims about election fraud—and the outcome, which could include barring Trump from running again for federal office. In the meantime, influential players will keep weighing in.

“It is difficult to overstate the danger that this kind of violent rhetoric poses for our democracy—not only to election officials themselves and the future willingness of Americans to help run our elections [as poll workers], but to the stability of our system,” said Trevor Potter, a Republican, ex-Federal Election Commission chair and founder of the Campaign Legal Center.

“Are we ruled by voters and laws, or by force and violent threats?”

Read the rest at National Memo.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Joe Biden Has a Golden Opportunity to Strengthen Public Education

The following is an excerpt of an article that was originally published on EdPolitics.

Click to read the full article online.

After years of federal policy malpractice, the nation is eager for a fresh agenda for public schools.

By Jeff Bryant

January 19, 2021

In picking Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona to be his nominee for U.S. secretary of education, President-elect Joe Biden appears to have made a Goldilocks choice that pleases just about everyone. People who rarely agree on education policy have praised the decision, including Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform, a nonprofit group that advocates for charter schools and school choice, who called Cardona “good news,” and education historian Diane Ravitch, who also called the pick “good news” because he does not seem to be aligned with advocates for charter schools and vouchers. Sara Sneed, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation, a public charity founded by educators, called Cardona an “ideal candidate,” in an email, and hailed him for “his emphasis on the need to end structural racism in education and for his push for greater educational equity and opportunity through public schools.”

But as Biden and Cardona—should he be approved, as most expect—begin to address the array of critical issues that confront the nation’s schools, there’s bound to be more of a pushback. Or maybe not?

After decades of federal legislation that emphasized mandating standardized testing and tying school and teacher evaluations to the scores; imposing financial austerity on public institutions; incentivizing various forms of privatization; and undermining teachers’ professionalism and labor rights, there is a keen appetite for a new direction for school policy.

Due to the disruption forced by the pandemic, much is being written and said about the need to “restart and reinvent” education and a newfound appreciation for schools as essential infrastructure for families and children. With an incoming Biden administration, Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, and the influence of incoming first lady Jill Biden, a career educator, we may be on the cusp of a historic moment when the stars align to revitalize public schools in a way that hasn’t happened in a generation.

Read the rest at EdPolitics.

Jeff Bryant is a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

Announcing the Launch of the Bridging the Gap Initiative

Bridging the Gap is a pilot program designed to support college students from very different walks of life to cultivate the will and the skill to communicate effectively across lines of difference.

In response to the deep divisions we see across our country, and in higher education more specifically, this program provides training and the opportunity to practice developing a deeper understanding of the “other.”

The goal is not to seek watered-down compromises or a kumbaya belief that there are no real disagreements. But rather, Bridging the Gap believes deeply in people, believes the brave work is sitting face to face with those we disagree with and staying firm in our values and open to their humanity at the same time. 

We envision a transformed culture where the heroes are the bridge builders. With Bridging the Gap, these skills are also then applied to issue and policy challenges where we take a multi-stakeholder approach to understanding uses such as criminal justice and where diverse groups of students are charged with developing blueprints for reform on those issues.

Watch the trailer:

Enjoy watching the full documentary film about the process here. You can also read more about Bridging the Gap in USA Today and on

In America, Business Profits Come First Over the Pandemic

The following is an excerpt of an article that was originally published on Newsclick.

Click to read the full article online.

Blaming the deadly virus surge on individuals and their risky behavior ignores that the real fault lies with a government that chooses to prioritize the health of businesses over that of humans.

By Sonali Kolhatkar

January 10, 2021

Los Angeles, California, is now considered one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the nation. LA mayor Eric Garcetti assessed grimly that there is one new infection every six seconds and a death every 10 minutes from the virus. Hospitals are turning away ambulances, and health facilities in LA County are quite literally running out of oxygen. But last spring, as the pandemic was first declared, the city was an early adopter of mandated mask wearing and benefitted from California enacting the first statewide shelter-in-place order that helped curb the worst spread of the virus. So, what happened?

