Sunday, March 8, 2020

Sunday Reading

Rage and Sorrow — Lizzie Widdicombe in The New Yorker over the end of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign.

There was a forlorn mood the other night inside the headquarters of Brooklyn for Warren, a few sparsely furnished rooms in the Park Slope campaign offices of the New York City councilman Brad Lander, where a group of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign volunteers had assembled for a round of “sad and celebratory drinks.” The walls were still decorated with Warren paraphernalia: a poster that said “The Best Candidate Money Can’t Buy” and a cardboard cutout of the candidate as Superwoman; an enormous map displaying her policy platform (categories: Anti-Corruption, Systemic Reforms, Economic Equality, Climate Change); a “Lil Liberty” lending library; and a list of thoughtful community guidelines—“Use gender-neutral collective nouns. . . . Listen more than you speak. . . . Be generous with each other. . . . No trashing other candidates or their supporters!” A sign taped to the wall in one area said “This Room is for Reflection—Feel Free to Write a Postcard to Liz and the Campaign. We Will Send Them.”

Warren had failed to win any primary contests on Super Tuesday, and had placed third in her home state of Massachusetts. That morning, she’d informed staff on a conference call that she was ending her campaign, adding, “I will carry you in my heart for the rest of my life.” The volunteers drank boxed wine and I.P.A. beer, and nibbled on chocolate cake and tortilla chips. They posed for a picture with a cardboard cutout of Warren, draped in a rainbow feather boa, chanting “Dream big! Fight hard!” instead of “Cheese.” They were mostly female, although trans men, gay men, and sensitive straight, cis men were also represented: the group’s founder, an allergist and immunologist named Milo Vassallo, spoke about the importance of being a man who wears his Warren pin in public, and opined about what he saw as the covert sexism of the “Bernie bros” on his baseball team.

The women seemed especially dejected. “I did a lot of crying today,” Jennie Spector, a social worker, said.

“I feel a lot of rage,” Teresa Mayer, who has worked in nonprofits, said.

Liat Olenick, a teacher, said that she was sad, too. “But I’m getting to the anger stage.”

“It’s just so disappointing,” Mayer said. “This idea of waiting around, wondering, which old white man is she going to endorse?”

All three are members of Indivisible Nation BK, a nonprofit organization that, they pointed out, has leadership that is mostly female. Olenick said, “And after four years of movement-building led almost entirely by women, we’re faced with two almost eighty-year-old white men as supposedly the future of this country.”

Brooklyn for Warren, the largest of several grassroots groups in the borough, had spent hours phone-banking for Warren. Organizers had travelled to Iowa, New Hampshire, and Virginia to knock on doors. “What more could we do?” Sze Chan, a translator who worked with New York City for Warren, said, pointing out that the Warren campaign had outdone the others by almost every metric: “The number of calls we made, texts sent out, doors knocked on.”

“We were everywhere,” Spector said. “Biden just won a bunch of states where he had nobody on the ground.”

The problem was not Warren’s résumé, or her skill set, or her appeal to voters, Olenick said. “Sixty per cent of my conversations were with people saying, ‘I love her! She’s so smart. She’s so tough. She would make the best President. But I’m voting for Biden.’ Or, ‘I’m voting for Bernie. Because I don’t think she can win.’ ” This, they felt, came from a kind of anticipatory sexism—a belief that a woman could never become the President, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy. They noted that women were some of the worst offenders. “I think a lot of them were really, truly traumatized by Hillary losing,” Olenick said. She’d spoken to many women who’d volunteered for Clinton or been precinct captains. “The majority of my phone conversations were working to convince women that they shouldn’t vote out of fear for an old white man.”

“On Monday night, I managed to flip one woman,” Mayer recalled. They’d been canvassing in Sterling, Virginia, before Super Tuesday. “Her husband answered the door. He wasn’t on my list, but I started in with my spiel. And his wife yells from the top of the stairs, ‘Who are you here for? Elizabeth? Oh, I love Elizabeth! My girlfriends all love her, too. She’s so great. But we’re going to vote for Biden.’ ” The woman believed that Warren couldn’t win. Mayer spoke with her for twenty minutes—and learned that she didn’t identify with either party and had voted for Republicans in the past. “The thing that made her perk up was when I told her that Elizabeth had beat an incumbent Republican, Scott Brown.” Mayer told the woman to “ ‘Vote with your heart.’ By the end of the conversation, she goes, ‘O.K., I’ll vote for her. It’s the primary, so now’s the time.’ ” Her husband had disappeared. As Mayer was leaving, “She comes outside and she yells ‘Teresa! I talked to my husband. He’s in for Warren, too!’ ” Mayer went on, “The lesson for me was that if everyone answered their door, and we all had twenty minutes to talk, things would be different.”

