Category Archives: Uncategorized

Vote for Saira Rao for Colorado CD-1

I’m writing to urge you to vote for Saira Rao in the primary for our CD-1 representative.  Ballots are due tomorrow (drop-off and other info here:  https://www.coloradodems.org/resources/faqs-answered-for-the-primary/) and I wanted to make this last, important pitch and to urge you to read Neeti Pawar’s article here:

https://medium.com/@neetip/we-deserve-better-eae018ad520b

Neeti Pawar is a brilliant and tireless Denver civil rights lawyer.  Her experience, described in the article, was consistent with our experiences over the years of our current representative deeply NOT getting disability rights, the area of law I know and care the most about.  As has become much clearer in recent days, we are living in increasingly dangerous times — especially for people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized people.  We need a representative who gets this and acts on it, not one who sidesteps civil rights as “not her issue.”

And if health care *is* Rep. DeGette’s issue (as her staffers indicated to Ms. Pawar in the linked article), we — as civil rights and civil liberties fans — have reason for concern.  Rep. DeGette signed into law a bill that imposes Electronic Visit Verification, a system that will require Medicaid recipients and their aides to wear electronic monitors to make sure they are getting and receiving services.  A more intrusive and infantilizing system I cannot possibly imagine.  It is one that has members of the disability rights community very concerned about privacy and autonomy.

Interestingly, in response to outreach by a local pro-DeGette attorney, she responded that she “has always fought to pass legislation in support of disability rights, including stem cell research.”  This underscores her cluelessness.  Touting work on behalf of stem cell research as a disability rights position is exactly precisely not getting disability rights.  It’s saying “I support making people with disabilities not disabled anymore.”  Stem cell research is a great cause; it’s just not remotely a disability rights cause, and anyone for whom that is a go-to response doesn’t get it.

Ultimately, my pitch to vote for Saira Rao may seem like an odd ask in this particular year, as she is a Democratic woman running against an incumbent . . .  Democratic woman.  So she won’t flip a House seat or overthrow the patriarchy (yet). But after having the chance to meet her and speak with her, I believe she is what we need the most:  a better Democrat.  A Democrat that can help us build a future party, powerful and inclusive, that will leave the Republican cavemen behind.  A Democrat who will inspire people of color, people with disabilities

I’m pasting Ms. Pawar’s entire article below.  Please read.  Please share.  Please vote.

 

We Deserve Better

By Neeti Pawar

I saw the images of Diana DeGette traveling to Texas purportedly to assess the conditions in which immigrants are being detained. Many are thanking her — it makes me livid.

We tried to tell her. Me, personally, and many others. Like my friend and tireless immigrant rights activist and attorney Christina Brown who’s been on the front lines of the abhorrent conditions of family detention recently reminded us: “I’m glad people care. But I’m bitter. We screamed so loud in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017…and no one listened.”

No one listened.

I’ve told my story to some; my friend Saira has told it to many. For her it was the last straw to a series of her own experiences in being taken advantage of and then ignored by the Democratic Party establishment — her breaking point in deciding to run for congress to unseat the 22-year, 11-term incumbent.

I had spent several days at DIA when the first Muslim travel ban issued. I witnessed a handful of immigration attorneys passionately and determinedly ensure no family would be lost in the system or turned back without a fight. None were Muslim, none were South Asian. But they cared so deeply to defend against the injustice.

A few days later I attended what was promoted as a “town hall” meeting with my CD-1 Representative, DeGette. I submitted detailed questions online; when I arrived, I was told those questions were just for data collection, that she wouldn’t be answering them. There were cards to write questions — so I wrote them out again. I was told they would be used to identify “themes” and not answered.

The town hall was held at the Police Protection Association building. A location which was marginalizing in and of itself — consistent with the pattern of being out of touch with many of her constituents; or worse, intentionally reinforcing their oppression (this is how systemic racism and oppression works).

