Category Archives: Events and Calls to Action

Guest Post: Justice for all–including those with mental illness

Note from Melinda: This is a guest post from one of my all-time most awesome students, from whom I have learned, and continue to learn, a great deal about what it means to be a great social worker. I asked her to write something about an issue that should matter a great deal to all social workers, both in our quest for social justice, and in our efforts to build the political power of our organizations and those we serve. Thank you, Cookie, for all you do and all you are. I’m so very, very glad to know you.

My name is Janet Cook, or simply Cookie. I am a mental health consumer (dual diagnosed) and a convicted felon. Some of you may ask yourself why I am sharing this very personal information for all to see. Am I not opening myself up to judgmental attitudes, unfair labeling and just plain old, everyday common discrimination? Yes I am, but for good reasons.

First, I could not care less about what strangers may think of me. My family and friends know me and, to borrow the infamous statement by Sally Fields after her Oscar win, “They really, really like me.” It has always been my philosophy in life that if someone does not like me I am okay with that as long as they have made at least the most basic effort to get to know me. Also, I am neither naïve nor narcissistic enough to think that everyone will like me or afford me the opportunity to be who I am without judgment.

That being said, I now come to my second reason for sharing the above information. My felony conviction, a condition over which I had control, allowed me to resume my right to vote once my civil rights were restored by completing my sentence and probation. First thing I did was re-register to vote. No lie–that is how important my right to vote is to me.

On the other hand, my mental illnesses, lifelong conditions that I never asked for but have accepted as just one part of who I am, can deny me right to vote in one of 40 states that places voting restrictions on people with mental illness, including Kansas.

In Kansas, if I am under guardianship or have been found incompetent, my right to vote is assured because the Kansas Legislature removed references to these conditions in 1974. However, prohibitions for individuals who are insane, i.e. suffer from mental illness, and felons were left in the Constitution. Am I the only one who does not see the logic in this?

Kansas SCR 1622 is a concurrent resolution that would remove the references to mental illness and suffrage rights from the Kansas Constitution. The right to vote is our most fundamental duty and honor as citizens, and struggles throughout history have sought to extend it to all. Yet in recent committee meetings some State Senators voiced belief that people should have the capacity to make proper judgment or some level of capacity before being allowed to vote. I have to ask myself how election officials might go about “testing” every registered voter to make sure he/she will make a “proper judgment” before casting a vote. Any and all ideas are welcomed.

Fortunately, SCR 1622 was passed by the full Senate by a resounding majority-38 yeas and one nay. The fight in the Kansas House is going to be a bit more of a battle. The bottom line is that all Kansans need to contact their State Representative to ask them to support SCR 1622. If you don’t live in Kansas, find out what your state’s laws are regarding the suffrage rights of those with mental illness, and connect with consumer groups advocating to extend and protect this core right.

By all accounts, approximately one in four Americans suffer from a mental illness. Look around you right now, at your work place, at the mall, in the grocery store or wherever. Every fourth person you see or meet in all likelihood suffers from a mental illness. Do you or anyone else have the right to tell them that “Hey, you can’t vote. You’re just too crazy.” Sound silly? Guess not in at least 40 out of 50 states in the great country of ours. And at the same time, the social work profession tells consumers, including those with mental illness, that they need to take responsibility for their own services, engage in their communities, advocate to protect the services on which they depend. We can’t pay lip service to empowerment if we’re not willing to fight for the most basic power–that of the vote–and against discriminatory efforts to deny it.

Spread the word. To find out who your Kansas State Representative is and how to contact him or her, go to Tell your representative that you’re a voter, and that you think every Kansas citizen should be too.

Trending in Action: “Ideas for Change in America”

According to the folks at, “Ideas for Change in America is a crowd-sourcing competition that empowers citizens to identify and build momentum around the most innovative ideas for addressing challenges our country faces. The 10 most popular ideas will be presented at an event in Washington, DC to relevant members of the Obama Administration, and will subsequently mobilize its full community to support a series of grassroots campaigns to turn each idea into reality.”

Here’s a list of the ideas submitted so far for 2010. The 2009 list, unfortunately, hasn’t really been touched, but we know that building movements take awhile, right? And I guess there’s something valuable to be gained by bringing new campaigns on while still laboring on those other priorities? Or maybe the political landscape has shifted such that some of those other issues (health care, immigration, civil liberties) don’t seem as ripe today as they did in the honeymoon phase of the Obama Administration?

