Activism is the only reason that things ever get better
Even in DC, where they inspired the right to congregate and eat dinner
Welcome to a Saturday edition of Progress Report.
Well, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week announced that he was resigning as head of parliament, effective… well, at some point, whenever the Tories find a new leader. As I wrote in Wednesday’s newsletter, the difference between the UK and the US right now is that in Britain, the powerful are occasionally forced to suffer consequences for their actions.
Johnson had become a national pariah after years of focus on his epic failures and violations of the public trust. As new revelations of wrongdoing continued to accumulate, members of Johnson’s own Conservative party began resigning en masse until he finally threw in the towel. It was a breathtaking and overdue collapse, but it’s worth noting that the Tories’ collective decision to end the prime minister’s shambolic run was far from some principled stand against corruption and incompetence.
As one British political observer put it yesterday, the Conservatives were willing to move on from their leader because he’d become a liability to them — Johnson failed to advance their agenda, including austerity economics, and couldn’t deliver electoral victories anymore, either.
Simply put, there was no point in supporting a national leader that couldn’t pass their party’s agenda or keep them in power.
Back here in the US on Friday, news broke that the Biden Administration had at one point debated over whether to declare a national health emergency in order to protect broad access to abortion care, but ultimately decided that it just wasn’t worth the hassle. The executive order unveiled by the White House on Friday was really more a series of vague suggestions with fuzzy deadlines, which was followed on Saturday by the administration’s comms director trashing progressives, for some reason.
It was a truly bizarre choice to trash pro-choice activists, given that two-thirds of Americans agree that Roe should not have been overturned. People all across the country are terrified right now, and many are in grave danger, and smacking those that want a supposedly pro-choice administration to simply try harder to preserve their rights is callous and stupid.
Just who the statement was supposed to please is incredibly hard to parse — no Republican will suddenly vote for Democrats and the voters who have nuanced opinions on abortion still did not want Roe to be overturned. All the White House had to say was that they were working hard to protect people’s reproductive freedom and intend on making further executive actions. Democrats can’t win without 88% of their voters, and there was no reason to trash any of them.
One more note on consequences: There were two big stories concerning right-wing Supreme Court justices that made headlines on Friday. One was about how ultra-conservative religious groups spent years treating Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia to swanky dinners and prayer sessions in an ultimately successful effort to get Roe overturned. The other was about Brett Kavanaugh deciding not to eat dessert at Morton’s in DC on Wednesday night because protestors outside were violating his “right to congregate and eat dinner,” as the steakhouse put it in an unintentionally funny statement.
Guess which story earned more attention and led to more pearl-clutching? Clarence Thomas could admit to bombing abortion clinics as he pulls off his robe to reveal a “Stop the Steal” tattoo across his entire back and he’d still suffer zero consequences.
For the main section of today’s newsletter, we’ll focus on state and local stories, including a fair number of encouraging updates — on activist-driven campaigns to fix democracy, abortion rights, income inequality, and housing — that should give you a little bit of optimism this weekend.
Ballot initiatives and citizen amendments continue to be the only real opportunity for people in gerrymandered and/or red states to express their support for progressive policy. Democrats need to be identifying themselves with these initiatives, which are likely to receive far higher levels of support than the party’s candidates, even in the gerrymandered swing states.
Arizona: Virtually everything is up for grabs in Arizona this November. As we outlined on Sunday, tight legislative and statewide elections could swing the balance of power in the state capital, while several ballot initiatives will decide the fate of fundamental rights that have been hacked away at by Republicans.
Activists behind three initiative campaigns this week turned in what should be more than enough citizen signatures to get their proposed legislation in front of voters this fall. They are:
The Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections Act, which proposes more than four dozen changes to election and voting procedures, with the goal of broadening voting access. It comes after members of the Legislature introduced more than 100 bills to restrict voting.
The Voters' Right to Know Act, which would require disclosure of the names of people and corporations who currently can donate anonymously to ads supporting or opposing candidate and issue campaigns.
The Protection from Predatory Debt Collection Act, which would limit how far creditors can reach into a debtor's assets to collect past-due bills.
The Free and Fair Elections Act is especially urgent, given the relentless Republican assault on democracy in the state of Cyber Ninjas, “forensic audits,” and Ginni Thomas’s frantic emails.
Activists were also racing to address the near-total ban on abortion triggered by the Dobbs decision, but they were unable to collect enough signatures to get the Right to Reproductive Freedom Act on the ballot by this week’s deadline. Having started the process after the draft decision leaked in May, they simply ran out of time and plan on trying again for the 2024 ballot.
Michigan: On the other hand, abortion rights will likely be on the ballot in Michigan, where an old trigger law still on the books is temporarily on hold but needs to be overwritten ASAP.
