Democrats pursue Stacey Abrams as top Senate recruit

Stacey Abrams

Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Georgia since 2000, but if Stacey Abrams’ popularity put the race on the battleground map, it would have a major impact on the battle for control of the Senate next year. | Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

2020 elections

National Democrats hope Abrams will ride momentum from her losing 2018 campaign to the Senate in 2020, but she may be eyeing a rematch for governor in 2022.

Democrats are doing a full-court press to draft Stacey Abrams into Georgia’s 2020 Senate race, a move that would put in play a state that hasn’t gone blue in two decades and could reshape the party’s path to retaking the Senate majority.

The problem is that Abrams still has hopes of becoming governor — it’s where she could have the most direct impact on issues like voting rights — and isn’t sold on the Senate. But the pressure on her to run in 2020, capitalizing on her rise to national prominence last year and her continued popularity in Georgia despite losing the 2018 governor’s race, is only growing.

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Abrams is giving serious consideration to a Senate run, and she met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) in recent weeks. As she deliberates, Abrams also sat down with three of the most prominent African-Americans in the Democratic Party: Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who has been close with Abrams since they overlapped in law school, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). Lewis said that he wasn’t urging Abrams to choose a path forward, but that he’d be a “strong supporter” of whatever she does next. Abrams has also been keeping supporters fired up with a statewide tour billed as an opportunity to thank her backers in 2018.

State Rep. Al Williams, a close ally of Abrams’, said Abrams is getting the “hard sell” from national and local Democrats who want her to run in 2020, but that she hasn’t indicated to him whether she’s leaning towards or against a run.

“The Democratic Party certainly needs candidates like Stacey Abrams, so there will be a lot of push for her to run,” Williams said.

The biggest thing in the way of that push is Abrams’ ambition to be Georgia’s governor. “She’s the obvious frontrunner for the race. But I still think she wants to be the governor and she always has, and that’s going to weigh on her,” said Jason Carter, Democrats’ 2014 gubernatorial nominee and the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.

That’s why some Democrats believe Abrams is unlikely to challenge Georgia Sen. David Perdue, the freshman senator and former businessman, though they say the pull from the national party to build on her momentum from 2018 could change that.

“I think it is highly unlikely she runs for Senate, but there is no one more persuasive than Chuck Schumer,” said a Georgia Democrat familiar with Abrams’ thinking.

Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Georgia since 2000, but if Abrams’ popularity put the race on the battleground map, it would have a major impact on the battle for control of the Senate next year. Democrats need to win at least three seats to take control of the chamber, including states that President Donald Trump carried in 2016. Their path relies on candidates like Abrams who have forged unique appeal in red states.

Indeed, in a recent survey from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, 52 percent of registered voters said they have favorable views of Abrams, compared to 40 percent who view her unfavorably. Only former GOP Gov. Nathan Deal scored higher favorability numbers. Perdue was viewed favorably by 45 percent of respondents and unfavorably by 31 percent.

“There’s no disputing that Stacey is incredibly charismatic, personable and an incredibly effective communicator. There’s no hiding that,” said John Watson, the state GOP chairman. “But what belies that are some really bad positions.”

Watson and other Republicans said Abrams’ positions on health care, immigration and gun control measures, which they attacked relentlessly during the gubernatorial race, would be similar wedge issues if she runs again. Republicans also argue Abrams would face very different circumstances in a Senate run, where federal and national issues would loom larger than local concerns discussed during the gubernatorial campaign.

Perdue would also present a more formidable opponent than Kemp, who had lower name recognition and won his nomination months after Abrams, after fighting through a tough GOP primary runoff. Perdue, a strong ally of President Trump, remains popular across the Republican Party and is unlikely to face a primary challenge.

“She was, for Democrats across the country, their dream candidate,” said Jeremy Brand, a political strategist for Kemp. “They invested tens of millions of dollars, she put in a lot of work on mobilization and she lost.”

Abrams has made clear publicly that she plans to run for office again, though which office remains the question. Some Democrats view her lingering desire to be the state’s top executive as the biggest hurdle to a Senate candidacy. Carter said Abrams would likely clear out the Democratic field should she choose to run against Perdue.

If she doesn’t run, Democrats could face a potentially crowded field, with a handful of other candidates weighing a run, including Jon Ossoff, who lost a nationally watched special House election in 2017; the Rev. Raphael Warnock; and state Rep. Scott Holcomb. Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus, has been most aggressively laying the groundwork for a campaign. Tomlinson was in Washington this week to speak with representatives of EMILY’s List and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, though neither organization is actively recruiting her to run at this stage.

Tomlinson, in an interview, declined to say definitively whether or not she would run if Abrams does. She said she thought she would be a formidable opponent against Perdue, but she also heaped praise on Abrams, calling her the “standard-bearer” for the party.

“Stacey helped make this a two-party state. Should Stacey decide to run she’ll be a fabulous candidate,” Tomlinson said. “Should I decide to run, I think one thing that will demonstrate is Georgia has a very deep, broad bench.”

Earlier this month, Abrams set a deadline for the end of March to decide on a Senate run — she’ll return to Washington the following week to receive an award from EMILY’s List, which was a major backer of her race in 2018 and likely would be again in 2020. Abrams said in a local radio interview that she was weighing whether she was the right person to run, and whether she had the capacity to win and do the job well. At her thank-you rally Monday, she implored her supporters to stay motivated.

