“History is a vast early warning system.” ~Norman Cousins, American journalist
“History is instructive. What it suggests to people is that even if they do little things, if they walk on the picket line, if they join a vigil, if they write a letter to their local newspaper… Anything they do, however small, becomes part of a much larger sort of flow of energy. And when enough people do enough things, however small they are, then change takes place.” ~Howard Zinn, American historian
History is a race between education and catastrophe. ~H.G. Wells
My mornings follow a familiar pattern.
Bleary-eyed and hunched over a cup of coffee, I first read Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly email Letters to an American, which puts the day’s events into historical context.
If Joyce Vance, former US Attorney and current law professor, has sent an email that day (she is not as clockwork as Heather) I read hers next. While Heather puts the days’ events in to historical context, Joyce puts them into legal context.
Next is Robert Hubbell, also a lawyer, who often spans the same historical and legal spaces as Heather and Joyce.
Then it’s Steve Schmidt’s Warning, more because his writing style amuses me. But beyond style, his substance is often fascinating – his emails often focus on world history (particularly WWII), modern Republican history (of which he was/is personally a part) and campaigns.
On Mondays, the list includes a Weekend Update email from a labor leader who heads up strategic research for the AFL-CIO. He goes into amazing depth on polling, including how current polls fit into historic trends, the broader political moment, and how we fit into it.
When you put them all together, it’s not an insignificant amount of time. If I read the backup materials (which I often do, especially when they’re legal briefs or polls) it can be well over an hour. Sometimes two. That’s something like 10% of my waking hours.
Over the course of a week, it’s easily the equivalent of an 8-hour workday.
For a while, I thought perhaps I was unique.
I am bookish and wonky, after all. So I thought maybe I was one of a hyper-minority of folks who begin the day consuming a variety of voices that put our world, and the current moment, into some sort of context. Who was so hungry to find a box to put everything into that I spend a tremendous amount of my time doing so.
Now I do not think that I am so unique.
There’s so much going on right now – multiple pandemics, January 6, Dobbs, voter suppression, attacks on civil rights, climate catastrophes, historic legislation, the Russo-Ukrainian War, an ex-President who absconded with and mishandled code-word-classified documents – that we need to find a place on the shelf to put this moment.
It’s like we are in a mosh pit of history, I told my husband last night over dinner. So maybe it’s not surprising that so many people are following historians. We need to be able to put everything in context.
It is easy in hindsight to determine the importance of a moment. But when you are living through it, it’s simply a Monday. Or the month of August.
We may instinctively feel that a moment or event is especially important, but it’s hard to really assess it objectively.
That’s why history is so helpful. It’s like a map of mistakes – here there be dragons! – and historians study those maps.
So when historians say we’re heading down a precarious road, it’s worth heeding their warning.
Earlier this month, a group of historians met with, and apparently advised, President Biden. That’s not unique – presidents have had roundtables with historians during each administration (except Trump’s… go figure). But the reporting about this one was interesting. (Read the whole piece here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/08/10/biden-us-historians-democracy-threat/)
The report begins: President Biden paused last week, during one of the busiest stretches of his presidency, for a nearly two-hour private history lesson from a group of academics who raised alarms about the dire condition of democracy at home and abroad.
[The] select group of scholars… painted the current moment as among the most perilous in modern history for democratic governance…Comparisons were made to the years before the 1860 election when Abraham Lincoln warned that a “house divided against itself cannot stand” and the lead-up to the 1940 election, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt battled rising domestic sympathy for European fascism and resistance to the United States joining World War II.
Michael Beschloss, presidential historian, MSNBC regular, and author of the newsletter America, America, was at that meeting. In an interview in which he confirmed the Post’s description of the historian/presidential roundtable, he explained the critical nature of the upcoming midterms and ’24 presidential election, telling the TV audience “Vote as if your life depends on it, because it might.” (Watch that excellent interview HERE.)
That these historians have raised alarms and are concerned about the future of democracy is oddly comforting to me.
It reassures me that we’re not being hyperbolic.
That the time I’ve spent contextualizing this era and election isn’t in vain, and I’m not overreacting. That I’ve not fallen off the deep end into conspiracy theories that aren’t rooted in reality.
That’s why in this mosh pit of history, I’m grateful that we have the context that all of these historians, analysts, and experts can provide. Especially when that context comes to me via emails at 2:47 in the morning, rather than in a hardback treatise.
Frankly, we don’t have time for that hardback treatise.
Because without the real-time context they give us, we run the risk of underestimating the adversary, overestimating ourselves, or waiting too long to act.
So these bite-sized, moment-by-moment, day-to-day history lessons help us frame a chaotic world that changes with every news cycle. And that, in turn, helps us figure out how we can influence it.
Maybe even how we can save it.
But for now, let’s get out of the history books.
And let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of August 23, 2022
Hear Me Out. Wear a Mask.
This is the simplest, and most powerful, action this week.
The Philadelphia Inquirer includes an excellent piece about how we’re mishandling COVID, and how we can all do so much better by one another – regardless of what our local governments do/don’t do. (https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/commentary/covid-19-weather-forecast-high-risk-20220822.html). Yes, I will continue to rail against my local officials to do better.
But here’s the deal: I know you care about people, because you’re a Democrat. I know you want equity. You want equality. You want to help everyone achieve success. You want to even the playing field.
Then show it, and put on a mask whenever you’re indoors. It is an exceptionally simple thing that quite literally makes it possible for other people to participate in society. I’ll bet you don’t realize how many people have been cut out of everyday life because the lack of masking makes even simple errands like the grocery store too risky. There are plenty.
