Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Election Hasn’t Changed Anything

The Election Hasn’t Changed Anything

by Ted Miller

(published in Tumbleweird December 2020)  

The 2020 presidential election is over, but now is not the time to become complacent. Although we may have pulled ourselves back from the brink of a descent into authoritarianism, replacing Donald Trump with Joe Biden isn’t going to solve the formidable problems facing the United States and the world.

 

We remain a nation bitterly divided, more so than at any time in modern history. In many ways, the right and the left live in alternate realities. The echo chamber of social media and political opinion masquerading as news isn’t going away. Disinformation and the lack of a common truth continues to threaten the stability of our government. 

 

After decades of hyper-partisanship and four years of Trump accusing anyone who disagreed with him as the enemy of the United States, healing the country will take years. We cannot rebuild the trust among Americans overnight, and we certainly can’t just sit back and hope politicians will suddenly drop the partisan rhetoric and start working together. 

 

We are now in the third surge of COVID-19 cases with rates increasing exponentially across the country. The pandemic doesn’t care about politics, but the impact of the disease disproportionately affects the poor and communities of color. With nearly a quarter million dead, Congress is still incapable of working together to pass reasonable legislation to combat the disease while mitigating the economic impact of COVID-19 controls to small businesses and individuals.

 

Black lives still matter. Little has actually changed since the protests this summer. Unarmed Black Americans are still killed at a higher rate by police than their white counterparts. Black men still represent a disproportionate share of prison populations at all levels. The system that allowed Breonna Taylor and countless others like her to be killed with impunity still exists.

 

Climate change remains an existential threat. International cooperation is essential to avoid climate disaster, but we have abdicated our role in international leadership. Effective action to reduce carbon emissions is being blocked at every level by political lobbying and corporate interests.

 

Immigration policy remains chaotic. The future of DACA is uncertain, asylum seekers at the border are treated like criminals, and hundreds of children remain separated from their parents. We rely on the labor of millions of undocumented immigrants, but we have no plan to authorize their work status or to replace them as a labor force.

 

The wealth gap continues to widen, with wealth concentrating at the top while millions live in poverty. One in four children in America are food insecure. Even with full-time employment and multiple jobs, too many working families struggle to make ends meet. 

 

Twenty-seven million Americans are without health insurance, a number that is increasing as a result of the pandemic. Many families are one health crisis away from bankruptcy. No other wealthy nation fails to guarantee basic health care to their citizens.

 

We are still engaged in the longest war in U.S. history. 

 

And these are only some of the many problems we face, any one of which seems overwhelming. But they aren’t insurmountable. There is always hope.

 

Change doesn’t happen automatically. Collectively, we must continue to pay attention, to call for action, and to hold our elected leadership accountable. Collectively, we can make a difference.

 

Voting is essential in a democracy. But voting doesn’t create change without the electorate demanding it.

 

Pay attention. Stay engaged. 

 

“All politics is local,” even when the problems are big.

 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

After You Vote

After You Vote

by Ted Miller

(published in Tumbleweird November 2020) 

You already know how important it is to vote. You know that local elections can have a greater impact on your daily life, so you got to know your local candidates. You’ve researched the incumbents’ records and you’ve listened to the challengers to understand how they will approach the job differently. You’ve done your homework and you are ready to cast your ballot. 

 

If you live in Washington (or one of several other vote-by-mail states), you look forward to receiving your ballot. You know the details of how to fill it out, the requirements to use the inner sleeve and to sign the outer envelope the same way it appears on your registration, and you know where the nearest drop box is located (dropping it in a mailbox a week early is fine, but putting it in a drop box is better). You know how to track your ballot’s receipt and acceptance at votewa.gov. 

 

You’ve done your civic duty and now you can sit back and let your elected officials change the world for you, right?

 

Not quite.

 

Our elected officials work for us. And as with any job, feedback on their job performance should be frequent, constructive, and direct. Pay attention to what happens in board and council meetings, know the issues and decisions that are being made, and call, write, or email your elected officials to let them know what is important to you. It may sometimes feel like your voice is lost in the noise, but every voter counts and elected officials really do pay attention to what their constituents are most vocal about.