Some thoughts:

  • Crowdsourcing suggests that a crowd will come up with the best possible ideas only when that crowd displays considerable diversity, so that you’re actually bringing ideas from across a spectrum, not from an amalgamation of a relatively homogenous group. Unfortunately, the people who spend time at (and the organizations that are the partners for the contest), while I tend to agree with most of their orientation (!), are mainly fairly tech-savvy, younger, left-leaning people (hence the idea to “end the oligarchy”), which may ultimately mean that some good ideas that could be drawn from other parts of society are lost.
  • There is a certain ‘trendiness’ here: for example, one of the ideas that was originally sent to me was to require television of Supreme Court cases. I, for one, would really like to watch the Supreme Court, and it would be a cool teaching tool, but there are also some concerns about how such publicity might change the tenor of deliberation. What’s more interesting to me, really, than the pro and con of this issue is what it reflects: our current emphasis on transparency.
  • Finally, I’ve been watching with interest the whole mobilization process that organizations are using to elevate their suggestions. In the end, the ideas that emerge victorious may be not necessarily those that resonate most with some amorphous public but those surrounded by constituencies that know how to use these media to rally people to their cause. In that sense, it’s not unlike the fundraising challenges that have used social media recently, and not immune to the controversies surrounding them.

    But what I’d really like to know is what ideas YOU have to make this a better country. What kinds of policy changes? What kinds of structural reforms? You can submit your ideas here. And can an effort like this play a role in the process of building momentum around these issues? If you think so, then go vote!

  • The Sunflower State Needs Reseeding!

    Kansans, we’ve got problems. And it’s not just that the budget is tough. We’ve known that for a long time.

    Our biggest problems are the failure of many Kansans, including many of those elected officials charged with representing us, to recognize precisely how bad it is, and what that means about the options that are and are not really viable at this point; and a lack of political will and strategic vision to make the hard choices that must be made.

    This certainly isn’t unique to this year or to our state. Moral courage, is, in general, in short supply throughout public life–NOT just among members of the state legislature. We’d all like to get as much as we can with as little pain as possible and, writ large, that can lead to some pretty appalling public policy decisions.

    But, still, as I head to Topeka this week to work with a few dozen bright, aspiring student journalists as they challenge our elected officials to think of the future, I’m hopeful.

    Because history shows that sometimes the most amazing things happen when our backs are against the wall, when everyone knows that the only avenues left are pretty bad, and when there’s a collective sense that we’re in this together, as much as we wish that we were somewhere (anywhere!) else.

    Here’s how bad it is. At a legislative forum I attended two weeks ago (so, yes, this is tardy–ear infections in young children are evil!), I had this exchange with a senior senator closely involved in budget negotiations:

  • Kansas, as currently laid out, has a $5.3 billion budget in state general funds (which excludes those special-use funds, as my advanced policy students remember) for this year. That’s AFTER a cut of approximately $1 billion last year. With a “b”.
  • Despite those cuts from last year, to just keep everything going this year (with absolutely no program growth), we’ll still run $250-350 million short this fiscal year.
  • Okay, so that sounds like, “we need to make some cuts, but not as much as the year before, so…you know, we knew it was going to be a tough year, but everyone needs to tighten our belts and…”
  • Wait. That ~$300 million needs to get cut out of the ~15% of the budget that’s really in play. Here’s the deal. We can’t cut K-12 education anymore without having to give back the stimulus dollars that are tied to our commitment to keep school funding at at least the 2006 levels, which is where we are now. We can’t afford to give that stimulus money back, so we can’t cut K-12 education any more. And Medicaid costs are essentially out of our hands; Kansas is doing very little optional with Medicaid right now anyway, and the federal government determines eligibility and the level of state responsibility.
  • So, then, we’re left with a reality of needing to cut that $250-350 million out of approximately $800 million. And WE CANNOT. We’d have to close courts, release violent offenders, dismantle remaining safety net programs, leave dangerous roads unrepaired, lay off thousands of state workers…you can’t pretend to still have a state if you eliminate almost 40% of what the state does, especially when that’s on top of 17% cuts just the year before.

    And all of this brings us back to this question of vision and will and courage.

    Because we desperately need a restoration of our tax base. No one wants a tax increase. I know.