The “town hall” was a prepared power point presentation about the Affordable Health Care Act; no questions were taken. Out of growing frustration of my representative’s failure to address the crisis around immigration that was actually occurring in her district and state (Muslim ban, ICE raids, and ICE trolling courthouses and communities), and as one of very few people of color in the 1000+ audience, I disrupted. I stood up and asked my representative to address the crisis and state her plan to protect the obvious next target — DACA status individuals.

My Representative’s response: That she wasn’t aware of any raids, and outright condescending dismissal that DACA status people were at risk; blind unsupported assurances that no one was coming after DACA. She didn’t want to hear it; she didn’t listen. She literally scoffed at my suggestion, at my “paranoia”; suggested I was part of the problem because I was fueling fear mongering; overreacting. She didn’t listen.

On my way out, one of her staffers asked me to meet with her to talk about my concerns. I scheduled a meeting and met with her and another staffer at the Denver office. I shared my background, my experience and my concern, my connections to marginalized communities. I wanted to help. I wanted to give my Representative information from communities whom she was not hearing from. Her staffers nodded in agreement with the frustration. I was hopeful, until they related to me with resignation: “civil rights just isn’t her issue.” That her focus is on health care. It was clear to me: my representative didn’t see that that health care is civil rights. She was clueless to the interconnectedness of all issues and didn’t want to even try to be inclusive around issues of equity.

Stunned, I left. She didn’t want to listen. She didn’t think this was something she was responsible for. She had a long-standing active community member in her office wanting to help. To organize, to educate, to volunteer her time. To help her use her platform and power to get ahead of the issues we knew were coming. The writing was on the wall. She didn’t care.

She didn’t care. She didn’t listen.

Over 1 ½ years later, she’s now traveling to the US/Mexico border. To “see for herself.” It’s too little too late. It’s insulting to those who have been on the border for years, making personal sacrifice to their personal wellbeing, their financial wellbeing, placing strain on relationships and careers. The detention facilities have been in existence for years — under her watch, under both a Democratic president and the current president. She ignored it. And she ignored pleas from those who “screamed so loud in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.” And she didn’t listen. A report on ICE’s practice of family detention was issued in 2016 recommending DHS discontinue the general use of family detention. She did nothing. I expect more from my representative than merely signing on to letters. I expect action.

The public outrage over the recent policy to separate children from families finally got her attention. It was all of us, the people, who reacted loud and vigorously to ultimately pressure the administration to reverse the policy of separating children from their families.

She failed those who needed her most. Now, after the crisis is full blow in the *public eye* (because let’s be clear, the dehumanizing practice of family detention has been happening for years), and during an election year, she now decides to say something. To use her most secure seat in the country, her 22 years of “coalition building,” her “experience” in office, to finally do something. And what does she do? She does what she always does… she leaves her post. She has to “see for herself.” She “co-signs” legislation — co-signing means another representative does the work, writes the bill, gathers the support, builds the coalition. And DeGette allows her rubber-stamped signature to be placed among her colleagues. That’s what co-signing means. It takes nothing, no work, no political capital; it’s the opposite of leadership.

Is this the best she can do in 22 years?

She should have listened.

We deserve better.

Updated 6/26/18 to add responsive information.

Sam Bagenstos for the Michigan Supreme Court

I’m privileged to join Eve Hill, Scott LaBarre, Jennifer Mathis, and Arlene Mayerson in the letter below.  I urge you to donate  to Sam’s campaign and especially to forward this to others in the disability rights community and/or friends and family in Michigan.

Dear Friends,

As some of you may know, Sam Bagenstos is running to be a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.  Sam has been a stalwart of our community for more than two decades.  We hope you will join us in supporting his candidacy.

We are all bombarded with political appeals these days and it can be difficult to decide whom to support.  This one we’re totally clear about.  We want to ask you personally to support Sam with a contribution of $500, $250 or $100.