 

And as important as local politics are to us, issues at the state and national level also require our involvement. Taking to the streets in peaceful protest makes a difference. After a summer of national (and international) protests demanding justice for too many Black lives unjustly taken by a police system that kills more people by far than any other nation, local and state governments across the country are enacting reforms. (There is a lot more to be done, but the debate about whether to defund or reform the police is the subject of another column).

 

We live in a system that makes it easier for those in power to hold on to that power. But the people still have a voice. Our voices still make a difference. And when we raise our voices together to demand a more perfect union, to demand true justice and equality for all our citizens, we bend that arc ever so slightly towards a better tomorrow.

 

I believe in this country. And I know we can do better, together.

 

Vote, engage, and hold our elected officials accountable. The future of our community and our nation depends on it.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Our Right to Vote

Our Right to Vote

by Ted Miller
(originally published in Tumbleweird October 2020)


“No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.”

—Justice Hugo Black, U.S. Supreme Court, Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1, 17 (1964)

 

Abraham Lincoln concluded his famous Gettysburg Address with the hope “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” A government where the people govern themselves. A country where the government works for the citizens. 

 

For the government to be responsive to the people, the people need to participate. And to participate, all citizens need to have an equal voice. That voice is heard through the ballot box.

 

When Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg, with few exceptions, only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. Today, the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude (15th Amendment), sex (19th Amendment), or age for those over 18 (26th Amendment). 

 

Voting should be convenient and easy. State and local election rules should encourage voter participation and eliminate barriers to voting while maintaining the security and integrity of elections. 

 

But because regulating elections is largely left to the states, access to the franchise (the right to vote) varies widely. Politicians pass laws that make it harder for those who may vote against them to exercise their right. Some of the most common and egregious voter suppression efforts include restrictive voter ID requirements, excessive and targeted purging of voter rolls, unnecessary restrictions on voter registration requirements, closing or limiting access to polling locations with a larger percentage of poor and minority voters, and district gerrymandering to favor one political party with surgical precision. 

 

For those of us living in Washington State, however, it is easy to register, convenient to vote, and our system is both secure and reliable. 

 

I recently spoke with Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton about our election process and election security. Here are a few voter security measures Washington has in place:

·      Each ballot envelope has a unique code which can only be used once. 

·      Every ballot received is validated by a qualified group of people who compare the signature on the envelope before it is opened for counting. 

·      Questions about the validity of a ballot are resolved by a three-person County Canvassing Board.

·      Once a ballot has been accepted, the system will not allow another ballot to be counted for the same voter.

·      Tabulation systems are standalone and cannot be connected to the internet.

·      Handling ballots at every step of the process requires at least two people present.

·      The statewide voter registration system prevents a voter from voting in more than one county. 

 

I also asked Brenda Chilton what advice she would give to voters. Here are some things to remember:

·      Ballots are mailed to each registered voter automatically. 

·      You can verify your voter registration early at votewa.gov (if you aren’t already registered, you can do so at the same website).

·      Remember to sign your ballot. Take out your driver’s license and sign it the same way since that is likely the signature your ballot will be compared with. In the primary, over 800 ballots were not counted because of a signature mismatch.

·      Include your phone number on the ballot. The auditor’s office will contact you by mail to try to resolve any problem with accepting your ballot. A phone number will make that process easier.

·      Return your ballot in a place that is secure—either in one of the many ballot drop boxes located around the county (you can even drop it in a box in another county) or in a secure US mailbox. Leaving it for the mail carrier in an unsecure location like your home mailbox is not the most secure choice.

·      If you are mailing your ballot, mail it at least a week in advance. Remember that locally, our mail goes to Spokane for processing. In the primary this year, more than 1000 ballots in Benton and Franklin county were rejected because of a late postmark.

·      Check the status of your ballot at votewa.gov after you have voted and make sure it has been received and then accepted. You have until the election is certified to resolve any issues with your ballot.

 

If you live outside Washington, make sure you know the process for registering and voting in your state and county. Get your information from official sources like your Secretary of State, and don’t rely on campaign materials, social media posts, or even media reports. Misinformation and intentional disinformation are being used this year to discourage you from voting. Stay informed and don’t disenfranchise yourself.

 

Barriers to voting are undemocratic. Voter suppression is unpatriotic. I’m thankful I live in a state where every vote matters, and where the opportunity to vote is convenient, secure, and open to all citizens who choose to exercise their right.

