Florida’s new Jim Crow law is worse than ever

So, last week was a pretty bad one for American democracy. While it began with the excitement of Tiffany Cabán’s win in the Queens District Attorney race, followed by a solid first (and second!) Democratic presidential debate, things went off the rails thanks to the stolen Supreme Court and, more than likely, voter suppression in Florida.

First, the Supreme Court cleared the way for state legislatures to gerrymander legislative and congressional districts to their heart’s content, no matter how partisan or racist their motivations (and they’re always partisan or racist). This was a bummer, but not unexpected, and really just underlines the importance of winning back as many state legislatures and governorships as we can.

It’s going to be hard to do that in some states, not only because of gerrymandering, but also due to voter suppression. Preventing people from casting their ballots is what Republicans do best (other than funnel money to their rich donors), and no small distraction like the will of an overwhelming majority of voters can stop them from pursuing the most anti-democratic policies possible — especially not when the impact would be so efficiently discriminatory against people of color.

Their sheer determination to be dictators of an apartheid state led to the other big blow to democracy last week: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who only won last fall because so many voters in the state are unfairly disenfranchised, signed a Republican law that will keep most of those voters disenfranchised.

In November, despite voter suppression, a whopping 65% of Floridians voted to approve Amendment 4, which would restore voting rights to the state’s 1.4 million formerly incarcerated citizens who have served their full sentences and finished probation. Notably, there were no conditions attached to the voter initiative, but the GOP, terrified as always of real democracy, decided to twist it into a modern-day Jim Crow law.

Now, the formerly incarcerated will have to pay off all fees and fines related to their cases, no matter how absurd they were (and they’re often insane) and how hard it is to track them down.

It’s no coincidence that a majority of these would-be voters are black — again, there’s nothing that scares Republicans more than black people voting. Though black people make up just 17% of Florida’s population, they represent 48% of its prison population. As a result, about 20% of black adults are disenfranchised in Florida, which is one of the only states that take those voting rights away permanently in the first place. Now, instead of listening to a vast majority of their registered voters, Republicans are now charging people huge sums of money to register to vote.

Estimates are that this could keep up to 1.1 million of those who were made eligible to vote last November out of the voting booth. We already have a democracy dominated by rich white people, but every financial and historic advantage in the world still isn’t enough for them.

The ACLU and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, along with other organizations, have already filed a lawsuit over the law, but it’s unclear what kind of luck they’ll have. The FRCC, which led the successful campaign for Amendment 4, is now raising money to help pay off all those fines. There is no better use of your donation dollars — every dollar will directly help to register voters (who are, after this, likely to not support the GOP). You can donate HERE. And if you want to give to the FRCC, which is singularly focused on this, you can donate on Progressives Everywhere’s main ActBlue page.

This little-known Philadelphia office is a key to voter turnout in 2020

The road to the White House will, as always, run through Pennsylvania in 2020. A swing state at every other level, Pennsylvania had gone blue in every presidential election since 1988 before Donald Trump swung it Republican in 2016, a shocking victory that has largely been chalked up to his strength in the state’s suburbs and more rural counties. But it wasn’t just his own campaign’s strengths that won him the Keystone State — just as crucial was the drop in turnout in urban areas, including Philadelphia.

Sure, Hillary Clinton won 82% of the vote in Philly, but percentages can be misleading — she beat Trump by about 35,000 fewer votes than Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign. Turnout was down in the city’s less affluent wards, and while some of the blame certainly falls on the Clinton campaign, the city itself also deserves some heat for ongoing voting issues.

Even in the 2018 election, when Democrats won some big elections in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia ranked 63rd out of 67 counties in voter turnout. It’s a troubling number, especially in a big city that could use a lot more democracy. And as much as grassroots organizations can work to register and turn out voters, the onus is also on the city to make voting much more accessible. That is the job of the City Commissioner’s office, which oversees Philadelphia’s elections and runs its voter education programs.

