Freedom After Speech

During the cold war, Ronald Regan told an anecdote about the differences in how the Soviet and US constitutions protected freedom of the press:

“Two Soviets . . . were talking to each other. And one of them asked, ‘What’s the difference between the Soviet Constitution and the United States Constitution?’ And the other one said, ‘That’s easy. The Soviet Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of gathering. The American Constitution guarantees freedom after speech and freedom after gathering.’

(Source)

The audience laughed.

It’s not funny anymore.

This week we saw what happens when freedom after speech disappears. On Friday, the New York Times, BBC, CNN, Politico, The Los Angeles Times, Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post were excluded from the White House “gaggle” – a more intimate and informal press briefing. Other conservative leaning publications – like Breitbart – were included instead. The justification?

The White House disagreed with the excluded publications’ coverage.

The White House explained that the exclusion was warranted because the administration must “relentlessly counter coverage it consider[s] inaccurate.” Sean Spicer continued: “We’re just not going to sit back and let, you know, false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there.”

Just to be clear – none of those publications has published false narratives or inaccurate facts. (To be fair, Buzzfeed did publish the dossier – which was not yet corroborated, but did so explaining the context in which it was doing so.) Each publication has been working tirelessly to fully cover this administration – no small task considering the sheer breadth and depth of the controversies surrounding it.

The assault on the freedom of the press continued at CPAC, where Trump repeated his “fake news” talking points and unveiled a new one: that the press should no longer be able to cite an “anonymous source” because, he claimed, the media was simply making sources up to fit their stories.

Of course, that’s hogwash. Anonymous sources like Watergate‘s “Deep Throat” are essential tools in good investigative journalism, and have brought many a government misstep to light.

But that’s exactly what Trump is trying to stop.

His administration is as leaky as a sieve; the sources of those leaks are anonymous for obvious reasons – they don’t want to suffer some sort of retribution for informing the press. Without knowing who the leakers are (and Trump has lambasted the intelligence agencies for failing to figure that out) Trump is powerless to stop them.

But that doesn’t mean he’s powerless. The “fourth state” – the press – is only so strong as the public’s belief in it. If Trump can erode the public trust in the media, he saps their power. If half of America believes Trump is being attacked by a media that is actively lying and making up sources to fit their stories, he has successfully undercut the media and minimized the impact of the leaks. Problem partially solved.

So, freedom after speech is certainly under attack. But what about freedom of association? Surely our ability to gather and protest with other like-minded citizens is paramount in our democracy, and no lawmaker would ever consider punishing a person for peacefully protesting. Right? Well, not entirely. A number of GOP-controlled state legislatures have actually started to criminalize aspects of protesting.

Why would any state legislature even consider criminalizing any protesting activity? Because we are undergoing the greatest increase in civil engagement in my lifetime – and probably yours, too. Attendance at town halls is off the charts, even if the number of town halls overall is down. People are not only telling their legislators how they feel – they are showing them that they are paying attention and provide thoughtful feedback on a variety of topics – from immigration to the ACA to social security.

Through it all, conservative pundits are shrugging and telling television hosts (with a hint of hope in their voice) that the protesters will soon tire; our protests will slow, and then stop. Then, they assure their followers, they’ll be able to push their conservative agenda.

They didn’t expect millions of women – women who are used to being marginalized and underestimated and talked at and explained to – would not only keep up the pace of their civic engagement, but would add more voices to their chorus. That chorus is as diverse as America, and is heard each and every day in the telephones ringing off the hooks in district offices all over the country and in the grand halls of Washington, D.C. It’s heard in the chants of marchers demanding to be listened to, in the desperate pleas of constituents for whom healthcare is literally a matter of life or death, in the convention halls and auditoriums all across this country where men and women are learning and networking and engaging in government like never before.

This is what our country was made for.

(You can tell I’m getting worked up, can’t you?)

So, what to do about all of this? What do you and I, regular citizens, do to protect the freedoms that many of us took for granted until just four months ago?

We protect the press by recognizing its value, and its critical place in our democracy. We don’t fall into the trap of normalizing his treatment of the media. We don’t condone other people’s attacks on the media, and continue to support great journalism and journalists through print subscriptions to local and national newspapers. We continue to protest, and protest the very laws and lawmakers that would criminalize constitutionally protected behavior.

We remain focused.

We remain motivated.

We continue to resist.

Are you ready for actions? Boy, me too! Let’s get to it! In case you’re like me and you like a list of things to do, I’ve got suggested actions for each day of the week, followed by a few good news stories to cap out the post.

Monday’s Action:

Background: This week we learned that the administration asked the Chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees (who are republican) to contact the press and downplay the administration’s Russian contacts. Shockingly, the chairmen obliged. Both of those committees are, at least theoretically, investigating Russian interference with the election and the administration’s Russian ties. The obvious partisan nature of these committees is tarnishing their results, regardless of the outcome. We need to keep demanding a bipartisan select committee – such as that called for under Senate Bill 27, which is still parked in the Senate Rules Committee (MO readers – Roy Blunt is a member).

Action: Support Senate Bill 27**:

Call: Your senators. First check here to see if your Senator is one of the 21 co-sponsors – there have been some recent additions.

Script (Senator): Hello, my name is _____. I’m calling to again ask that Senator ___ support Senate Bill 27, which creates an independent committee to investigate Russian interference and connections. Last week we learned that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee called the press to downplay the Russian connection story at the request of the administration. The Senate Intelligence Committee no longer appears objective, and is no longer credible to handle this investigation. We need a bipartisan, transparent and independent committee to handle this – and Senate Bill 27 provides for that. What is Senator _____’s position on this independent investigation? Does Senator _____ oppose fully and fairly investigating the Russian interference in the election?  Has the Senator publicly supported an independent investigation? If not, why not? If so, why hasn’t the Senator co-signed Senate Bill 27?