“We have proven that Georgia is not about to be a battleground state. We are at war right now,” Abrams said. “It’s time for folks to show up and fight with us.”

Provoked By Trump, The Religious Left Is Finding Its Voice

Dozens of clergy members, immigration activists and others participate in a protest against the imprisonment and potential deportation of an immigration activist. Religious liberals are becoming increasingly outspoken in their opposition to many Trump Administration policies. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Dozens of clergy members, immigration activists and others participate in a protest against the imprisonment and potential deportation of an immigration activist. Religious liberals are becoming increasingly outspoken in their opposition to many Trump Administration policies.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Religious conservatives have rarely faced much competition in the political realm from faith-based groups on the left.

The provocations of Donald Trump may finally be changing that.

Nearly 40 years after some prominent evangelical Christians organized a Moral Majority movement to promote a conservative political agenda, a comparable effort by liberal religious leaders is coalescing in support of immigrant rights, universal health care, LGBTQ rights, and racial justice.

“We believe that faith has a critical role to play in shaping public policies and influencing decision makers,” says the Rev. Jennifer Butler, an ordained Presbyterian minister and founder of the group Faith in Public Life. “Our moral values speak to the kinds of just laws that we ought to have.”

Her group, part of what could be considered a religious left, claims to have mobilized nearly 50,000 local clergy and faith leaders, with on-the-ground operations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio. Butler herself founded the organization in 2005, with a precedent in mind: It was religious leaders who drove the abolitionist movement in the nineteenth century and the civil rights movement in the twentieth century.

“I think religion helps people understand who they should be,” Butler says.

Assault on faith

Comparisons to the origins of religious right are inevitable. The Rev. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority movement in 1979 to oppose abortion and gay rights and promote private Christian schools, largely in the South, during a time of cultural change.

“What motivated the religious right to begin organizing was a feeling of loss,” says Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “They felt the deepest values from their religion were being taken away from them.”

Religious voters on the left now see a comparable assault on principles they hold dear and are finding a new determination to defend the values of their faith, as they understand them.

“To me, Jesus talked about reaching out to the poor, reaching out to the marginalized, reaching out to the oppressed,” says Tara Agnew Harris, 41, who worships at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C.

“Sometimes I feel that traditional Christian beliefs have been hijacked,” she says. “I think many people in the United States, when they hear about ‘Christian beliefs,’ they think it has something to do with a certain fundamentalist mindset.”

Harris in recent months has been exploring “immigrant injustice” issues and traveled with other Faith in Public Life activists to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, G.A., where undocumented immigrants were being held. She says her newfound interest in activism comes from her understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

“The way that I personally interpret my Christian faith and my own Christian walk,” she says, “is that it’s an active challenge. [It’s about] how I can make a difference in the lives of others.”

Butler’s Faith in Public Life movement in recent months has organized a series of rallies to protest the Trump Administration’s detention of migrant families and the president’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, moves that Butler sees as conflicting with Biblical teachings.

“There are over a hundred verses of scripture that say we are to welcome immigrants and welcome strangers,” Butler says. “[Faith in Public Life] is driven by our moral values and not by politics.”

Overshadowed on the campaign trail

The religious left, having been largely eclipsed in recent years, has a ways to go before it can match the clout of the religious right. Butler’s group and those allied with it have primarily kept their focus on protest rallies and social media campaigns. Conservative religious groups, with forty years of organizing experience, conduct sophisticated campaigns in support of those candidates whose views align with their own.

In his book The Four Faces of the Republican Party, Henry Olsen says conservative evangelical Christian voters demonstrate “unusual strength” in Republican presidential contests, especially in caucus states. While the Moral Majority organization was disbanded in 1989, the religious right is still active through such groups as the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which prepares voter guides spelling out candidate positions on such issues as abortion and gay marriage.

“We distribute those voter guides, door-to-door,” says Virginia Galloway, a regional director, based in Atlanta. “We distribute them through the mail. We go to rallies and hand them out, and then people take them home and share them with their friends.”

The Faith and Freedom Coalition now has an army of trained volunteers at its disposal and access to sophisticated technology.

“When I started,” Galloway says, “we had a clipboard and a piece of paper with names of voters on it. Now we have an app on our phone. It will even give us directions to the next house.”

While many black churches have mounted voter registration drives in recent years to help get out the vote for Democratic candidates, the left does not yet have a level of organization matching that of religious conservatives.

“The religious right has been talked about a great deal over the years,” says Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at the Pew Research Center. “We found when we tested this back in 2010 that a substantial number of Americans said they have heard of the religious right. A majority of Americans said they had not heard of the religious left.”

A major disadvantage for any faith-based movement on the left is that it draws on a smaller base. Surveys show that liberals are less religious than conservatives by such measures as belief in God, church attendance, or the importance of faith in their lives. Fewer than a third of liberals say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in organized religion. Nearly half of liberals under 30 have no religious affiliation.

Perhaps for that reason, the political agenda of the Faith in Public Life organization and other groups on the religious left at first glance doesn’t seem all that different from that of groups on the secular left, such as MoveOn.Org.

