How to help the students in Parkland with medical bills and political activism

The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL was heartbreaking. And given the GOP’s continued insistence that “now is not the time to talk about gun control,” it would be easy to despair and resign to mass murder as a standard fact of life, an assumed risk that hangs over our heads every time we leave the house. Fear seems like the new normal, every goodbye charged with the knowledge that it could be permanent.

But the students at Stoneman Douglas have refused to give in to that default feeling of defeat, and have instead have rallied through their mourning. They have purposely politicized this event, defying the calls by GOP officeholders like Marco Rubio who have cynically tried to take gun control off the table in the wake of a gun-driven tragedy. Through Twitter, remarkably poised TV interviewspublic speeches, and collective organization online, the students have demanded change, and we owe it to them to assist in any way we can.

This week, we are devoting Progressives Everywhere to raising money and support for their causes and the candidates that will act on their behalf. The Republican Party controls Florida, but as we saw last week, Democrats can turn the tide with concerted action and an emphasis on community. Even if you can’t vote in Florida, you can help fuel the movement pushing for change. They started March for Our Lives, a new national movement inspired by the shootings; you can support them by donating here. On March 24th, students across the country will descend on Washington to demand new gun laws, which should make for one of the most stirring protests of a Trump era filled with them. You can join and support their Facebook group, Never Again.

Financially, you can direct donations to help cover the considerable medical bills of Anthony Borges, a 15-year-old who was shot five times while holding a classroom door closed in order to protect his classmates. It is absurd that in America, anyone has to pay high hospital bills, and it’s especially offensive that a young hero like Anthony faces massive debt. Until we can fix the system, we can at least help him.

You can also follow many of the other heroic students on Twitter and amplify their message; here’s a good resource for those accounts.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is right now a bit of a longshot in the Democratic primary race to replace outgoing Florida Governor Rick Scott, but he’s by far the most progressive candidate. He’s also been standing up for gun control — his plan is very comprehensive — for a long time. He was sued by the gun lobby for refusing to repeal laws that banned shooting guns in public parks, and took that NRA-fueled juggernaut head-on. Tallahassee won that case, and Gillum promises similar outcomes should he win the governorship. He’s also been very vocal in the wake of the Parkland tragedy, highlighting the students speaking out and reiterating his calls for gun control.

There are also several special elections coming up in Florida, which can give Democrats a headstart in their efforts to turn the statehouse blue. First up is the race for the State Senate seat from the 81st district, which was vacated when the Democratic lawmaker admitted to having an affair with a lobbyist. It’s important for Dems to hold that seat in a lopsided Florida capitol, and luckily they have a great candidate in Lori Berman, who has been in the legislature for seven years. She has stopped taking contributions during the legislative session, but you can help in other ways via her website.

We also have to shout out a candidate we’ve already highlighted: Ryan Torrens, who is running for Florida attorney general. He has also come out for strong gun control reforms since the Parkland tragedy.

CLICK HERE to donate to Andrew Gillum and Ryan Torrens using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

We need to fight the NRA’s biggest lapdogs in every election, and push Democrats to do so too

The unspeakable tragedy in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday compels us to speak up, as loud as we can and for as long as possible. Yet another school shooting, yet another bloody rampage by a homegrown terrorist with a weapon that no one outside the military should ever need or be able to access. There were 17 needless deaths because America is the only country that makes it easier to buy semi-automatic rifles than a bottle of wine.

We find ourselves in this awful, soul-crushing situation because the gun lobby, led by the NRA, has bought the Republican Party and created an insidious culture around firearms. The NRA spent $30 million to get Donald Trump elected president, and millions upon millions more to boost many other GOP officials. Republicans are cowards who only offer milquetoast “thoughts and prayers” regardless of how bloody and tragic the massacre, so if they won’t take action, we have to take matters into our own hands.