Instead, voters had watched too much cable news. Olenick said, “The fact that Democrats are obsessing over electability and ending up with probably a pretty weak candidate is the greatest irony I can think of. Versus someone who would have taken down Trump and cut him into little pieces.” Still, they were trying not to get bitter. Warren’s campaign culture is “relentlessly positive,” Olenick noted. Mayer said, “If you were tuned into Elizabeth Warren Twitter, which I’ll admit is a bubble, it was never about bashing another campaign. It was, ‘I’m excited about Elizabeth, and let me share my story!’ ”

Olenick said that she’d developed coping strategies since Trump’s election, in 2016. “Strategy No. 1 is, Don’t be alone. Go be with other people. Strategy No. 2 is, Take action.” They were taking cues from Warren herself, who had told her staff in that morning’s call, “This fight goes on,” and, “We will persist.” Olenick said she was focussing on down-ballot races. “That’s been true of so many people I’ve talked to in the last couple of days. They’ve all been saying, ‘We’ve got to take back the Senate.’ ”

They Really, Really Don’t Want Black People to Vote — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

Six hours is a good, long time. You could do a lot of things in six hours.

You could drive from San Francisco to L.A.

You could finish an audiobook.

Or you could vote.

It took a man named Hervis Rogers that long to do so in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. He did not leave his polling place in Houston until 1:30 Wednesday morning — the last person to cast his ballot. “I wanted to get my vote in to voice my opinion,” he told KTRK, a local TV news station. “I wasn’t going to let anything stop me, so I waited it out.”

And if you’re wondering why Rogers had to go through that ordeal just to vote, the answer is simple: He is a black man in America. More to the point, he’s a black man in a Southern state with a sordid history of disenfranchising voters of color.

From 1965 until 2013, such voters were protected from this kind of thing by the Voting Rights Act. Then the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Act, which required states and localities with histories of voting discrimination to get federal approval before changing election laws. The court acted under the novel — which is to say, asinine — reasoning that the provision was no longer needed because racism is over.

Or as Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, put it: “Our country has changed” since 1965. He seemed insensate to the fact that the change he noted had come about because of the Act he was gutting. Indeed, the ink was barely dry on his opinion when southern states and others began to show what they thought of all this “change.”

In Georgia, they purged tens of thousands of voters, disproportionately people of color, from the rolls for offenses as trivial as a misplaced hyphen in a name. In North Carolina, they enacted a photo ID law designed with what a federal court called “almost surgical precision” to suppress the black vote. And in Texas, according to a report from the Leadership Conference Education Fund, they’ve closed 750 polling places since 2013 — more than any other state — so that now voters like Rogers must pass an endurance test simply to exercise a constitutional right.

Yes, local officials claim the delay was actually due to higher than expected turnout, voting machine breakdowns and a new polling system. Believe that if you wish. The view from this pew is more cynical. As Rogers told KTRK, the long wait felt like it was “set up for me to walk away.”

Isn’t it telling, in this era of white grievance ascendant, that the right wing keeps caterwauling about a fictional epidemic with people of color committing voter fraud, even as people of color are seeing voting rights stolen from them in real time? The right projects its sins upon the rest of us — democracy as funhouse mirror where victimizers reflect as victims.

One hopes that when November comes people of color — and good people of all skin tones — summon the perseverance of Hervis Rogers and bring about a blue wave to protect the voting rights of those who are now being systematically disenfranchised. One hopes they resolve to double check their registration and polling locations ahead of time, to charge their devices, wear comfortable clothing, bring snacks, water, lawn chairs, umbrellas, a good book, whatever the wait requires.

The bottom line: There are more of us than there are of them. So there is no excuse to let the forces of intolerance get away with this act of Grand Theft Freedom.

Six hours is time enough to steal a democracy. But it’s time enough to save one, too.

Doonesbury — You’re a joke.