The future of the Michigan Supreme Court depends on the outcome of this race.  Republican Governor Rick Snyder appointed four of the seven current justices to the Court.  Two of those Snyder appointees are standing for election for the first time this fall.  The outcome of the election will be pivotal for numerous issues of extraordinary importance.

Many of you know Sam personally.  But for those of you who don’t, Sam is the Frank G. Millard Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.  As an attorney, he has played an instrumental role in some of the most important disability rights cases during the last quarter century, including arguing three ADA cases in the U.S. Supreme Court.  In the Obama Administration, Sam led the Justice Department’s disability rights enforcement as the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.  His work on enforcing the Olmstead integration mandate, on demanding accessibility in technology, and on promulgating the 2010 ADA regulations made his tenure at DOJ an extremely rich one for the disability rights movement.  Earlier in his career, Sam clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt on the Ninth Circuit and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court.

In short, Sam is both a dedicated public servant and a brilliant and ethical lawyer.

For these reasons, we ask that you donate to Sam Bagenstos’s campaign today.  

Here is the link to Sam’s website where you can learn more about his candidacy, and here is a link to the donation page.

Please note: You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to contribute.  Contributions are NOT tax-deductible and may only be drawn from American funds.  The Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits a judicial campaign committee from soliciting more than $100 per attorney.  If you are an attorney, please regard this as informative and not a solicitation for more than $100.  However, an attorney may make, and the judicial campaign committee may accept, a contribution from an attorney in any amount up to the individual maximum of $6,800.

Thank you for taking the time to consider supporting Sam Bagenstos for the Michigan Supreme Court.

Sincerely,

Eve L. Hill*
Scott LaBarre*
Jennifer Mathis*
Arlene Mayerson*
Amy Robertson*

Paid for by SAMUEL BAGENSTOS FOR JUSTICE | 2730 E STADIUM BLVD NO 310 |Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Happy [redacted] Birthday to my Mom!

Please enjoy these photos of my Mom before she makes me take them down!

Today is her [redacted] birthday, and I selfishly want to share with you some of the photographic evidence of her sustaining love and support throughout my life.  Luckily I look a lot like her, or you might doubt how a quiet and self-effacing woman could raise such a loudmouth, or how an incredibly creative artisan could raise someone who can’t knit a scarf in a straight line, or how a talented musician could raise someone who can’t sing or play a note.

I’ve probably told this story on this blog before, but one of the crucial lessons she taught me was when I was about 6 and a neighbor kid was trying to scare me with a snake he had caught. Mom pointed out that all he wanted was a reaction, and if I laughed, he’d go away.  I did, and he did, and thus I received my first lesson in dealing with corporate defense counsel!

She tolerated my insufferable picky eating, and eventually taught me to enjoy food from around the world.  One of our continuing joys is visiting and finding new and interesting restaurants in DC, Denver, or other destinations.

She was an important part of making me the proud nerd that I am today, reading to us and teaching us throughout our kidhood, and storming the high school and eventually taking over the English Lit education of a handful of us when the school persisted in thinking 10th graders didn’t need to read literature.  She initially thought a linguistics major was impractical, but I’m pretty sure she’s glad I can appreciate her bilingual puns and other language nerd jokes.

Possibly because she grew up as a Jewish girl in largely Christian/WASP DC, she taught us to be proud of our mixed heritage and to be open to those of others.  I have never, ever, known her to show prejudice to any group or person — a statement few of any age can make.

Also I got to meet Mstislav Rostropovich — in our very own living room!

Ultimately, she taught me to be independent and was the home I came home to after my independent adventures.

Happy Birthday, Mom, and so much love.  And onward to more travel, adventures, reading, creativity, and excellent restaurants.

Image: Mom in 2016 standing in front of a leafy background, wearing a patterned black shirt and black pants.

Mom at my niece Petra Robertson’s graduation, 2016.

 

Image: two women sitting at a restaurant table. Mom on the right in a sweater and t-shirt; Laura Rovner on the left, a younger woman with long black hair and glasses.

