In the middle of a pandemic, who would have thought that the US government would be stripping basic rights from trans people, infringing on Indigenous people’s right to their land and to self-govern and gutting internet privacy laws at the expense of sex workers (and really all of us)? Meanwhile, climate change denial continues to destroy life as we know it, but corporations don’t care as long as the plebeians still trudge out there to make them money.
It’s been a long week, you guys. This week’s Extra! Extra! covers all the news you didn’t even know was happening.
Idaho Becomes First State to Pass Anti-Trans Legislation
Rachel: Although we’ve been concerned about the advent of these bills targeting trans youth and adults for a while, Idaho has become the first state to actually pass one, and it’s as bad as it sounds. Trans people are barred from legally changing their gender on their birth certificate, and trans women and girls are barred from competing in women’s sports. In addition to being obviously intentionally cruel, these laws, especially the first, are flagrantly illegal – “The birth certificate measure ignores a 2018 federal court ruling that a past law barring transgender people from making the birth certificate changes violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. … There’s an injunction that already absolutely forbids this policy, and the government can’t enforce this law without violating a court order,” said Peter Renn of Lambda Legal, the law firm that represented two transgender women whose lawsuit led to the court ruling. “The ramifications of contempt (of court) are quite furious.”
US Government “Disestablishes” Mashpee Wampanoag Reservation
Himani: We all learn a white-washed version of American colonial history within what is now called the United States. The massacres, the forced relocations, the family separations – the vast majority of this gets written out of the official histories unless you go out of your way to learn about it. The little bit that is included is often dressed up and distorted beyond identification; the only comparison I can think of would be teaching World War II history with only passing mention of the Holocaust. And yet, in all of this, it’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that these issues don’t exist solely in the past. Indigenous rights and sovereignty continue to be under assault by federal and state governments.
Natalie: Interesting that you mention American colonial history, Himani… because in the version of history that we do tell… about indigenous people who welcomed the Pilgrims to American shores? Those indigenous people were members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. They weren’t formally recognized for years, of course, but they’re there, at one of the most celebrated moments of American history…and yet, we’re erasing them…first in our history books, and now, if the administration is successful, in our land.
Himani: I did not know that, Natalie, and that makes the action taken by the Trump administration last week even more galling. The administration is calling to “disestablish” the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation on the grounds that it was “not federally recognized in 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed” (as Nik DeCosta-Klipa writes, for Boston.com). The duplicity leaves me speechless.
All of this is a sobering reminder of how indigenous self-government is still at the mercy of a federal government that is only motivated by racism and money. Last year Trump told Senate Republicans not to vote for a bill (passed by the House in May) that sought to protect tribal lands at the behest of the casino lobby.
So that’s how the federal government is spending its time these days with regards to indigenous people. Instead of, you know, taking adequate measures to address the arrival of COVID-19 in several tribal areas. These have been and continue to be among the most under-resourced, underfunded communities in the country and the most vulnerable to critical cases of COVID-19.
Sex Workers Fighting for All of Our Rights to Privacy
Rachel: Sex workers and their advocates and allies often warn that sex workers are canaries in the coal mine for the rest of us — what is done to sex workers will eventually be done to everyone else. SO while we should all care that the EARN IT act, a functional extension of SESTA/FOSTA that would significantly increase surveillance and monitoring of online speech ostensibly in an effort to combat child sexual exploitation, would even further decimate sex workers’ ability to safely earn a living, we should ALSO care that it will mean everyone’s freedom to speech and behavior online will be severely curtailed. If you are a non-sex-working person and frustrated by tumblr’s NSFW ban, Instagram’s seemingly arbitrary bans on nipples, emojis, thirst traps and more or your friends being constantly locked out and shadowbanned, EARN IT is going to make things much worse! And sex workers will be in an even worse position than they’re already in, which is more and more vulnerable by the day, especially during the time of coronavirus.
Science Denial Landed Us in This Hole, and It’s Only Getting Deeper
Himani: I had been wondering for a while if there was a connection between this pandemic and some of our global environmental practices. In a recent roundup, we linked an explainer to the wet markets and why new viruses keep showing up in them, which offered some hints as to how the way in which we interact with the world is truly the cause of our recent problems. But this Vox interview with Sonia Shah goes even further and connects all the dots between climate change, the ongoing mass extinction that we very much had a hand in setting off, deforestation and habitat loss, agricultural and animal husbandry practices and the pandemic we squarely find ourselves in the middle of.
And yet while scientists keep sounding the alarm, politicians continue to deny reality. Is anyone surprised that the same people who downplayed the pandemic are the ones who claim that climate change is a hoax meant to destroy our economy? And even through all of this, they continue to gut environmental protections. The greatest irony is that the continued refutation of facts is what led to the pandemic which has led to two straight weeks of unemployment claims being filed at the highest rates ever
Do we have the political will power to stop any of this from getting worse?