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There are several Republican lawmakers who have taken an exorbitant amount of money from the NRA that now face credible, aggressive, progressive Democratic candidates. We are going to highlight some of those candidates over the coming weeks and months, while also raising money for gun control advocacy groups. This week, we’ll start with Everytown, the loudest of these groups, to help show the NRA and GOP politicians that we are active and ready to take them on in this fight.

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Jess King, a candidate for Congress

Many of the top Republican recipients of NRA cash face serious threats from the Democratic side, but many of those candidates have yet to make clear their positions on gun control. In some cases, it’s a matter of coming from rural districts, where it can be a tricky issue, but nonetheless, we can’t exactly throw our support behind them quite yet; we want vocal Democrats taking on the gun lobby. But several candidates stand out as bold leaders on the matter.

Our candidate for this week is Jess King, who is running against Rep. Lloyd Smucker (PA-16), one of the biggest NRA lapdogs in Congress. In fact, Smucker received more money from the NRA than any other congressional candidate in 2016. The Pennsylvania map is about to be redrawn, but King will still be running for office. And you have to admire how vocal she’s been about gun control; unlike most candidates in her position, she has a detailed statement on her site about the need for new gun laws.

UPDATED: We also have to give credit to Jess for becoming the second candidate to have a unionized campaign staff:

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You can donate to Jess King via our ActBlue page.

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Special Victories in Florida and Minnesota — Plus More on the Way!

The Blue Wave crashed on the eastern shores of Florida on Tuesday evening, as Democrat Margaret Good won a highly contested special election and flipped yet another legislature seat from red to blue. Good — who received support from Progressives Everywhere readers — beat James Buchanan, the son of Rep. Vern Buchanan, for the right to represent House District 72 in the Florida legislature. The in gives Democrats their 36th new state house seat since the beginning of last year.

What’s more, not only was HD72 previously represented by a Republican, it also voted for Donald Trump. The Sarasota-area district went 51-46 for Trump, but like so many other local constituencies, turned to a Democratic candidate after a disastrous year. Good won by 52-45 margin, a 12 point swing that made her victory an unquestionable sign that Democrats are primed and ready to swamp the polls come November.

In fact, Good’s was the second major victory for the Democrats this week. On Monday night, Karla Bigham — another Progressives Everywhere endorsee — won her race for the State Senate in Minnesota, keeping Democrats one seat away from retaking the chamber.

These are obviously huge wins, and we need to keep the momentum going. There are several more special elections coming this month, including two in Kentucky. Next week will feature a race shaped by tragedy, making it a grim but important pickup opportunity.

In December, Dan Johnson, the GOP representative for the 49th House District in Kentucky, took his own life after news broke that he was accused of molesting a friend of his daughter’s during a sleepover, when the friend was just 17 years old.

He was controversial long before that — he had made racist Facebook posts and made up all kinds of lies, including claims that he worked in the White House and set up a morgue and blessed bodies for weeks after 9/11. Now his wife is running to take over his seat, facing off against Linda Belcher, a Democrat who narrowly lost to Johnson as the incumbent in 2016. She’s hoping to return to Frankfort after a year off, and we can help make it happen.

Another race in Kentucky involves a teacher running for a previously uncontested Republican seat. We spotlighted several teachers running for office in Kentucky a few weeks ago, and a now a librarian, Kelly Smith, is running in District 89. Her election is on February 27th, and just a little bit of money could make a big difference. She’s in a solid red district, but a good Democratic showing could at the very least begin the long climb back to parity in states like Kentucky.

Smith has a very progressive platform, and that’s important in Kentucky, where Gov. Matt Bevin is rolling back access to healthcare and cutting school budgets. Notably, she’s also focused on gun control, a bold position to have in Kentucky.

CLICK HERE to donate to Linda Belcher and Kelly Smith using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

This professor wants to take on tech monopolies and fracking in Congress

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In early 2017, Marc Friedenberg and his neighbors in State College were concerned about what was happening in Washington. Donald Trump had only been in office for a month, and already things were going catastrophically awry — it’s hard to keep track of the scandals, so as a refresher, this was around the time of the Muslim Ban and the subsequent airport protests. After consulting the Indivisible Handbook, the Penn State professor set up a town hall event on campus and invited the Congressional representative for Pennsylvania’s fifth district to address his constituents.