Mom with Laura Rovner in Boston last week.

Image: three people in front of a gothic-looking building: an man with white hair and beard in a suit and tie; younger man in a tie and red graduation gown; and Mom in a crocheted shirt with a black shirt underneath.

Step-father David North, nephew Christian Robertson, and Mom at Christian’s high school graduation in 2012.

 

Image: four people, all white: young woman with long brown hair; slightly older woman (me), with salt and pepper hair and a green shirt; Mom in black shirt and patterned shawl, and older man (David) in a suit and tie.

Rebecca Smullin, me, Mom, and David at the Impact Fund, 2007.

Image: six people, all white posed sitting on a lawn: older man, white hair & beard; young woman in a pink t-shirt holding a toddler with a plush animal in her lap; young boy in t-shirt also with beanie baby toy, man wearing ball cap and beige polo shirt, and mom, in a white t-shirt and khakis.

David, sister-in-law Terri Robertson (holding Petra), Christian, brother Bruce Robertson, Mom in Boston ca. 2001.

 

Image: four people, all white, posed in front of a house: woman with gray hair in green t-shirt; woman with brown/gray hair and glasses and green dress; man with white hair an beard in blue shirt; younger man with brown hair in white shirt and striped pants with red suspenders.

Aunt Miriam Grabois, Mom, David, cousin Adam Grabois in Boston ca. 2000.

 

Image: two women, both white, sitting on the sofa. Me with short brown hair and glasses wearing a knit vest and khakis; Mom with short brown/gray hair and glasses wearing a green sweater.

Mom and me on the sofa at Mom’s house.

 

Image: four people, all white, posed on the patio in back of a brick house - man with blond hair in dark sweater using a wheelchair, woman in pink t-shirt, older (balding) man sitting in lawn chair wearing light blue shirt; me with an uncharacteristic pony tail wearing a brown sweatshirt and jeans.

Tim, Mom, grandfather Clarence Blau, and me, ca 1994.

 

Image: two white women in party dresses, one with straight brown hair and glasses, the other with curly hair; both holding white roses.

The mothers-in-law: Mom and Nora Fox at our wedding.

 

Image: three white people sitting at a restaurant table; man in suit with glasses; younger man also in suit; woman (Mom) in black dress with gold-embroidered sleeves.

Dad, Bruce, and Mom ca 1990.

 

 

Image: 5 white people posing in front of a building. Mom (brown/gray hair and glasses in a white sweater); older man in suit and white fishing hat; me (short brown hair; graduation gown); younger man in spiked hair with sunglasses in a shirt and tie, and slightly older man in a suit and tie, also with sunglasses.

Mom, my grandfather Clen Robertson, me, Bruce, Dad at my law school graduation, 1988.

 

Image: three white people posed in front of a building; me (short brown hair, dark sweater, jeans); Mom (short dark hair, blazer, jeans); David (white hair & beard; blazer, knit vest, jeans).

Me, Mom, David in China ca. 1981

 

Image: white woman in shortsleeve red shirt holds a small white dog that is licking the face of a small boy in a blue sweatshirt and shorts with a camera around his neck.

Mom, Bruce and our dog, Jenny, 1970.

 

Image: three white people and a dog pose on the side of a boat: girl with ponytail wearing a blue t-shirt and red shorts; woman in red shirt and sunglasses; man with curly brown hair and beard in shortsleeve shirt and brown pants.

Me, Mom, Dad and Jenny on vacation ca. 1970.

 

 

Image: white woman & 2 white kids on tricycles posed on a driveway in front of a white station wagon.

Me, Mom, Bruce ca. 1964.

 

Image: White woman with brown hair in a blue dress squatting down to holdsa toy out to a white toddler in a white dress. They are on the sidewalk in front of a row of houses.

Mom and me, ca. 1961

And here’s the photo that proves we were really a Soviet spy family all along:

Nikita Khrushchev, Mom, Dad in 1959.

