Cartoon: Our Newest American Cryptid

November 29, 2016 Artwork, Comics, Politics / Religion Comments (1) 835

This is really more of a sketch than a proper cartoon. Like many people I’m sad that Hillary has to live in the woods now–but I’m hoping to one day have my own Hillary sighting.

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The Electoral College Must Go

November 29, 2016 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 721

(This is a long essay that originally appeared as a five-part series. This version has updated figures where appropriate, as well as minor revisions for clarity.)

Back when they thought they were losing, Donald Trump and his supporters were fond of calling the 2016 US Presidential Election rigged. At rallies around the country, Trump advised conservative voters to keep an eye out for voter fraud: “Because you know what, that’s a big, big problem in this country and nobody wants to talk about it.” Voter fraud is incredibly rare, of course, far too rare to have any meaningful impact on election outcomes.

Then came Election Night, the night cable news likes to brand “America Decides,” and America did decide. A large majority of Americans, more than voted for any candidate in history except Barack Obama, cast ballots for one candidate. And the other candidate won.

Because it turns out the system is rigged, tipping the scales in a way even widespread voter fraud never could; rigged so effectively that twice in the last 16 years it has denied American voters the President they favored. While Trump and his partisans fretted about voter impersonation, an antiquated system, created by racists who believed only wealthy white men should vote, meant that some voters effectively voted more than three times each.

America’s electoral system is rigged by the Electoral College, an antiquated and broken system that stopped serving its intended purpose a mere decade after its invention.

This essay will demonstrate why the Electoral College, which survived 240 years as a vestigial and generally harmless remnant of a bygone era, must be abolished. It will show how the Electoral College is on its face racist and antidemocratic, how it is incompatible with the reality of modern American life, how many arguments in its defense contradict history, and why abandoning the Electoral College will not harm the American electoral process in the manner many Americans fear.

Part One: The Electoral College is Anti-Democratic

The Electoral College gives some voters multiple ballots.

“One person, one vote.” It’s a simple phrase often associated with American democracy. So how does a candidate elected by at least 2.3 million more Americans than her opponent (a margin credible estimates predict will grow to more than 2.5 million) lose the Presidency?

Put simply, the Electoral College makes some votes worth more than others. Because of the formula by which electors are awarded to states, the ratio of actual, ballot-casting American voters to elector varies by as much as 2/3 from its average of around 422,000:1. The impact is that individual voters in small states, like Wyoming and Vermont, have much more influence over the Electoral College, and therefore the election, than those in more populated states.

Of all the 50 states (and Washington DC) it’s the voters in Florida who are most harmed by this system, with 29 electoral votes and 14.6 million eligible voters. A Florida voter can therefore be treated as a baseline by which to measure the impact of the Electoral College. Voters in Wyoming, with 3 electoral votes and only 431,000 eligible voters, make out the best in this system: Thanks to the Electoral College, a single voter in Wyoming is worth 3.5 Florida voters.

The national average is about 1.19 Florida Votes per voter — if you’re curious, that’s the exact value of a single vote in Louisiana. Voters in 21 states are worth less than the average, while those in 28 states (and DC) are worth more. Among the winners are voters in Vermont, also worth more than three Florida voters, while those in Alaska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Delaware, and Washington DC are all worth between two and three Florida voters each.

Among the losers are voters in New York and California, as most would expect, but interestingly the bottom four also include Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina: All three perennial swing states, as well as a state newly considered a swing in 2016.

In fact, of the 13 states considered “purple states” in 2016 or expected to become so in the near future, voters in only four (New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, and Iowa) exercise better than average influence on the Electoral College outcome. The other nine (the aforementioned plus Virginia, Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Michigan) all fall within the bottom fourteen — which suggests that swing states may be less a product of centrist populations, as conventional wisdom holds, than of a fluke in Electoral College math.

Voter Turnout Intensifies Electoral College Impact.

The numbers presented so far are based on electoral votes and eligible voters, but the effect is further intensified by disparities in voter turnout; the number of actual votes shrinks, but electoral votes stay the same, further tipping the scales.

In the 2016 election, for example, those voters in Wyoming wound up being worth 3.83 Florida voters each, thanks to 60 percent turnout (Florida voters were still worth the least, by the way, even with 66% turnout taken into account). Voters in Hawaii, Utah, West Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, and Oklahoma all picked up 1/5 or more of a Florida voter thanks to low turnout, while voters in Minnesota, where 74% of those eligible cast ballots, each voter lost 13% of a Florida vote in influence.

Astute readers might pick up on a disturbing trend: If swing states are those where individual voter influence on the Electoral College is lowest, then it follows that state legislatures can “shore up” a majority for their party by reducing the population of eligible voters and increasing influence per voter. In other words, the Electoral College incentivizes voter suppression and disenfranchisement more than would a nationwide popular vote.

In fact, the two states where felony disenfranchisement has the greatest impact on electoral influence (Georgia and Texas) are among the most recent to “turn purple.” In both states, the number of voters disenfranchised by felony convictions was greater than the differential between Trump and Clinton; when one considers the disparity in racial makeup among felons, and the tendency of minority voters to support Democrats, disenfranchised felons alone likely could have swung both states for Clinton. Notably, the percentage of voters suppressed due to felony convictions was more than twice as high in states Trump won (1.6%) as in states Clinton won (0.7%).

The Electoral College has a disproportionate racial effect, and does incentivize voter suppression and disenfranchisement, all of which will be explored in greater depth in Part Four.

The Electoral College Makes Half of All Votes Meaningless.

One might assume the disparity in vote value created by the Electoral College is its greatest harm, and the solution is therefore to adjust electoral apportionment to the states. But even though Trump benefitted more from disproportionate impact of individual votes, it wasn’t enough to win the election. Converting all individual votes nationwide into “Florida votes,” Hillary still comes out ahead, albeit by a smaller margin.

How can this be? Because the greater evil of the Electoral College is not the disproportionate weight of votes alone. It’s that the Electoral College functions as a nationwide gerrymander, effectively erasing more than half of American voters by adding them onto, or burying them beneath, arbitrary regional majorities.

To illustrate this point, imagine for a moment that instead of 51 electoral bodies with discrete majority votes, we divided the nation into three: The East Coast, the West Coast (to include Alaska and Hawaii) and the Heartland. It’s easy to see the problem — with the majority of Republican voters condensed in one single district, the Democrats would have a lock on the Presidency without contest in every election.

Now back to reality. Consider that California and New York, undisputed Democratic powerhouses, were home to the third- and sixth-most votes for Donald Trump. A total of nearly 7 million votes, more than eleven percent of all votes for Trump, came from two states he never had a chance at winning. Meanwhile, 8.4 million votes for Clinton, nearly 13 percent of her total, came from voters in Texas and Florida.

In fact, roughly half of ballots cast by Americans for Hillary Clinton came from voters in states where she lost; the same is true of a third of ballots cast for Donald Trump. Both candidates received about 30% of their votes in states traditionally considered a lock for the other side. These are “lost” votes.

Next consider “meaningless” votes; meaningless because they pile on to large majorities in states where a candidate was expected to win. Meaningless votes consumed 14 percent of all votes for Donald Trump, and 16 percent of those for Hillary Clinton.

Adding the lost and meaningless votes together, 71.4 million American votes were erased by the Electoral College — more than half of all votes cast in the 2016 election.

If more than half of all votes are lost or meaningless, then does it follow that the Electoral College suppresses turnout? There is some evidence: Turnout is notably higher in swing states (64%) than non-swing states (57%). Consider that 35.5 million voters cast ballots for a candidate they knew couldn’t possibly win their state — and 70 million Americans outside of swing states didn’t bother to vote.

Note that these numbers are now outdated (both popular vote counts have since grown) but the principle holds true.

In the end, the most important figure is this: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by at least 2.3 million votes, 64.8 million to Trump’s 62.5 million. However, when that is adjusted for votes lost and rendered meaningless by the Electoral College, she loses — by more than 11 million votes.

Part Two: The Electoral College is antiquated, and was never intended to work as it does today.

The Electoral College is anti-democratic, erasing half of all voters and allowing those who do count to stuff multiple ballots each election. But that’s how it was intended, right? The Framers meant the Electoral College to give more weight to small states, and encourage Presidents to campaign more broadly. Right?