When Congressman Glenn Thompson refused to show up, Friedenberg brought out a cardboard cutout of the Republican to stand in front of the over 400 people in attendance. The way Friedenberg sees it, the real Thompson wouldn’t have been much more responsive or reassuring anyway, which is why the 33-year-old activist and Penn State professor is challenging Thompson for his seat in Congress.

“He is a Republican Party man through and through and has a Trump score of almost 100%,” Friedenberg told Progressives Everywhere in a recent interview. “He’s not a leader in any sense of the word. He is inherited from the prior Republican congressman, he’s sort of the anointed successor. He has the highest staff cost from the Pennsylvania delegation. I think he’s just there to collect a check and then get his pension. And that’s just clearly not working for the people of this district.”

As it stands, the district is the biggest in the nation, a largely rural swath of central and western Pennsylvania that has Penn State as its semi-urban focal point. The borders of the district figure to change in a few months, now that Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has thrown out the state’s ridiculously gerrymandered congressional map, but Friedenberg isn’t slowing his campaign while the lines are redrawn.

Friedenberg began fighting GOP policies in the district long before he announced his candidacy. As the founder of PA5 Truth and Action, he led protests against the GOP’s attempts to repeal Obamacare, and supported other local movements and candidates. Now, he’s on a listening tour across the vast district, and regardless of how its borders might shift, he’s built up a connection with the community and understanding of its needs.

It’s helped that he’s lived there most of his adult life, having graduated from Penn State undergrad in 2006. He then went to Columbia Law, and upon graduation, began working for a firm that sued big banks on behalf of burned investors following the financial crisis of 2008. They sued Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, among many others, which gave him an inside look at the corruption at the heart of the financial industry.

“I think it pushed me pretty far in the progressive direction because I got to see all of their emails through the discovery process,” Friedenberg says. “And the really callous disregard that these guys had — they were mostly young guys following orders from the top, and were just so uninterested in the real world impacts of what they were doing with these financial instruments, which are incomprehensible to normal people. They just left everyone else holding the bag.”

Now Friedenberg teaches cyberlaw, and has broadened his focus to include tech monopolies. Once considered a niche issue, the vast power of companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Verizon has become a serious public concern, and Friedenberg is well-equipped to lead that fight. He’s learned from the best — including taking classes taught by Tim Wu, the man who coined the term “net neutrality” — and has also discovered firsthand how the economy is warped by these companies.

“I’m concerned about both the information monopoly and then also Amazon on the retail side, and the effect that it’s having on small retailers and even big box retailers, and the downward pressure it creates on wages,” he says. Friedenberg has come out in favor of the $15 minimum wage and Medicare for All, but knows those will be more difficult to enact with just a few monopolies running the economy.

Noting that Pennsylvania has both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the running to literally give Amazon billions for its headquarters, Friedenberg admits that he hopes neither city wins that tax break bonanza. “It’s just not going to work out. It’s going to work out for Amazon, but we’re going to be left holding the bag,” he adds. “It’s going to require federal involvement because there’s a race to the bottom. Either for political reasons or just out of sheer desperation, towns are going to continue to push for these giveaways.”

In that way, these big national issues become local concerns, which is where Friedenberg’s expertise can be crucial. Rural broadband penetration and internet speeds in America continue to lag far behind other countries, which increasingly leaves behind local small businesses trying to compete in the new economy. That comes down to both competition and infrastructure, and will require major investments that Thompson has been unable to secure.

The congressman has also been mostly in favor of fracking, another issue that worries the locals with whom Friedenberg has met. Thompson being out of touch with his constituents is a running theme, neatly embodied by the fact that his two offices are almost inaccessible, located far from any population centers in the rural fifth district. Friedenberg has already had geographers calculate potential office locations that would be no more than 90 minutes from any constituent’s home in the vast district. The borders may change a little bit, but Friedenberg plans on being an accessible champion for whoever winds up in his district.