 

We need all of us

My previous post was on the stages of grieving the recent election.  One of the things I noticed after my Dad died was that there are also different ways of grieving . . . and coping with loss and challenge.  I also noticed that the average number of dumb things I did and said (and, candidly, that other people said) went up radically during the grieving period.

In the past few days, since the election trainwreck, I’ve seen, heard, and read people grieving and coping in many different ways, some of which made me annoyed or even angry.  I’m trying to hold onto this bit of insight, though:  we need all of us.

We need people who are mad as hell and taking to the streets.

We need policy wonks who are willing to [drink a giant vodka and pepto cocktail and] try to make semi-rational policy with the incoming administration.

We need law nerds in offices with laptops suing the crap out of anyone who violates civil rights and civil liberties.  (I have to fit in somewhere, right?)

We need people who need to hear “it’s going to be OK” in order to get up in the morning and continue to do good work.

We need people who need to hear us acknowledge that it’s never ever going to be OK.

We need people to step up and step in when harassment happens.  Always.

We need people documenting every single act of harassment and vandalism.

We need both those who think this is the apocalypse and those who can pull us back from the emotional brink.

We even need [flying pigs and] liberal Republicans we can work with to limit the legislative and administrative damage to specific communities.

Most of all, I think, we need to be gentle with each other here on the left and the many and various ways we’re coping and processing.

We need all of us.

5 stages

1. disbelief
2. anger
3. comfort food
4. organizing with our wonderful, righteous, loving civil rights community.
5. fighting like hell for the America we all know we can be, protecting our brothers/sisters/siblings who will come under attack,struggling to move the law forward or at least not back, and building a coalition that will elect strong, good leaders in 2018 and 2020.

This is *my* fight song.

#googlemapsprivilege

All of my anger today is for cops who murder Black people and evil fucks who murder cops. In the wake of this, as every, police shooting, we remember the others.  Michael Brown. Tamir Rice.  Eric Garner. Sandra Bland.  #blacklivesmatter

But some of the stories and posts I’m seeing brought to mind a different hashtag:

#googlemapsprivilege

The ability to take a simple drive and get to your destination at about the time Google Maps says you will, that is, without being randomly stopped, suspected, delayed, and generally fucked with simply because you are (1) Black and (2) in a car.

Last night, a professional woman who sits on the board of our non-profit recounted this story in a Facebook comment:

I was pulled over right outside Denver Botanic Gardens by a cop who said I “looked like I was trying too hard to get away from him” after leaving the drive-thru at Wendy’s. I had on a really menacing business suit.

Ed Garnes — who I don’t know but whose post was shared enough times that I got to read it — recounts this incident:

Black Death is a sport. This is a fact with history on it’s side. When the police are involved my “fancy” education, two parent household upbringing, and clean criminal record will not save me. This year alone I have been followed by police over 10 times. I have paid over 400 dollars in tickets that were not warranted. This past weekend I was followed for 5 miles by an officer in Douglasville. Luckily, I was able to find a “safe area” with people as the officer pulled up beside my car and stared me down. I called a friend who then escorted me back to the highway so I could return to the south side. A few months ago, someone called the police on me for merely retrieving items from my vehicle at the univ of Tennessee, a campus where I work and attend school. My 4.0 gpa meant nothing. In Knoxville the past 3 weeks, someone has spit in my food at a local eatery and spit on my car leaving tangible evidence of hate. This is my reality as a Black man dodging death like some super hero who never knows if this minute is my last. If I die today, y’all better fight for me. Fuck a hashtag.

Same with this astonishing list from John Fleming:

Have you ever:

1) Been accused of being a drug dealer in a neighborhood b/c you’re driving a nice car and get racial profiled?

2) Been stopped and detained in a parking garage in downtown Austin by EIGHT state troopers and be accused of being an alleged rapist (who they then said was a white red head male after they finally let me go) from Georgetown, TX?