So, how do we help reform that little-known but absolutely crucial office? Enter Jen Devor, a long-time community organizer and committeeperson for the city’s 36th ward. She has been working to build grassroots power within Philadelphia’s working communities for over a decade. The Commissioner’s office consists of three members, including two for the majority (Democratic) party, and she’s running in a crowded primary on the idea of turning it into a year-round outreach and education operation, to rekindle democracy in the city and ultimately increase turnout.

Progressives Everywhere spoke with Devor about her campaign, the issues with Philadelphia’s voting system, and how she plans on fixing them.

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The progressive group making a huge impact in red states

By mid-November, it was clear that the midterm elections went really well for Democrats — and even better for progressives.

Grassroots activists were able to enact a slew of progressive priorities via ballot initiatives, even in states where Democrats rarely win elections. In Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska, voters overwhelmingly chose to expand Medicaid. In Michigan, they supported nonpartisan redistricting reform, expanding voting rights, and legalizing marijuana. In Missouri and Arkansas, voters voted to raise the minimum wage. Floridians, meanwhile, gave the vote back to over a million rehabilitated ex-felons.

The list of victories goes on and on, marking triumphs for a number of grassroots groups and the ascendance of one national organization: The Fairness Project, a DC-based 501(c)(4) that works to support local activists at every step of the ballot initiative process. The organization was involved in each minimum wage and Medicaid expansion victory, a win for regulating payday loans in Colorado, and a number of other ballot wins last month.

“By actually putting progressive wins on the board there,” Jonathan Schleifer, the Executive Director of The Fairness Project, tells Progressives Everywhere, “we demonstrated that Americans are much less interested in the divisiveness of the current administration and much more interested — when given the opportunity — to look out for each other and actually make progressive policy.”

After a week filled with lame-duck Republican legislators making a mockery of democracy and thumbing their nose at voters, it’s clear that direct ballot initiatives are going to be even more essential tools in our activism. With that in mind, here is Progressives Everywhere’s conversation with Schleifer about how The Fairness Project goes about supporting grassroots groups and what’s coming next.

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The wreckage from a week of Republican power-grabs

The Republican Party has now fully entered the next phase of its all-out war on American democracy — not only are they cheating in an effort to win elections, they’ll now disregard the will of voters when they lose. After giving it a test run in 2016, when the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature tried to strip Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper of many of his powers, Republicans are going all-in on the strategy in key states across the country.

The scheme played out this past week in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and once again in North Carolina, where Republicans have become the nation’s leaders in abject and blatant cheating. It’s hard to keep up with all the corruption, as so many of the most insidious clauses and maneuvers are nestled into giant bills that were kept secret from the public up until now. To help catch you up, here’s a running list of state GOP’s anti-democratic lame-duck treachery.

Wisconsin:

In a marathon Tuesday night session that stretched into the next morning’s rush hour commute, the GOP-held legislature passed a number of bills that will hamstring Democratic Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul. The state is already gerrymandered beyond belief, which allowed Republicans to keep their legislative majority despite Democrats earning a majority of statewide votes this November. You’d think that would send a message to GOP legislators, but that assumes that modern Republicans have consciences or even self-awareness.

Awaiting outgoing GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s signature are a number of bills that will significantly weaken the executive branch and hurt voters and working people. They will:

  • Curtail early voting, reducing it from six to two weeks before the election;
  • Double down on new Medicaid work requirements
  • Stripping the Attorney General of the ability to remove the state from lawsuits, including the suit against the Affordable Care Act
  • Takes away Evers power to control or disband a key economic development council
  • Require legislative approval for some decisions made by the Governor

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Special elections down south could make a huge difference

You thought there would be time to rest after Election Day? C’mon. There are some big special elections coming down the pike already!

In Virginia, Democrats could take the State House of Delegates and win a state government trifecta if they can pull off an upset in the special election for HD-24. It’s a historically very red seat, but remember that Democrats flipped a ton of red seats in the Virginia legislature in 2017 and won big in congressional elections there this year, so the party is motivated and firing on all cylinders.

The Democratic nominee, chosen yesterday, is Christian Worth. The Republican nomination is a bit cloudy right now, as two candidates are separated by a single vote and there’s been no concession. Perhaps Democrats can take advantage of the division and grab the seat. The election is December 18th.

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