CLICK HERE to donate to Marc Friedenberg using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

Trump assaulted this woman. Now she’s running for office. Plus, special victories!

It’s always fun to try to new things, so let’s go wild and start this newsletter off with good news! (Yes, good news still exists!) Last week, voters in Missouri showed just how fed up they are with the GOP and Donald Trump. Democrats shifted the electoral playing field in special elections held in normally deep red districts, including a comfortable victory in the race for a house legislature seat that had voted for Trump by 28 points.

Notably, Democrats hadn’t even put up a candidate for that seat in the last election, which goes to show that the party needs to contest every single election moving forward. Voting for a political party is a habit, and Democrats have been awful about allowing large swaths of the country to just reflexively support Republicans. The GOP won the other three special elections in Missouri, but just barely, as local Democrats outperformed Hillary Clinton in their districts by 18, 25, and 53 points.

The GOP’s assault on working people and all minimal standards of decency is expediting the Democratic Party’s rebuild, and so we have to keep pushing forward. This coming week will feature several more special elections, including races in Florida and Minnesota that we’ve highlighted several times.

Margaret Good is running against the son of filthy rich Congressman Vern Buchanan for a Florida state house seat, while Karla Bingham and Melissa Wagner run for crucial seats in Minnesota. Good and Wagner are on Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page, while Bingham is raising money on her own site. Do what you can to support them and keep the momentum going!

Local Candidate: Rachel Crooks for Ohio Legislature

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There is never a wrong time to mention the fact that nearly two dozen women have publicly accused Donald Trump of sexual assault; the long list of allegations  — and his own admissions — should have tripped up his campaign long before election day. But because every day brings some fresh new outrage or scandal from the White House, the decades of abuse to which Trump subjected so many women generally fall by the wayside, ignored in favor of fresh controversies or breaking updates on old favorites, like the Russia investigation.

But Trump’s own deplorable treatment of women came back into focus this week when it was revealed — with graphic photos — that Rob Porter, his staff secretary, had beaten several ex-wives and partners. And not only did the White House know about all the allegations against Porter — the assaults prevented him from obtaining a full security clearance — but Trump actually defended Porter, even after the disgraced aide resigned. It’s almost as if there is a devil on Trump’s shoulder, daring him to say the absolute worst thing possible in any given situation.

In a cosmic flash of bittersweet poetic justice, this public reminder of Trump’s long history of sexual misconduct arrived at the same time that one of the women who accused him of assault announced that she was running for office. Rachel Crooks is running to represent the 88th house district in the Ohio legislature, waging a campaign to transform a state that voted for the man she says forcibly kissed her on the mouth in 2005.

Back then, Crooks was a receptionist for a real estate firm with offices in Trump Tower. In allegations first made public in October 2016, she says Trump introduced himself to her and then repeatedly and forcibly kissed her on the cheek and then the mouth. “It was so inappropriate,” she told the New York Times in the story detailing the event. “I was so upset that he thought I was so insignificant that he could do that.”

Crooks was only 22 at the time, while Trump was nearly 60. There could have been no greater imbalance of power, and of course Trump took advantage. Now Crooks is 35 years old and ready to fight back, not only against Trump’s misogyny, but the GOP’s policies on core issues. She currently works as the director of international student recruitment at Heidelberg University, and as she told Cosmopolitan, she has a broad platform that includes jobs, access to affordable healthcare, and repairing public schools in part by shifting funding away from charter schools.

“I think like a lot of women, because we’ve been historically underrepresented in politics, I didn’t necessarily see myself in this role,” she told Cosmo. “But multiple people encouraged and said, ‘I think you would be great.’ Once you hear it a few times, you start to believe it a little bit, and fully consider it. Once I sat down and mulled it over, I felt like it really was a duty that I had, that I should take on this responsibility firsthand and try to make a difference for other people.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Rachel Crooks using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page