Freedom Is Ours, We Just Have to Keep Fighting For It

One of the most common refrains when a democracy collapses into an autocracy is that no one could have seen it coming.

The motivation behind this myth is the absolution of the powerful. After all, what cannot be predicted cannot be prevented, and therefore the failure of officials to safeguard our freedoms should be forgiven. This is the story we hear as Donald Trump approaches a possible second term and the U.S. plunges into unprecedented turmoil.

The premise, of course, is a lie.

Freedom is about what it means to be human, and to be recognized and treated by others as such.

What “No one saw it coming” tells you is who the powerful consider to be “no one.” “No one” are the multitude of marginalized Americans who warned in 2016 that their rights had always been on the line and would be even more so now. “No one” are the people who knew that a future American autocracy was possible because their ancestors had been subject to past ones: slavery, Jim Crow, internment camps, and other forms of legal subjugation that were destroyed only through decades of defiant demands for their eradication.

Freedom was always a moving target. So are Americans under Donald Trump.

Trump is not the cause of the American crisis, but its culmination. The fragility of rights that members of marginalized groups have always experienced has been widened to encompass the country as a whole. In the 21st century, political, economic and technological freedom were all radically curtailed. Americans signed away their rights unwittingly and unwillingly – through the Patriot Act, which expanded government surveillance in the wake of 9/11, through social media companies turned surveillance monopolies, through the deference to corporations that is a survival mechanism in an economy structured on precarity.

The loss of legal rights over the past 20 years – voting rights chief among them – has been accompanied by a culture of fear that is as effective in derailing democracy as any decree. What does it mean to have freedom of speech when your words are data-mined and shot back at you as targeted propaganda? What is freedom of assembly when your every movement is recorded and reproduced online, when human lives are reduced to hashtags?

There are few worse feelings than being watched but never seen.

Trump exemplifies this era of exploitation. The reality TV president sees citizens not as human beings, but as disposable background players in a show starring himself. The U.S. media — an industry both exclusionary and desperate after decades of financial turmoil — has long proven an easy mark for the Trump team. Complex catastrophes are no match for the easy media lure of personality politics. The framework of spectacle to which Americans have always been drawn — soap operas and pro wrestling, talk shows and tabloids – is Trump’s native vernacular. To some degree, this was always our national political language, but there is a soullessness today that feels new. Whatever entertaining quality politics once possessed is gone, replaced by a culture of profound dehumanization that endangers the American experiment.

What Does Freedom Mean?
Protesters demonstrate in Freedom Plaza against family detentions and to demand the end of criminalizing efforts of asylum seekers on June 28, 2018.


Freedom is never just about rights or laws. Freedom is about what it means to be human, and to be recognized and treated by others as such.

That yearning — to simply be and have that be enough, to not have to prove your innate worth time and time again to a dubious arbiter — is at the heart of every struggle for human rights.

At a time when the world seems to be closing in on us, whether through apocalyptic change disasters, like the wildfires in Australia, or surveillance apps that monitor our every move, the dehumanizing quality of the Trump era — like separating migrant families and housing them in unsanitary border camps — is particularly gutting. With dehumanization comes disposability — a cheapening of the cherished, a commodification of every casualty.

There is a litany of horrifying images from the Trump era, but the worst may be a grinning Donald and Melania Trump holding a baby orphaned in the El Paso mass shooting like it was a trophy, giving the world a thumbs up after the baby’s parents were gunned down. What future does that child face? What present, so devoid of empathy and teeming with violence, made that moment possible?

Along with “No one could have seen it coming” lies also the idea that “The Founders never predicted this” in the archive of excuses for democracy’s demise. But the Founders absolutely predicted this — if not the legal architecture, then the moral forfeiture, which they often framed in terms of suicide.

“Remember, democracy never lasts long,” John Adams wrote in 1814. “It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln expressed similar thoughts on what would ultimately destroy America: “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”

Each warned that America was its own worst enemy. Many also believe we are our own best hope.

We are the wild cards we are waiting for.