    But I don’t see another way out, that doesn’t include the decimation of the public infrastructure that, really, makes us a civilized society. Taxes are the price we pay for that, and we forgot that all too easily, and too often, in the boom years of the late 1990s…it’s time to rebuild.

    And you know what? My hopefulness is warranted, I really think. In the last two weeks, I’ve had conversations with 7 members of the legislature, from both political parties, who have admitted that many of the past tax cuts were mistakes, called for a revision of exemptions, and offered some specific ideas for possible tax increases. Several have even referenced that this session feels a bit different, because of the desperation, and that, by April, we could start to see a deal emerge.

    But, as that senior senator pointed out, those of us whose work depends on a strong tax base need to get working. Not one of the nonprofit legislative agendas I’ve seen has included a call for increased revenues, even though that’s undoubtedly the most important policy position the legislature could take this session.

    We need to talk with our grassroots base about the need for more revenues, and the need for tax justice. We have to build pressure to undo the excesses of the past decade. And we have to be in the process, stressing that all tax increases are NOT created equal, and articulating a vision of what tax fairness looks like.

    Things will get better (first, they’ll get worse, because we won’t have that stimulus money in FY2012!). But they won’t get as much better as they should if we don’t take advantage of this political opportunity to get the impossible done.

    Ad astra per aspera, right?

    Let’s go.

  • Happy Birthday to Me!

    Inspired by others’ successes with birthday Causes, I am trying to raise money through Facebook for the Fistula Foundation. So if, you know, you’re totally just loving this blog and wondering how you can possibly express your gratitude, or just wondering what to do with this extra $15 that you found in the parking lot outside your agency, or trying to think of how you can honor all of the amazing women in your life by giving a woman somewhere in the developing world her life back, have I got a deal for you!

    Obstetric fistulas are one of the least ‘sexy’ causes you can imagine, which I guess is part of what draws me to this issue (which, I, of course, got passionate about from reading Half the Sky–where else?). For me, it’s also personal–I was lucky enough to have two healthy and safe childbirth experiences, both with some complications that skilled medical care handled without incident. I am reminded literally daily, then, when I look at my healthy kids, of how many women struggle so valiantly, and so unnecessarily, to bring their children into the world. I hope to be able to pay for at least one operation every year; the surgery and post-operative support costs $450 through The Fistula Foundation, and what’s especially awesome is that the organization has also trained fistula survivors to provide medical care and education to other women, thereby helping them to rebuild their lives and experience greater prosperity than before their injury.

    You can go straight to my birthday cause <a href="“>here. Or check out the organization at the link above. You don’t have to make your contribution in honor of me–how about your own mother, or your favorite health care provider, or whomever else you’d like to recognize with a gift that the Foundation calls “love-a-sister”.

    It’s not coincidental that pregnancy and childbirth are such dangerous experiences for women around the world. Societies fail to adequately invest in health care services for women, because women are not as valued, and they, and, therefore, we, pay the price everyday…in lives lost and in dreams destroyed.

    I made a donation of $150 so far, last year’s birthday money that was theoretically for me to have a ‘getaway’ day at a spa. But, really, every day in my life is an ‘escape’, in global terms…from the constant threat and illness and violence and deprivation that are reality for so many of my sisters around the world.

    I’m excited to see if Facebook can help me raise enough money to fully fund one woman’s escape from isolation, medical risk, and grinding poverty. That would be a great way to celebrate my day of birth.

    Calling All Radical Social Work Readers!

    photo credit Mosman Library, via Flickr

    This is an idea that has been sitting in my brain for awhile now, and I’m finally at the point in my family life where I think I can make it happen:

    I want to have a radical social work book club.

    Here is my idea about how it would work but, of course, it’s a dynamic deal, and so I’m very open to others’ ideas:

    A group of social workers (I’d like to limit it to social workers, at least at first, because I think that our common value base shapes not only our grappling with issues of structural change but also the challenges we encounter living and working in the status quo, but I’d be willing to open it to those working in social service/social change from a radical orientation, if others are amenable to it) get together monthly to discuss a book that we’ve read together and how it applies to a) our social work practice, b) our consciousnesses as radical practitioners, c) our challenges in being radicals within a social service system. I’m willing to choose the first couple of books and facilitate a few of the discussions, but then I’d really like to see others’ contributions so that it’s a very non-hierarchical format that breeds great dialogue, mutual support, and new commitment to excellent radical social work.

