Young elected officials network

YEO Leads Fight Against ‘Right to Discriminate’ Law in Mississippi

In the wake of the recent uproar about an expansive “right to discriminate” bill that was vetoed in Arizona, on Thursday Mississippi governor Phil Bryant quietly signed similar legislation, the so-called Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law.

Mississippi State Senator Derrick Simmons, a member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, has been a vocal opponent of the distressing law. On the floor of the state Senate last week, Sen. Simmons, who is African American, said:

If you have never been discriminated against, you don't know how that feels…. I urge you to vote against this bill because it legalizes discrimination.

On Friday he spoke out again in a powerful op-ed outlining some of the negative repercussions his state may see now that, in Simmons’ words, “the worst outcome has occurred”:

Businesses wishing to discriminate against any person under state law could use “religious exercise” as a defense to justify their actions.

Federal and state laws do not let business owners with religious objections to “mixing the races” refuse service on religious grounds. We do not let business owners with traditional views of sex roles refuse to sell certain products to women or not hire married women for full-time jobs on religious grounds. Yet the way this bill is written could open the doors to many other types of discrimination.

…The Jim Crow laws ended in 1965. I was born 11 years later. I never witnessed those horrible years. I don’t want to see any shadow of the Jim Crow era, but this bill could turn back the clock. Arizona stopped it from happening when Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill in her state. I was praying for the same here; however, Mississippi just doesn't have the will to do what is right. Mississippi is burning again.

The worst outcome has occurred - Governor Bryant has signed the discriminatory bill into law. Yes, we can hope the Mississippi court system will recognize the importance of enforcing protection from discrimination, but we can act locally. We must ask our counties and cities to pass non-discrimination ordinances so our friends of all races, colors, creeds and orientations can find oases from prejudice in the great state of Mississippi.

PFAW

How Money in Politics Undermines Diversity in Elected Office

During a speech to a packed audience at the University of Washington on Monday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was asked by a student what problems need to be fixed in order to see more women and people of color in government. 

Sotomayor’s answer, as reported by The Seattle Times, was simple: “Money.”

“Money,” Sotomayor said to laughter. “No, seriously. Look at what’s happening in politics. What’s talking the loudest is money.” For more minorities and women to gain more of a foothold in government decisions, “we’re going to have to work the political system at the highest level,” she said.

Justice Sotomayor is right. Today our country is represented by leaders who, as a whole, look little like the electorate they are supposed to represent and serve. Women are a majority of the population, and yet only make up 20% of the Senate and 18% of the House, putting us 83rd in the world for women’s political representation. We have only one openly LGBTQ person and only a handful of people of color in the US Senate – in 2012 there were no African Americans. This picture is not only problematic in itself, but it also has broad implications for policy outcomes.

It’s true that we have also seen some promising developments in political representation in recent years. The 113th Congress is the most diverse in history, with a record number of women and minorities elected, as well as a number of firsts. As the policy director for the Young Elected Officials Network, I am heartened by the changing faces of leadership at all levels of government, and what this means for our country both symbolically and substantively. But, like Justice Sotomayor, I’m also concerned that our country’s money in politics problem is standing in the way of further progress.

Much has been said lately about the impact of money in politics on political representation. At The Atlantic’s Shriver Report summit on women and poverty in January, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted,

If you reduce the role of money in politics and increase the level of civility in debate, more women will run for office… We say to women, we want you to go raise 12 million dollars, and by the way, subject yourself to 10 million dollars in negative publicity.

The influence of money in politics not only fuels corruption and the elevation of special and powerful interests, but it exacerbates the imbalance of power as a whole in our country by creating barriers to political representation for communities who are already marginalized. It perpetuates a system where the country is led by people who don’t understand the daily lived and embodied experiences of their constituents.

On Capitol Hill, we see the effects of this imbalance play out each day. From thwarted gun violence prevention efforts to legislation attacking women’s reproductive health voted on by committees and panels made up entirely of men, we continue to have elected leaders who side against the demonstrated wishes of its voters and with the moneyed interests.

We must pursue reforms that transform our electoral processes, even the playing field for all candidates, and restore the power to the people by reducing the outsized influence of big money and protecting the rights of voters. All indications show that we get better results for everyone when there’s diversity in governing bodies.

It’s both common sense, and a matter of basic human rights.

PFAW Foundation

Harvey Milk’s Legacy

The following is a guest post by Campbell, California Mayor Evan Low, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

In 2009, I became the youngest openly gay mayor as well as the youngest Asian-American mayor in the country. Some journalists wrote about how I was making history, but I like to point out that I was preceded by a number of other courageous “firsts.”

