With the recent rulings of this right-wing dominated Supreme Court, it was hard to celebrate our nation's 238th birthday this past July 4th. Indeed, the Hobby Lobby decision delivered a hard blow not just to women in the workplace, but to the basic rights of all Americans. Essentially, the five Roberts Radicals gave corporations the right to refuse to deliver coverage provided in the Affordable Care Act to female employees for contraception and access to reproductive healthcare if it conflicted with the religious beliefs of their employers. One might wonder what those five justices were thinking, but in truth, their "reasoning" was fairly obvious.
Hobby Lobby took issue with four measures in the A.C.A. having to do with contraception, believing that contraception is akin to abortion -- another affront to women's health rights. Soon after, on July 3rd, Wheaton College, a non-profit religious school in Illinois, followed Hobby Lobby's lead, expanding this infringement to educational institutions as well. Some 100 other similar cases are pending, and as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her passionate dissent on the Hobby Lobby decision, it will create "havoc," noting that we can now envision a host of bizarre reasons for striking down parts of this A.C.A. mandate in other cases.
Quickly after the ruling was announced, the Senate sprung into action and introduced a bill co-sponsored by Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Patty Murray (D-WA), The Protect Women's Health From Corporate Interference Act, that would make it clear that "...no federal law, including The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, permits for-profit employers to refuse to comply with federal health coverage requirements." In short, employers would not be allowed to deny access to any of the health benefits required by the A.C.A. for any reason, including religious beliefs. A companion bill in the House will also be introduced, even though it will never pass -- what with the House Republicans' and Tea Partiers' hatred of the A.C.A. and love of corporate donations to their campaign coffers -- but it would certainly give the Democrats a major issue with which to bash Republicans in the upcoming elections.
Oh, and for those of you who bought into the argument made by Hobby Lobby's family ownership that they put their money where their faith is in everything their company does, Hobby Lobby's 401K retirement plan -- to which they make significant contributions -- invests in companies that manufacture the same contraceptives they refuse to provide to their female employees. Where is the outcry from Hobby Lobby's supporters and customers against that bit of stunning hypocrisy? And while Hobby Lobby refuses to pay for I.U.D.'s, "morning after" pills and other aids to prevent pregnancies for its female employees, it is willing to provide coverage for its male employees for Viagra and vasectomies. On the basis of that information alone, the Justices should have seen clear to throw this case out.
In light of this latest setback, it was refreshing to hear from a friend in the mid-west about a group of high school girls, led by a young teen named Darcy, carrying signs proudly declaring "My Body, My Decision" as they marched with Progressives in the July 4th Champaign County Freedom Celebration parade in Illinois. Darcy is the daughter of Progressive activist parents who, with their support, rallied this brave group of kids to take action. Women must have the right to make all healthcare decisions in consultation with their doctors, only, with neither corporate America nor our government having a say. Of course, a real national health plan, delivered by a single payer, would make all of this moot.
We are pummeled almost daily with one horrible example after another of our fading democracy and money corrupting our politics as our government continues to be held hostage by a tiny population of the super rich. Yet, at the same time there is so much that is inspiring going on across the country that we are not hearing about from the corporate-run media. Populism is flourishing and Progressives are raising the volume on critical issues nationwide. A week ago Sunday on Bill Moyers' show Moyers & Company, Bill had as his guest Jim Hightower, the original plutocrat-fighter who has been targeting political corruption for thirty years -- his newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, is a great source of information. Jim noted in his interview that while Progressives have not quite formed a national movement yet -- as it does take years -- the seeds have definitely been planted. Today we see the People's voices changing the debates in Washington on such issues as climate change, fracking, destructive trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, student debt, expanding Social Security and raising benefits, Improved and Expanded Medicare For All, immigration, and raising the minimum wage. Meanwhile, strong Progressive voices inside the Beltway -- like The People's champion, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren - constantly remind us that in D.C., the "game is rigged." Senator Warren has been traveling through eight states in the past few weeks, fundraising with and for Progressive Senate candidates, according to an update I received from the P.C.C.C.. Could she have some larger goals in mind as well?
In the hallowed halls of the Senate this past Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee marked up S.J.Res.19, which calls for an amendment to the Constitution that would overturn the Supreme Court's terrible Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings by bringing true campaign finance reform to our elections, as well as delivering authority over the financing of campaigns to the states. It would also regulate the raising and spending of money and set limits for federal elections. 160 members of Congress support an amendment, and 47 Senators have signed on as co-sponsors. A vote by the full Senate could take place sometime between now and September. Move To Amend and Public Citizen have done incredible work on this issue, along with over 150 coalition member organizations and close to 600 towns and municipalities that have made this a key issue on ballots and in local resolutions. So our voices are being heard. This amendment also has overwhelming grassroots support, and Progressives should continue to push this issue -- along with the Senate's response to the Hobby Lobby decision -- to the front burner nationally, as these really are winning issues for Democrats.
Every e-mail I receive these days from a campaign shows a willingness to help raise funds for a colleague in another state. The Democratic majority in the Senate could be lost with just six seats falling into Republican hands, so the President, V.P. Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have all been making pitches for campaign donations for Senate Dems. Last week, President Obama made a call to the Democratic base to donate before the most recent FEC deadline. In response, one million individual donations came pouring in. In Kentucky, Democratic Senate candidate Allison Lundergan Grimes -- who is challenging GOP "Senator Gridlock" Mitch McConnell -- raked in $800,000, and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley pulled in $1.8 million from 9,000 new first time donors, bringing his coffers up to $3.5 million. So we see the People's response has been amazing and is giving these candidates the money to run effective campaigns and tell the truth to the voters, even though this money still can't match the dollars being thrown around by the super rich on behalf of Republicans and Tea Partiers.
Progressives must speak with one voice in this election year and in 2016 about the pervasive corruption in our government created by the undisclosed millions -- if not billions -- of dollars being dumped into D.C. by the likes of the billionaire Koch brothers, who are pouring hundreds of millions into races on the federal and state levels to support their greedy and corrupt vision of America. The People's united voice and actions can be effective, but only if backed up by extraordinary numbers coming out and voting this November. This election must be the year we reverse that lackluster trend of poor turnouts at the polls for midterm elections. Too much is at stake.
An inspiring example of Progressive leadership and action is Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard and his Mayday PAC. In the final hours of the most recent FEC reporting period, 51,533 donations came in to this PAC, totaling over $6.2 million, which has helped Mayday secure a grand total of over $12 million in its coffers. Lessig's plan is quite detailed and will extend into 2017, with the goal this year being to reduce the influence of money in our politics. Mayday is targeting just five so-far undisclosed members of Congress this year, and in the next cycle the numbers will surely increase. Lessig supports an amendment to overturn Citizens United and public funding of campaigns, and as money in this PAC grows, so will their vision and actions. Lessig now has the resources to take on the 1% and run effective ads that tell the truth, helping to remove the dead wood and dangerous right-wing ideologues from Congress.
We should also note that tepid Dems will not be safe this year. In New York, three "Democratic" State Senators are being challenged in the primaries by Progressives, and there is even a primary campaign by Zephyr Teachout to unseat Governor Cuomo. A coalition made up of several Progressive organizations in New York are bird-dogging the Governor at every fundraiser he attends, calling him out on issues like his failure to ban fracking in New York State, deliver on ethics reform in Albany, enact public funding of campaigns and pass the Women's Equality Act.
The future really does look brighter than we might think, if we are willing to come together and work to build the movement that must surely come if we are to survive as a nation. There can be no alternative.
So come on, folks! Jump in! The water is fine.
- with Jonathan Stone