In contrast, the religious right has a more unique identity, with an evangelical Christian agenda that secular conservatives don’t necessarily share.

“The secular right may agree on some issues,” says Henry Olsen, “but they are primarily motivated by a concern about what they would argue is the growing power of government. They are more interested in preserving the Constitution than the Bible.”

Bridge builders

There are nevertheless some factors that may favor the religious liberals, in Butler’s view. The religious left has, for example, a greater interfaith emphasis, incorporating progressive Catholics, mainline Protestants, and some Evangelicals, as well as non-Christian traditions.

“We’re working with Muslims and Jews and Sikhs and every sort of faith group,” Butler says. “We all have the same core values in mind, which is that everybody is created in the image of God, and we need to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

At a time when the United States is increasingly diverse, such a multi-faith approach makes sense.

Religious liberals also bring at least one value that the secular left, in Butler’s view, may lack: a commitment to bridge-building.

“A lot of folks on the secular left are a bit reticent to form common cause with people who see things differently on an issue,” says Butler. “When it comes to reproductive rights and health, for example, we’ve been able to form alliances between people who are pro-life and pro-choice, because all of us agree there’s common ground in wanting to reduce the number of abortions in the country.”

With many Democrats worried that identity-based politics might fragment their base, a movement committed to forming alliances across identities should be well-received.

Moral passion

Activists on the left should welcome the emergence of a religious core in their ranks because when political activity is morally inspired, it becomes more passionate — as conservatives already understand. Liberals are famous for being cerebral. A religious left may bring more energy to the progressive movement.

Democrats got a jolt of that passion at their last national convention with an appearance by the Rev. William Barber, an African-American preacher from North Carolina who started the “Moral Monday” movement in that state.

“Jesus, a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, called us to preach good news to the poor, the broken, the bruised, and all those who are made to feel unaccepted!” Barber thundered, bringing the delegates to their feet.

Describing himself as “an evangelical Biblicist,” Barber said the nation is need of “moral defibrillators” to work on its weak heart.

“We must shock this nation with the power of love. We must shock this nation with power of mercy. We must shock this nation and fight for justice for all!” Barber said, in the most rousing speech of the convention.

Barber has since launched a new Poor Peoples’ Campaign and is now a key partner in Butler’s Faith in Public Life coalition. The two often show up at rallies and demonstrations together, walking arm in arm, both wearing their clerical collars.

Why are people not getting vaccinated?

GIVE A SHOT—In this file photo, a sign telling customers that they can get a flu shot in a Walgreen store is seen in Indianapolis. (Darron Cummings/AP)

Vaccines for diseases that used to sicken and even kill millions of people throughout the world—like measles, polio, whooping cough and more—have been available for decades. Thanks to robust vaccination programs in the United States, the spread of many of these diseases had stopped. However, in recent years, outbreaks (three or more linked cases) of some of these diseases have caused concern.

Researchers have linked fewer people getting vaccinations to an increase in preventable diseases. Take measles, for instance—measles is a disease that spreads easily and quickly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the continuous transmission of measles was eliminated in the United States by 2000. But, in recent years, many measles outbreaks have been reported. The CDC reports that the majority of people who have gotten measles in recent years were not vaccinated.

Richard K. Zimmerman, MD, MPH

When large numbers of people are vaccinated, diseases have a much harder time moving from person to person. If a person does get a disease but is in contact with people who have been vaccinated, the disease will not spread quickly to other people. This protection is called “community” or “herd” immunity. But when larger numbers of people are not getting vaccinated, herd immunity breaks down and people are no longer protected when diseases arise.

Also, according to Richard K. Zimmerman, MD, MPH, professor of family medicine, and associate professor of behavioral and community health sciences, University of Pittsburgh, flu vaccine rates dropped 40 percent last year, and 79,000 people in the United States died from the flu (the typical number is 23,000). So, why are people not getting vaccinated and breaking down the protection of herd immunity?

Many researchers have found that vaccination myths are one of the reasons people are not getting immunized against preventable diseases. One of the most common vaccination myths is that vaccines can cause illnesses or diseases.

“About one in five people will get a sore arm at the injection site, but people can’t get an illness from an inactivated vaccine,” said Dr. Zimmerman. “Almost all vaccines are inactivated [meaning, they are made with dead viruses, bacteria or toxins]. People say they get the flu after getting a flu shot, but they more likely caught an illness from someone else in the waiting room.”

In recent years, one of the biggest myths about childhood vaccines was that they can cause autism in children. Researchers have studied whether vaccines cause autism. Despite how common that myth is, no research study has found a link between vaccinations and a likelihood of developing autism.

A disparity exists in vaccination rates among different racial, ethnic and age groups. Dr. Zimmerman points out that children overall have higher vaccination rates than adults. The CDC reports that White adults have higher vaccination rates than African American, Latinx and Asian adults. Barriers to vaccination include not having appropriate health insurance coverage and a lack of knowledge about which vaccinations to get at what age. [See elsewhere on the page for links to vaccination schedules by age group.]