In a word, no. The Electoral College was never intended to work the way it does now. Not only that, it stopped functioning as intended only a decade after it was implemented.

The Electoral College was not meant to encourage candidates to campaign in small states, because the Framers didn’t want Presidents to campaign at all.

For starters, the Electoral College was certainly never meant to encourage Presidents to campaign in small states–because according to the people who designed it, Presidents were not supposed to campaign and voters were not supposed to vote for President. As any Hamilton listener will know, campaigning for President was considered vulgar by the Founders. A candidate was to be nominated and elected by his peers, and expected to act as if he didn’t want the office. Meanwhile, individual voters cast ballots for only one national office: Representative. Senators and the President (or, more properly, Presidential electors) were named by state legislatures.

In fact, the federal government looked completely different to the men who designed the Electoral College. The Presidency was designed as an administrative and diplomatic office, the weakest of the three branches of government. There were no federal agencies, no national tax policy, and no standing military. Today, the Presidency is arguably the most powerful of the three branches, with powers unanticipated — or, where anticipated, feared — by the men who created the office.

The Electoral College is a vestigial remnant of a bygone era, one that lingered for centuries primarily because it was harmless, and did not change election outcomes. However, twice in the last five elections it has awarded the Presidency to the less popular candidate. It has to go.

What was the Electoral College Really For?

To understand the impetus for the Electoral College, one must remember that the Constitution was a second attempt at national unity, after the first (the Articles of Confederation) failed. The Constitution’s framers, the Federalists, believed the solution was a stronger central government, but met opposition from the Democratic Republicans, who envisioned the United States as a loose affiliation of independent state governments.

The entire structure of American government is designed as a compromise between the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans, especially around one specific issue: slavery. Among the Federalists were several outspoken abolitionists, and southern states refused to join a union that threatened their way of life. So the Constitution sought to protect state sovereignty through several mechanisms.

The right to name Senators and Presidential electors was reserved to state legislatures, which were free to use any process they chose. Only members of the House were elected directly by voters–who, at the time, included only white male property owners.

Every state had equal representation in the Senate, but slave-owners in the largely agrarian South feared larger populations in the north would give abolitionists the advantage in the House. The result was the 3/5 Compromise, in which slaves (who, like American Indians, were not counted as residents for census purposes) were counted as 3/5 of a person for Congressional apportionment.

In the Electoral College, this inflated the voting power of southern states (and the legislators who controlled them) because the number of electors is equal to the sum of senators and representatives in Congress. This would have been a relatively minor concern at the time, however, since the President wielded little domestic authority compared with Congress.

In the election of 1792, only two states (Pennsylvania and Maryland) held popular elections. In all others, electors were named by state legislatures.

Instead, the Electoral College served another important function, named by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, Number 68: To reserve the powers of President to a handful of elite individuals seen as “fit” for the office, while protecting against corruption and collusion. State legislatures would name their nominees, but it was up to the electors–who were barred from holding state elected office, and barred from collaborating with electors from outside their state–to make the final decision; or nearly final, anyway. If the electors came to a tie, the choice of President fell to the House of Representatives.

That has happened twice. The first time, in 1800, there were 138 state electors and 17 Representatives in the House. Today, those numbers are 538 and 435, respectively.

More importantly, however, the Electoral College never once served the purpose of protecting the people from their choice. From the beginning, convention held that electors in states that held a popular vote would respect the choice of the people. Only once in history have so-called “faithless electors” threatened to change an election, and that was for the office of Vice President. Today, the majority of states have laws requiring electors to vote according to the popular result, but such laws have never once been enforced. Convention alone has been powerful enough.

1911: The Math Changes.

By basing the number of electors on total representation in Congress, the framers gave a small boost to very small states; though their population might not warrant two Representatives in the House, they were guaranteed two Senators and therefore at least three electoral votes. Beyond that (and the 3/5 Compromise), however, apportionment was relatively equal nationwide.

In the Election of 1792, which followed the new nation’s first-ever census in 1790, the House featured approximately one Representative for every 34,000 “persons,” with little deviation. Only two states, Delaware and Vermont, deviated by more than four percent from that ratio — because both had joined as states after the 1970 census.

If the House had continued to grow at a constant rate, the most powerful state vote would be worth only 25% more than the weakest.

Compare that with 2016. Today, Montana sends just one Representative to Congress, representing nearly one million state residents. That is nearly double the ratio of residents to Representatives in Rhode Island, where the ratio is smallest.

Why has that variance grown so? Because the Apportionment Act of 1911 fixed the number of House seats permanently at 435, where it still stands today (it was increased briefly when Alaska and Hawaii became states, before Congress reduced it back in 1962). In 1911, the population of the United states stood at 94 million, less than a third of the 309 million Americans counted in the 2010 census.

Certainly, to let the House of Representatives continue growing would be unwieldy–with its 435 members, many say the House already is–but by fixing that number as the country grew, the Apportionment Act of 1911 set the Electoral College to move further and further from the popular vote.

If, hypothetically, the House had continued to grow at a constant rate of one Representative for every 35,000 residents, as in 1790, we would currently have an 8,833-member House and 8,952 Electoral Votes. The most powerful individual vote (in Missouri) would be worth only 25% more than the weakest, in South Carolina.

Even if the House had kept growing at 1911’s pace, one Representative for every 216,000 people, while the number of Representatives would still be unmanageable, the value of a Wyoming vote would be only 1.75 times the value of a Florida vote, instead of 3.5 times as much.

The Nature of the Presidency has Changed.

The Framers of the Constitution saw the President as a primarily administrative office, overseeing the work assigned to him by Congress. Both the Senate and the President were to be elected by state legislatures, because the vision of the Framers was that most legislating would happen within the states, and the federal government would oversee mainly foreign affairs, and a handful of domestic issues.

What made sense then does not make sense now. In the 1790s, the life of an everyday American was most impacted by the laws passed in the state legislature. Over 240 years, however, the role of the federal government, and especially the Presidency, has greatly evolved.

To the Framers of the Constitution, the idea of a national military was almost offensive. The Continental Army had been disbanded immediately following victory over England, because the Framers feared the tyranny that might rise from a strong central military. Instead, military defense was left to the individual state militias.

Today the United States Government is the largest employer on Earth, with the Department of Defense alone employing 3.2 million people. The President as Commander in Chief holds the fates not only of the military and military families, but all Americans. The Electoral College predates the very concept of “total war,” in which all of a nation’s citizens and resources are mobilized in warfare, as well as the kind of military weaponry and tactics that pose an existential threat to a nation. To the Framers of the Constitution, war was something that might threaten the a few strategic cities that might be blockaded and occupied, not something where a single atomic weapon can end millions of lives.

The Electoral College predates most of the powers of the Executive Branch, including all federal agencies. It predates the very concept of federal preemption, which says laws passed by the federal government supersede those in the states. In fact, the Executive Branch predates the very idea that the Supreme Court has the authority to review and strike down any laws, let alone state laws.

The Electoral College predates not only political parties but the concept of the gerrymander, which secures party power in state legislatures and the House of Representatives. At the time the Constitution was ratified, states elected Representatives at-large. It wasn’t until 1967 that every state sent Representatives from single-member districts.

The Electoral College predates federal regulation of business, federal income tax, combined presidential/vice-presidential tickets, and state primary elections. In short, the federal government and the office of President today look almost nothing like they did when the Electoral College was instituted. Senators, once named by state legislatures, have been elected by popular vote since the Seventeenth Amendment passed in 1913, and yet the President is still elected by the same method designed in 1789.

Part Three: The Electoral College is incompatible with modern American life, and makes it easier to buy or steal an election.

The Electoral College survived as long as it did because it generally didn’t alter election outcomes. As American culture has shifted, however, the Electoral College has become more dangerous, and made it easier to manipulate the outcome of our elections.

Our Population is Growing More Urban.

As a nationwide gerrymander, the Electoral College erases more than half of all ballots cast in the United States by lumping them into statewide elections. Residents in all but a handful of swing states see their votes either lumped onto an existing majority and made meaningless or buried beneath a majority for the other party.

This was never the design of the Electoral College; rather it is a product of the way American culture has shaped our geography. For years now, the United States has been growing more urban. More than 80 percent of Americans currently live in urban centers, and that number is increasing. The 2010 Census revealed that urban populations were growing well ahead of the national average (12.1 percent over ten years, vs 9.7 percent nationwide) while rural areas were growing at a much lower rate.