The problems Americans face are so innumerable that they overwhelm. As a nation, we are indeed weary. Still, there are concrete actions people can take to slow the entrenchment of autocracy: voting, protesting, and creating or supporting independent organizations that combat corporate or state control are a few suggestions. But all of this requires maintaining presence of mind in a political environment designed to annihilate it. The greatest threat of the Trump era is the loss of what makes us human – our empathy, our individuality, our imagination.

The antithesis to freedom isn’t subjugation but surrender.

Oppressive governments can control what they take from you, but not your willingness to fight for it. They can never fully know you, and the unpredictability of human nature means no outcome is an inevitability, even in an aspiring autocracy. We are the wild cards we are waiting for.

Freedom of thought is a freedom that can never truly be taken, but you must guard it nonetheless. In an era of rampant dehumanization, it is more important than ever not to surrender in advance.

Sarah Kendzior is a writer, scholar, and author of the best-selling book, The View From Flyover Country, and the upcoming book Hiding in Plain Sight. Kendzior is also the host of Gaslit Nation, a weekly podcast which covers corruption in the Trump administration and the rise of authoritarianism around the world. Follow her on Twitter @SarahKendzior.

Source: Freedom Is Ours, We Just Have to Keep Fighting For It

America’s 1.5 million missing [B]black men is nothing short of genocide ::: theGrio

America’s 1.5 million missing [B]black men is nothing short of genocide

By   David A. Love


Protestors participate in a vigil for Freddie Gray down the street from the Baltimore Police Department’s Western District police station, April 21, 2015, in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray, 25, died from spinal injuries on April 19, one week after being taken into police custody. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Where have all the brothers gone?

The numbers are staggering.

According to a report in The New York Times, black women between the ages of 25 and 54 outnumber black men by 1.5 million, based on an analysis of data from the 2010 U.S. Census. There were 7.046 black men of that age group not incarcerated, to 8.503 black women.

To put it another way, for every 100 black women, there are 83 black men. This is not the case in white America, where for every 100 women, there are 99 men, almost complete parity.

What that means, effectively, is that black men have disappeared. This reality lends credence to the idea that black men are an endangered species — not just symbolically or rhetorically, but based on the hard numbers.

Let’s explore this a little more. The Times estimated that more than a third of that 1.5 million gap — or 580,000 — is missing due to prison. With about 625,000 black men of prime age incarcerated and 45,000 black women also in prison, you get a discrepancy of 580,000. This is due, of course, to the staggeringly high incarceration rate of black men, which is higher than any other group, in the nation a quarter of the world’s prisoners, and the most prisoners in the world.

Putting this in perspective, in the 25-54 age range, 1 in 12 black men is in prison. However, only 1 in 60 nonblack men is in prison. Meanwhile, 1 in 200 black women and 1 in 500 nonblack women is behind bars.

Of the remaining 900,000, it was estimated that somewhere between 300,000 and 700,000 are due to mortality, early death. After all, homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men, who also die from heart disease, respiratory disease and accidents more than the rest of the nation.

The place in America with the lowest rate of black men is, believe it or not, Ferguson, Missouri, with 37.5 percent. New York is the city with the most missing black men (118,000), followed by Chicago (45,000), Philly (36,000) Detroit (21,000) and Memphis (19,000).

So what does this all mean? What struck me is that this is not a fluke, nor accidental, nor by chance. But rather, we can point to specific policies that have made black men disappear. First, I decided to look up the definition of the word genocide. The United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as the following:



When society reinforces the notion that black men are a threat, then sets in motion laws and policies to address and ultimately eliminate that threat, is it any wonder that the brothers are missing? If the disappearing of black men is not genocide, then what should we call it?

Assessing the conditions in which black men are placed, and our historical role in society as the official national scapegoat, perennial boogeyman and monster, should we really be surprised we have disappeared? Society always believed that black men were to be fearedand loathed, devalued and disregarded. This mindset has been reinforced in the culture, in the media, and in the laws. During slavery, black men were perceived as a threat to the master’s house, criminalized based on the fear they would stage an uprising, burn down the plantation and, of course, rape the white women.

