Democracy and Freedom - or Oligarchy? a Zoom presentation of the Meetinghouse Lecture Series on Oct. 17, 2021.
A full description and recording follow...
Democracy in the United States has never fully represented the will of ALL the people. Restrictions on voting access, gerrymandering, and campaign finance inequities have also impacted basic freedoms. At least 49 states have introduced more than 400 NEW voter restriction bills. As of September 27, 2021, 19 state legislatures have enacted 33 new laws so far this year that restrict access to the vote. For more detail, click here. These laws especially affect people of color and young people. Many organizations are working hard to reverse this trend. Two major legislative efforts are underway right now—The Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Jasmine Banks, Executive Director of UnKoch My Campus http://www.unkochmycampus.org/, the main speaker, will discuss democracy, voting, political power, and the erosion of our public institutions. She will also address ways that we can all participate in solutions to protect our democracy. The four panelists will then present their own organizations’ approaches, and how we can get involved.
Diane Proctor, member of Concord Indivisible, https://concordindivisible.org/ and Reclaim Our Democracy; former President of the League of Women Voters - Concord-Carlisle.
Ulysses Lateiner, volunteer organizer with the We The People Massachusetts constitutional amendment campaign.
Erin Leahy, Organizing Director for Act on Mass, https://actonmass.org/
(Pablo) Pavel DeJesús, Executive Director, Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice (UUSJ), https://uusj.net/wp1/
Co-Sponsors: The UU Church of Marblehead MA, Social Action Committee which conducts several Meetinghouse events each year on topics of importance; Reclaim Our Democracy, First Parish in Concord, MA and co-moderated by its leader, Fred Van Deusen. Additional co-sponsors are the Marblehead League of Women Voters and the Democracy Book Group at the Old North Church of Marblehead.
A warm welcome to you all. This is our first Meetinghouse of the season, sponsored by the Social Action Committee of the Marblehead Unitarian Universalist Church and Reclaim Our Democracy of The First Parish in Concord.
We are opening with a very important question: Can we maintain our democracy? Our speakers come from campaigns to expose billionaire influence on colleges (Jasmine Banks), the Indivisible movement to address legislators at the grass roots, (Diane Proctor); a constitutional amendment campaign to reverse Citizens United (Ulysses Lateiner); a project to reform the not-so-democratic Massachusetts state house (Erin Leahy); and the UU Committee for Social Justice, which is involved in multiple pro-democracy efforts (Pablo DeJesus). I think of them and their organizations as part of the US Pro-Democracy Movement.
I am Frank Kashner, a member of the UU Social Action Committee. For much of my life, I have been involved in Social and Political Justice movements including Vietnam War Draft Resistance, Cambridge, MA Rent Control; Anti-Racism actions within the union against GE, as well as a movement to stop bullying by a local school administrator.
Today’s topic concerns the future of our nation and whether we can hold on to the values of an open and free society.
Other Co-sponsors include the Marblehead League of Women Voters and the Democracy Book Group at Marblehead’s Old North Church.
We invite you to join our next Meetinghouse about ways to respond to our Environmental crisis, on November 14. The speaker will be Judith Black. This and other programs can be found at uuMarblehead.org
Today's topic is Democracy & Freedom - or Oligarchy, problems and solutions. Each of our speakers is an activist and each will discuss the problems addressed by their organization, informing all of us about opportunities to make a difference in outcomes. Their links are included below.
Reclaim Our Democracy, a project of The First Parish of Concord, is co-sponsoring this meeting, and my co-moderator is its leader, Fred Van Deusen who will introduce himself now.
Thanks Frank. My name is Fred Van Deusen and I’m the leader of the Reclaim Our Democracy group at First Parish in Concord. We formed our group in 2016 in an effort to deal with the “corruption of our democracy”. Little did we know at that time what the next five years would bring for democracy in our country, or for our group. Over the last five years we have created a website, marched, rallied, written to, heard from, and visited our representatives and senators, helped organize our church’s UU the Vote campaign, published a monthly newsletter, partnered with several organizations including Concord Indivisible, American Promise, the League of Women Voters, UU Mass Action, and Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice; and we organized more than 20 events with well-known authors and speakers in the field such as Steven Levitsky, Lawrence Lessig, Nancy MacLean, Frances Moore Lappe, and Chuck Collins.
We are very pleased to have been invited to collaborate with Frank Kashner and members of the UU Marblehead congregation on this event. With that, let me turn it back to Frank to introduce our first speaker. Thank you Frank for pulling us together.
To watch a video of this event, click here.
Jasmine Banks is the executive director of UnKoch My Campus, a national organization that is dedicated to exposing dark money donations and their impact on higher education. Jasmine has helped launch numerous campaigns across the country, centering the most vulnerable communities impacted by structural oppression. In August 2021 edition of The Nation, she is the the author of The Radical Capitalist Behind the Critical Race Theory Furor How a dark-money mogul bankrolled an astroturf backlash.