There is a possibility that the deadly surge in cases may be a result of a new, more transmissible strain of the virus circulating in the area. But more likely the spread is the result of the message that authorities are sending of a premature return to normalcy. As social media platforms are filled with angry Angelenos blaming and shaming one another for brazenly vacationing and flouting social distancing guidelines, in truth, the burst of infections is the price that officials are willing to pay for ensuring that corporate profits are protected.

California’s latest shelter-in-place order is quite different from its first one. Whereas in March 2020 the state ordered all non-essential businesses to remain closed, in early December, at the peak of the holiday shopping season, all retail stores were allowed to remain open, even as outdoor parks were closed. So outraged were Californians by the obvious double standards that state officials caved and reopened parks—instead of shutting down retail stores.

Predictably, infections at malls soared as shoppers, eager to salvage Christmas, rubbed elbows with one another in their rush to fulfill holiday wishes. After all, authorities had okayed such actions, so they must be safe, right? Rather than enact strict rules to prevent such congregating, some Californians rightfully terrified of the disease simply blamed the shoppers. Even LA County health services director Dr. Christina Ghaly told the Los Angeles Times, “If you’re still out there shopping for your loved ones for this holiday season… then you are missing the gravity of the situation that is affecting hospitals across LA County. Though they may seem benign, these actions are extremely high-risk.” LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said to Angelenos, “stay home,” but has refused to consider shutting down non-essential businesses.

In other words, officials kept retail stores open but then chastised residents for shopping. There are two ways to interpret the muddled messaging. If authorities are allowing all businesses to remain open, surely it must be safe to frequent them. Or, authorities are being driven by financial stakes, not public health, so surely it is not possible to trust them.

Read the rest at Newsclick.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.

Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer, (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr

House GOP Recited Trump’s False Vote Theft Claims—Even After Historic Attack on Congress by His Supporters

The following is an excerpt of an article that was originally published on Big News Network.

Click to read the full article online.

The 2020 presidential election may be over. But Trump’s lies and doubts linger.

By Steven Rosenfeld

January 9, 2021

It was past midnight on Thursday, January 7, when the House began its debate on whether to accept Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes.

Earlier on Wednesday, allegations of illegal and fraudulent voting in Pennsylvania and other swing states where President Trump lost led his supporters to storm the Capitol. The mob came after a Trump rally, where the president recited numerous falsehoods that long have been debunked.

It was a stunning spectacle. More than a dozen Republican congressmen rose and condemned the violence. Then, as if the cause of the rampage lay elsewhere, they opposed certifying Pennsylvania’s votes by reciting many of the same allegations that Trump uttered that day—atop innuendo that Democrats had widely cheated.

“To sum it up, Pennsylvania officials illegally did three things,” said Rep. Ted Budd, R-NC. “One, they radically expanded vote by mail for virtually any reason. Two, they removed restrictions when a ballot could be sent in. And three, they removed signature verification on those very ballots.”

Budd did not mention that Pennsylvania’s Republican majority legislature had approved the election reforms that laid the ground rules for 2020’s election. Nor did he note that the Republican National Committee had pushed Pennsylvania’s Republicans to vote with absentee ballots—and hundreds of thousands did.

Instead, Budd and other Republicans said that the election was illegitimate because Democratic officials—such as Pennsylvania’s secretary of state—issued rules to make it easier for voters and election officials to manage in a pandemic. They said the Constitution had been violated because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had agreed with those steps. Only state legislatures could set election rules, they said, making a novel argument that ignored decades of election law and court rulings.

“I rise in support of this objection and to give voice to the 249,386 men and women of Ohio’s 6th Congressional District,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-OH, “who have had their voices silenced by the rogue political actors in Pennsylvania, who unilaterally and unconstitutionally altered voting methods to benefit the Democratic candidate for president.”

“Secretaries of state and state supreme courts cannot simply ignore the rules governing elections set forth in the [U.S.] Constitution,” he fumed. “They cannot choose to usurp their state legislatures to achieve a partisan end, Constitution be damned.”These representatives were joined by others who said that Trump’s mob was “shameful,” “unacceptable” and “un-American.” Yet they went on to recite many of the same claims that Trump made before his mob acted. These claims filled the 60-plus lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies since the election—claims federal and state judges have overwhelmingly rejected as baseless and lacking in evidence.

Read the rest at Big News Network.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

US Capitol by Richard Ricciardi, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), via Flickr