Part of Dr. Zimmerman’s research involves how to get more people vaccinated. Along with recommendations for health care providers, Dr. Zimmerman cited three different factors in helping people get vaccinated—habit, attitude and social influence. People tend to get vaccinated more when they develop a habit of doing so. If people have the attitude that vaccines help them and everyone stay healthy, they are more likely to get vaccinated. Finally, when people encounter the social influence of someone like a health care provider who encourages vaccines, people are more likely to get vaccinated. Dr. Zimmerman also notes that incentives—like insurance companies offering credits or lowered copays—help people get vaccinated.

Even if people think they are safe from preventable diseases, Dr. Zimmerman recommends that they think about getting vaccinated to help keep their loved ones safe. A health care provider can help people know what vaccinations they need and when to get them.

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

For more information about vaccines, their safety and why getting them is important, Dr. Zimmerman recommends the following websites:

1. CDC—cdc.gov/vaccines/index.html

2. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Vaccine Education Center—chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center

3. immunize.org

4. pkids.org

To view the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule for children, go to https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/downloads/parent-ver-sch-0-6yrs.pdf.

For teens, go to https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/easy-to-read/preteen-teen.html.

For adults, go to https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/easy-to-read/adult.html.

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Many pregnant women don’t think cannabis is harmful, UBC study finds

A new report by researchers at the University of British Columbia has found that up to one-third of pregnant women believe it is safe to ingest cannabis during pregnancy.

The study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, pored over data from six U.S. studies and found that some women considered cannabis safe because their health-care provider hadn’t communicated to them that it wasn’t.

Lead author Hamideh Bayrampour, assistant professor in the UBC department of family practice, said the study is important for public health officials to understand perceptions of cannabis use, especially since the drug became legal in Canada.

“What we looked at was perception, not actual risk,” Bayrampour said. 

When women were asked about their perception of general harm associated with cannabis use, 70 per cent of both pregnant and non-pregnant cannabis users responded that they perceived slight or no risk of harm.

In one study, when asked if they believed cannabis is harmful to a baby during pregnancy, 30 per cent of pregnant women responded “no.” When women were asked to identify substances most likely to harm the baby during pregnancy, 70 per cent chose alcohol, 16 per cent chose tobacco, while only two per cent chose cannabis.

“One of our review findings revealed that some people don’t consider cannabis to be a drug,” said Bayrampour.

Treat morning sickness

“With this in mind, it’s especially important for health-care providers to ask specific questions about cannabis use during pregnancy and breast feeding to help spark a productive conversation about the potential health impacts.”

The research found pregnant cannabis users were more likely to be under 25, unemployed, single and African American. Anxiety and depression were also associated with cannabis use while pregnant.

“Based on what we found, their motivation for use was … they wanted to treat their morning sickness,” Bayrampour said.

Health Canada requires cannabis companies to have warning labels on all their products. (Canada.ca)

In an effort to get ahead of marijuana legalization in Canada last October, earlier in 2018 the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) warned pregnant and breastfeeding women that legal pot doesn’t mean safe pot.

The society says THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis, crosses the placenta into fetal tissue and can also accumulate in breast milk — whether from vaping, smoking, or eating.

Potential effects, according to the SOGC include:

  • Pre-term labour.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Lower IQ scores.
  • Impulsivity and hyperactivity in childhood.

The 2020 election will be decided in my hair salon. Here’s why.

Contributing columnist

January 22 at 7:06 PM

Saturday, after a couple of hours in the hair salon — always a couple of hours — the 2020 election started taking shape for me. Women. Women of color. Black women.

I listened to the banter, a lively combination of speculation about HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” furloughed federal workers canceling appointments, Women’s March politics, President Trump’s wall, and more. One point of agreement: If the White Walkers can breach the mammoth ice wall across the north of Westeros, then a wall along our southern border is surely a waste of money.

My salon, and thousands like it across the country, is where the 2020 election will be decided.

For Democrats, the quest to win the 2020 primary and general elections flows through the vibrant conversations of black women on a Saturday morning — a time and place of unvarnished truth among women of all classes and life experiences. Ask Hillary Clinton: Women of color voted overwhelmingly for her in 2016, including 69 percent of Latino women and 94 percent of black women in the general election, slightly less than for President Barack Obama in 2012. One big problem, though. Turnout was down among African American voters in key states. To reach the White House, Clinton needed more of these women in Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee.

Conversely, many white women continue to stick with the GOP. President Trump narrowly won white women in 2016 (it was women of color who gave Clinton her significant edge with women overall), while the parties ran about even with them in House elections in 2018. Democrats did manage to peel away more college-educated white women in the 2018 midterms, some fertile ground for 2020 growth. Since the 2016 defeat, it has been the strength of the black women’s vote that has driven victories in statewide and down-ballot races for Democrats — including the much-celebrated record number of diverse women in the new Congress.

Why are these facts so important for a crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary field? Simple — the numbers clearly show that the real juice for Democrats rests with women of color. No candidate can ignore black women in the primary season and still hope to engage them after winning the party nomination — that won’t fly. Black women are the most reliable base of the Democratic Party. To win this base in the primary, and then fully mobilize it in a general election, the candidates will need to listen to the women in the hair salons.

In 2020, some may write off identity politics, but for many women/women of color/black women, identity is politics.

When black women think of the wage gap, they know that they make 63 cents for every dollar compared with their white male counterparts. (For Latino women, it’s 54 cents; for white women, it’s 79 cents.)