    It will be an opportunity for those in the field to receive support from each other and from some of us who have the luxury of spending quite a bit of time just thinking about this stuff, and the connections between it all, but organized around consciousness-raising for those non-clinical social worker among us (um, me) who do better that way than with a ‘traditional’ mutual support format. What do you think? I’d love to start with at least 4-5 people, but I’m open to a much larger group, if there’s that much interest. We may need to alternate meetings between Lawrence and the Kansas City area, given the residences of some of those I know who consider themselves radical social workers. We can figure out all of those details together, as we’re deciding together how we’re going to change the world (only partially exaggerating there)!

    Here are some of the books that I’ve been reading that I think might lend themselves to discussions, but I am totally open to different ideas here (I’m sure that I’ll have a longer list by the time we finally get together!). Many of these are not themselves written from a radical perspective; one of the things that I find the most routinely challenging is asserting my radical analysis within a world that doesn’t see social problems that way, so that’s one of the things I’d like to talk about. Maybe check some of these out, see what you think, and send me other suggestions, along with a note about your willingness to participate? You can just leave a note in the comments, or you can email me your contact information directly. Or call me, or find me on Facebook! Yay! I’m so excited!

  • Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein
  • There Goes the Neighborhood, William J. Wilson
  • Illegal People, David Bacon
  • Poverty, Welfare, and the Disciplinary State Jones, C. and Novak, T.
  • The Social Work Business (haven’t read this one yet) John Harris
  • Regulating the Lives of Women. Abramovitz, M.
  • The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits. (haven’t read this one either) McKnight, J.
  • The Road Not Taken: A History of Radical Social Work in the United States. Reisch, M. & Andrews, J.
  • A People’s History of the United States. Howard Zinn (we could choose just a few chapters, maybe that some people haven’t read, but the whole thing is awesome)
  • Shame of a Nation, Jonathan Kozol
  • Working, Studs Terkel (all of his stuff is awesome, really)
  • Where we stand: class matters, bell hooks
  • Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women, Liebow, E.
  • A critical voice in the immigration debate

    Remember this?

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    And what was he so angry about?

    Not health care reform, not really.

    But immigrants. Those, specifically, who are in the United States illegally.

    I would really love to be wrong about this, but my first thought was, if there’s that much rage about immigrants in a bill that does NOT provide any benefits to undocumented (because no human being is illegal) immigrants (and may, in fact, even exclude Lawful Permanent Residents (those are “legal”) from the final bill), can we imagine how much vitriol will surround any attempt to reform our nation’s immigration laws in this Congress?

    Even if we’re tired after all of the shouting about health care, and even if we’re not exactly sure why these immigrants are coming here in the first place, and what their presence means for our futures, we who care about social justice cannot sit this one out.

    I just finished reading Illegal People, a book by David Bacon, a photojournalist focusing on Mexican migration, the U.S./Mexico border, and the economics of global trade. He’s going to be in Kansas City on Friday, September 18th, 2009, speaking at 6:30PM at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch. You should come.

    Because Bacon’s message, in this book and what I expect he’ll say, is that, while he may not have every answer for how policy should deal with the many details in immigration policy, his work in communities of workers on both sides of the border has made it clear that the status quo is morally indefensible.

    On the second page of the book, he calls us all out: “Faced with poverty, migration, and deportation, nuetrality is not really possible. One either tries to understand and change social reality or one doesn’t…This book takes (immigrant workers’) side.”

    I cringed several times during the book, when Bacon excoriates the compromises pursued by the coalition advocating for comprehensive immigration reform (subsequent to the historic mobilization of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride), lays bare the corporate motives of some of our unlikely bedfellows, and makes a compelling case for far more fundamental change than we ever even put on the table. I remembered the bitter debates we had over pragmatism vs. principle, over whether temporary worker programs ever belonged in a progressive immigration bill, and whether we needed to clearly articulate our support for an end to employer sanctions or talk about ‘smart enforcement’. And I know that I didn’t fight hard enough.

    So when I read Bacon’s stirring accounts of immigrants organizing unions against huge odds, militantly fighting for higher wages and better working conditions (which ultimately, of course, benefit every worker in the country), I’m seriously chagrined. Day laborers boldly joining together to insist on higher wages, refugees facing down violent opposition to exercise their rights–they all courageously surpassed what they should have been able to accomplish, through the power of collective action and the audacity born of desperation.