Moving is directly and consciously related to politics. In a 2014 article for the Washington Post, Aaron Blake examined the way Americans “self-gerrymander” by moving into communities that share their politics. Blake cites a Pew study that found 77% of liberals preferred to live in urban communities, while 75% of conservatives preferred rural living. This effect was more pronounced among people who said politics was important to them — and notably, both liberals and conservatives who identified as strongly political said they felt it was important to live among people who were politically like-minded.

As Americans condense into cities, the Electoral College will put more and more relative power in the hands of a small number of older, whiter, and more conservative voters.

The implication here is that liberal voters are likely to move into major cities, most of which are in blue states where their votes will be condensed into an existing and irrelevant majority, while conservative voters will do the opposite. Pew found that Republicans are actually more likely to move in the interest of politics.

However the migration of Americans to urban areas is not solely a choice. The reason the majority of Americans give for moving is to find a job, and unemployment in rural regions of the country far outpaces that in urban centers. As we have grown more urban, the United States has also famously moved from an industrial, manufacturing economy to a service and technology economy — and jobs in those sectors are most often in major cities.

This illustration, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows the change in state GDP in the first quarter of 2016. Note how “red states” generally fared worse than “blue states.”

Not only that, but many Republican political initiatives are associated with greater unemployment — as in Kansas, where governor Sam Brownback promised to use his power in office to fix unemployment, and instead decimated the state’s job numbers, or in Wisconsin, where Scott Walker brags about a job rate that has increased at a slower pace than the national average. These kinds of policies would intensify the exodus of young, more liberal voters from the state as they seek jobs elsewhere, and ensure a solid voting base for the same politicians who drove jobs away.

As our population continues to condense into major urban centers, the Electoral College will put more and more relative power in the hands of the voters — older, whiter, and more conservative than most — who chose to remain in rural states.

In theory, shifts in American culture would be reflected in our politics — but this is not the case. In every recent election, Democrats have claimed a majority of votes, and yet the House, Senate, and Presidency all belong to the Republicans. Why? Because that majority of Democratic votes come from a handful of densely populated states and counties. In the Senate, intended by the Framers to be the least democratic house of government, this is almost intentional. In the House, the GOP majority originates with the gerrymander. In the Oval Office, it is the Electoral College we have to thank.

Is it possible that the growth of urban centers within red states will flip them and undo the harm of the Electoral College? Conceivably. The fastest growing urban centers in the country are in Charlotte, Austin, and Las Vegas. Nevada, once considered a purple state, now appears to be solidly blue; North Carolina and Texas are expected to turn purple in the near future.

The trouble is that the Electoral College also makes it easier to tamper with election outcomes through nefarious means like Voter ID and felony disenfranchisement, and to swing election results through investments in advertising.

The Electoral College Makes it Easier to Buy an Election.

If it wipes out half of all voters, who does the Electoral College actually benefit? Candidates and donors, that’s who.

Imagine a United States where the President was elected by popular vote. Imagine a GOP candidate campaigning in upstate New York and California’s Central Valley, and a Democratic candidate venturing into urban counties in Alabama and Kentucky.

By making the contest smaller, the Electoral College allows candidates to effectively ignore voters in the majority of US states and invest their time and money in just a handful of “swing states” where the election outcome is not already decided.

It’s true that rigging a US election by hacking or voter fraud is very difficult–but thanks to the Electoral College, rigging an election by keeping certain voters away from the polls is disturbingly easy.

In the 2016 general campaign, Donald Trump made 14 visits to North Carolina, 12 to New Hampshire, and 12 to Ohio. He received around 5.5 million votes from those three states combined; meanwhile in California, New York, and New Jersey he got just short of 8 million.

It’s not just the candidates who save time — those Super PACs everyone has been angry at since the Citizens United ruling can make their dollars stretch further by targeting ad buys in just a small number of counties within those swing states. Instead of spreading a message to her millions of supporters distributed across the nation, Hillary Clinton could gather celebrities for a multiple-night get-out-the-vote effort in Philadelphia.

In an era when wealth is more uneven than any other in our history, and most Americans agree that big money should get out of politics, the Electoral College makes it easier to buy an election.

The Electoral College Makes it Easier to Steal an Election.

During the pre-election controversy about voter fraud, many experts remarked that America’s state-by-state election system makes it difficult, almost impossible, for any single entity to rig an election outcome.

This is true in the given context: to rig an election by stuffing ballot boxes or hacking voting machines is borderline impossible. Thanks to the Electoral College, however, rigging an election by keeping voters away from the polls is disturbingly easy. All you need is a complete lack of integrity, party control of a state legislature, and cynical contempt for the right to vote.

Take Michigan, for example, where Donald Trump won by a mere 10,704 votes. Ahead of the election, activists in Michigan sued the state over new voting regulations they said disenfranchised 300,000 or more voters, disproportionately minority voters who were likely to cast ballots for the Democrats. If you’ve any doubt that party politics motivates voter ID laws, one need only look at Texas or North Carolina, where courts found that voter ID laws were clearly racially motivated — or take it from Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania legislator and architect of that state’s failed voter ID attempt, who openly stated that it was intended to help the GOP win.

To illustrate the way the Electoral College makes voter suppression immeasurably more effective at stealing an election, we need not suppose that Michigan’s voter suppression tactics erased 300,000 votes. We only need to suppose that it kept away 10,705 more votes for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. Clinton received (at time of writing) 2.27 million votes in the state of Michigan, and in an nationwide popular election every one of those votes would count toward her majority, as would Donald Trump’s 2.28 million. Instead, because of the Electoral College, it is possible that suppression of less than 11,000 voters erased all of Hillary’s support in the state.

Voter ID laws, and reports of related irregularities, factored in other states including North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. But one need not look only at Voter ID — the actual impact of which can be difficult or impossible to measure — to see how states keep voters away from the polls. Felony disenfranchisement has a demonstrated impact on US election results.

The Electoral College incentivizes voter suppression and disenfranchisement.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person convicted of a felony. It doesn’t have to be a murder or robbery — let’s say you got caught with a beer when you were 19, or got in a fistfight outside a bar after a football game and a drink too many. Each of these is a felony offense, and depending on what state you live in, you may never get to vote again.

According to the Sentencing Project, more than 6 million Americans have lost their right to vote because of a felony conviction — and states are wildly different in how they treat voting rights for convicts. Two states (Vermont and Maine) bring ballots into their prisons so that convicts can vote even while serving time. Eleven states strip felons of all voting rights, for life. The majority of states fall somewhere in between, denying felons the right to vote while incarcerated, while on probation, and/or while on parole.

Felony disenfranchisement has been shown to have dramatic racial disparities: The Sentencing Project says one in 13 African-American voters has lost their voting rights to felony disenfranchisement, compared with one in 56 non-black voters. In the context of the Electoral College, the impact becomes even more stark: The list of states with the harshest felony disenfranchisement laws includes Wyoming, Delaware, Nebraska, and others where individual votes are weighted most heavily.

Florida has by far the worst felony disenfranchisement laws in the nation, with more than a million and a half voters (including nearly a quarter of all African-Americans) denied their right to vote based on felony convictions.

After the 2000 election, in which Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College, researchers at Northwestern University conducted a study that showed Gore would have won Florida if felons had been allowed to vote. Florida is not alone; based on actual 2016 results, the number of felons denied the right to vote exceeded Donald Trump’s margin of victory in three states Trump won (Wisconsin, Florida, and Georgia) and two won by Clinton (New Hampshire and Nevada) as well as Michigan, where Trump holds a small lead. In Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan the number of disenfranchised felons is double or more Trump’s margin of victory.

Because African-Americans are disproportionately represented among Americans convicted of felonies, and overwhelmingly voted for Clinton in 2016, it’s entirely reasonable to suppose that different laws would mean different results in those states, and therefore in the Electoral College.

Wisconsin, Florida, and Georgia all have Republican-controlled legislatures. In fact, harsher felony disenfranchisement laws are generally associated with Republican lawmakers, notable when one considers that left-leaning voters are dramatically overrepresented among felons. One need not make a leap to suppose that at least some of the motive for such laws is partisan in nature.