 

The 2020 election is the most important election we’ve had in more than a generation and voters understand that. Secretary of State Kim Wyman predicts a greater than 90 percent turnout this November. 

 

Historic turnout can defeat voter suppression. That’s good for democracy, good for the state, and good for the nation. Voting out those who would disenfranchise us to maintain their power is the most effective tool we have to save our democracy and work together towards a more just and equitable future. Encourage your family, your friends, and your neighbors to vote. 

 

Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters, said, "Everybody counts in applying democracy. And there will never be a true democracy until every responsible and law-abiding adult in it, without regard to race, sex, color, or creed has his or her own inalienable and unpurchaseable voice in government."

 

I dream that someday all states will adopt voting systems that are easy, convenient, and secure. Every citizen should be able to exercise their right to vote, freely and without burdensome barriers intended to disenfranchise.  

 

Harriet Tubman said, "Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."

 

Dream big. Change the world. Vote.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Search for Objective Truth

The Search for Objective Truth

by Ted Miller
(originally published in Tumbleweird August/September 2020)

A democracy can only survive with an informed electorate. The founders believed in this principle so much that they protected the right to speak freely, to openly debate ideas, and for a free press to publish those ideas so the people could keep the government in check. They believed that the best ideas would always win.

A belief that freedom of speech and of the press will lead to objective truth in the marketplace of ideas was not a new concept. John Milton made an impassioned case for free speech in Areopagitica, delivered as a speech to the English Parliament and published as a pamphlet in 1644. His argument that truth will always win could be summarized in this quote from his speech:

“Let her [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.” 
― 
John Milton, Areopagitica

But objective truth is an elusive concept. In the age of “alternative facts,” how do we find the truth? Social media is rife with conspiracy theories, disinformation, and divisive rhetoric. Russia and other foreign actors continue to attack the United States in an effort to weaken us by sowing discord through social media bots and fake accounts. The media makes a profit through click bait and sensational headlines. And our own politics are so divided that many of our fellow Americans think members of the other political party are the enemy. How can we possibly agree on objective truth when we don’t trust the government, the media, or anything that doesn’t align with our own world view?

The inability to make decisions based on science and factual data, what should be considered objective truth, has stymied our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States continues to rank near the top in the COVID-19 case rate and death toll while countries like South Korea, Italy, and Spain, who experienced some of the worst impacts at the beginning of the pandemic, now have the virus under control and are cautiously opening up their economy, schools, and some tourism.

An effective public health response should never have been a politically divisive issue. The coronavirus doesn’t care whether we believe the scientists and epidemiologists. For the nearly 150,000 people who have died (CDC data July 27, 2020), the arguments about whether the pandemic is a political hoax, whether masks are effective at controlling the spread, or whether the disease will “just disappear” no longer matter. 

Forbes reported[1] that nearly a third of Americans believe the conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 death count has been exaggerated to undermine Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. The Ipsos/Axios poll quoted by Forbes shows how partisan that belief is: 

“The number of Americans who believe the death toll is inflated is highest among those who get their news from Fox News (61%) and Republicans (59%), while only 9% of Democrats and 7% of those getting their news from CNN and MSNBC believe the same.”

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on July 1st, also cited by Forbes, concludes that a number of scientifically based conclusions show the death rate is actually much higher than that reported by the CDC. This should be considered an objective truth. But that study won’t change the minds of Fox News viewers and Republicans whose truth differs from the facts.

And what Americans believe about the pandemic is just one of many examples of how elusive objective truth has become. 

The news organizations we depend upon for information, the free press, often blurs the line between fact and opinion. And when the news conflicts with our world view, we claim bias and discredit the source. This tendency to only listen to what we already believe is amplified through incessant commentary, political spin, and often outright lies from those who want to manipulate public opinion. And we have little incentive to check facts and sources.

How can we be an informed electorate of responsible citizens if we don’t share a common set of facts?

Lies and disinformation in political campaigns is nothing new. The ugly campaign of lies and ad hominem attacks between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams for the presidency in 1800 was just as bad, or worse, than anything we see today (look it up). 

When I was planning to write this column, I wanted to provide some thoughts on how to identify objective truth. But there aren’t any easy answers. 