The war on drugs has been a war on black America, in which the justice system targets black men, locks them up and throws away the key. Although whites and blacks use drugs at similar rates, young men of color are racially profiled, harassed and brutalized through stop-and-frisk policies and arrested at much higher rates for drug possession. And the black incarceration rate is ten times that of whites, according to Human Rights Watch. Families and communities have been decimated by this war, and a generation lost.

From an early age, black children, and particularly black and brown boys, are dehumanized and criminalized and perceived as much older than their actual age. Funneled through a school-to-prison pipeline, many are provided an inferior education and unequal job opportunities — on purpose. And yet, in the land of 300 million guns, while the most vulnerable young black men and boys may not have access to a nourishing meal, education or job — or the ballot, for that matter — there never is a shortage of bullets for black bodies, it seems, and the black community is not a weapons manufacturer.

Further, we must not ignore the toll that racism plays on the black psyche, and on black health. As Billi Gordon, PhD wrote in Psychology Today, racism is causing a silent black genocide: “Stress acts first, and foremost, on the cardiovascular system. Hence, it is reasonable to suspect the pathophysiology of race-based stress as an antecedent to elevated heart disease in Black America.” Gordon also touched on the inherent sources of stress in the black community, including the numbers of black men in prison versus college, disintegrating support structures for black families, and the fact that the life expectancy of black men is seven years lower than anyone else.

In a land that advocates throwing away black men — in the streets, behind bars, and in the execution chamber — we now know the policy is a success, as the numbers show. The question is: how will society address this? This is not the past; this is happening now. Perhaps the idea of reparations does not sound so far-fetched.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove  

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OCG note:  Black when speaking of a group of people who share cultural and historical background and lineage is a Proper noun and should be spelled with a capital “B”. black is a noun which describes a color. Things journalist should know. Example:

  • A regular noun or generic noun might be that of a category of animal such as dog, cat, or horse. …
  • Individual species within the categories such as German Shepherd, Abyssinian, or Lipizzaner would be capitalized because they are proper nouns.

Votes Behind Bars l The Boston Review


Votes Behind Bars

Pamela S. Karlan

123RF Stock Photo

Nearly half a century ago, Isaiah Berlin delivered an extraordinarily influential lecture called “Two Concepts of Liberty.” The negative concept consists in freedomfrom—“warding off interference” from external forces. By contrast, the positive concept consists in freedom to—to be “a doer—deciding, not being decided for.” Democracy requires both forms, but current constitutional doctrine adopts an unduly negative approach.

This is especially the case when it comes to political voice. The Supreme Court has resisted attempts to constrain the political impact of money, most notoriously inCitizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010). But just as telling is Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett (2011), where the Court hobbled the states’ ability to construct public financing systems. Adjusting the funds available to candidates who accept public financing somehow burdens privately financed candidates’ freedom, according to the justices.

The Court’s rationale in campaign finance cases calls on protection of free speech, which invokes a negative concept of liberty because the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment is largely exercised without government assistance. Political speech, the Court points out, is “an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people.” True enough.

Yet voting is surely an equally essential mechanism of democracy, and arguably a more direct means for holding officials accountable, but the Court has upheld laws that burden casting a ballot, a positive liberty. In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008), the Court rejected a challenge to an Indiana law requiring already-registered voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls. (Disclosure: I helped to represent the plaintiffs in the case.) The justices did not agree on every element of the case, but they accepted Indiana’s argument that ID prevents fraud (after recognizing that Indiana could not point to a single example, ever, of impersonation that an ID requirement would have stopped) and enhances “public confidence” in the election process, a rationale the Court has essentially rejected in the political-spending context.

The Court’s strikingly different treatment of burdens on political spending and on voting reflects this positive/negative divide. Effective exercise of the right to vote depends on affirmative government support. A citizen who is handed an official ballot written in a language she does not understand may effectively be denied the right to vote. If the government uses unreliable voting machines or staffs polling places with badly trained workers, citizens may effectively be prevented from voting by the press of other responsibilities that preclude waiting in line for hours. Voter ID laws disenfranchise individuals who find it difficult or impossible to obtain government-issued documents.