Please check out UnKoch’s video on our work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sh2dyCQGFGU
Diane Proctor has been President of and serves on the Board of the League of Women Voters Concord Carlisle, Chairs Concord's Community Preservation Committee, sits on the Steering Committee of Concord Indivisible ConcordIndivisible.org, and is a member of the First Parish's Reclaim Our Democracy group. She writes commentary for the Concord Journal on issues that concern our fundamental rights to a fair and open democracy. Diane has been a strong proponent for democracy and voting rights for many years, and I’m very pleased that we have gotten to work together. Diane, thank you so much for being here today.
(Pablo) Pavel DeJesús is the Executive Director of Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice. Pablo has a background in government affairs, advocacy, voter mobilizations, and non-profit development. He’s worked on issues such as Economic Development, HIV/AIDS, Medicaid/Medicare, Census errors, Maryland’s Marriage Equality & Dream Acts, Fracking, Reproductive Rights, Immigration, Arts & Culture, and school partnerships.
Prior to joining UUSJ he consulted with small community based organizations and non-profits, and worked on issue campaigns in Maryland and Colorado. He previously served in the Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico, first at its Planning Board in San Juan, then at its Federal Affairs Administration in Washington D.C. He holds a Masters in Social Policy from the University of Maryland, School of Public Policy, and a B.A. from Oberlin College. He is also a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow.
I first met Pablo when I joined UUSJ as the Convener or the Democracy Action Team. I’ve learned a lot from him, and I’m pleased to call him a friend. Pablo, it’s all yours.
Links from UUSJ:
1: UUSJ main page: https://uusj.net/wp1/ (with several actions and events)
2: Action for Voting Rights: Freedom to Vote Act & John Lewis Voting Rights AA: https://uusj.salsalabs.org/WHWNVotingRightsOnline/index.html
3: Inst. for Policy Studies: American Oligarchs: https://ips-dc.org/report-americas-wealth-dynasties-2021/
4: Nov. 7th - Keynote: President & CEO, Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, UU Service Committee, will speak to UUSJ about service and advocacy during our Social Justice Awards Ceremony
5: Democracy Action Team:
Ulysses Lateiner is a Somerville-based democracy reform activist. He previously served on the Indivisible Somerville steering committee and the Voter Choice Massachusetts ranked-choice voting campaign. Currently he is a volunteer organizer with the Movement Voter Project, and with the We The People Massachusetts constitutional amendment campaign, which he will be talking to us about this afternoon.
We The People Massachusetts is organizing Massachusetts' US Congressional delegation to support H.J. Res. 48 (the "We the People Amendment" proposal), which would overturn the US Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision by amending the Constitution to affirm that (1) Congress and the States can and shall regulate political spending to ensure the political equality of all persons, and (2) the rights protected by the US Constitution are the rights of natural persons, not corporations and other artificial entities. Six of Massachusetts' nine US Representatives are already cosponsors of H.J. Res. 48, but Reps. Neal (1st district), Auchincloss (4th), and Clark (5th) are not. Constituents of these Representatives should contact them to ask them to cosponsor H.J. Res. 48. For call and email scripts and other resources, please visit our website. You can connect with us via our website, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook or Twitter at @WethePeopleMass. You can also donate to support our work here, and you can learn more about the We the People Amendment campaign beyond Massachusetts at our national partner Move to Amend.
Erin Leahy is the Executive Director of Act on Mass. She began her career in the public sector as a paralegal at the U.S. Attorney's Office prosecuting white collar crime. Prior to her role at Act on Mass, she worked on campaigns at the national and state level in Field Organizer and Deputy Campaign Manager roles.
"Erin Leahy, Executive Director of Act on Mass, spoke on the various obstacles to democracy within the Massachusetts State House: the near-absolute power in the hands of the Speaker of the House and the lack of transparency that shields the sausage-making from public scrutiny. To tackle this problem, Act on Mass monitors the State House, provides trainings and skill-building workshops for advocacy groups and individuals, and runs statewide initiatives to make the State House more accessible and accountable to everyday people. Learn more at actonmass.org, join The People's House campaign here, see if your rep has signed the Voters Deserve to Know Pledge here, and support their mission by donating here."
Wrap-up - Fred Van Dusen
I want to thank all of the speakers for providing a very engaging and motivating program today. And I also want to thank all of the people who attended this event.
Last night I was fortunate to be able to attend a virtual event that honored highly regarded historian and Boston College Professor Heather Cox Richardson. I asked her how serious is this attack on our democracy? She replied it’s the most serious attack that the United States has faced in its history. The most serious attack the US has faced in its history.
So I encourage all of you to get involved in this fight if you aren’t already. You have heard a lot about the actions you can take with the various groups that participated in today’s event.
Thank you all for taking the time to be here today. I hope you learned something useful and are feeling motivated to act.