    Some of Bacon’s criticism is a bit unfair, I think; those with whom I worked closely were really, without exception, compassionate people committed to doing the most and best for immigrants that they could. The problem, I think, was in that last word, “could,” and the dangers that all advocates face in sacrificing the good for the possible, in limiting our horizons in pursuit of ‘viability’.

    I hope that all of my former compañero/as are reading the book, too, and are emboldened to demand immigration reform worthy of these extraordinary people, and committed to organizing the power we’ll need to shout down the audacious likes of Representative Wilson.

    Illegal People is full of evidence of how bad the status quo is, not just for immigrants but for their families and communities and for everyone who works for a living. The system intimidates people away from joining unions (the only right in the United States that people fear exercising), steamrolls Mexican farmers, uses Social Security “No-Match” letters to disrupt organizing campaigns, and brings in temporary immigrant workers to drive down wages of low-wage citizen workers. And it’s tragic and cruel and wrong, every single day.

    But, despite my pangs of regret for what I didn’t do, didn’t accomplish, didn’t win, and despite how ugly the prospects are for really good, really progressive immigration reform in the current context, I mostly finished the book feeling inspired.

    Inspired by the activism, the boldness, the tremendous optimism and courage of the immigrant workers who populate Bacon’s book. Almost without exception, their attitude is “we have nothing to lose, so we might as well go down fighting.” And, when I watch that clip again, and think about the horrific anti-immigrant rhetoric that fueled the summer, and think about the threats I received (as did many of my colleagues, including friends cited, like Bill Chandler and Marielena Hincapíe), I think that we’re really in just about the same place now–backs against a wall, nothing to lose, ready to stand on principle and push for what we know immigrant workers deserve.

    Sí se puede. See you next Friday night.

    Santa Maria Mixtec workers, credit David Bacon

    Back to School & DREAMing

    As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I have an opinion on just about everything. My dad once laughed outloud when I was giving my views on the new Pope (Benedict)–he said that it figured that I, a non-Catholic, would of course have this whole argument about the new Pope.

    I am often guilty of over-advocacy–since quitting my full-time advocacy job, I haven’t felt as much of a compulsion to limit myself to core issues in order to avoid weakening my impact (a cardinal rule of nonprofit advocates). I admit to responding to just about all of the ‘urgent’ action alerts that come across my email–from human rights in Burma to extension of unemployment benefits to climate change regulations.

    Still, it would be hard to think of very many advocacy issues that matter more to me than the plight of immigrant youth in the United States. I personally know dozens of kids in these circumstances, and they are, almost without exception, extraordinarily bright and talented and promising young people. They are inspiring and generous and very brave.

    And, right now, they need our help. As students (including mine!) head back to school all over this country, hundreds of thousands of immigrant students in the U.S. prepare for their final year of high school, without knowing what life holds for them after graduation. Thousands more are plugging away at college, achieving a remarkable feat made more notable by the controversy surrounding their enrollment. And Congress has the rare opportunity to do something good to help a vulnerable population while also helping all of us, by giving these kids a chance to fully contribute to our society. It’s a win-win, literally, and we need to make it happen THIS YEAR.

    So, please, take three minutes and contact your member of Congress to ask him/her to support the DREAM Act. I’ve linked to talking points and an action alert, both of which are generated by the awesome students and advocates leading the charge on this issue. You can also make a financial contribution to the United We DREAM campaign. I’d love to hear feedback after you make your call–what did your member of Congress tell you? With whom did you speak? How was your experience?

    Have a great school year, everyone, and let’s make DREAMS come true.

    My Two Cents: Health Care Reform and What I Did

    I heard a great piece on The World tonight about the health care debate: specifically, they talked about how the controversy over the proposal(s) is receiving a lot more media attention than their substance (similarly to how media often cover the ‘horse race’ aspect of elections more than the issues) and about how Britains are using Twitter to defend their national health system. They also made the point that the UK’s NHS has become a straw man in the health care debate in the U.S.–its weaknesses exaggerated and then conflated with President Obama’s plans.