And yet, in a nationwide popular vote such efforts would fall short of delivering reliable results. It is only thanks to the Electoral College, which makes it possible to negate the will of millions of voters across a state by suppressing only a few hundred thousand — or less — that such tactics are effective. It might still be difficult to steal a US election, but the Electoral College makes it much, much easier.

Part Four: The Electoral College is Racist.

Shocking, right, that an institution built into our Constitution to placate slave states would have a disproportionate racial impact? But that is in fact the case.

So far we have established that the Electoral College:

  1. Is anti-democratic, weighing some individual votes far heavier than others to the extent that some voters are effectively casting almost four ballots each;
  2. Is antiquated, and never intended to function the way it does today; and
  3. Is incompatible with modern elections, and actually makes it much easier to buy or steal a US election.

In each of those effects on US elections, the Electoral College currently favors white voters over non-white voters. Recently, Vox published an analysis in which they concluded the Electoral College shifted the balance considerably in favor of white voters — and they left out several ways in which the Electoral College harms non-white voters.

White Voters have more powerful votes and are more likely to count.

I remind you of our “Florida vote,” a base unit by which we can measure the impact of any one voter on the Electoral College. In 29 states, individual votes get a boost. In 21, the impact of a single vote is diminished. Guess where non-white voters are more likely to live!

Of approximately 69 million non-white people who live in the United States, 52.8 million (three quarters) live in states where the value of an individual vote is lessened by the Electoral College. Collectively, non-white voters lose about one percent of their electoral impact through this phenomenon alone, while white voters gain around one percent–which may not sound like much, but in the 2016 election it was equivalent to about 2.7 million votes.

We also established that the Electoral College, by functioning as a nationwide gerrymander, erases more than half of all ballots cast in any American election. Non-white Americans are more likely to see their vote erased, by about half a percent.

In the eleven “swing states,” on which the Electoral College effectively bases nationwide results, non-white voters are underrepresented: Non-white voters make up about 20% of the population in swing states, versus 23% of the population in non-swing states. Once again, 3 percent may not sound like much, but that’s 6.8 million eligible voters, and based on 2016 turnout, about 4 million actual votes.

Those figures, however, are based on population demographics, and assume that white and non-white voters are equally likely to be eligible voters. As you will see in a moment, that is most definitely not the case.

White Voters are less likely to lose their right to vote.

As we covered in part three, the Electoral College makes it much easier to steal an election, not by stuffing ballot boxes but by turning certain voters away from the polls, and that a go-to technique for doing so is felony disenfranchisement. It’s likely no other phenomenon harms non-white voters as much as this one.

It’s a fairly well-reported fact that non-white Americans are over-represented in our criminal justice system. White Americans make up about 78% of the US population, and yet only 59% of felony convictions. According to the NAACP, Black Americans are six times as likely as White Americans to be incarcerated, and Black and Hispanic Americans make up nearly 60% of the current prison population, while less than a quarter of the overall population.

If every state had laws like Vermont and Maine, it is likely the United States would not have had a Republican President since 1996.

In part three we discussed the range of state laws pertaining to the right of felons to vote. In Vermont and Maine, all people can vote regardless of felony status, even including people currently incarcerated. In 11 other states, meanwhile, felons lose the right to vote for life, regardless of what the felony was; 19 percent of all non-white Americans live in these states, versus 18 percent of white voters.

Add in the 19 states where felons lose voting rights as long as they are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole (the second strictest type of felony disenfranchisement) and you’ve covered more than 56% of the non-white population, versus less than 54% of White Americans.

So non-white voters are dramatically more likely to be convicted of a felony, and significantly more likely to live in a state where that felony will strip them of their right to vote. Do the math, and you begin to understand why the NAACP, Sentencing Project, ACLU, and other organizations view felony disenfranchisement as a civil rights crisis. The Sentencing Project estimates that 1 out of 13 African American voters has lost their voting rights to felony disenfranchisement, compared with 1 in 56 non-black voters. Again, in Florida, nearly a quarter of all African-Americans have permanently lost their right to vote.

In general, felony disenfranchisement laws are harshest in Republican-controlled states. 22 of 30 states with the harshest laws went for Trump in 2016. When one considers that non-white voters, and especially Black voters, tend overwhelmingly to vote Democrat, it’s not hard to see how such laws might have a partisan motive. That becomes even clearer when one considers that three states Trump won (Georgia, Florida, and Wisconsin) would likely have gone to Clinton if people convicted of felonies were permitted to vote. In fact, if no states denied convicted felons the right to vote (ie, if everyone followed the laws in Maine and Vermont) it is likely the United States would not have had a Republican President since 1996.

As a reminder, the only reason such voter suppression efforts are impactful in Presidential elections is that the Electoral College divides the nation into 51 separate elections, most of which can be won or lost based on a small margin of votes. If not for the Electoral College, it would be much more difficult for voter suppression to alter the election outcome — especially when the losing candidate received 2.3 million more votes.

Felony disenfranchisement is far from the only method by which non-white voters are denied their right to vote. That tendency to vote Democrat has made non-whites, and especially African-Americans, a prime target of voter suppression efforts in many GOP-controlled states, whether through Voter ID laws with disproportionate impacts, targeted purging of voter rolls, the end of Sunday voting (very popular with Black voters in recent years) in many states, the closing of more than 800 polling places across predominantly Black precincts in the South, intimidation at polling places, or other techniques.

The Electoral College is racist in its impact, and adds incentive for states to employ racist voter suppression tactics. It has to go.

Part Five: Ending the Electoral College will not break American elections the way many people predict.

In parts one through four, we covered the many reasons the Electoral College must go: It’s anti-democratic, outdated, doesn’t serve the purpose it was designed to serve, makes it easier to buy or steal a U.S. election, disproportionately lessens the electoral power of non-white voters, and incentivizes voter suppression efforts like felony disenfranchisement and “voter ID” laws.

But what about the arguments in favor of the Electoral College? Any time the debate arises, there’s always someone eager to argue that only the Electoral College keeps voters in small states relevant, and without it our President would be chosen by New York and California. These arguments are false, based on myth and stereotype. In fact, ending the Electoral College would only be good for American democracy. Here’s why:

In a nationwide popular election, state lines are irrelevant.

The most common argument in favor of the Electoral College says that New York and California have huge populations, and because they vote Democrat a national popular election would mean a permanent Democratic lock on elections, rendering the concerns of small, rural states irrelevant.

In a popular vote, instead of a handful of battleground states, elections would be decided by voters with similar views on the issues.

There’s a huge problem with this logic: It misses the fact that state borders are irrelevant to a nationwide popular vote.

With the nationwide gerrymander that is the Electoral College ended, votes that have traditionally been erased would suddenly matter: Large blocks of Republican voters in places like Upstate New York and Long Island, the farmland if Illinois, and rural California could help elect their candidate. Liberals in Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama would actually have an impact on the Presidency, and never again would we see a candidate preferred by more than 2 million Americans lose the Presidency simply because those Americans live too close to one another.

In a nationwide popular vote, instead of elections being decided by a handful of battleground states where the outcome is in doubt, they would be decided by coalitions of voters with similar views on the issues. Candidates would be forced to message in a way that appealed to like-minded voters across the nation: Republicans would have to speak to coal miners in West Virginia, out-of-work manufacturers in the Rust Belt, and rural and suburban voters in New York and Pennsylvania.

Instead of arbitrarily grouped by state borders, voters would be grouped by issues and lifestyles, and a state like California — with the third most Republican votes in 2016 — could no longer erase a huge portion of the electorate because a majority of its residents disagree.

Without the Electoral College, candidates would visit more states.

After the 2016 Election, Donald Trump tweeted that without the Electoral College, he would have campaigned in New York and California and won an even larger majority. This is an oft-repeated talking point by those who defend the Electoral College: Without it, candidates would only visit states with huge populations, and smaller states would never see a candidate in person.

Let’s begin by taking that apart: First, we’ve already covered that state lines would be irrelevant, so it’s not an issue of candidates appearing in states. Frankly, that’s not been true in some time anyway; if one reviews the history of candidate appearances, they are often strategically located in border areas where voters from several states can attend. It’s not as if a candidate appearing in Cleveland is solely campaigning to voters from Ohio; voters from nearby states will travel to attend — which shows that the US is already divided more regionally than by state borders.