Himani: Whether we have the political will power or not doesn’t really matter because – surprise – our so-called democracy
is has been under assault. The question on so many people’s minds is how do you hold an election during a pandemic? The Democratic primary (yes, that’s still happening) has been completely upended. What’s very clear to the Trump campaign is that they need to block any attempt at making voting more accessible to secure their stronghold on power. This is quite possibly one of the most infuriating things I’ve read because, much as I hate Congressional Republicans, it really feels like taking corruption to a whole other level to use your campaign’s legal team to block voting reform. But perhaps I’m drawing a distinction without a difference.
Natalie: It’s been interesting to see Republican politicians start to say the quiet part out loud: like Trump saying explicitly that by letting people vote, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country” or Georgia’s Speaker of the House saying that increased turnout will hurt Republicans. We’ve always suspected that was true — thus the Republican defense of voter suppression efforts across the country — but to hear Republicans voice it aloud is a little jarring.
But here’s the thing that I don’t understand…let’s say this COVID-19 is still an issue in November, how does it benefit Republicans to force voters to go out to the polls on Election Day? The folks most susceptible to the virus are older voters with pre-existing health conditions which…to me…sounds very much like the Republican base? Doesn’t it seem likely that those voters would just stay home and the low turnout would be dominated by a younger demographic which means Republicans would lose anyway? I’m not sure I get their logic.
Let’s Re-Examine Some of These Politicians that Suddenly Seem to Care
Himani: On the subject of Congressional Republicans, this op-ed from The Atlantic perfectly encapsulates what motivates the Republican party by comparing the fight over the 2009 stimulus package to the non-fight over the 2020 stimulus. It’s power, you guys – not ideology but power. (Who’s surprised?)
At this point, I really do just have to quote the piece, because honestly I couldn’t have said it better:
“McConnell and the Republican leadership saw prolonging the Great Recession as a political opportunity to be exploited. The longer and more grueling the economic recovery, the easier it would be to evict Obama from the White House and Democrats from Congress, even if their own constituents suffered as a result. … The Democratic Party as it is currently constituted correctly understands that it has civic and moral obligations to ensure the well-being not only of its own voters, but of those who vote against its candidates. The Republican Party, and particularly the GOP under Trump, acts as if it has no such obligations, which is why the president himself has portrayed aid to Democratic-controlled states ravaged by the coronavirus as personal generosity rather than his fucking job.”
Himani: Meanwhile, let’s not forget that when it comes to state and local politics, New York is not solidly blue (see George Pataki, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg). Andrew Cuomo might be talking the right talk right now but as Teen Vogue‘s Monica Klein rightly points out his political history tells a different story.
Natalie: It’s weird to see so many progressives jump to fawn over Andrew Cuomo these last few weeks. I understand that, given our sociopathic president, folks are happy to see competent stewardship during a crisis but: 1. There are other governors out there doing a great job (shout out to Gavin Newsome!) but without the connections to the epicenter of news reporting and 2. As Jay-Z once told us, “even a broken clock is right at least two times a day.”
In a budget concocted by Cuomo and legislative leaders, the governor showed his true colors: undoing much of the progressive agenda that’s been launched in the state over the last few years. He rolled back criminal justice reform, he broke his promise on marijuana legalization and, in the middle of a pandemic, he’s advocating huge cuts to Medicaid. Cuomo wanted to be president/vice president and once he saw his window closed, he’s showing his true beliefs. He is the broken clock…don’t fawn over him because, every now and then, he happens to get stuff right.
The Fight for Basic Labor Protections Continues
Kamala: Workers at Amazon, Whole Foods (owned by Amazon) and Instacart organized strikes this past week to get higher pay and paid sick leave. These people are putting themselves at major risk to make the money they need in order to live and provide essential services for people who need them. So in my humble opinion, it seems SOOOO reasonable for them to simply ask for double pay and paid sick leave in return. That’s it. Whole Foods did end up raising their pay by $2 an hour more, but that’s absurd. Many Amazon workers are touching thousands of items a day, people working at grocery stores and in food delivery are encountering a lot of potential points of contagion — asking for double pay from the richest man in the world is so chill. My favorite part, however, of these links is at the end of the NPR story, where Mary Louise Kelly has to name that Amazon is a sponsor of NPR, and that’s how Amazon gets to do whatever it wants: because we are all attached to our own tiny pieces of Amazon.
Natalie: I’m reminded of that moment during the primaries where Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were attacked for spending the most money on Amazon, despite constantly lambasting the company for not paying taxes. Like you said, we are all attached to our own tiny pieces of Amazon.
Himani: And this is exactly the problem with having huge monoliths of companies like Amazon, with so much capital in the hands of literally one person – we are all beholden to them for our livelihoods.
Rachel: The Instacart shoppers’ strike won them coronavirus protection packs from the management! As Kamala says, it’s not enough, but it’s a demonstration of why and how strikes work. Inspired by them!
Gun Control — Or, More Accurately, Lack Thereof