Don’t Underestimate Your Political Power

Years ago, a woman named Harriet sat down at a table with pen and paper, and wrote a story that would change the world.

Because she had been published before, the publisher of a weekly magazine was willing to take a chance on her and publish her story in installments. Still, he was skeptical – Harriet was a woman (gasp!) – and the topic was one that had never sold well because it was so heady.

The topic was slavery.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was 40 years old when she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851. She based it on stories and news she had heard and seen as a resident of Cincinatti, Ohio – just across the river from the slave state of Kentucky. She had no reason to believe that her work would be well received. She had no reason to believe that it would be a best seller. But she was moved to tell a story that would educate and inform her fellow Americans of “what an accursed thing slavery is.”

She did just that.

First published in weekly installments, the impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not realized until after it was published in book form in 1852. It wasn’t just a best seller. In the United States, it sold 10,000 copies in one week and over 300,000 copies in its first year. Worldwide, it sold over 1.5 million copies.

The only book that sold more copies in the 1800’s was the Bible.

With Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe made a mental picture of slavery available to anyone who could read. Suddenly, Americans were able to relate to slavery in a very different way – inspiring an entire generation of abolitionists, and contributing to the outbreak of the Civil War. (Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s success in Europe has also been cited as a reason Europe did not intervene to assist the Confederacy.)

Legend has it that when Stowe met Abraham Lincoln in 1862, he greeted her by saying “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great big war.” Perhaps that’s simply urban legend, but it underscores the breadth and depth of what she accomplished.

Even though her pen was her only source of power.

As a woman, she couldn’t vote. She couldn’t hold elected office. She couldn’t even join the major political parties. Her primary source of power – her main outlet to rage against the injustices that she saw – was to write about them.

So this singular politically disenfranchised woman helped change the course of American – and world – history by simply sitting down at her table with a pen and paper.

Her bravery in doing so “inspires us to believe in our own ability to effect positive change.”

We may know that we have the ability to effect positive change, but it’s easy to overestimate our own insignificance. Isn’t it?

We can convince ourselves of inaction by thinking we are just one speck of dust in the grand cyclone of humanity. We imagine that we are just a drop in the bucket – one voice in the wilderness.

“Why should anyone listen to me?” we wonder.

But what if Stowe had said that same thing? She couldn’t vote, she couldn’t own property – she was a second-class citizen by any definition. So what if she had let her status silence her? What if she decided to stay quiet because she wasn’t an expert, or because she was a woman, or she thought nobody would listen, or because speaking out was a little too uncomfortable.

What if she convinced herself that her voice was insignificant?

You, friend, have power. You can vote. You can organize. You can write. You can donate, and raise money, and call Congress. You have infinitely more power available to you than a middle-aged disenfranchised woman who just happened to change the world.

Don’t diminish your voice.

Don’t diminish your power.

Use it.

Let’s get to work.

 


Actions:

This week’s actions springboard off of last week’s, still focusing on racial inequality but providing some concrete action items for specific asks of your Congresscritters:

Tuesday: Ask Your Representative to Support Censure

Trump’s remarks that “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville – and excusing Unite the Right participants’ behavior – are unacceptable.

House Resolution 496, introduced on Friday, seeks to censure Trump for his remarks and his actions – and for “employing people with ties to white supremacist movements in the White House, such as Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.” Leaving to one side the fact that we no longer need to lobby for Bannon’s departure (huzzah!) the censure also demands that Trump “fire any and all White House advisors who have urged him to cater to the alt-Right movement in the United States.”

Introduced by Representatives Nadler, Watson Coleman and Jaypal, the Resolution has now been cosponsored by 76 additional Congressmen/women. Here is a list for you to check to see if your Congresscritter has cosponsored. There are two scripts below – one to thank your Representative if he/she has supported the censure, and one to encourage him/her to cosponsor.

As an added 30-second action, here’s the link to a Change.org petition to censure Donald Trump.

Script (already co-sponsoring): Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to thank Representative ____ for cosponsoring HR 496 censuring and condemning Donald Trump. I’m grateful to have someone representing me in Congress that is not afraid to call out hatred and bigotry when he/she sees it – even if that means calling out the President of the United States.