I became mayor 35 years after Kathy Kozachenko was the first openly LGBT person elected to public office, and 32 years after Harvey Milk – affectionately known as “the mayor of Castro Street” – was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the same state I serve today.

This week marks the anniversary of the tragic end of Milk’s short time in office, when he and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by Supervisor Dan White. But the legacy of Harvey Milk and other LGBT trailblazers is very much alive. Today there are more than 500 openly LGBT elected or appointed officials serving our country. Through their service and that of public officials representing other marginalized communities, it is clear that our democracy works best when our lawmakers reflect the nation’s diversity.

That’s not to say that things are always easy for LGBT elected officials. Like Milk, I have received my share of hate mail, with messages like: “We don’t want the homosexual agenda in our community.” As I have told reporters before, I don’t know what is on that so-called agenda, other than basic equality for all people.

One issue that’s certainly on my agenda is the end of the FDA’s ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. In a petition that now has more than 62,000 supporters, I wrote:

…recently, I hosted a blood drive on city property, but was banned from donating blood myself.

As the mayor of Campbell, providing for the welfare of the general public is a top priority. As a gay man, however, I am conflicted in my advocacy for blood drives. Under current U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, a man who has sex with another man is deferred for life from donating blood.  The ban was imposed in 1983 when there were no reliable tests for screening blood for HIV/AIDS.  It was also made during a time of mass medical confusion and cultural homophobia associated with HIV/AIDS.  The current FDA ban is wildly outdated and perpetuates unfair labels against gay and bisexual men that live on through decades of discrimination.

These kinds of stereotypes are not unlike the ones Harvey Milk was fighting nearly four decades ago, and why he, like I do today, encouraged LGBT people to come out whenever possible – to dispel the harmful lies about our community with the truth.  Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk and founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, continues his uncle's legacy, and we are so fortunate to have Stuart carry the torch. 

In a tape Milk recorded before his death, he said, “I have never considered myself a candidate. I have always considered myself part of a movement.” I think he would be proud of the movement that lives on in his spirit today.
 

PFAW Foundation

PFAW and Allies Rally for Democracy at the Supreme Court

As the Supreme Court heard arguments today in McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case in which the Court will decide whether to strike down overall limits on direct political contributions – a great crowd of PFAW and allies rallied outside the Court in support of getting big money out of politics.  From students and small business owners to members of Congress – including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ted Deutch, Jim McGovern, and John Sarbanes – people from all backgrounds came together in support of protecting the integrity of our democracy.

PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker kicked off the speeches by painting a picture of the “people versus money” nature of the case:

Inside the court – right now – one wealthy man is asking for permission to pour even more money directly into political campaigns. But we’re here, too, and we have a different ask.  We’re asking the justices to protect the integrity of our democracy. We’re asking them to protect the voices and the votes of ‘We the People’….We’re here today saying loud and clear: our democracy is not for sale.

Also speaking at today’s rally was Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig L. Rice, Maryland State Director of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.  Rice spoke about the effect of campaign finance laws on young political candidates:

As a young minority elected official, let me tell you: this [case] is extremely troubling….Young minority candidates throughout this country are routinely outspent and therefore denied the ability to serve in elected roles….Money should not determine who serves in office.

Howard University student Brendien Mitchell, a fellow in affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program, talked about the importance of being able to hear the political voices of young people in the midst of voter suppression efforts and massive spending by the wealthy in our democracy:

What about the freedom of young Americans who cannot donate grandiose sums of money to political candidates?....We gather to say that this is our country.  And that in a case of money versus people, the answer should be apparent: the people.

One of the highlights of the day was hearing from Moral Monday demonstration leader Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action.  Rev. Barber highlighted the millions of dollars Art Pope has poured into conservative projects and campaigns in his home state of North Carolina:

We [in North Carolina] know firsthand that when you undermine laws that guard against voter suppression, and you undo regulations on the ability for corporations and individuals to spend unchecked amounts of money to influence and infiltrate and literally infect the democratic process, it has extreme impacts.

Extreme impacts – and not only on the electoral process itself, but also on a whole host of issues shaping the lives of everyday Americans.  Whether you care most about protecting voting rights, preserving our environment, or workers getting paid a livable wage, a political system where the super-rich can make six-digit direct political contributions harms us all.

And that’s why organizations and activists with focuses ranging from civil rights to environmental protection to good government issues came together today with a common message: our democracy is not for sale.

PFAW

Young Elected Officials Call for Gun Violence Prevention Reforms

Daniel Hernandez - Rep. Gabby Giffords' heroic intern, now a school board member in AZ - appeared on the Ed Show to discuss a letter from 42 members of PFAW’s Young Elected Officials Action program urging gun violence prevention reforms.
PFAW

Michigan Young Elected Officials “Deeply Concerned” About State’s New Anti-Labor Law

Today Michigan members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network condemned the anti-labor legislation Governor Rick Snyder signed into law on Tuesday.

