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Now, leading Black activists say those issues aren’t getting the hearing they deserve.

“It was grassroots and base building organizations that put our issues at the forefront. That’s who delivered this win to the administration,” said Amara Enyia, policy director for the Movement for Black Lives. “At minimum, those folks should be given an audience.”

Part of the disconnect may be the cultural gap between activists — for whom justice is an absolute, but attainable ideal — and politicians, who deal with the messy realities of governing, forging compromise, and accepting incremental wins. Many BLM leaders, for instance, pushed to “defund” city police departments, only to find little appetite among lawmakers for what was widely seen as a politically suicidal position.

On Sunday, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) signaled that he was willing to water down qualified immunity, which currently shields officers from civil liability for misdeeds, in order to pass some sort of policing reform legislation.

“Well, I will never sacrifice good on the altar of perfect. I just won’t do that,” Clyburn told CNN. “I just won’t do that. … Sometimes you have to compromise.”

So while, at the outset of the new Congress, movement leaders stressed they wanted to play a role in enacting policy change, and insisted they weren’t interested in empty rhetoric or piecemeal reforms, they’re now reassessing that approach as frustration sets in.

Now, where there was once more momentum behind the push for sweeping systemic change, bureaucratic policy hurdles and political calculations have pushed activists with the Movement for Black Lives back to the sidelines.

While this has forced activists to refocus their efforts, they maintain that their organizing is multi-dimensional. And they’ve amassed a sizable war chest. The Black Lives Matter Global Network, armed with more than $90 million in fundraising following last summer’s protests, has channeled those funds into initiatives and campaigns. One, launched in February, targets police unions and police budgets–efforts that have the most heft at state and local levels.

They’ve also used that funding to publicize their assessment of Joe Biden’s performance as he passed the 100-day mark. A recent advertisement paid for by the Black Lives Matter Global Network, criticized the administration’s handling of police reform. The ad, which aired in Washington, D.C., for a limited time, specifically condemns what they see as Biden’s lack of action on the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement.

“We are the people who elected Biden,” the ad says. “It’s time he started acting like it.”

When asked for comment, a White House official did not specify where talks with movement leaders stand. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly explain the administration’s stance, said there is an “open and ongoing dialogue” between senior White House officials and leaders of the movement as well as with legacy civil rights organizations.

Movement leaders also met with members of Congress early in the planning stages for the Justice in Policing Act last summer and asked for a platform to outline the BREATHE Act, several activists said. However, even those they view as allies on the Hill — including Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who is spearheading police reform discussions — were unwilling to diverge from the bill’s core tenets.

As members of Congress continue to hash out a bill to pass with enough Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, activists say they have not been included in any of those discussions.

Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and one of the movement’s first lead organizers, said movement leaders have not abandoned their national advocacy work.

She pointed to a number of allies in Congress like Bass with whom she and other leaders have had “critical conversations” in the past about the movement’s role in policymaking.

“One of the things we’re looking at moving forward is having a better relationship [with lawmakers],” Abdullah said. “So rather than lawmakers making laws without the input of a movement that gives traction to them, we want to do a better job of coordinating on the front end.”

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But complicating things is the fact that movement leaders stand vehemently against the Justice in Policing Act, which Congress drafted as a response to their protests. They argue that instead of holding officers accountable, the bill — which passed the House in March — actually gives more funds to law enforcement. Moreover, activists say, police de-escalation training, universal body cameras and data to track use of force, all provisions of the Justice in Policing Act, don’t go far enough.

The bill “requires that police be the fixers of their own problems,” said Karissa Lewis, national field director for the Movement for Black Lives. “And we know that that just has not been a successful strategy.”

Still, the Movement for Black Lives has come out in favor of some national policies that have implications for the work they do on the state level. Activists point to both the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act as critical to their work. If passed, the bills would curb a number of the provisions in state laws that limit access to the ballot.

Organizers said they were happy to hear Senate Majority Leader ´ say that he would like to pass a major voting rights bill by August, though it’s not clear how he would do so without reforming Senate rules.

And there are activists who are continuing their work locally. A national platform, they say, was never one of their chief goals. Following an unsuccessful effort to reallocate police funds in Minneapolis last summer, activists there say they’re doubling down on their push for more comprehensive public safety plans that give community members more power.

“We know the history of the failure, where we’re expecting [police] to reform themselves,” said D.A. Bullock, a lead organizer with the Minneapolis-based group Reclaim the Block. “We know that’s not possible. We’re looking to a more fundamental change in the way we do public safety.”

Nor do they see Derek Chauvin’s conviction as the final chapter following last year’s organizing against police violence and systemic racism under the umbrella of a “racial reckoning.”

“People are still asking this question of, ‘is anything coming?’ Yes, it’s coming. It’s happening on the local and state level,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and lead organizer with the Movement for Black Lives.

Still, Mitchell added that he and other lead organizers feel they are “duty bound to ensure that [police reform] happens on the federal level.”