Script (not yet co-sponsoring): Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to ask Representative ___ to cosponsor HR 496, which censures Donald Trump for his remarks after the violence in Charlottesville and calls upon him to fire any remaining White House advisors that have urged him to cater to the alt-Right movement. Now more than ever it’s important for elected officials like the Congressman/woman to show that they understand that intolerance, bigotry and hatred will not be tolerated – especially when it’s being endorsed by the President of the United States. What is the Congressman/woman’s position on HR496?

Wednesday: Support the Voting Rights Amendment Act

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key protection in the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of voting discrimination to submit any changes to voting laws for federal approval.

In July, Congressmen Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) (a Republican!!) and Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act to “fully restore and modernize the original Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 to reflect today’s societal needs and challenges.”

The same legislation has been introduced in the Senate; it has not been supported by any Republican Senators thus far, but has full support of the Democratic Senators – except Sen. Leahy (VT) and Manchin (WV). (It is currently in the judiciary committee.)

Call your Republican Senators AND your Congressperson and ask them to co-sponsor.

Script (Republican Senator, Senators Leahy and Manchin): Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling to ask the Senator to co-sponsor Senate Bill 1419, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017. As Congressman Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin stated in his introduction of similar legislation in the House, the Act will “fully restore and modernize the original Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 to reflect today’s societal needs and challenges.” This legislation is needed to ensure that all Americans that are eligible to vote are able to do so. Thanks for your time.

Script (Democratic Senator other than Leahy and Manchin): Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to thank the Senator for co-sponsoring Senate Bill 1419, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017. I appreciate the Senator’s commitment to voting rights, and I’ll look forward to seeing how I can support get out the vote efforts in 2018. Thanks!

Script for Representative:  Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling to ask the Congressman/woman to co-sponsor HB 3239, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017. As Congressman Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin stated in his introduction of the bill, the Act will “fully restore and modernize the original Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 to reflect today’s societal needs and challenges.” This legislation is needed to ensure that all Americans that are eligible to vote are able to do so. Thanks for your time.

Thursday: Support the Anti-Voter Suppression Act

As you recall, Trump created a Voter Integrity Commission Voter Suppression Commission to try to add credibility to his false claim of vast voter fraud. Recently, Democrats in both the House and Senate introduced legislation that would disband that commission – and prevent our tax dollars from being used in this wild goose chase.

There are 32 co-sponsors of the Senate bill (all Democrats).

There are 78 co-sponsors of the House bill (again, all Democrats).

Script (Senator or Representative, non-sponsoring): Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling to ask the Senator/Congressman/woman to support and co-sponsor SB 1547/HR3214, the Anti-Voter Suppression Act. The Act would nullify the Executive Order creating the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud and no reason for the administration to be spending taxpayer resources to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Thanks for your time.

Script (Senator or Representative, sponsoring): Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling to thank the Senator for supporting and co-sponsoring SB1547/HR3214, the Anti-Voter Suppression Act. I’m so grateful to be represented by an elected official who recognizes what a sham the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is – and who isn’t afraid to stand up against this administration in order to protect my voting rights. Thanks for standing up!

Friday: Encourage the Voter Suppression Commission to Disband

Over the past week or two we’ve seen a number of Trump’s advisory commissions disband. But his Election Integrity Commission is still alive and kicking. Although Thursday’s action seeks to encourage our elected officials to nullify that Commission, we can also encourage the individual members to disband. The Center for American Progress has created a nifty toolkit to help us reach out to the members of that Commission and ask them to resign:

What to say: Hi, this is [your name], and I’d like to speak to or leave a message for [member’s name] about Trump’s election commission. Donald Trump’s responses to the horrific attacks in Charlottesville and refusal to stand up for voting rights are unacceptable. Quit the commission and stand against hate.

Bill Gardner, secretary of state of New Hampshire (D)

Matthew Dunlap, secretary of state of Maine (D)

David Dunn, former Arkansas state representative (D)

Mark Rhodes, clerk of Wood County, West Virginia (D)

Alan King, probate judge, Jefferson County, Ala. (D)

Connie Lawson, secretary of state of Indiana (R)

Ken Blackwell, former secretary of state of Ohio (R)

Christy McCormick, commissioner, U.S. Election Assistance Commission (R)

Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow, The Heritage Foundation (R)

J. Christian Adams, president and general counsel, Public Interest Legal Foundation (R)


Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I do!) We’re in this together.

If you want one more quick action, make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome!

Lastly, if you’d like to support this work (thanks to those who have done so!), you can become a supporter here.

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