    After I got home, I sat down and wrote handwritten letters to my congressional delegation. I’ve been wanting to do more; I haven’t been to any town halls yet (if they think those are rowdy, try being a pro-immigrant advocate on an AM talk radio show!); I haven’t made any phone calls; I haven’t even talked about it that much with friends or colleagues. But, I pulled out some of my few remaining (totally awesome) Truman Scholar notecards (the ones with a painting of the Lincoln Memorial and a speech by RFK–the ones that I have now moved 5 times and can hardly bear to part with) and wrote letters.

    The text of each was different. To Congressman Moore, I stressed his concern for working people and the importance of seizing this rare political moment. To Senator Brownback, I talked about his respect for life and the importance of protecting each person’s health. And to Senator Roberts, I talked about how Kansas, and Kansans, need health care reform, in towns large and small. In all, I identified myself as a mom and a citizen and, honestly, someone with decent health care who still cares very much about what we are not doing for those who have not.

    Do I harbor any belief that these letters will be the defining act in the debate that is raging in our country? No. But do I feel a whole lot better now that they’re in the mail? And am I looking forward to explaining them to my son tomorrow morning? Absolutely yes.

    If you live in my part of the country, here are the addresses I used (the best ones for this August recess):

    Congressman Dennis Moore
    500 State Avenue, #176
    Kansas City, KS 66101

    Senator Sam Brownback
    11111 W. 95th Street, Suite 245
    Overland Park, KS 66214

    Senator Pat Roberts
    11900 College Boulevard, Suite 203
    Overland Park, KS 66210

    Social Justice and the Secretary of State

    This is NOT going to become a political rant blog, I promise (Kory, I really promise). If that’s your schtick, check out this blog (if you see my kids wandering around dirty in the street, this is why…it’s like heroin for political nerds like me). But there’s one race already shaping up for 2010 that I just HAVE to say something about. So, please, indulge me.

    In my work registering voters and doing election protection for Limited English Proficient and new citizen voters, I had numerous occasions on which to be quite proud of Kansas’ Secretary of State office. I met with current Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh on a few occasions, including once when he came to El Centro, Inc. because he wanted to see what we did with voter registration. I found him to be very accessible and his office to be highly professional. Even more importantly, from my perspective, he was consistently a supporter of fair election policies and practices, including expressing support for voter identification policies that allowed options besides photo ID. He strongly resisted allegations that voter fraud by undocumented immigrants and other ineligible voters was a problem in the state, and he rejected very harsh measures designed to address that supposed ‘problem’. While he is certainly not directly responsible for the activities of the county election offices, I worked with several of them around the state and found them, likewise, to be quite supportive of our efforts to encourage civic participation. One election official in western Kansas actually called me to let me know that she had received our voter registration forms in time and that the voters would be eligible for the primary (totally above and beyond). Once, when I brought more than 100 registrations into the KCK office only a day before the deadline, the woman working said, “God bless you. You must have worked so hard,” (rather than ‘now we have to enter all of these?’). We had representatives from election offices in western Kansas, Johnson County, and Wyandotte County come demonstrate the voting machines to our new citizen voters. When I would meet with colleagues around the country who were also doing voter work, I would feel almost smug about the comparatively smooth process we experienced.

    Outside of elections, I worked with the Secretary of State’s office on lobbyist reporting and, on a few occasions, when I had a concern about unethical candidate activities. I truly always found them helpful, nonpartisan, and even quite pleasant. I’m sure that there are many political issues on which I would disagree with Secretary Thornburgh; I’ll get the chance to find out more when he launches his campaign for Governor in earnest. But, as Secretary of State, I believe that he did a very decent job at safeguarding the integrity of our elections, no small task in today’s highly polarized political environment.

    And now I am very concerned. As you may or may not know, Kris Kobach has announced that he is running for Kansas Secretary of State. Even more disturbing to me than this announcement was the response of many when I told them: “Why would he want that job?” It is an unfortunate fact that many people, including many social work advocates, underestimate the importance of the Secretary of State. It is NOT just a stepping stone to the governorship. It is, in fact, the guardian of our democratic process, and you have to believe me that Kris Kobach is smart enough to know this too.

    Actually, you don’t have to take my word for it. Below is a link to his guest editorial, where he talks about this supposed voter fraud, rails against the senatorial election in Minnesota, and claims that the Secretary of State election will have “unprecedented consequences”. Um, no kidding.