3)Had a gun drawn on you b/c you went to reach for your WALLET for a traffic stop?

4) Lived your entire life wondering how from when I was a little boy until this very post how your cousin, who was a State Marshall in Texas, (whom you looked up to and admired) was found dead in his East Texas home and his death was never solved?

5) Been WALKING from your office after a day’s work to the parking garage and get stopped by a UTPD Police officer and asked for your ID without cause at the Blanton Parking Garage b/c someone reported that an African American male was seen strung out on drugs selling drugs in the garage? I was held and detained for approximately 30 mins while they ran my license with UTPD, APD, State and Nation.

6) Been pulled over traveling south on I-35 in Oklahoma just a few miles before crossing back into Texas and have a Oklahoma State Trooper pull you over for TRAVELING 60 in a 70mph area for speeding, get asked to step out of your car while your sister and her 3 daughters are in the car and be escorted back to the front seat of the Troopers K-9 Ford Expedition with a barking vigilant German Shepard in the back seat as you are interrogated and then released for a warning when he learns that your cousin is STATE SENATOR FOR THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA?

All of the above are true and they HAPPENED TO ME!

It’s a privilege to stay alive and it’s another privilege to get to your fucking destination without having to pull over and have a discussion about the way you drove out of the Wendy’s drive thru, or what sort of car you’re driving, or the fact that no, except for skin color, you do not look like the robber/rapist/drug dealer they are looking for, or your broken tail-light, or your expired plates.  I’ve been driving on expired plates since February, it was recently pointed out to me BY A FRIEND, NOT BY A COP.

I have been pulled over approximately five times in my life.  All but one of them were for my admitted habit of driving 10-25 mph over the speed limit.  In other words: righteous stops, for which I got tickets and points.   The other was for making a right turn without signaling.  Suburban Minnesota.  Late at night.  Officer shined the flashlight in my eyes.  I kept my hands on the wheel.  I got a warning not to do that again and was sent on my way.

I think this is some of what Justice Sotomayor was talking about when she use the term “civil death.”

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. See L. Guinier & G. Torres, The Miner’s Canary 274–283 (2002). They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.

Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373, 2016 WL 3369419, at *16 (U.S. June 20, 2016) (Sotomayor, J., dissenting).

#whiteprivilegeisreal.  So is #googlemapsprivilege.

I’llRideWithYou?

After North Carolina made the brilliant decision to police its citizens’ bathroom habits, a movement arose urging cis folks to be available to accompany trans or genderqueer folks to the restroom or other gendered spaces.  It’s called “I’ll Go With You.”   It has a website … and buttons!

This week, two more Black men were assassinated by the police under circumstances that defy rational understanding, but that share with so many other similar murders this feature:  they would not have happened to a white person.

What can a random middle age white lady do about all this killing?  I can march, shout, post . . . all things that announce my horror, anger, and sadness.  But I can’t force grand juries to indict murderous cops or juries to convict them.  And worst of all, I can’t stop the shooting from happening in the first place.

Or can I?   What if I were there?  Could enough of us be there for our Black friends, allies, and fellow citizens to stop some of the random killing?  If we’re willing to go to the bathroom as a show of solidarity with our trans and genderqueer friends, is there a way we ride along with our Black friends to show solidarity or, y’know, be a human shield?  Call it the White-People Ride-Along program*, placing random white people in the cars of random African-Americans while they drive to work, run errands, go out to dinner, stay up late, joy ride, and other things white people can do in cars without risking death at the hands of law enforcement.  It would work like a sort of reverse Uber. When the Black driver is ready to go somewhere, he or she enters the information in the WPRA app and connects with an available white passenger.  Voila!  Instant, if unfounded, respectability and potential survival.

Wild-ass idea, right?  Or maybe not.  Anyone with the balls & tech skills to get this rolling:  I’m in.

***************

*Yes, I’m intending to copy the police “Ride-Along” label.