When black women consider their health care, they experience that their sisters and mothers die of breast and cervical cancer, heart disease and diabetes at greater rates than white women and that their fertility is impacted disproportionately by uterine fibroids, premature delivery and inadequate access to reproductive care.

When black women look at their economic prospects, they know they stare down over $10,000 more in college debt than white men do — overall, women hold about $400 billion more in college debt than men. In overall wealth, too, black women lag significantly behind. How can you have security when you don’t have income and savings?

These are the politics of a black woman’s identity. Already, Democratic candidates entering the presidential race have acknowledged the importance of women — women of color — black women — in their pathways to victory. With this week’s entry of Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), some candidates may be tempted to write off their chances of capturing the votes of black women. That would be a mistake. These voters are listening. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s announcement framed her economic-populist message to appeal to women, pointing to an economy that has failed women of color. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) made a head-on pitch to women as a mom with a record of fighting for gender equality. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) may soon join the field.

But this work cannot be left to this fine array of female candidates — in 2020, this is men’s work, too. After Iowa and New Hampshire, the road to success in the South goes through the votes of black women. But remember: Women/women of color/black women are not a monolith — they are individuals, and they want to be fought for. Every candidate must wage that battle.

I don’t pretend to know who will win the Democratic nomination. But I do know that if he or she ultimately makes it to the White House, it’s going to be on the strength and support of black women. The time to start reaching out to them is now.

The writer, a member (D-Md.) of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2008 to 2017, is a Post contributing columnist.

Black Southerners are bearing the brunt of America’s eviction epidemic

On a brisk morning in mid-December, Valencia Hicks was running late to the Fulton County, Ga., courthouse in hopes of avoiding eviction.

The 43-year-old mother had been forced out of her home the year before, a process that had uprooted her family from their apartment in East Point. At her new brick split-level, Hicks decided not to pay her $995 monthly rent because her landlord hadn’t adequately fixed broken appliances, preventing the family from enjoying affordable home-cooked meals. The landlord, in turn, filed for eviction.

Like most tenants facing eviction in Fulton County, Hicks is African-American and lacked a lawyer. She planned to tell the judge about her family’s hardships. Not only did she have a disability, reliant on government checks for rent, but she also was raising two boys who each had autism.

Without a favorable ruling, a landlord could move forward with padlocking the door and placing their items on the curb. If she was lucky, she might get her wish of celebrating Christmas there.

A long understudied facet of the American housing market, evictions have hit no area of the country harder than the South, a region home to most of the top-evicting large and mid-sized U.S. cities, according to a list released by Princeton’s Eviction Lab.

Last year Eviction Lab debuted what’s thought to be the nation’s largest eviction database, revealing that U.S. property owners had submitted at least 2.3 million eviction filings in 2016. For housing experts from Louisiana to Virginia, it provided the evidence to confirm what they long suspected: Black renters disproportionately bore the brunt of the eviction crisis.

Eviction Lab found that nine of the 10 highest-evicting large U.S. cities were not only located in the South but also had populations that were at least 30 percent black.

Moreover, the top 25 entries in its ranking of mid-sized cities – including East Point, pop. 35,000 – experienced an eviction rate at least four times higher than the national average of 2.3 percent.

“If you’ve read about the housing crisis, it seems located in New York and San Francisco, but the eviction crisis is happening in cities with a fairly low cost of living like North Charleston, South Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma,” said Matthew Desmond, a professor of sociology at Princeton and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Evicted.”

“There’s a lot of questions left unanswered, but the data allows us to see the problem in a way we’d never seen it before,” Desmond said. “That’s allowed the narrative to change in some communities.”

As some Southern legislatures kick off their 2019 sessions this month, many state lawmakers are considering a new slate of bills to curb the larger affordable housing crisis. Following the launch of Eviction Lab’s database, local advocates intend to further raise awareness of the consequences of eviction, a process that can start with a single missed rent payment.

Not only do evicted people face barriers to new housing, studies suggest evictions also are linked to worse health and educational outcomes, according to research respectively from Desmond and the Urban Institute. With evictions often clustered in lower-income black neighborhoods, entire communities can face the fallout of a churn of new neighbors that severs close-knit social networks.

This status quo is often protected and nurtured by politicians and property owners. Landlords in Mississippi routinely file for eviction as a legal way to collect rent, according to an investigation last year by Mississippi Today.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Georgia statehouse have stymied proposals to strengthen tenant rights.

From 2012 to 2016, Republican state Rep. Wendell Willard, then the chairman of the influential House Judiciary Committee, received at least $30,000 from various companies with ties to the housing industry, based on a Stateline review of campaign contributions. No bill to bolster tenant rights advanced out of his committee.

The former chairman of the Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Josh McKoon, didn’t grant a hearing to a bill that would have forced landlords to fix “unsafe or unhealthy conditions” in rental units such as mold growth, pest infestation and tainted water.

McKoon says the committee under his leadership granted hearings to any lawmaker who requested one, but that lawmakers sometimes file legislation “to have a broader conversation” about an issue.

“We try to give judges a fair amount of discretion,” said Willard, who said campaign contributions had no influence on his decision-making on the issue. “I think we have a pretty good body of law in Georgia that’s been developed over many decades on dispossessory. But if something needs to be changed, we try to change it.”