I don’t mean to ruffle feathers. But I see those who say – and believe! – they fight for everyone, but then won’t do something so simple as wear a piece of cloth over their face in a grocery store.
That disconnect is real. And it’s exceptionally obvious to me. So I’m pointing this out to you, in the most gentle way I can. If you’re one of the folks who goes about daily life without wearing a mask, put one on.
Join the State Power Series Tuesday at 8pm (EST)
The State Power Series is a virtual event series co-hosted by Sister District and Vote Save America to start a conversation around the growing importance of states, provide context about the historical circumstances that have placed progressives at structural and ideological disadvantages in state power-building, and emphasize the urgent need for progressives to reimagine states as radical bastions of progressive power and commit to permanent, sustained state power-building efforts.
Each event will feature a panel of hosts from Crooked Media, political and legal experts, historians, elected officials and activists, moderated by Sister District’s co-founder, Gaby Goldstein, and Crooked Media’s senior political director, Shaniqua McClendon.
Tonight’s event is entitled The Insurrection will be Decentralized – Election Subversion: The Role of State Legislatures in the Fight for our Democracy
This panel will explore how state legislatures play an outsized role in the future of our democracy. The January 6th hearings provided us with explosive evidence of how Trump and key officials in his administration attempted to strong-arm state legislators into putting up fake electors and changing election outcomes. And in key states, Republicans are still building toward a future where they can engineer election outcomes, by modifying the laws and rules governing election administration and limiting the ability of state courts to curb partisan redistricting and subversion. On top of that, an arch-conservative Supreme Court appears likely to thwart a constitutional challenge to this state power grab via the Independent State Legislature theory — taking up a case next term which would provide state legislatures with complete control over election administration. We must pour resources and attention into state chambers. This panel will explore these topics, as what we do now to build state power will determine the fate of our democracy.
Panelists: Brian Beutler, Crooked Media editor-in-chief and host of the podcast Positively Dreadful, Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, Pennsylvania State Representative for the 181st Legislative District, and Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate and host of the podcast Amicus
Sign up here: https://www.mobilize.us/sisterdistrict/event/464892/
Sign up to be a Poll Worker! Power the Polls
In 2020, America faced a record shortage of poll workers, and over 700,000 people stepped up via Power the Polls (powertothepolls.org) to help address that challenge.
In 2022, they are already seeing the need for more poll workers.
Perhaps that doesn’t surprise you because you’ve heard about the teams of Republican election “observers” who have been enlisted by Bannon, et al. (“The Republican National Committee is spending millions this year in 16 critical states on an unprecedented push to recruit thousands of poll workers and watchers, adding firepower to a growing effort on the right to find election irregularities that could be used to challenge results.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/06/15/rnc-election-integrity-trump-mcdaniel/)
There are already reports of significantly more Republican “observers” watching over election officials and even going so far as to follow election workers in their car to make sure ballots are transferred.
Our democracy depends on ordinary people who make sure every election runs smoothly and everyone’s vote is counted. You can make sure we have safe, fair, and efficient elections for all: step up and become a poll worker in your own community this year.
Don’t have the ability to take that time off? Please share with your network.
MO Readers: New Voter ID Law Means You Need to Check Your Papers
A special note for anyone in MO: a ridiculous new voter ID law is going into effect at the end of the month.
It requires not just a photo ID. It requires an unexpired photo ID that is issued either by Missouri or the US government.
That means if your drivers’ license expires on November 1 and you didn’t get it renewed in time, and you don’t have some other US government-issued ID like a passport, tough.
It is ridiculous, unnecessary if your goal is anything but voter suppression, and I am shocked that it is not getting more attention in Democratic circles. So do me a favor and go and check your expiration dates – and then go tell your neighbors, text your friends, and post in your D-friendly communities.
If anyone needs a photo ID who does not drive (and there are plenty such people) they can get one free of charge at the local DMV. They “just” need to have the same documentation they’d have if they were going to get a drivers’ license. (See https://dor.mo.gov/driver-license/issuance/id-requirements.html#dccumentsrequired)
This is all just another attempt at suppressing the vote, so please help get the word out and make sure folks in your network can vote.
Watch this Space: Democracy is on the ballot
On Monday, news broke that a $1.6 billion donation was given to a conservative Republican organization with little public profile but vast connections and access. First reported in the New York Times, here’s a CNN version that’s not behind a paywall: https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/22/politics/dark-money-donation-conservative-group-invs/index.html
For context, the donation is more than double what Trump’s presidential campaign committee raised in 2020.
Experts call the sum “stupefying.” “I’ve never seen a group of this magnitude before. …This is the kind of money that can help these political operatives and their allies start to move the needle on issues like reshaping the federal judiciary, making it more difficult to vote, a state-by-state campaign to remake election laws and lay the groundwork for undermining future elections.”
Add that to what Marc Elias wrote about in his own Democracy Docket newsletter (another that’s worth your time and attention), regarding the unholy relationship between election-denying state legislatures and an interconnected web of lawyers and organizations that push legislation that makes it harder to vote. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/dec/14/us-election-lawyers-voting-rights)
As Marc eloquently notes: “The right wing … funds these groups because they know that they cannot win fair elections. These anti-voting legal groups offer a path for Republicans to wield majority political power without majority support. …They set up new groups, hold secret dinners and create new voter suppression laws hoping that we will give up.”
This action is more of a “watch this space” for the moment – we need to keep both the House and Senate to bolster the Senate’s willingness to enact much-needed election reform. But this is too important of an issue (that is flying under the radar at the moment) for me to leave it unmentioned.
WHEW! GO TEAM!
P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
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, friend!
P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every email! We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.