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Congress Can and Must Reform the Extreme Court

By Lawrence Pareles

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton.

The U.S. Supreme Court just finished its most consequential term in decades. Its new extremist majority is out of control and is preparing to take away even more of our rights and freedoms. In a single year, six justices ended womens’ right to their personal freedom to make critical and personal decisions about their own reproductive care, ended states’ rights to make sensible gun rules, limited the ability of the EPA to reduce air pollution, and eroded the boundary between church and state. They have done this by ignoring past precedent and offering spurious “originalist” theory to justify their actions.These actions are radical and very unpopular, and seriously threaten Americans’ freedoms. This extreme Court is driving our country towards dictatorship and social upheaval.  

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Dear mainstream media: Please retire the word “conservative.”

by Michael Dover

Leave politics aside for a moment, if you can. What does the word “conservative” mean to you, outside of that cursed arena? To me, it connotes respecting tradition, caution when it comes to change, and hewing to the tried and true. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions; marked by moderation or caution; and marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners.”

Returning to the political realm, does any of that apply to so-called conservatives today? When Mitch McConnell refused even to hold hearings on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court on the specious grounds that it couldn’t be considered in a presidential election year, what manner of existing views, conditions or institutions was he maintaining? And when he upended that supposed rule to rush Amy Coney Barrett through the confirmation process just weeks before the 2020 elections (when early voting was already underway), how did that show moderation or caution? When candidate Donald Trump mocked a disabled journalist and trashed the parents of an American soldier killed in action, what traditional norms of taste or manners was he upholding? Once in office, when he lied again and again about almost anything, what principle of honest government was he serving? And when he knowingly and repeatedly lied that the 2020 election was stolen, and plotted to overthrow the results, how does that in any way conform to any reasonable concept of conservatism? 

Fox TV’s Tucker Carlson is often described as a “conservative commentator.” How so? In what way does he respect tradition, caution or moderation? When he praises — “idolizes” is probably a better word — Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, what part of his tenure does he most appreciate: curtailing press freedom, moving to restrict or eliminate LGBTQ rights, or embracing “Christian democracy”? As if following Carlson’s playbook, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was held in Budapest this year. Speakers included Trump and Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff. Another speaker was described in The Guardian newspaper as a “notorious Hungarian racist who has called Jews ‘stinking excrement,’ referred to Roma as ‘animals’ and used racial epithets to describe Black people.” This is “conservative”?

And what is conservative about the members of Congress who have tried to portray the January 6 mob as a bunch of “tourists” quietly visiting the Capitol, or those at the podium that day urging the crowd to “fight like hell,” or Senate Republicans refusing to approve an investigation into that day’s riot?

Words matter. Calling McConnell or Carlson or a January 6 rioter conservative is to normalize their behavior. “Conservative” is such a comforting word; it connotes thoughtful consideration, reasoned debate, consideration of others’ viewpoints. It suggests adherence to the law, not gaming the system or trying to overturn an election based on lies. It allows the reader or hearer to relax: These are not crazy people, they’re just conservatives and patriots. When McConnell said when he took over as Senate majority leader that his first job was to ensure that President Obama was a one-term president, that was not a conservative statement. It was an extremist saying he had no interest in governing despite the fact that he was leading a government institution. When Missouri Senator Josh Hawley raised a fist in salute to the January 6 insurrectionists, that was not a conservative act. It was a direct violation of his oath of office.

There are other words the mainstream media can use for these people. My favorite happens to be “extremist.” It’s short and businesslike. It doesn’t need any explanation; it nicely stands on its own. It could be modified, if desired, as in “right-wing extremist” or “anti-democracy extremist,” though that’s probably not necessary. Some members of this crowd can of course be further identified as white supremacists, neo-Nazis, racists and other such categories. I hope the wordsmiths in the media can and will find many other terms that both clarify and elaborate on “extremist” or “extremism.” What’s essential is to give the extremists no quarter, no place to hide behind comforting or compromising – and deceptive – words like “conservative.”

Michael Dover is a co-founder of Swing Left Western Massachusetts and a steering committee member of Indivisible Northampton – Swing Left Western Massachusetts. He lives in Leverett.

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Kudos to Postcarders!!

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton.

Last year, Indivisible Northampton (IN) held a fundraising campaign. Donations from you, our members, and a matching grant from the national organization (that provides us with ongoing support and guidance) raised over $1,000. We have chosen to use a significant portion of these funds to support our on-going postcard campaigns. IN has purchased and provided postcards free of charge, and is able to offer some subsidies for postage to make broader participation possible.