Armed with data and heightened public awareness, in part thanks to Desmond’s book Evicted released two years ago, some housing advocates are pursuing changes in law with a renewed energy to decrease evictions, increase affordable housing and reduce disparities that exist for black renters in the South.

While eviction rates have spiked in states like South Carolina, according to Eviction Lab data, Georgia and Virginia have seen their rates trend downward since the Great Recession.

But if the federal government shutdown lasts much longer, housing experts fear evictions could spike nationwide because landlords who rent to low-income tenants might not be able to get rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Evictions are both a consequence of cumulative forces of poverty – and black poverty – and a cause of it,” said Dan Immergluck, an urban studies professor at Georgia State University. “Evictions hurt folks in all kinds of ways. Because evictions are concentrated in black neighborhoods, it impacts whole communities.”

Evictions are the latest in a long line of housing policies that have disproportionately harmed black Americans. Over the past century, well-documented discriminatory practices like redlining, restrictive covenants and predatory lending have denied black people the opportunity to buy homes.

Discouraged from homeownership – and the accompanying wealth-building benefits – many black people rented instead. In 2015, the African-American homeownership rate was about 42 percent, more than 20 points lower than the rate for all groups, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But a 2018 study found that black people are more likely to pay higher rents than white people in the same areas.

And a Cleveland State University researcher surveying rental agreement laws found that no Southern state had a suite of laws protecting tenants over landlords.

Every week, attorney Jesse McCoy sees this play out inside eviction court in Durham, N.C. The tenants, he said, are mostly black. Many make honest pleas to a judge about their life’s circumstances – which almost always lack legal standing.

McCoy thinks many of those same tenants would have legitimate grievances, from roach infestations to black mold, that might yield a favorable outcome. But without consulting counsel, he said, they rarely raise legal arguments.

“If you don’t understand rights, you can’t advocate for yourself,” said Sue Berkowitz, director of the SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center, an organization that helps clients in South Carolina, a state with an eviction rate of 8.9 percent, nearly four times the national average.

Housing attorneys throughout the South think that tenants facing an eviction case could have better outcomes in court if they were guaranteed the right to counsel – a right now ensured in select cities such as New York.

“An eviction – even a filing – follows you around,” said Elora Raymond, an assistant professor of city planning and real estate development at Clemson University. “If you get evictions filed against you in Georgia, and move to California, you still have that history.

“If that’s happening more in South Carolina or Georgia,” she said, referring to two states with high percentages of black residents, “and less in Montana or Colorado – there’s a racial implication.”

Virginia Poverty Law Center attorney Christine Marra said tenants who have had rental applications denied are less likely to find safe or affordable housing.

In some cases, those renters often can find housing only farther from where they lived before, potentially impacting other family issues, such as a child’s academic performance. And health care researchers have found that evictions are linked to higher rates of depression, stress and suicide.

Garland Nellom, a 51-year-old mother of three who faced eviction in New Jersey, said she moved to Georgia four years ago after her youngest son, who had asthma and an allergy to the mold she later discovered in their apartment, died. He was 11 years old. Nellom found an apartment in College Park, Georgia, for $745 a month.

Soon, she noticed problems including rodents and mold. She withheld her rent in protest – a practice that in some northeastern and western states can be done legally to force serious repairs from a neglectful landlord, but in Georgia can be grounds for eviction. Her landlord took legal action.

They ultimately settled the dispute, thanks to a lawyer Nellom had secured through the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, and she stayed. This past summer she left for good upon finding exposed wire in her laundry room, which had flooded once again. Given her spotty housing record, landlords wanted her to pay a higher security deposit, which she was unable to do living on disability.

“I was fearful I was going to die,” she said. “I had nowhere to go – nowhere. I put my name on homeless shelter lists. They were full. I had neighbors gracious enough to let me stay.”

Faced with the scope of the eviction crisis, advocates are lobbying for changes to address housing disparities throughout the South.

In North Carolina, McCoy has helped oversee Durham’s eviction diversion program, which pairs Duke law students with unrepresented tenants facing eviction.

South Carolina state Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, a Democrat from North Charleston, is pushing a bill to approve “repair and deduct,” a practice allowed in many states, in which tenants front the costs of repairs if a landlord doesn’t fix the issue, and deduct that amount from a future rent payment.

And in Virginia, which is home to some of the nation’s highest eviction rates, a coalition of lawyers, researchers and activists last year launched the Campaign to Reduce Evictions.

The group has drafted more than 30 proposed changes that would make it easier for tenants to understand the court process for evictions, increase tenant legal rights trainings, pump $20 million into the state’s housing trust fund and expand the state’s low-income housing tax credit.

In response to news reports about Virginia’s high evictions rate, National Apartment Association President Robert Pinnegar recently claimed that “misunderstandings” about evictions have unfairly cast landlords in a negative light.

“Apartment owners do not target evictions for any group or reason,” he wrote in a letter to the Washington Post. “Evictions are a last resort in the rental housing business.”

Housing advocates further recognize that changes can only be effective if they also address the shortage of affordable housing affecting many Southern cities.