Secondly, it’s worth pausing to question the value of personal appearances in a modern election environment. Yes, the “ground game,” as it’s called, is often cited as a key in driving turnout within battleground states — but remember that battleground states are a phenomenon of the Electoral College, which renders more than half of all American votes meaningless. Certainly the vast majority of votes for any candidate come from people who have never seen the candidate in person.

Also bear in mind that this was never a design feature of the Electoral College, which was designed during an era when Presidents were expected *not* to campaign.

Lastly, it’s already the case that only a small handful of states ever see candidates in person. Appearances are focused on battleground states where the outcome is in question; appearances in other states are generally confined to high-dollar fundraising events.

There is some logic to say that candidates in a nationwide popular election would be inclined to focus on high-population regions like large Northeastern cities or Los Angeles, but there is no reason to think they would ONLY appear there. In fact, we have a long-standing example to show how false that suspicion is: Senate races.

Senators already run in popular elections, only they’re statewide instead of national. Many states offer examples of populations divided between densely populated urban areas and larger rural regions: New York and California, certainly, but also Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and many other states with both large cities and large rural populations. In none of these cases do Senate candidates limit their appearances to urban regions alone, because they understand the need to reach voters in both regions.

The fact is, candidates will design a strategy that allows them to reach undecided voters and drive turnout among supporters. This approach will not lead to a focus solely on a handful of urban regions, where turnout is often higher than average and voters’ minds are already made up.

The Electoral College creates and reinforces stereotypes about states.

Quick: What’s the biggest agricultural state in the country? Kansas? Iowa? Nebraska?

The answer is California. Of course, under our current system California is viewed as a massive liberal paradise, a “blue state” where everyone drives electric cars and insists on green energy alone.

Likewise, New York is full of liberals, and Texans are all conservative. Right?

Well, in a word, no. Nor are states like Alabama and Oklahoma made up solely of hardcore right-wingers. The fact is all of our states contain voters from all lifestyles and interests. Many so-called “blue states,” which come to be defined by their large urban areas, are also the nation’s largest agricultural producers: New York, Washington, and Illinois are all counted among the larger farming states in the nation.

The arbitrary lines around state borders (which date back as far as the 1600’s, drawn by the English monarchy when the states were still US colonies) for the most part don’t relate in any way to the perspectives, lifestyles, or opinions of individual residents. The Electoral College has created a simplified narrative in which divisive stereotypes drive antipathy between states.

It’s not unreasonable to suppose that a nationwide popular election would improve national unity, by bringing together voters with similar priorities from separate parts of the nation.

Ending the Electoral College would increase voter engagement and turnout.

It is demonstrably true that turnout is significantly higher in swing states than in states that are “solid red” or “solid blue,” and there is ample reason to believe that without the Electoral College, voter turnout nationwide would increase.

Never again would we hear “I don’t need to vote, I already know who’s winning my state,” or the opposite “there’s no reason for me to vote, there’s no way my candidate wins this state.” Every vote would count, and count equally.

More than that, though, without the Electoral College there is less opportunity for state legislatures to turn the result of an election through voter suppression. It would be naive to suggest that voter suppression would disappear — indeed, initially at least the nation may see an increased effort to keep people away from the polls — but when states can no longer guarantee a win for their candidate by, say, keeping a quarter of African-American voters from voting, it stands to reason that there may be less motivation to attempt suppression.

Ending the Electoral College might improve party messaging.

Might a nationwide popular election actually improve our politics? It’s possible — one might even say likely — when one considers the current approach relies on turning out the more extreme voters in a handful of swing states.

A nationwide election would put many more voters in play: Again, Republican candidates have long known they could ignore the concerns of voters in Upstate New York, Central California, and most of New England, just as Democratic candidates have not tailored their message to left-leaning residents of Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi or New Orleans.

With all voters in play, the parties and candidates would need to craft messages that appeal to all people who lean to their side. It’s logical to expect that this would push both candidates to a more reasoned, broad approach instead of the relatively extreme views we hear today. Instead of trying to carve a relatively small majority from the tiny portion of American votes that counts (ie, only those within swing states who will actually come to the polls) candidates would for the first time benefit from appealing to the widest possible cross-section of eligible American voters.

It is probably fair to suspect that some of these arguments are idealistic, and at no point in this series have I ventured into the question of how America might go about ending the Electoral College. It does not seem likely under the current system, in which the party that most benefits from the Electoral College also controls all federal branches of government and most state legislatures. That’s a topic I’ve set aside for now, in favor of the many arguments that prove one thesis:

The Electoral College is bad. It’s harmful, it’s outdated and anti-democratic, racially biased, and it wrecks American elections — even when it doesn’t run counter to the popular vote.

It’s time for the Electoral College to go.

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Comic: Trump Camp

November 20, 2016 Artwork, Comics, Politics / Religion Comments (4) 1681



I haven’t heard too many people cite Godwin since the Trump campaign, which ticked most of the fascist boxes. The “victory tour” and his intention to continue holding rallies certainly doesn’t help. But once in a while, someone does still make this argument.

I heard someone recently say it was “too early” to compare Trump to Hitler, which is a funny phrasing. It implies we’ll get there eventually–but I guess we need to wait for genocide? Or maybe just the invasion of France.

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Don’t Be a White “Ally”

November 17, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion, Pop Culture Comments (0) 1162

Irony, in the Alannis Morissette sense of the term, is when you write an essay using the word “ally” for simplicity’s sake, even though you hate the term, and that essay goes viral and becomes probably the most-read thing you’ve ever written.

A little too ironic, don’tcha think?

So I want to take a moment to explain why I dislike the term “ally,” and generally try not to use it. I’m adapting this from a response I emailed last July to Our National Conversation about Conversations About Race, a podcast that I absolutely love and to which I give my strongest possible recommendation?—?so if this sounds familiar, maybe you heard it there.

In my own life, I have encountered the term “ally” primarily as a member of the LGBTQ community. I’ve many times had straight people tell me they’re “allies,” and it’s always rubbed me the wrong way.

I think it’s that it’s because a person identifying as an “ally” immediately makes the discussion about themselves an their identity, and perhaps their membership and identification with the group.

When someone says “how can I help?” that’s great, but saying “I’m an ally, how can I help” tells me that your real goal is for me to validate you and include you in what you see as “my club.” If you see a car broken down on the side of the road, or a person who maybe needs CPR, you don’t say “I’m an ally,” you just ask if they need help.

I think what troubles me more is this: Inclusion and respect and equality are morals we should expect of everyone. They should come standard on all humans, and standing up for them should not constitute an identity. Recognizing and opposing discrimination and privilege shouldn’t earn anyone a gold star, they should just be expected.

There’s no word to identify oneself as opposed to murder?—?we just label the murderers. The same ought to be true of the racists, the homophobes, the bigots, and so on. A person who stands up for what’s right isn’t an “ally,” they’re just a decent person. I guess if someone wants to identify as extra-involved in the effort, they can use “activist.” But even that feels easy?—?I’d rather see a person demonstrate their activism than tell me they self-identify as such.

I recognize that, in the wake of Trump’s election and the ensuing rash of hate crimes, it’s clear that opposition to bigotry does not come standard, and there is value in announcing oneself as tolerant and respectful. The word still rubs me wrong, because it normalizes bigotry, and even if bigotry is terribly, frighteningly common, I still don’t want to see it normalized.

As a culture Americans are programmed to worship equality and justice and freedom, and we should all feel harmed and offended by violations of those values. Yes, our entire history is one of utter hypocrisy, and we have *never* since our inception been equal or just or free?—?but that doesn’t change the way we’re programmed, and it doesn’t mean we can’t aspire to make those values a reality, even if the men who wrote them were full of shit.

I’m not an ally, I’m a white dude who’s disgusted by racism and inequality, and I don’t want to live in a society that is systematically biased against other people, or where my tax dollars are used to oppress and harm my neighbors.

Like many white kids, I spent my formative years totally buying into the “Shining City on the Hill” mythology, before my eyes were opened by some very patient black activists who took the time to bring me around. Ultimately, what I’m really after is turning that mythology into reality.

I want to live in that make-believe America I heard about when I was ten. That’s a fairly selfish goal, but it seems like one a lot of white Americans would share, if they would wake up to the reality of our society instead of choosing to blindly believe the myth.

I have the feeling Trump’s election did wake a lot of people, which might be a sort of silver lining. But personally, I’d encourage people not to label themselves “allies.” Just, you know, be staunchly against murder.

