Heeding the Voice of the 99 Percent

When a group of young people camped out in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street in mid-September to express their disappointment toward the way corporations have mishandled the economy, it barely made the local newspapers’ front pages. Four weeks later, and with hundreds of thousands of people joining the movement, Occupy Wall Street has captured the attention of national and international media, and it has provided a golden opportunity for lawmakers, intellectuals, unions, and President Obama to channel the participants’ efforts into their agenda.

Inspired by the Arab Spring and the indignados from Madrid, Occupy Wall Street seeks to “restore democracy in America” by using one of the very tenets of our First Amendment: the right to peaceably assemble. NYPD and protesters, however, have clashed a number of times as newscasts and photographs show law enforcement officers making use of batons and pepper spray.

Undeterred, people are joining the protests in droves. Indeed, Occupy Wall Street has spun off other protests across the nation (from Boston to Washington, DC, to Memphis, among others), and it has served as an inspiration to many who also feel worn out by corporate greed and government inefficacy.

Not only do Occupy Wall Street protests take place in public spaces, but also on social media platforms: “We are the 99 Percent” is a Tumblr blog where people post notes and pictures depicting their economic hardship. Likewise, Jennifer Preston from The New York Times’ blog Media Decoder offers a by-the-numbers analysis of social media’s impact on the protests:

The online conversation about Occupy Wall Street grew steadily on social media platforms in recent weeks and increased among users abroad in the last week as the global demonstrations approached. According to Trendrr, a social media analysis company, the number of posts about Occupy Wall Street on Twitter outside the United States grew to more than 25 percent of total posts on Friday, up from 15 percent during the same period the week before.

One may think that equal opportunity for all is a fair claim, but political deadlock continues to push the country to the brink of hopelessness and despair. To make matters worse, the jobs bill proposed by President Obama stalled in Congress after a Republican filibuster, denying the chance for millions of unemployed Americans to regain economic mobility and make ends meet.

As some political experts have pointed out, Occupy Wall Street is not just about corporate malfeasance; it’s also about lack of adequate political representation in Capitol HillNinety-nine percent of the population is raising their voice in order to move our country forward with economic opportunities, education for everybody, and universal health care. Are Congress and the Obama administration listening?

See also:

Court’s Ruling on Anti-Immigrant Law Undermines Our Values

On September 29, the Federal District Court in Birmingham upheld most of the sections of Alabama’s draconian immigration law in Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, et al. v. Bentley, et. al., and blocked some significant elements of this far-reaching law. The decision made by Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn clearly undermines the most fundamental American values of fairness and equality in that state. The law under review is considered by many civil and human rights activists and immigration advocates to be the harshest anti-immigrant law in the country.

Some of our partners have expressed a deep concern regarding  the federal court’s ruling. Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), said that “[t]his decision not only places Alabama on the wrong side of history but also demonstrates that the rights and freedoms so fundamental to our nation and its history can be manipulated by hate and political agendas – at least for a time.”  The SPLC, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and other members of their coalition are appealing the decision. 

In fact, the judge upheld a section of the law that requires local law enforcement to identify a person’s immigration status during arrests or traffic stops if an individual appears to be undocumented. The court also refused to block a requirement that public schools verify the immigration status of children and their parents. The judge, however, blocked other provisions of the law that would make it illegal for undocumented immigrants to work or to attend or enroll in public universities. 

Several states have attempted to implement similar laws that potentially exacerbate economic woes in already troubled times, and their residents know the dire consequences such measures could bring. Advocates concur that, even though it’s crucial to fix our broken system at the federal level, the state’s new anti-immigrant law will cause more problems than solutions. 

Unfortunately, draconian anti-immigrant laws and proposals are the product of a concerted effort in states across the country that seeks to demonize immigrants. Now more than ever, it is imperative to move a pro-immigrant narrative forward.  We at The Opportunity Agenda work to construct a common-sense dialogue on immigration, and our research and experience tells us that a pathway to citizenship that will expand opportunity to everyone is possible.

Here are our talking points on immigration and other resources on the Alabama law:

 

 

 

What Can We Learn from the Dominique Strauss-Kahn Sexual Violence Case?

Sexual violence and the criminal justice system

[This article originally appeared on race-talk]

This past August, over the span of a few days, the Manhattan Criminal Court issued two decisions in cases centered on sexual violence. One is the now-notorious case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK). The other, which has gone unnoticed, involves a client of the Sex Workers Project, whom we’ll call “JD.” The two cases serve as stark comparisons of how the criminal justice system does or does not help victims or complainants of sexual violence find justice, peace of mind, or financial stability.

In the DSK case, law enforcement initially considered the complaining witness “ND” to be an “ideal witness,” as she reported the alleged attack almost immediately and had a story that was evaluated as highly credible. However, prosecutors backtracked once they realized there were inconsistencies with details ND had given about her past and some details surrounding the encounter. The case soon erupted into a media frenzy and ND became subject to attacks labeling her a criminal, a fraud, and a prostitute. Eventually she felt she had no choice but to come forward publicly and in the media to fight for her day in court. As we all know, prosecutors dismissed the case against DSK in August.

In contrast, JD’s case ended with a positive outcome for her and no media fanfare. JD is an immigrant who was forced to engage in prostitution by her abusive husband. Once she was able to escape her situation, she was left not only with the trauma of the abuse she experienced, but with a long criminal record stemming from arrests for acts she was forced to commit under constant threat of physical, sexual, and psychological harm. As a result of her criminal record, she has been denied employment and has suffered deep shame and stigma. Because of a law passed last year in New York State, she was able to make a motion in criminal court to vacate, or essentially erase, her prior convictions. The law, spearheaded by the Sex Workers Project and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, allows trafficking survivors to apply to have criminal convictions vacated if they are caused by human trafficking. Days before charges against DSK were dismissed, JD got the relief she requested—all of her convictions, including non-prostitution charges, were vacated.