Some officials have recognized the need: Atlanta Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has vowed to put $1 billion toward more affordable housing. But low-income housing developers say additional funds or tax credits are needed to build new units.

Policies like inclusionary zoning – requiring developers to make a fixed percentage of rental units affordable in new developments – have received a mixed reception across the South.

“Don’t just build new affordable housing,” Immergluck said. “States and localities need to think about creating their own voucher program that might focus on particular populations like families with kids. I don’t see Southern states funding a permanent voucher program. Maybe it’s short term.”

Short of a universal housing voucher program, something that Desmond has called for, the Princeton professor thinks states could reduce evictions by making smaller policy changes, such as providing additional legal support, wraparound services, short-term financial assistance or better record keeping.

“We might have a referendum on housing in 2020 – and we haven’t had that in a long time,” Desmond said. “I do think we’re in a moment where we could ask for something ambitious.”

Until tenant rights and affordable housing supplies improve, many experts say black Southerners like Hicks will remain vulnerable to eviction. Hicks showed up over 30 minutes late to her Dec. 18 court date. Weary and worried, she said she experienced more traffic than usual.

In a letter to the judge, Hicks explained that she hadn’t slept well because one of her autistic sons had tried to open the upstairs windows of their house late that night. But the judge, offering no explanation, denied Hicks’ request to stay longer in her brick split-level.

According to court records, Hicks’ landlord could have filed for a writ of possession immediately to regain possession of the house. So Hicks called apartment complexes and family members hours away in case she needed to relocate fast.

She desperately wanted a place nearby to keep her boys in the same special-needs program at Banneker High School. But no one she called had immediate availability. She felt disheartened.

“Evictions shouldn’t hurt you after the eviction,” she said. “The laws are more for the landlords and rental companies than the tenants. It’s hurting people. It’s hurting us.”

The day after New Year’s, Hicks was finishing up packing her house, thankful the county marshals hadn’t yet been called to place her possessions on the curb. Her landlord had let her stay through the holidays, but wanted her out in just a few days’ time. She didn’t know where her family would go next. But one thing was certain: She couldn’t stay there.

At Sharpton event, Gillibrand pledges to ‘amplify your voices’

Kirsten Gillibrand

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, left, speaks during an event celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. at the National Action Network NAN’s House of Justice auditorium in New York, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. As Americans commemorated Martin Luther King Jr., Democratic presidential hopefuls fanned out across the country to honor the civil rights leader and make themselves heard on the national stage. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki) | AP Photo

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, speaking Monday at the National Action Network’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, tested some of the themes of her 2020 presidential campaign, pledging solidarity with her predominately African-American audience.

“White women like me must … commit to amplify your voices,” Gillibrand said. “We have to join you on the battlefield for justice for all.”

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Gillibrand focused on the need to address institutional racism and highlighted her Catholic faith and her experience as a mother.

“As a person of deep faith who has been called to public service, I look at Dr. King for inspiration, because his call to action was personal,” she said, adding that “as a person of faith and as a mother, I cannot sit idly by. I will fight for your children as hard as I will fight for my own.”

Gillibrand has been a regular at the event since she became the presumptive replacement for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat a decade ago. It always attracts a star-studded political crowd, which this year included former Mayor David Dinkins, current Mayor Bill de Blasio and five members of Congress.

“One thing I’ve learned is don’t underestimate her,” said the event’s host, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who referred to Gillibrand as “the junior senator and senior candidate for president.”

Her remarks were light on policy specifics, but she referenced universal health care, criminal justice reform and voting reform and the need to push back against the influence of special interests on lawmakers who “write legislation in the dead of night.”

Gillibrand assailed her fellow New Yorker, President Donald Trump. She said he “has chosen to tear this country apart.”

“He has added fuel to a very ugly fire,” she said.

She quoted from a letter from St. Paul to the Ephesians, imploring those assembled to put on “the full armor of God” and “the belt of truth” before preparing for a struggle.

“I feel very called to do what is right, and to fight,” she said.

In freezing cold, marchers find warmth through King’s message


The Woodland Tigers dance team stayed warm with an energetic dance routine performed along the route of the District’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Parade, now in its 13th year. Held in Southeast Washington along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the annual event is the largest and longest running official Martin Luther King, Jr. event in the nation’s capital. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
January 21 at 6:09 PM

“ICE COLD”

The words were knitted into the men’s black and gold ski hats as they gathered in Anacostia Monday, waiting to join the floats, dancers, and marchers in the Martin Luther King, Jr. peace walk and parade.

It was a fitting slogan for a 21-degree day whose windchill made it feel like 4 degrees. But the phrase, coined by founders of the 113-year-old Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity (which counts King as a member), meant much more.

“We’ll fight till hell freezes over, and then we’ll fight on ice,” said Keithlyn Warner, 55, vice president of one of the District’s three chapters and a regular parade participant. “We use ice as a metaphor for the things that ail our communities that we have to break through — economic, social, educational. We just adopted it and adapted it into our activism.”

Activism was on the minds of many who braved the cold for the 13th annual parade down Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Participants included D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), members of the D.C. Council, the Ballou Sr. High School marching band, and cheerleader groups and nonprofit organizations.