    I can tell you from experience that it is hard enough to register U.S.-born citizens to vote; there is no clamoring among undocumented people to put their name on a voter registration roll where they will face lifelong banishment from the U.S. and a felony conviction if discovered. I have been cursed at and had things thrown at me from trying to convince people that voting is their responsibility as citizens. Yes, Kris, we have a real problem with voting in this country, but it’s not the problem you’re so intent on ‘fixing’.

    Please, pay attention to the 2010 Secretary of State’s race. Don’t believe the allegations of widespread voter fraud; President Bush’s own Department of Justice investigators could find only a couple of cases in the whole country, in the previous eight years, of non-citizens registering to vote. And they were looking hard. Pay attention and, of course, vote!

    Kobach for Secretary of State

    Blood and Politics

    My Dad and I were talking about this upcoming event the other day. “You know,” he said, “you meet a lot of really interesting people in your life, some who even really impress you, but you’re lucky if you meet even one Lenny.” I thought that was a pretty good way to put it.

    I am not an unbiased reporter on this topic; Lenny Zeskind is a very good friend and someone who has been an inspiration and support and comfort to me during some of my lowest moments. But I am confident that others will find his book, his stories, and his example as completely jaw-dropping as I do.

    I first read a draft of Lenny’s book back in 2003, when it was still on 8.5×11 sheets of paper (lots of them–it’s not short!). At first, I really thought that it must be a kind of pseudo-fiction, embellished with some rich detail to make it more readable. And then he told me one day that it was with the publisher’s attorneys, so that they could do fact-checking and be sure that the company would not be vulnerable in court against the almost inevitable lawsuits to come from organizations, both those viewed today as extremists and those whose tenuous hold on the mainstream will be seriously jeopardized by the revelations in the book. I think that’s when it dawned on me that when he talked about what a specific white nationalist leader had on his wall, it was because he had really been there and really seen it.

    Lenny is really, really smart, and he has an almost maniacal obsession with ending organized racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism in the world. He challenges people, including me, to question what I think I know about hatred. He is willing to confront anyone with allegations of racism, and he has a moral authority that makes it almost impossible to object. At this point in his life, I think Lenny is kind of impatient, because we really haven’t made as much progress against these forces as we might like to claim, and also a little tired, because chasing Holocaust deniers and anti-immigrant zealots masquerading as environmentalists and neo-Nazi music promoters around the country would tend to wear down one’s spirit. He’s also generous and funny and a little mischevious and very kind.

    I’m excited that his book is finally ready, and I can’t wait to read the finished version. At least a few of my family members will be receiving it as Christmas gifts this year (Merry Christmas, Daddy!). But it would be a disappointment and a dishonor to Lenny’s life work–as an organizer in the steel industry, as a campaigner against the Ku Klux Klan, as a McArthur fellow recognized for his tireless and creative and often successful work against racist extremism in all its forms–to view this as simply cause for celebration.

    One of Lenny’s core messages is that we are always at risk, and that we need to be vigilant about the racism in our own lives and our own institutions, but also smart about the real dangers posed by the organization of bigotry into a movement that has resonance with a not insignificant minority in our nation. It’s not about ‘teaching tolerance’; it’s about exposing hatred, calling it by name, and attacking the conditions–funding, media legitimacy, political support–that allow it to flourish.

    Lenny will be signing copies of his book and answering questions on Wednesday, May 27th, at the Plaza Library at 6:30. The flyers said that you had to rsvp, but I bet if you call the library they can still find room for you. Or you can buy the book from Amazon here (available May 12th). I know that I am looking forward to asking him about his article from the Huffington Post, particularly about his analysis that the argument that the economic crisis is to blame for the spike in racist violence just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. We know, though, that public opinion about immigrants, in particular, tends to dip in recessions; is it just that the more hard-core anti-immigrant activity, which sparks the violence, is more impervious to these economic effects? What can we expect to see, in terms of white nationalist recruiting, in the wake of an Obama presidency? And what does he think about organizations of people of color who are touting 2050 as the tipping point–the year when white Americans will become the minority. I’ve never liked those ‘demographic imperative’ arguments, but I wonder what his advice would be.

    Mainly, I’m grateful, especially on behalf of my kids, that there’s someone brave enough, and even a little crazy enough, to care and to do what Lenny has dedicated his life to doing. And it makes me want to be a little braver, a little smarter, and a little crazier (for justice) myself.