The internet and social media aren’t going away. Divisive politics aren’t going to change overnight. Russia is still working hard to divide us from within and those in power are doing everything they can to hold on to that power. 

So, my advice is to try to see outside your bubble of confirmation bias, be skeptical, and vote your conscience. If we don’t keep trying to find that objective truth, our democracy may not survive. And then the pursuit of the truth through the freedoms of the First Amendment will no longer be possible.




[1] Forbes.com, July 21, 2020, “Nearly A Third Of Americans Believe Covid-19 Death Toll Conspiracy Theory”

Friday, June 26, 2020

Listen, Learn, Act

Listen, Learn, Act

 

by Ted Miller

(originally posted in Tumbleweird July 2020 - tumbleweird.org)

 

For the past several weeks, the top 15 entries on the New York Times list of non-fiction best sellers have been almost exclusively books about racism. It would seem that Americans are suddenly writing and talking about race, and that America is suddenly open and eager to listen and learn. Or, I should say, it seems that white America suddenly wants to learn about race. Black Americans live with racism in America every single day.

 

Nothing I can write in this column is more important or powerful than the voices and writings of Black people whose words have fallen on the deaf ears of white Americans since before Frederick Douglass gave his speech about the Fourth of July in 1852. I challenge you to open up your hearts and minds to books by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) authors. Read articles by BIPOC columnists (including those featured in July 2020 issue of Tumbleweird), listen to podcasts by BIPOC anti-racists, watch documentaries, educate yourself. If you want to know about racism in America and in yourself, but don’t know where to start, there is a list of resources in the Tumbleweird issue, copied below. 

 

And as you learn more, use your own voice, your own financial support, and your own actions to dismantle the systems of oppression that have been built on centuries of racist ideas and policies. 

 

Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

 

For me, I’m trying to know better so that I can do better. I know many others are trying to do the same. 

 

Perhaps this really is a turning point in our reckoning with the violent and racist history of this nation.

 

Black Lives Matter


Resource recommendations:


Anti-Racist Resources

Books:

Anti-Racist Reading List from Ibram X. Kendi: bit.ly/ibramxkendi-list

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Dark Matters by Simone Browne

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Democracy in Black by Eddie S. Gladdening Jr.

Blood in My Eye by George L. Jackson

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This Bridge Called My Back by Cherrie Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua

They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery

Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston


You can also order books today from these Black-owned independent bookstores!

bit.ly/Black-Bookstores


Podcasts:

1619

About Race

Code Switch

We Live Here

Solidarity Is This

The Nod


Television and Movies:

12 Years A Slave ( available on Amazon Prime)

13th (available on Netflix)

Amazing Grace (2018) (available on Hulu)

Dear White People (available on Netflix)

Fruitvale Station (available for free on Tubi)

I Am Not Your Negro (available on Amazon Prime)

If Beale Street Could Talk (available on Hulu)

Malcolm X (available on Netflix)

Selma (available on Netflix and Amazon Prime)

The Hate U Give (available on Hulu)

The Innocence Files (available on Netflix)

The Tuskegee Airmen (available on Hulu and HBOGo)


Websites:

aclu.org

naacp.org

endslaverynow.org

zinnedproject.org

juneteenth.com

blacklivesmatter.com

eji.org

Monday, May 18, 2020

Will it be different after?

Will it be different after?

by Ted Miller
(originally published June 2020 in Tumbleweird)

I think it is grief,
this sadness,
this anger,
this fear.

They say the first phase is denial,
but there is no denying the virus is
here, 
no denying it is deadly,
no denying it is real. 

Tell the hundred thousand dead it’s a
hoax.
Tell their families they would have
died anyway.
Tell the million infected it’s just the
flu.
Tell the sick to get back to work.
The virus doesn’t care.

But the virus carries a message, if only
we can hear.
The virus has laid bare the truth, of
what was true long before. 

We are all human, but we are not all
the same.

Some of us are essential, but not
essential enough.

Essential to work the fields.
Essential to butcher the meat.
Essential to nurse the sick.
Essential to serve our food, to mind
the store, to work the assembly
line, to cut our hair, to deliver our
goods, to clean our houses, 
to be invisible,
as our essential wants and needs are
met.

But not essential enough to have
their basic needs met. 
Not essential enough to live without
fear
of poverty, of hunger, of deportation,
of sickness, of death.