Mitchell called for Biden to issue more executive orders and make full use of the bully pulpit to pressure Congress to act quickly on criminal justice reform as discussions around the Justice in Policing Act seem unlikely to conclude in time for Biden’s May 25 consensus deadline.

Federal legislation, activists argue, should address the root causes of the issue: A system of law enforcement that disproportionately harms communities of color. And that means they’ll continue to push for a public safety overhaul — and lobby those members of Congress willing to hear them out.

“We’re not interested in easy solutions, and we’re not interested in nibbling around the edges,” Mitchell said. “This is an urgent and real crisis for us.”


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Nevada meltdown gives Iowa hope of saving first-in-the-nation fame

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The chair of the Nevada Democratic Party, Judith Whitmer, blasted the move as an “insurgency within our own party.”

Watching the Nevada fireworks explode from halfway across the country, Iowa Democrats glimpsed a flicker of hope. As the national party considers the 2024 calendar, Iowa — in comparison to Nevada — might not look so bad anymore. And that might assist their efforts to save their cherished place in the early state pecking order.

“Putting on one of these is a mammoth undertaking,” said Dave Nagle, a former congressman and former Iowa state Democratic Party chair. “And you can’t have the organizers in open warfare with each other.”

He said, “That’s never happened in our state.”

Or as Scott Brennan, an Iowa DNC member and a former state party chair, put it, “Their internal issues certainly create challenges that make it hard to see them moving forward successfully.”

Nevada’s bid for an earlier nominating contest was never grounded in the cohesiveness of the state party. Rather, it was a response to widespread complaints within the Democratic Party about the lack of diversity in Iowa and New Hampshire, two heavily white states. The technological issues that marred the Iowa caucuses last year — so severe the Associated Press was never able to call a winner — only added to Democrats’ complaints about the state.

But Democrats in Nevada are making a run on Iowa in terms of dysfunction.

This week, leaders of the Democratic Party in Washoe County, which includes Reno, moved to undercut the state party ahead of the midterm elections, voting to run the state’s 2022 coordinated campaign out of the county instead. The extraordinary move — which included statements of support from Sisolak, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Democratic state lawmakers, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Governors Association — came after a slate of Bernie Sanders allies endorsed by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America won control of the state party, a blow to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s vaunted organizing machine in the swing state.

Whitmer called the uprising “ill-advised and undemocratic.”

Even in the fractious world of state party politics, that’s an uncommon level of animosity to put on display — especially with Democratic National Committee members who will decide the nominating calendar as early as next year all watching.

And that’s just the Democrats.

Nevada Republicans may be in even worse shape, with state and local party officials in Las Vegas feuding over a faction of pro-Trump activists, including some with ties to the Proud Boys, trying to take over the local party in Las Vegas’ Clark County. And Republicans don’t even want to change the traditional nominating calendar at all.

Earlier this week, the state Republican Party chairs in all four early nominating states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — issued a statement calling for the existing calendar to be preserved.

“I think if Nevada can’t get its s–t together, that disqualifies them,” said Michael Ceraso, a Democratic strategist who organized fundraisers for Jaime Harrison, now the DNC chair, during his unsuccessful South Carolina Senate campaign last year. “If a state can’t work together, how are they going to operate a primary?”

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At an event in Las Vegas on Friday, Sisolak signed legislation changing Nevada’s caucus system to a presidential primary and moving the contest to the first Tuesday in February, ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire. A cheer went up when Sisolak said Nevada was claiming “the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.”

Nevada — or some other state — may still unseat Iowa. The effort in Nevada has been championed by Reid, who remains influential in national party politics. Regardless of the contretemps within the state party, one prominent Democratic Party official said, “Harry Reid is still Harry Reid.”

Reid said Friday in an interview that infighting in the state party is “exaggerated,” and “the mere fact that somebody took over the state party, it happens all the time.”

“Nevada’s that kind of a state,” he said. “I’ve been to state party meetings where fist fights broke out, so we’re used to a little intrigue.”

Reid said he doubted the DNC would penalize Nevada for any of its internal machinations as it considers the 2024 calendar. In addition, the state — not political parties — will run the primary, relying less on the organizational strength of any party apparatus. Molly Forgey, a former state party staffer who now serves as spokesperson for the coordinated campaign run through Washoe County, said “the reasons we’ve expressed why we deserve to be first still remain,” including the state’s diversity and geographic foothold in the West.

Even Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said Friday that “whatever internally is happening in any state party, I don’t think has a significant influence” on how the calendar is set. He said he’s confident New Hampshire will “retain our historic spot.”

His confidence is based on years of successfully defending the state’s privileged position. New Hampshire and Iowa have long fought off efforts by other states to leapfrog them. New Hampshire’s secretary of state, Bill Gardner, has said he will follow a state law that requires New Hampshire to hold its primary at least seven days before any “similar election” in another state. And Nagle said that, if necessary, Iowa will hold its caucuses ahead of the 2024 election “in July of 2023 if we have to.”