The coalition behind the Reproductive Freedom For All constitutional amendment will provide nearly 800,000 signed petitions to the Michigan Secretary of State last week. That far exceeds the 425,000 required, but given the rolling signature-gathering disaster that’s battered campaigns across Michigan this year, it’s better safe than sorry. The amendment would also guarantee the right to contraception, sterilization, and infertility care, because Republicans are sickos who care about all of those things.
Another key amendment, to protect and expand voting rights, also seems headed to the ballot. We covered the amendment, Promote the Vote, all the way back in February.
Idaho: More good news for ballot initiatives we’ve covered. The folks at Reclaim Idaho just delivered more than 100,000 signed petitions in support of its Quality Education Act initiative.
There seems to be broad-based support from Idahoans for enacting a wealth tax that would raise $300+ million for the state’s beleaguered, underfunded public school system. Check out our story about the initiative right here.
Maine: The Democratic Socialists of America are pushing a groundbreaking housing ballot initiative in Portland, the biggest city in Maine. The DSA already won a rent control ballot initiative in the city in 2020, and this would take it to the next level two or three times over.
Here are just a few of the policies it would implement:
Require landlords give 90-day notice of a rent increase or lease termination
Discourage no-cause evictions by limiting the 5 percent rent increase between tenants to voluntary turnovers
Ban application fees
Limit deposits to no more than one-month rent
Set a $25,000 fee for condominium conversions
There’s more, too — my New Yorker brain is truly being blown just looking at the list.
Nebraska: It’s looking good for the initiative being pushed by Raise the Wage Nebraska, which just delivered more than 150,000 signatures from all across the massive rural state. If approved, the initiative would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage from $9-an-hour until it hits $15-an-hour by 2026.
Raise the Wage says that the initiative would bump up the paychecks of nearly 150,000 working people in Nebraska.
Colorado: Unlike neighboring New Mexico, there is no state minimum wage for teachers in Colorado. The average pay is around $60k, but teachers in many districts make far less than that, which has led to a serious shortage of educators in the more rural parts of the state.
It would take some serious legislative work to establish a statewide standard, so the memorably named Great Schools Thriving Communities Collation is seeking to circumvent that considerable hurdle by funneling money directly to schools. The organization’s Initiative 63 aims to shift $1 billion toward Colorado’s general education fund for the express purpose of paying teachers and other education employees.
The GSTCC has until July 31st to collect the necessary signatures to make it happen.
Good, Bad, and Ugly Policy
Illinois: A new program in Evanston, IL makes the city of 70,000 people the first in the nation to provide reparations, however modest, to Black people negatively impacted by centuries of slavery and systemic racism in this country.
Evanston’s Restorative Housing Fund, established last year and funded by a small tax on weed sales, will pay out $10 million to residents over the course of 10 years. The first round of reparations sent a $25,000 housing credit to 16 Black residents that lived in the city between 1919 and 1969. The money can go toward housing repairs, mortgage payments, or a down payment on a new home.
Not every Black resident or lawmaker is happy with the program, though:
The narrow parameters and limited amount of funds have led some Black residents to question whether the program should truly be called reparations. A contingent of residents opposed the program on this basis, concerned it would set a harmful precedent by underestimating the harm Black Evanston residents faced and continue to face.
It’s an entirely understandable sentiment, as nothing could ever compensate for the harms that Black people have suffered since the first African arrived on American shores in 1619.
While the notion of reparations for racism and slavery still seems regrettably far-fetched at the national level, a number of municipalities have begun exploring different ways to provide at least a modicum of compensation for oppressed communities. A number of cities pledged last year to begin reparations programs, though few of them had any concrete details at the time.
Minnesota: St. Paul, the capital and smaller of the Twin Cities, is moving to the next stage of its guaranteed income pilot plan:
Mayor Melvin Carter announced Wednesday that the next phase, which he’s calling CollegeBound Boost, will send money to two groups:
333 families will get $1,000 added to each of their children’s College Bound St. Paul savings accounts.
333 additional families will get the same $1,000 for college, plus two full years of monthly $500 checks.
The city will compare the outcomes for those families against a third “control” group of 333 families enrolled in College Bound St. Paul without the boost or monthly checks.
Sucks to be one of the 333 families that isn’t getting any help, even if all studies require control groups.
The first phase of the guaranteed income plan sent $500 a month to 150 low-income families for 18 months. Sort of like the child tax credit (RIP).
Pennsylvania: Republican legislators are trying to pass a constitutional amendment that would clarify that the right to abortion is not explicitly protected in the Keystone State.
It’ll take a multi-year effort and a successful ballot initiative, and the rats kicked off the whole process with a midnight vote on Thursday over the angry objections of Democrats and protestors that had made it out to the capitol in Harrisburg.
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