A superficial reading of the Constitution might support the Court’s opinions. Although the Constitution is filled with provisions mentioning the “right to vote,” the most explicit protections are phrased almost entirely in negative terms: they prohibit particular forms of disenfranchisement. The Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments, for example, forbid denial of the right to vote “on account of race” or “sex”; the Twenty-Fourth, “by reason of failure to pay any poll tax.”

In light of this language, in 1875 the Supreme Court declared itself “unanimously of the opinion that the Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon any one.” To be sure, the equal protection clause provides one important qualification: the government cannot arbitrarily treat voters unequally. This fall a federal court of appeals relied on the clause to hold that if Ohio permitted military voters to cast early ballots the weekend before the November election, it had to make early voting available to other voters on the same terms. But the court was careful to acknowledge that Ohio had not been constitutionally required to offer early voting at all.

As of 2010, more than 5.85 million American citizens were disenfranchised because of criminal convictions.

The consequences of adopting an essentially negative approach to political voice extend beyond enhanced protection for the political deployment of concentrated wealth and beyond new rules, such as voter ID requirements, that block full participation. The negative approach underwrites a practice that continues to set the United States apart among advanced democracies: disenfranchising millions of citizens due to criminal convictions. Even incarcerated prisoners vote in countries as otherwise diverse as the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Israel, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, and Zimbabwe. In the last dozen years, the highest courts of Canada and South Africa and the European Court of Human Rights have each issued opinions recognizing the voting rights of incarcerated citizens.

As of 2010 more than 5.85 million American citizens were disenfranchised as a result of criminal convictions. Only a quarter of those individuals were then incarcerated. Roughly 30 percent were on probation or parole. The remaining 45 percent were ex-offenders, many disenfranchised for life as a result of felony convictions involving small amounts of drugs or nonviolent crimes that never resulted in prison sentences.

Such extensive disenfranchisement would be distressing in any event, but it becomes even more troubling in light of the dramatic effect that offender disenfranchisement has on the black community. More than 2 million African Americans currently are stripped of their right to vote. That’s more than the number of African Americans who gained the franchise in 1870 thanks to the Fifteenth Amendment. Precedent permits offender disenfranchisement unless challengers can show that states adopted or have maintained their practice for purposefully discriminatory reasons, a nearly insurmountable hurdle. In 2005, for example, the Supreme Court refused to review Florida’s lifetime offender disenfranchisement provision even though the ban had been adopted in 1868 precisely for the purpose of disenfranchising newly freed slaves. Lower federal courts acknowledged this unconstitutional motivation but held that the taint somehow had dissipated by 1968, when Florida renewed the ban without giving any reasons for doing so.

Offender disenfranchisement statutes impair the voting rights of people beyond the offenders themselves. Flawed records and negligent purges result in thousands of eligible voters being excluded. More than 2,400 black voters in Florida were erroneously purged before the 2000 election, dwarfing George W. Bush’s 537-vote margin of victory. And punitive offender disenfranchisement statutes deprive the black community as a whole of political power, which in turn skews election results to the right and creates legislative bodies hostile to civil rights and economic justice for the franchised and disenfranchised alike.

Faced with these problems, some activists and scholars suggest the need for a new constitutional amendment recognizing the affirmative right to vote. I think a better approach lies in reviving the late legal scholar Charles Black’s approach to constitutional reasoning. Black argued that the overall structure of the Constitution presupposes free and fair elections in which all qualified citizens can participate. Individual amendments expanding the electorate reflect this general principle. Abolishing poll taxes, for instance, stands for a fundamental commitment to eliminating barriers to registration and to ensuring that wealth is not the means of accessing politics.

And the Court should apply to offender disenfranchisement statutes a principle it has already recognized elsewhere: whether a punishment violates the Eighth Amendment’s bar on cruel and unusual punishment “is judged not by the standards that prevailed in 1685 . . . or when the Bill of Rights was adopted,” but instead by “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

Today, continuing to disenfranchise millions of our fellow citizens cannot survive that test.

Pamela S. Karlan is Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law at Stanford Law School.


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