For Iowans hoping to stave off another challenge to their first-in-the-nation status, the meltdown in Nevada is not a panacea. But even if it raises just a small level of doubt about Nevada in national Democrats’ minds, it could prove helpful to Iowa’s cause.

Asked if the infighting might affect Nevada’s bid to move forward in the process, Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Democratic consultant, said, “Sure. Everything must align to make a big change.”


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Opinion | The Republican Case for Federal LGBT Rights

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For the national Republican Party, this issue gives us the chance to do some good, win back millions of voters we’ve alienated, and move on to other important areas where we still have the moral high ground.

Some Republican operatives think they’re better off continuing to fight on this front of the culture war, and plenty of Democratic operatives think the same. The partisan vote in the House reflects an unwillingness—on both sides—to negotiate. But gay and trans rights are no longer the wedge issue they were in the early aughts. Times have changed, and Republicans’ best bet now is to reach a negotiated peace with the other side.

Democrats know the current version of the Equality Act could never pass in the Senate in its current form. And it might seem that in the current environment, common ground is out of reach. But senators of both parties have no chance of portraying themselves as reasonable unless they make a good-faith effort to reach a deal. Democrats cannot clear this hurdle unless they deal fairly with Republicans like Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski, as well as conservative Democrat Joe Manchin. As for Republicans, they need to be willing to back an alternative rather than just saying “no.”

For religious conservatives, and by extension the Republicans who represent many of them, the problem with the current bill is that it appears to threaten their religious freedom and fails to adequately grapple with First Amendment concerns. They cannot support legislation that would imperil their operations, including the vital social services they provide in underserved communities around the country.

Several states have enacted laws similar to the Equality Act in recent years, but always with religious liberty protections. For instance, Rhode Island has a robust anti-discrimination law with reasonable protections for religious groups. These protections ensure that Catholic Social Services—and any other religious groups—can continue to provide valuable services in the state.

Similarly, Utah’s success in passing anti-discrimination legislation offers a path forward. Although its state government is controlled by Republicans at every level, Utah has some of the strongest protections for gay and trans people in the nation. In 2015, with the support of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and state LGBTQ leaders, Utah’s Republican legislature passed a comprehensive non-discrimination bill with reasonable protections for religious organizations.

I worked on the campaign to pass it, and found that Republicans were far more open to gay rights if a bill simply respected these protections, and Democrats were able to get behind it as well. It was a fair outcome that both sides liked. As a result, the law has enjoyed widespread support among the public. The people of Utah are tied with Vermont for the second-highest rates of support for LGBTQ non-discrimination protections.

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In Congress, instead of working toward such a deal, many Democrats grandstand and posture, insisting—wrongly—that they can pass the Equality Act as currently written. Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, for instance, has never complained about the religious exemptions in his own state’s anti-discrimination laws, yet for some reason he draws a line in the sand at the federal level, denouncing any effort to provide similar exemptions in the Equality Act. Meanwhile, most Republicans complain about these missing provisions without offering their support for a bill that included such guarantees.

Utah should serve as a blueprint for both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. The Fairness for All Act, an alternative version of the Equality Act, draws from the popular Utah law. Senate Republicans should introduce this bill and use its language to amend the Equality Act.

Support by Republican lawmakers for these types of changes would deliver a broader win to religious conservatives as well: Perhaps surprisingly, the best and possibly only way to achieve robust religious-freedom protections nationwide is by agreeing to LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, codifying an expansion of civil rights for religion alongside protections for sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

This move would also help Republicans gain back some of the ground they lost with voters over the past several years. Public opinion polling shows that support for LGBTQ civil rights continues to climb, particularly in more educated, suburban districts.

With public support at sky-high levels, a version of the Equality Act will pass eventually. The question is: Which version? And will Republicans take the opportunity to shape it?

Religious conservatives should seize this chance now to influence the process before the culture shifts even more decidedly against them on LGBTQ issues. By making peace on this issue, religious conservatives could get the legal protections they want while also showing themselves to be decent and reasonable people—winning them political goodwill for any future disagreements that might emerge, and allowing lawmakers to move on to pressing issues like the crushing federal debt, defeating coronavirus, unaccompanied minors at the border, human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party, crumbling infrastructure and energy independence.

Responsible legislation is within reach, but you can’t win if you don’t play. Reaching a settlement on these issues is better for people of faith, better for LGBTQ people, and better for the country. Republicans should sit down with Democrats and insist on a deal that works for both sides. Common ground is possible.


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Teen who recorded George Floyd’s murder awarded Pulitzer special citation

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Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis last year, received a Pulitzer Prize special citation on Friday for her work capturing the video that launched a nationwide reckoning on racial issues and policing in America.

The video, in which she recorded then-police officer Derek Chauvin pinning Floyd to the ground with a knee on his neck, circulated widely on social media, sparking protests over police violence committed against Black Americans. Frazier was 17 years old when she recorded the video.

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The Pulitzer Prize Board honored Frazier on Friday “for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.” Previous winners of Pulitzer special citations and awards include Ida B. Wells, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan.


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