State Representative Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, Michigan, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, said:

“Michigan is a state where more than one in six workers belongs to a union.  The effects of this law will be far reaching, harming hard-working families across the state.  Workers want good jobs, decent compensation, affordable benefits, and a good standard of living.  A ‘right-to-work for less’ law would severely hurt our families by eroding their ability to bargain which could result in lower wages, and fewer benefits and less worker protections.

"These are real families – many of which are already facing tough decisions about how to make ends meet. Despite the protests of thousands of Michigan citizens, the state legislature and Gov. Snyder decided to go forward with the legislation.  We are deeply concerned about this attack on workers’ rights and middle-class families.”

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PFAW Foundation Celebrates Founder Norman Lear's 90th Birthday and the Young Elected Officials Network

Last week, People For the American Way Foundation hosted a gala at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to celebrate founder Norman Lear’s 90th birthday and the Young Elected Officials Network.

The event highlighted Lear’s legendary career as a television producer, and how in 1981, he turned to that medium to express his concern about the growing right-wing movement in America – and People For the American Way Foundation was born. 30 years later, PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network – consisting of nearly 700 progressive officeholders between 18 and 35 years of age – are at the forefront of change in their communities.

Members of Congress, celebrities, members of the board and community leaders were in attendance to celebrate Norman Lear, the YEO Network and the mission of People For the American Way Foundation.

From left: PFAW Foundation Founder Norman Lear, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan and board member Jane Lynch

From left: Board member Kathleen Turner and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison

From left: YEOs Kesha Ram, Melvin Carter and Angie Buhl

PFAW Foundation

Help Celebrate PFAW Foundation Founder Norman Lear's 90th & the YEO Network!

DC's Kennedy Center will host national leaders in government, media & the arts to honor PFAWF co-founder & legendary TV producer Norman Lear's achievements & PFAWF's Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network.

PFAW Applauds the Citizens United Resolution Effort of YEO and Newark, Delaware City Councilmember Ezra Temko

Ezra recently put forth a resolution in support of efforts to reverse the Citizens United decision
PFAW

Ithaca Mayor, Member of PFAWF’s Young Elected Officials Network, Tells His Story on Rock Center

People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network supports the work of over 600 young, progressive elected officials around the country. One of them, 24-year-old Ithaca, New York mayor Svante Myrick told his story on NBC’s Rock Center last night:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Featured along with Mayor Myrick are two of his fellow YEO Network members – who are also his roommates: City Councilmember Eddie Rooker and County Legislator Nate Shinagawa.
 

 

PFAW Foundation

Cardin and Schumer Introduce Anti-Voter Suppression Bill; PFAWF Urges Quick Passage

Senators Ben Cardin and Charles Schumer have introduced a bill creating tough penalties for those who engage in voter suppression and intimidation.

Senators Ben Cardin and Charles Schumer introduced a bill today that would impose tough penalties on those who create and distribute deceptive information on voting and elections.

People For the American Way Foundation Statement on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11

"I hope that as we look back on the tragedy of September 11th, all Americans will take the opportunity to rededicate themselves to building a nation worthy of those we lost that day."

In recognition of the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan issued the following statement:

The People For the American Way Foundation Community Reflects on the Tenth Anniversary of September 11, 2001

Members of the People For the American Way Foundation community reflect on the tenth anniversary of 9/11

PFAW Action Fund Endorses Alisha Thomas Morgan

The People For the American Way Action Fund today announced its endorsement of Alisha Thomas Morgan for State Representative. Morgan has a distinguished record of progressive activism, including work with People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

Massachusetts Senators Introduce “Free Speech For People” Resolution

Today, a group of Massachusetts state senators introduced a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

Young, Progressive Elected Officials to Convene in Washington

Over 200 young, progressive elected officials will gather this week in Washington at the fifth annual convening of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

Monitoring, Exposing, and Countering the Right in 2009

Following the 2008 election, and the Right’s drubbing at the polls, many people suggested that the Right was dead. Some even said that People For the American Way could declare victory and go home. But we knew better. Despite our optimism at the inauguration of Barack Obama, People For knew that the Right remained a grave threat, with its infrastructure intact, its funders unbowed, and its extremists undaunted

YEO Network Reaches Critical Milestone of Members in All 50 States

The Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network has reached a key milestone: the Network now has members in all 50 states. Founded four years ago, the YEO Network is the first national program singularly-focused on providing a network of support to young progressive state and local elected officials.With members in all 50 states, the YEO Network has the potential to effect progressive change and support elected officials from coast to coast.
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