(**Yes, I know that week after week I continue beating the drum about this bill. But until we get answers and a true investigation, we should keep up our collective pressure.)

Tuesday’s Action:

Sign up to be a host on March 11 for a live stream presentation by the ACLU to introduce People Power – “the ACLU’s new effort to engage grassroots volunteers across the country and take the fight against Donald Trump’s policies not just into the courts, but into the streets.” Even if you can’t host, you can still join People Power and learn more about upcoming volunteer opportunities and to get connected with live stream events in your area.  (Bonus points for repeating your call to your reps on S.B. 27.)

Wednesday’s Action:

Background: Reports suggest that the Trump administration’s demotion of the intelligence director and the Joint Chiefs from the NSC principals committee may have been more mistake than malice. No matter. They always intended to elevate Steve Bannon to the National Security Counsel. By this point we’re all quite familiar with Bannon, a right-wing white nationalist political strategist with no experience in government or foreign relations. The Protect the National Security Council from Political Interference Act of 2017 (HR 804) prohibits the President from appointing anyone whose job is primarily political in nature (such as a chief strategist) to the NSC. It’s currently parked in three committees: Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence. If your rep is a member of any of those committees, use the script below but add that you hope as a member of that committee they will do what they can to move the bill along.

Action: Oppose political appointments to the NSC/Support HR 804

Call: Your representative (find here). Check here to see if he/she has already co-sponsored H.R. 804  (MO residents – Lacy Clay in St. Louis is the only Rep to cosponsor).

Script: (If not yet co-sponsored): My name is _____ . I’m calling to ask Representative ___ to publicly support and co-sponsor H.R. 804, which prohibits appointments to the NSC of people whose jobs are primarily political in nature. The National Security Council should not be staffed by political strategists. Decisions about national security should not be influenced by their political impact – they should be made by what is in the best interest of our country.

Bonus points for calling about S.B. 27.

Thursday’s Action:

Information is power – so sign up for a free class! Harvard University offers a number of free courses through the EdX platform. Offerings include American Government (starting April 27), China and the Modern World, Saving Schools, and the Opioid Crisis in America – just to name a few. Check them out here.

Friday’s Action:

Background: Back in December, Lindsay Graham announced that he would be introducing legislation to protect “DREAMERs” – undocumented immigrants who came here as children. That effort, Senate Bill 128 – The Bridge Act – has bipartisan support; introduced by Graham, it’s been co-sponsored by GOP Senators Murkowski (AK), Flake (AZ) and Heller (NV). It’s currently in the Judiciary Committee. Its companion legislation, HR 496, also has bipartisan support and is currently in the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on border security. If you’d like to know more about the hurdles undocumented immigrants face, here’s a very helpful article by a woman who came to the US as a child, graduated from college with honors and became a Vice President at Goldman Sachs – all while being an undocumented immigrant.

Action: Support S.128, the Bridge Act

Call: Your Senators

Script: I’m calling to ask Senator ____ to publicly support and/or co-sponsor S.128, the Bridge Act, which extends legal protections and work permits for Dreamers – immigrants that came to the United States as children. This is a bipartisan measure introduced and supported by both republican and democratic Senators. What is the Senator’s position on the Bridge Act?

Woot woot! You made it through another week.

Now for some good news:

Delaware State Senate: In a special election to determine the control of the Delaware state senate, the democrat whomped the republican, 58-42. OUCH. Even better, turnout was more than 1/3 of registered voters – that’s better turnout than they had for the 2014 midterms. Way to go, guys!

ACA: This week the cracks in the GOP plans to dismantle the ACA became apparent. First, a new poll by Pew Research showed support for the ACA is at an all-time high. Ohio Governor Kasich admitted the conservative wing of the House may throw a wrench in any plans to simply fix the ACA because they want to jettison it altogether; he suggested the GOP will have to partner with Dems to get anything done. *Gasp!* If you’re interested in a deep dive into the GOP’s current ACA plan and its impact on coverage and taxes, here’s a great piece from the Center for American Progress describing in detail why the GOP plan won’t pass.

Speaking of the ACA, here’s a helpful chart that shows how many people are likely to lose health coverage by congressional district. Keep this one bookmarked for when you call your rep about the ACA! (I set out MO below, but you can find them all here.)

Missouri High-Subsidy
Exchange Enrollees
Medicaid
Expansion
Total Projected
to Lose Coverage
Contact
Phone Number
MO-01 William Clay Jr. (D) 25,640 0 25,640 (202) 225-2406
MO-02 Ann Wagner (R) 23,532 0 23,532 (202) 225-1621
MO-03 Blaine Luetkemeyer (R) 19,111 0 19,111 (202) 225-2956
MO-04 Vicky Hartzler (R) 19,859 0 19,859 (202) 225-2876
MO-05 Emanuel Cleaver (D) 21,899 0 21,899 (202) 225-4535
MO-06 Sam Graves (R) 19,247 0 19,247 (202) 225-7041
MO-07 William Long (R) 24,552 0 24,552 (202) 225-6536
MO-08 Jason Smith (R) 17,547 0 17,547 (202) 225-4404
Total 171,387 0 171,387

 

Whew. That’s it for this week, everyone. And remember:

A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence. ~Jim Watkins

So lets get to work.

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