The virus knows no boundary
of class, or race, or wealth.

But the virus exposes disparity
among class, and race, and wealth.

Millions now unemployed, no
income, no health care, no
savings, crippling debt
and we blame them for being poor.

“They might get a few extra dollars!”
we cry,
angry that they are undeserving,
while ignoring the billions sent to
Wall Street 
with no strings attached,
believing in the trickle-down that will
never come.

Black, Brown, and Indigenous people
dying at twice or thrice the rate of
whites
and we blame them for getting sick
and dying.

“Make better choices!” we say
while ignoring the centuries of
inequity built into America
denying equal access to health care,
to nutrition, to income, to life. 

And before the curve is flattened,
before the virus is contained, we
carry our signs and our weapons
demanding America be opened again
so we can have our essential wants
and needs
provided by the non-essential
workers.

We want our liberty, but we don’t
want the responsibility.
We want our freedom, but we don’t
want to be responsible for the cost
of that freedom to others.

“Tyranny!” we cry. “Give us our
freedom!”

Freedom from tyranny?

Tyranny is the hunger of millions of
children every night 
Tyranny is voter suppression that
denies citizens an equal voice 
Tyranny is health care for profit, while
millions get sick and die
Tyranny is the oppression that has
upheld systemic racism for
hundreds of years 
Tyranny is people dying, while you
refuse to wear a mask

Give me liberty, or give me death
But whose death is the cost of your
liberty?

I think it is grief,
this sadness,
this anger,
this fear.

Grief for what could have been
if we weren’t divided
by class, by race, by wealth.

Grief can lead to despair, grief can
lead to action
and action leads to hope, now and in
the time after.

Hope that in the time after, when the
world faces pandemic, climate
change, global recession, or war, 
our response reflects we are all
human, essential, the same.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Divided We Fall

Divided We Fall

by Ted Miller
(originally published May 2020 in Tumbleweird)

We are a nation divided, and that division continues to deepen.

In December of 2016, I wrote about how divisive the presidential election had been. I wrote that we should listen to each other with respectful conversations in an attempt to better understand each other. I said that it was possible for us all to find common ground, even if we didn’t agree on everything.

But that was an overly optimistic opinion. The partisan rhetoric has gotten so extreme that objective truth is under constant attack. We all live in the same country but we live in vastly different realities. 

We are in the midst of the worst pandemic in over one hundred years. The novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, infects, spreads, and kills humans no matter what they believe. 

Facing a common threat in the past has brought Americans together. But since the virus was first recognized as a global threat in early January, it has been politicized to the point that the advice of experts is undermined and everything is filtered through a partisan lens. Government response has been inconsistent, slow, and ineffective. And the blame game is rampant. Rather than uniting the country, the president blames the growing crisis on Democrats, the press, the W.H.O., medical experts, or whatever scapegoat he finds for the day. Political pundits exacerbate the rhetoric with breathless, non-stop commentary.

The divisiveness will only make things worse. Instead of focusing on what must be done to continue to flatten the curve, calls for a relaxation of social distancing are ramping up. Protests are claiming an infringement on civil liberties and railing against government restrictions, turning the focus of efforts away from public health and instead casting the pandemic response as government overreach. 

Yet the virus continues to spread and kill. 

The political divisions in this country aren’t new, but they are being weaponized with surgical precision. In 2016, Russia used an extensive campaign of social media disinformation to divide Americans. Although there is little evidence that election data itself was hacked, pitting Americans against each other leads to a breakdown in our trust in government, which in turn leads to an erosion of our ability to unite as a nation. Efforts to undermine the 2020 election are already happening.

Even without foreign influence, the increasingly partisan rhetoric divides rather than unites. Too many of us amplify that rhetoric with “gotcha” memes and Facebook posts that portray half the citizens of this country as the enemy. Is the hatred so deep that we have lost all ability to work together for the common good? Do we really believe that our neighbor is the enemy?

Democrats are not the enemy of the United States. The media is not the enemy of the people. We are all Americans. Those who believe that only they are the true patriots, that those who disagree with them are the enemy, are the most un-American. E pluribus unum.

If we don’t learn to recognize the weapon of division being used against us, we will never be able to defend against it. We must stand together, or we will not only fail in fighting this pandemic, but the future of this nation is in jeopardy.