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Racism Didn’t Elect Donald Trump. White Fragility Did.

November 17, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 854

I have this theory, developed shortly after the election results came in. I had a lot of time to think, because like a lot of people I couldn’t get out of bed. My theory goes like this: Yes, there is a shamefully significant population of Americans who are virulently, aggressively racist. These are the Deplorables, the people posting Pepe memes and anti-semitic messages on social networks, and currently committing hate crimes as if the coming of President Trump announced the beginning of the Purge.

But that kind of racism alone can’t explain Trump’s election. It doesn’t explain the people I count among my own friends and family who voted Trump, but consider themselves progressives on race. That kind of racism is enough to get Trump part of the way, but not enough to put him in the Oval Office; what really put him over the top is white fragility.

If you haven’t encountered this term before, white fragility is the tendency among white people to get upset when they are challenged on their own, or America’s, problems with race. YouTube channel Newsbroke produced a video about white fragility that, while funny, is way too real.

And let me pause here to say that yes, white fragility is a form of racism and white supremacy. Prioritizing the feelings and individuality of white people above entire communities of non-white or marginalized people is white supremacy. But for purposes of this specific argument, I want to draw a distinction—because Deplorables are making a conscious choice, while fragile white folks generally don’t realize what they’re doing.

What changed was that marginalized communities, particularly people of color, refused to just come along for the ride.

To reach an electoral majority, the Democratic Party’s coalition has historically relied heavily on poor and working-class white voters and marginalized groups like people of color, LGBTQ people, and immigrants. Being a majority white party, however, the Democrats have tended to ignore the actual needs of those marginalized populations, and relied on the Republican Party to frighten voters across the aisle. In the 1990s Democrats campaigned on a platform of welfare reform and crime reduction, both built on thinly-veiled racist tropes. As recently as 2008, Democrats relied on LGBTQ voters while publicly opposing marriage equality.

What changed, importantly, in the run-up to 2016 was that marginalized communities, particularly people of color, refused to just come along for the ride. Early in her campaign, Hillary Clinton had a famous confrontation with Black Lives Matter activists. At the time she lectured, but that and other interactions shaped the way Hillary reached out to black voters. During her campaign, Hillary openly said that black lives matter, in those words, and she was the first candidate for US President to use the term “institutional racism” in a Presidential debate.

These are important first steps, and the right thing to do. However, I fear that fragile white voters felt alienated, and moved away from Hillary. That’s on them, of course, but if it’s true, I’m not sure what path the Democrats have to repair their coalition.

A point that’s come up many times since the election is that Trump won districts previously won by President Obama, and so “those voters can’t be racist.” But President Obama went to lengths to run as a non-racial candidate. He famously made a speech, regarded as one of the great speeches in US history, in which effectively absolved white people of their racial resentment, and gave cover to whites who prefer their racism to be presented as “economic anxiety.”

But make no mistake: Race was not just the key issue in the 2016 election. It was the only issue. Trump’s positions, almost to a one, flew in the face of traditionally conservative values, and yet he retained the majority of conservative support; yes, he received fewer votes than Romney or McCain, but only by a small margin, while Hillary’s support fell by millions of votes. The only issue on which Trump was consistently in line with traditional conservative values was racism and xenophobia.

Essayists and commentators will talk about other factors that led to Hillary’s precipitous loss in votes, and I don’t want to downplay them completely. Voter suppression and disenfranchisement, particularly, could have turned the election in many states. Economic anxiety is real?—?it’s just important to recognize that in the United States, economic anxiety among white people almost always takes the form of racism, with anger toward “welfare queens” and job-poaching immigrants, instead of fiscal policies and corporate greed.

But the fact remains that Trump took a huge majority among white men and a significant majority among white women, perhaps more shocking considering what we learned about Trump in the last six months (not to mention what we already knew about his attitudes toward women), and that is the reason he won. No other racial or ethnic group voted for Trump. Racism, of the Deplorable variety, does not explain those figures. White fragility does.

This is further reinforced by responses to the election result, as editorials insist that journalists didn’t do enough to understand the white working class. It’s apparent on social media, where white people point to low turnout among non-white voters as the cause. I’ve personally learned a powerful lesson in white fragility, as my criticism of wearing safety pins as “symbols” of racial unity has generated literally thousands of angry messages from white people, mostly variations on a theme:

Why are you criticizing people who are trying to help? Even a small gesture should be praised. If you criticize people, you’ll lose their support. I’m offended. My feelings are hurt. You should apologize and take that post down.

I have to assume Hillary got much of the same, when she dared stand behind a debate podium and point out the racism embedded in our government.

So what’s to be done about white fragility?

Well, for starters fellow white people, if we are truly outraged by the victory of a white supremacist demagogue, we need to change ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. A shocking number of white people still think Black Lives Matter is a terrorist group; even those who don’t go that far still complain about the “divisiveness” of the name and persist in reminding us that ALL lives matter. We’ve got to work to recognize white fragility as a defense of white supremacy, lean into our discomfort with being challenged, and stop insisting that our feelings be placated.

When non-white populations are facing hate crimes, police assassinations, mass incarceration, deportation, and public persecution, our feelings just aren’t that important. Not to mention that many white Americans, while our feelings may be hurt, are actively participating in a system that harms people?—?and all of us are benefitting from it. Our feelings themselves may be causing harm.

To non-white activists, and the Democratic Party? I’m really not sure what to offer. I’m legitimately concerned that there is no path where a candidate can honestly engage with marginalized groups on thee issues that really matter, and not risk driving away fragile white votes. I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe it’s to raise awareness of white fragility as a concept, in hopes that white Americans will recognize their failing and correct course. I’m really not sure. But I refuse to suggest, or even imply, that non-white voters should take a back seat to the hurt feelings of white voters so that “white economic anxiety,” which is generally code for racial fear and anger, can sit up front.

I’m at a loss. But I think we begin by recognizing the problem. White people, we need to stop being so damn fragile.

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Dear White People, Your Safety Pins are Embarassing

November 11, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (141) 58942

Seriously? This is a thing now? Wear a safety pin to show “you’re an ally?” So immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, and others who were targeted and persecuted and (further) marginalized by the Trump Campaign will know they’re “safe” with you?

No. Just no. Please, take it off.

Let me explain something, white people: We just fucked up. Bad. We elected a racist demagogue who has promised to do serious harm to almost every person who isn’t a straight white male, and whose rhetoric has already stirred up hate crimes nationwide. White people were 70% of the voters in the 2016 election, and we’re the only demographic Trump won. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is there’s a white nationalist moving into the Oval Office, and white people–only white people–put him there.

We don’t get to make ourselves feel better by putting on safety pins and self-designating ourselves as allies.

And make no mistake, that’s what the safety pins are for. Making White people feel better. They’ll do little or nothing to reassure the marginalized populations they are allegedly there to reassure; marginalized people know full well the long history of white people calling themselves allies while doing nothing to help, or even inflicting harm on, non-white Americans.

Remember the white guys in the 1770s who wrote all about freedom and equality and inalienable rights? Remember how they owned and sold slaves? Yeah, if that’s the spirit you want to evoke, go ahead and wear your safety pin. I’m sure lots of white people will smile when they see it. They might even congratulate you. But immigrants and people of color will recognize it as a symbol of your privilege.

Also, you know who is going to be out wearing safety pins like crazy? Trump voters.

If you really want to be an ally, and make a difference for the people harmed by Trump, there are plenty of ways to do that. In fact, here’s a link to a whole list of ways you can be a better ally to marginalized communities. Unfortunately, few of them will provide the kind of visibility or reassurance that you think your safety pin will.

I know, I know, you’re uncomfortable. You feel guilty. You think people are going to suspect you of being a racist, and you want some way to assuage that guilt and reassure your neighbors that you’re one of the good ones. But you know what? You don’t get to do that. You need to sit in your guilt right now. You need to feel bad. So do I, so do all of us. We fucked up. We didn’t do enough to change the minds of our fellow White people. We unfriended them instead of confronting them. We looked the other way or laughed uncomfortably when our aunts and cousins made racist comments. We were content then to be one of the good ones and now we want congratulations–but we fucked up, and now other people are going to pay the price.