Over the last few years, Indivisible Northampton volunteers have participated in postcard campaigns to diligently and effectively send postcards to voters in locations chosen to effect critical outcomes. We have provided information to help people register to vote, most recently Texas women, or to request mail-in ballots. We have supported constituents in numerous states to lobby their congresspeople for specific legislation. We have provided voters with information on the benefits of Democratic legislation, and we have lobbied hard for Democratic candidates.

Literally hundreds of you have written thousands of postcards (more than 45,000 from the Florence porch alone!) and informed, alerted, encouraged voters all over the US. You have endured cramped muscles from lengthy hand-written messages, invested heavily in US postcard stamps, and spent hours doing this volunteer work.

We send a big shout out of thanks and appreciation to all of you who make this work possible. Data collected by a wide range of organizations–from progressive groups (e.g.,Sister District, Reclaim Our Vote, Postcards to Swing States) to the State of Pennsylvania–have documented the positive impact of postcards, especially in getting out the vote. Organizations have also documented the impact of campaigns that have yielded significant constituent contact with their Congressperson on specific issues.

All this is to say….Indivisible Northampton is committed to providing access to postcarding campaigns that put this tactic to effective use! We are currently planning where we will next focus our work. With your help, our members and donors, we will maintain and expand the impact of our progressive postcarding!

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Make the Governor’s Records Public

By Larry Pareles

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton.

Secretary of State Bill Galvin supports a bill to have the governor’s office follow the public records law. “The idea that the most powerful position in the state and its records are not subject to public scrutiny is absurd,” he said. His bill would make the governor’s office documents open to the public for the first time. MA is the only state in the country that shields its governor’s records from public review. 

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) filed the bill on Galvin’s behalf. Sen. Eldridge has already championed other bills to greatly expand the public records law.

Senator Eldridge said: “Each and every day the governor’s office and all of his or her agencies are making critical decisions that have an impact on the lives of people across MA… Having access to the records of all the communication is critical to gaining insight into the rationale behind those decisions.”

MA state government makes fewer documents public than many states since the governor, the judiciary, and the legislature all claim they are exempt from the public records law. 

Gubenatorial candidate Attorney General Maura Healey supports having the governor’s office follow the public records law. Her spokesperson said: “AG Healey has long supported updating the public records law to cover the Governor’s Office in the interest of transparency and accountability.” 

Sen. Eldridge’s bills to expand the public records law (which would also include the Legislature) have gone nowhere until now. Now is a good time to pass this legislation. Maybe under a Democratic governor we will see some improvements in transparency in our state government. 

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What’s an activist to do….

It was such a relief to vote Trump out, and to anticipate a return to rational democracy. Recent Republican attacks on our voting rights, the bedrock of our democracy, and the harm that they would do, have us reeling. I try to understand their actions from their different political perspectives, but it’s hard to come up with a motivation beyond greed or outright cruelty.

And then the goal post keeps shifting. First we heard that S1 was a “must pass by the end of August!”. “Failure is not an option!” But here we are at the end of October and the negotiations
within the Democratic party–over bills for infrastructure as well as voting rights–appear fractious and interminable.

But here’s the thing–if your political perspective values most maintaining power, and believes that the way to prosperity is to preserve and enhance the wealthiest among us, who will then create opportunities for the rest of us, then your path forward is clear. Your job is to protect the wealthy and powerful and create the circumstances for their continued growth. This is the mantra of the Republican party, as measured by their actions.

A Democratic Senate caucus that includes Senators with views as disparate as Joe Manchin, say, and Bernie Sanders (just to choose a couple, think Sinema/Warren and Tester/Markey, etc.) does not have the luxury of unanimity. In the House, similarly, the Democratic caucus ranges from Rep. Jaime Raskin to Jason Crow, from AOC to Connor Lamb. Theirs are not easily reconciled perspectives, which translates into fiercely debated priorities and policies.

This is messy, at turns infuriating and terrifying for those of us watching, working and worrying. But this is, as we know, how democracy works. If the Democratic Party truly does embrace the broad diversity of The People and their priorities, it really can’t work any other way than through the differences, opinions and quarrels.

So….what do we do? How do we maintain our confidence and motivation? I believe that we hold firm to our belief in our goals; for me, that means that voting should be accessible to all, that all people in this country deserve safety, security and the means to a healthy and productive life. These are desirable and attainable goals! As Stacey Abrams says, “I am not optimistic or pessimistic, I am determined.”

Be kind to yourselves–do things you enjoy! Maybe it’s getting out in nature, time with friends, exercising, taking a break, indulging in a guilty pleasure or a good book, or your own source of solace. And be kind to each other. This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon!

— Marta Lev