Some jammed inside the storefront of Check It, a social enterprise organization. They wrapped their hands around cups of hot cocoa and tea, or dipped into a box of hand and foot warmers. Young cheerleaders with sparkly headgear and thin coats got a pep talk from an adult: another cheer group was out there dancing, “So you can do it too.”

While elements of King’s dream had been accomplished, participants said, much remained to be done.

Eric Weaver, 49, hoped to raise awareness about the violence still plaguing the streets a half a century after King’s assassination. “Everything he stood for was to be peaceful,” said Weaver, who spent 22 years in prison and is founder and chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Returning Citizens. “There has been some progress, but in terms of unity I think he’d be disappointed. We don’t come together as we should.”


Along the parade route holding a protest sign is Max Rameau, a Haitian born Pan-African theorist and local activist. The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Parade is now in its 13th year. The parade featured dozens of schools, community and government organizations, marching bands, dance troupes, bikers and walkers. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Parade participants make their way up Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. during the annual parade. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The Rev. Claudia Harrison of Angels of Hope Ministries planned for the cold weather and wore her warmest coat to the parade today. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

It was Ray Martin’s first time at the parade. After retiring from a career in international development, the 78-year-old McLean resident had turned to helping his own country fight poverty. He was there with the non-profit Poor People’s Campaign.

“Me as an American, as a Christian, I feel like we have to be giving a lot more attention to the economic disparities in this country, and one of the things I can do for this is to show up, be present,” he said.

Noting that King had turned his attention to poverty before he died, Martin said, “The issues he was addressing were the issues that humankind has grappled with for millennia … All of us, white and black, we have to speak out and demonstrate by our words and our actions that we’re not going to let our country slip back to the ugliness of the past – and I’m willing to freeze my ears and fingers for that.”

The parade was smaller than usual, with some participants canceling because of the frigid temperatures. But turnout was “a good amount for the amount of cold,” said Ron Moten, program director at Check It. He stood atop a float as the band Sugarbear E.U. played, even as their trumpet and trombone froze.

Elsewhere around the region, other events celebrated the holiday. At the Bethesda North Marriott, music pulsed, and volunteers gathered around tables piled high with toothbrushes and socks for the homeless. Lines snaked through a ballroom as people waited to pack food for those in need or snip fleece into warm blankets for a hospice program.

Judy Taylor, 61, of Silver Spring, recalled attending segregated schools in southern Virginia, and signing petitions as a teenager to make King’s birthday a federal holiday.

She said she had taken a day off every year to volunteer in honor of King — even before the holiday was established in 1983.

“A whole lot of folks gave a whole lot so I could be here,” she said. “If you forget where you came from, you go back.”


Taylor Mitchell, senior impact manager with City Year, helps distribute paint during the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Washington, DC. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

From left, Ballou student Ayisha Lee, Ron Brown student Dominic Paris and Isha Lee, special initiatives director for Serve, DC, in the D.C. mayor’s office on volunteerism, paint columns in a hallway. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Tai-Lyn Parboosingh, left, and Franky Acevedo, help to paint a mural on the school hallway. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Carolyn Chung and Kris Poedjosoedarmo, of Rockville, crouched on the floor around the beginnings of an orange and blue fleece blanket with their 8-year-old son, Jay.

It was their first time volunteering as a family, Chung said — and it was rewarding, even if the crush of people was somewhat claustrophobia-inducing.

“We wanted to show Jay what it means to give something, whether it’s time or money or both,” Poedjosoedarmo said.

Chanelle Houston, of Silver Spring, was filling boxes of food for Manna Food Center, a food bank in Montgomery County. “We live in a very affluent, well-off county in Maryland, but there are a lot of neighbors in need still,” she said. “Martin Luther King stood for service and leadership and always doing for others.”

Back in Anacostia, the Alpha Phi Alpha men talked about their work promoting health care, voters’ rights, and education. Warner said he thought King would have mixed emotions if he could see America now.

“We’ve made a lot of strides … but I think he’d be disappointed in what’s going on today. Like the shutdown — I think it trickles down into African-American communities harder than other communities.”

Outside, a group of go-go dancers in black unitards and jazz shoes shimmied by, sockless. “They’ve got to be freezing,” Warner said. “I’m just looking at the weather outside and what they’ve got on, that’s all I’m saying.”

Christopher Drayton, 56, the chapter’s president, laughed. “Our brother Martin Luther King should have been born in April, or something like that.”

Is a Prophet Like MLK Possible Today?

How would a latter-day Martin Luther King be received in today’s America? Photo: Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

On the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday of 2019, it is entirely possible to look back on King’s courage and self-sacrifice as inspirations in especially difficult times. But it’s not as easy to imagine that a miracle like the civil rights movement can recur in the Trump Era.

For those who think of what King and his contemporaries achieved as inevitable and overdue–and now universally praised by everyone this side of open white supremacists–its miraculous nature might seem overstated. But make no mistake, the civil rights movement achieved a progressive breakthrough and a national consensus on an issue–the equality of races before the law–that had divided Americans from the Republic’s very beginning. Indeed, racial equality is still controversial, as evidenced by the furies of resentment that accompanied the backlash to the country’s first African-American president and led to his startling successor.

Here are 7 things people who say they’re ‘fiscally conservative but socially liberal’ don’t understand

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