Because guess what: Even if you aren’t a racist, you still benefit from racism. I’m a white guy with money. This isn’t going to hurt me much. Yes, I’m bisexual, and therefore subject to some of the threats against marginalized groups. But it’s highly unlikely I’m going to be told I’m not American, or picked up by ICE and held in detention until I’m deported, or beaten or executed by police who decide my mere existence presents a threat to their safety, or denied the right to make my own decisions about my own medical care. For the most part, I’ll go about my daily life the way I always have–and if I want to, I can put a safety pin on my shirt and congratulate myself for being so woke, for being one of the good ones. Meanwhile I’ll be benefitting, every minute of every day, from a system that is designed to favor me over people whose skin looks darker than mine.

Don’t do it.

If you really need some way to show your support, if you just can’t bear to sit in your discomfort for even a little bit longer, here’s my suggestion: Instead of doing the thing white people invented to make ourselves feel better, follow the example of the people from the marginalized communities you want to support.

I recommend carrying a big sign. You can make your own, it’s easy. On the sign you should write, in big bold letters, “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”

And hey, if you want you can use your safety pin to fix it to your shirt.

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How to Easily be a White Ally to Marginalized Communities

November 11, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (10) 12424

Hey, fellow white person. How much do we suck, huh? You know I used to defend the white racists who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution by saying “Well, they didn’t live the words they wrote, but they framed our country around morals that made us better than themselves.”

But that was kind of bullshit, because here we are 240 years later and we just elected a white nationalist demagogue, pretty much for the sole reason that he’s a white nationalist demagogue. We really fucking blew it, and we won’t even be the ones to suffer the consequences.

So now lots of white people are making themselves feel better by putting on safety pins, which is really bullshit. But not you and me. We’re going to do some things that will actually help the people we (as a racial cohort, anyway) have harmed. We aren’t going to congratulate ourselves on it, we’re not going to wear some stupid symbolic badge that says “Hey, I’m a good white person” so other white people will congratulate us on how woke we are. We’re just going to do these things because they’re the right things to do when you believe in fairness and equality and all those things the white racist founding fathers wrote about but didn’t believe.

Here are some really easy ways we can take concrete action that will bear results:

1. Be intolerant of intolerance

The first thing we have to do is make it clear that racism, discrimination, and intolerance are no longer values that we as a society will value. That means confronting other white people and making them feel marginalized for behaving in ways that do harm. You have to stand up against friends, relatives, and even strangers when you hear them saying racist or discriminatory things.

It’s not that hard; you say “What the hell is wrong with you?” and you walk away. One instance might not make a difference, but if it happens often enough, and if white racists learn that intolerance costs them social standing, they will eventually change–after all, the whole motive behind most white racism stems from loss of status.

The one exception is when you witness actual discrimination against another person. In those cases it is your responsibility to defend that person, not only by condemning the hate speech, but by staying with that marginalized person and treating them as an actual human being. You want to help people feel safe? Then forget your safety pin and do the work of actually helping people feel safe.

2. Seek out marginalized voices and perspectives

Here’s a question: How many black people do you follow on Twitter? How many black authors do you read? If you’re like many white people, the answer is not very many. I know I didn’t for a long time; I had to make a conscious effort to change that.

America is a culture that segregates by race, sometimes intentionally but often as an unexpected consequence of our social tendencies. Social media makes this worse–we’ve all heard of the echo chamber effect at this point. The best way to break free of that is to proactively seek out voices you aren’t hearing from.

The great thing, though, is that once you start paying attention to people different from you, whether that’s people of color, LGBTQ people, Muslims, people with disabilities, Desi people, East Asians, etcetera, you will begin to encounter other new voices that you’ll appreciate. But you have to take that first step.

Here are a few people I would suggest following, who have helped to broaden my own exposure. You can find them on Twitter, or in longer form work if you’re not so much into Twitter. Just Google their names. This is not a comprehensive list, nor does it cover all communities, it’s just a good starting point in my opinion.

Deray McKesson; Roxane Gay; Shaun King; Baratunde Thurston; Raquel Cepeda; Rebecca Cohen; Xeni Jardin; Sara Yasin; Kumail Nanjiani; Anil Dash; Jamelle Bouie; Rembert Browne; Heidi Heilig; Ta-Nehisi Coates

3. Confront your racism and don’t be fragile

Here’s something I can promise, if you take my advice on #2 and start paying attention to more marginalized voices: You are going to encounter some opinions that will upset you. Some that might make you feel discriminated against, some that might even make you feel victimized by racism.

Don’t stop listening. Don’t tune out. Lean into your discomfort. Force yourself to consider other opinions, and understand why people might say something you find offensive. I’m not saying you can’t still disagree–in fact, the ability to respectfully disagree is itself a skill many Americans, especially White Americans, are not great at. So learn.

You’ll learn a lot of terms you might not have encountered before, among them “White Fragility.” This is a reference to the tendency among White people to take offense when they are called out for saying or doing something discriminatory or even racist. It’s that thing you may have noticed where some White people think “racist” is itself a discriminatory slur, and instead of listening and examining what about their behavior might be problematic they get offended and even demand an apology from the person they have offended.

So don’t be fragile. Your feelings might be hurt, sure. You might even be offended. But resist that urge, and make yourself listen. Lean into the discomfort. All of us are programmed by a culture that embeds racism, and if we are going to be allies we have to recognize we are all capable of racist actions–only by listening can we learn to do better.

And remember, you don’t have to AGREE with everything you hear, nor do you have to express your disagreement. You just have to listen to other people’s views and try to understand where they’re coming from.

4. Use your privilege to support marginalized movements

Join a Black Lives Matter march. Attend a meeting of your local community group. Go to a Black church. When people ask what you’re doing there, say “I’m here to support you.” Then ask how you can do that.

Your whiteness affords you privileges that can be a powerful asset for activists of color and from other marginalized groups. For one thing, police and politicians tend to take a movement far more seriously when there are white people participating–consider the difference in the way the Occupy movement was treated, versus the protesters in Ferguson Missouri.

However, you have to resist the urge to appoint yourself a leader. You might think I’m joking, but it’s something White people are programmed with, often by the prevalence of “White Savior” narratives in our entertainment media. Your job is to follow the leaders of the movement and do what you can to support them, even if you think you might know a better strategy.

On a related note, be prepared for the moment when a reporter with a camera will seek you out at a protest to be the spokesperson for the movement. As a white person in a minority space, I promise it will happen–it’s happened to me more than once. When that happens, here’s what you say: “I’m just here to support the movement, because I believe in it. You should speak with the leadership, I think they’re over there.” Then point in the direction where the reporter can find group leadership. Resist the urge to make further statements, because I promise it will be your face on the news that night, and none of the people of color who greatly outnumber you.

5. Give your time and money

There are a ton of organizations that do good work protecting marginalized groups in the courts, through lobbying and public advocacy, and through education and community organizing. You can donate money to them, and often you can donate time by volunteering.

Among those I would personally endorse: The Southern Poverty Law Center, Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Civil Liberties Union, International Rescue Committee, Planned Parenthood, and the Disability Rights Network. All of these organizations are effective and deserve your money.

If you can’t volunteer for a large organization like one of these, you can find a food bank or other organization in your community that helps serve vulnerable communities. Your local Black church can almost certainly help direct you.

6. Be proactive about inclusion in your daily life

If you are in any position of authority, be it at work or for an organization or club, you have an opportunity to be more inclusive of people from other backgrounds and communities. But the mistake a lot of White people make is to think that simply not discriminating is enough. You can do more, and do better, by taking proactive measures to invite people of color, immigrants, and other marginalized people into your space.

If you’re recruiting at work, don’t simply put your ads on the usual web sites and newspapers and expect that to be enough. Seek out places where you can recruit people underrepresented in your workplace; in many locales predominantly Black colleges and Black business associations can help you recruit. LGBTQ community centers will have job posting boards, and your town or city may have organizations that exist specifically to connect immigrants, refugees, and racial minorities with the community.

Make sure that the space where you meet is accessible to people with disabilities, who may be confined to a wheelchair or otherwise unable to use stairs, or to reach buttons or door handles. It’s also good to be convenient to public transportation, since many people from poorer communities rely on public transit to get them around.

Also, don’t be afraid to outright say in your job listing or community post that you encourage participation from members of minority communities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, people with past convictions, and so on. This sends a signal to people who might otherwise assume that they are not welcome, and can go a long way to diversifying your environment.

7. Avoid segregation

Once again, American culture tends in many ways to self-segregate, for many reasons that I won’t get into here. For whatever reason, White spaces tend to be very White, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something to fight that tendency.

If you’re willing to put a lot of effort into it, you can move. I realize that’s extreme, but I think it’s a powerfully transformative measure, especially if you have children. Growing up in a diverse community surrounded by people from different backgrounds tends to make people more accepting and open-minded, whereas growing up in homogenous spaces (like most suburbs) can make people fearful and insular.

Even if you don’t move, you can find easier and cheaper ways to diversify your own surroundings, or spend time in places that are less familiar. In many cases it’s as simple as going into the city nearest to you, and particularly neighborhoods that are not associated specifically with White tourism. In New York City, which is famously diverse but also strikingly segregated in many neighborhoods, you can eschew the Met or the Natural History Museum in favor of the New Museum or El Museo de Bario; skip dinner in Little Italy and go get soul food at Sylvia’s or matzo ball soup at a kosher deli.

Most houses of worship are very welcoming to people who don’t necessarily share their faith, especially parents seeking to expand their children’s horizons. Find a local mosque or synagogue and participate. Join a community group in a community different from yours. Your local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters is just waiting to help connect you with a “little” who, in many places, is likely to be from a family of color or an immigrant family.

If you’re willing to do a little work and a little traveling, there are lots of ways to make America less segregated.

8. Do the work to be inclusive

Finally, one of the easiest things White people can do (and yet often refuse to do) is to simply keep up with what’s happening in communities other than White communities, including the language people use with and about one another.

One does have to wonder how many White Americans out there will be wearing their little safety pins to indicate support for marginalized communities, but not even willing to learn the difference between Latinx and Hispanic, why “person with disability” is preferable to “disabled person” or “handicapped,” or recognize that “they” is now an accepted singular pronoun for those who wish to avoid gendering.

What many label “political correctness” is in fact a minimally difficult effort at using language that shows respect and engagement with communities that are not the predominant weilders of power in the United States. When White people complain that “they can’t keep up” with the changes in the way marginalized communities prefer to be addressed, what we are really saying is that we can’t be bothered to learn new words simply because they make other people feel more included and respected.

So take the time to learn new words, and learn what emerging issues are of concern to non-White people. If you’re following the other suggestions above, this actually won’t feel that difficult–but all of these things go a long way to actually help include and support non-White communities who have been harmed by recent American events. You can save your safety pin for laundry day.

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Well, THAT was horrible. Now what do we do?

November 9, 2016 Featured, Gay and Lesbian, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 841

1. We protect our mental health

This has to be the immediate priority. The traumatic shock of this result is already being compared to the 9/11 attacks, and we need to take care of ourselves and each other.

For starters, try to avoid freaking out about things that haven’t happened yet. As someone with anxiety, I understand the impetus to catastrophize and panic, but that kind of thing only takes a toll on you, and does nothing to solve any problem.

Yes, there is abundant reason to believe Donald Trump will be a catastrophically terrible President. And his mere election reveals terrible things about the United States and Republican voters. You can mourn those things–but try to avoid panicking about the things you expect to happen, because you don’t know the future.

If you feel lost or hopeless, talk to someone. A friend, a family member, even a suicide hotline. Do what you need to care for yourself–if you need to take a sick day, do it. If you need to be around people, do it. But try to get outside. Go for a walk. Being isolated in your stress and anxiety will only cause more harm.

2. We face reality

This election taught us a terrible lesson about the United States: We are not the country many Americans believed we were. Going into the election, I thought Donald Trump would show us all that racism, xenophobia, and misogyny remained serious problems in the US; I didn’t expect to learn that they were strong enough to win.

What this means is that we, as progressives or liberals or Democrats or Social Justice Warriors or whatever we call ourselves, must reevaluate our strategies. We should resist blaming isolated causes, and face the harsh reality of the America we live within.

And yes, what I’m saying is we may need to find strategies for appealing to fragile white voters who are far too concerned with race. Condemning the majority of voters for refusing to come along with us might feel righteous and good, but if the end result is a White Nationalist party controlling all branches of government, we end up harming the very people we are trying to protect.

3. We prepare ourselves to be vigilant

This is not the first time in history that men with evil intentions have assumed power; it’s not even the first time in recent history. The administration of George W. Bush took office with a plan to invade and occupy all of the Middle East; they got as far as Iraq before the nation stood up against them.

This time it may be even harder, because the GOP majority looks to be so definitive. But again, we cannot predict the future. If we stay vigilant, and act early to resist the worst efforts of our new government, we can likely prevent at least some of the grevious damage they wish to do to our country.

We must, first and foremost, fight for and alongside the most vulnerable Americans in the wake of Trump’s bigoted campaign: Muslim Americans, Black Americans and other people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, Jewish Americans, immigrants, people with disabilities, and anyone else Trump’s followers (not to mention Trump himself, and his administration) wil now feel futher empowered to persecute. Already this morning the Ku Klux Klan staged a celebratory march in South Carolina; it’s up to us to send the message that, in spite of what this election would suggest, racism and hatred are not American values.

4. We start organizing for 2018

I know, it feels hopeless right now. Our Congressional districts are gerrymandered to all but ensure a GOP majority, and the Republican Party now knows that trading their racist dogwhistle for a big damn trumpet can be a winning strategy with white voters. But it wasn’t that long ago when things looked equally hopeless for the GOP. They got where they are today by persistent, strategic effort, and we can do the same.

It begins by understanding how we lost in 2016–again, facing reality no matter how much we may dislike it–and building our strategy from there. We have to address the needs of all voters, and motivate Democratic supporters to get out ot the polls. We have to weed out disenfranchisement and voter suppression. And we have to find the right candidates to appeal to the largest number of voters.

None of this will be easy, and a win is not guaranteed. But all you have to do is look at the current GOP to recognize that persistence pays off.

5. We resolve to resist obstructionism

I refuse to play the game the GOP has played for the last 8 years. As much as Donald Trump offends and terrifies me, I will not support an effort to block his initiatives simply out of spite or to score political points. As much as I loathe saying it, we need to rally behind the new President and help him make the right decisions for America.

One thing I will say for Donald Trump: We legitimately don’t know what he will do as President. Yes, candidate Trump said a lot of horrible, deplorable things, and he certainly could follow through on them. But Trump also has a long history of lying and betraying those who work with him, and his past positions (before he needed the support of GOP voters) were actually relatively progressive. I realize I sound like a ridiculous pollyana, but it is possible he could be an okay President–or at least he could advance some positive initiatives.

One way or another, the Democrats simply cannot become the new Party of No. It’s a surefire way to further alienate voters, it shows contempt for our whole political system, and I refuse to be a part of it. We have to be better.

6. We work to restore civility

On that same note, we just cannot have another election like this one. Our political discourse has steadily decayed with each election, to the point where Pew research says we are currently even more divided than during the Civil War. As Lincoln said, a house divided against itself simply cannot stand. We need to build bridges, or things will only get worse.

We need to return to an understanding that we are capable of disagreement without hating one another. I refuse to defend racism or urge “empathy” for people who vote based on hatred, but I do believe we need to at least understand other perspectives, so we can begin to speak with one another. Part of the reason we are currently so divided is that many of us don’t even live in the same world; the facts as we understand them on any particular issue may be directly contradictory. That simply cannot continue.

What I’d ask is for every person to develop an instinct: That when you read some piece of news or opinion that affirms your beliefs, that gives you that endorphin rush of righteous validation, that you regard that feeling the way you would a heroin high; addictive and ultimately damaging. We need to work to learn more about people who disagree with us, not reinforce the walls of our echo chamber and live assured that we are the ones who are right.

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of showing you the articles you are most likely to agree with, Facebook changed their algorithm to show you the ones you’re least likely to have seen? It wouldn’t be hard to transform social media into something that would broaden our perspectives, rather than reinforcing our divisions.

I certainly don’t think that will happen. But each of us has the power to find those pieces ourselves. Instead of dismissing or unfollowing your conservative relatives, try reading those articles they share from Breitbart and Drudge. Yes, you’ll be horrified, but at least you’ll start to understand the paradigms in which they operate. Maybe then we can try to speak to one another as humans.

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