These cases were handled very differently, highlighting the inherent problems and potential benefits of seeking justice in the criminal courts for people who come forward to report sexual violence. The needs and rights of the complaining witness are often different from the needs of the prosecutor attempting to convict the defendant. It is crucial in most criminal cases to have a “victim/witness” who can tell a consistent, authentic, and substantiated story. However, victims of sexual violence may experience disruptions to their memory or have difficulty establishing a narrative, and repetitive interrogations by untrained law enforcement officers often cause victims to re-experience trauma and respond inconsistently. In fact, if ND changed the facts in her story at various points, this may indicate psychological effects from an assault rather than disprove her story.

ND’s story highlights the importance of getting skilled social and legal services for survivors of sexual violence. In ND’s case, there is much talk of how the Manhattan District Attorney’s office moved too quickly on the information it had, even against the advice of its own Sex Crimes Unit. In addition, her own attorney appeared to be a very skilled lawyer, but representing victims of sexual violence takes a particular expertise and understanding of the issues. The trauma of sexual assault, compounded with the experience of being an immigrant who does not understand our legal system, can impact all aspects of a case such as this. In our experience of working with people who have survived sexual violence, it takes time, proper trauma counseling, and skilled legal representation for the complaining witness to construct a steady timeline and to be able to participate successfully in a prosecution.

ND’s case also pinpoints how the media can fuel decisions against the best interest of a complaining witness in a sexual violence case, and then turn viciously on her if she fails to fit a stereotype of victimhood. It is all too common in cases of sexual violence–especially when the defendant is a powerful man–that the accusers are almost automatically painted as seeking money, having brought this upon themselves, or as unstable. Some media outlets went so far as to call ND a prostitute, the ultimate label of a victim who deserved what she got. It seems that both the prosecutors and the complaining witness’s attorney capitulated to the media frenzy, rather than thoroughly engaging in their investigations. The result? The prosecutors issued a devastating dismissal, stating, “The nature and number of the complainant’s falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version beyond a reasonable doubt… If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so.”

In contrast to ND’s case, JD’s ultimate criminal justice win was a story of needs respected and justice served. She was able to bring her motions once she was in a safe and stable place. The court documents and subsequent interactions with the District Attorney’s office and the court allowed her story to be fully explored and shared in a sensitive and respectful way. The prosecution and judge recognized that, even though she was an immigrant and a defendant with convictions for prostitution and drug possession, she was also a mother, a grandmother, a hard worker, and a survivor of terrible violence. Additionally, JD’s case was low-profile–there was no media frenzy surrounding her that placed pressure on any party to act hastily or question motives. She was represented by lawyers who specialize in cases involving in sexual violence and trafficking in persons, and she was supported by a counselor throughout the process. Once the motion to vacate was filed, the District Attorney’s offices and judge came to a measured conclusion that allowed her to move forward with her life. While JD’s case did not lead to financial compensation from her abuser, she will finally have a clear criminal record, and she will be able to access mainstream employment and financial stability.

Both cases point to the limited nature of the remedies the criminal justice system can provide, but the dismissal of charges against DSK make ND’s case more poignant. Even if her case had gone forward, the remedy would have been limited. A prosecutor can send a defendant to jail or prison, or to take anger management classes, but rarely is there any outcome leading to financial stability. Even in cases where a judge orders restitution, it is hard to enforce. Often, victims of sexual violence stop working or going to school because they cannot manage the demands of being a victim/witness in addition to all of their other obligations, or because of trauma or shame. In other cases, they cannot afford the care they need, in terms of seeking a counselor or moving to a new home for safety reasons. The criminal system generally does not address these problems. For those of us who do this work, it is clear why ND is reportedly filing a civil suit.

The distinct legal remedy JD applied for is a limited one. It does not compensate her for the years of trauma she suffered, or the discrimination in employment she coped with because of her criminal record. Nor does it make up for the fact that she was arrested and convicted in the first place.

The criminal justice system has an important place in helping those who come forward to report sexual violence find the peace of mind they need. But it is by no means the entire solution—and at times, it may not be worth it to pursue a criminal case at all. ND deserved the chance to make these decisions outside such a glaring spotlight, and with supportive service providers advocating for her best interests. JD should never have been dragged into the system as a defendant in the first place, but at least she was able to reclaim her own narrative and find a concrete solution to help her improve her life. Survivors of sexual violence deserve the time, space, and resources they need to decide what works best for them.

This article was Co-authored by Melissa Sontag Broudo, Esq. attorney for the Sex Workers Project, and Juhu Thukral, Director of Law and Advocacy at The Opportunity Agenda.

Our Modern Family

On Sunday, the sit-com Modern Family won a well-deserved five Emmy awards, including one for best comedy series.  I’m a fan of the show, but can’t help thinking that it is a double-edged sword. 

The show depicts three inter-connected families who reflect a rich, 21st century American reality: a gay couple with an adopted Asian-American daughter, a spring/autumn marriage between a Colombian immigrant with a son and her much older Anglo husband, and a white heterosexual couple with three very different kids.  Part of the brilliance of the situation, of course, is that they are really just one family; the older husband is the grandfather of the Asian-American daughter, the step-father of the Latino son, and so on. 

 

 And the beauty of the show, beyond its smart writing and inspired acting, is that it largely portrays the family’s diversity as unremarkable.  They are mutually flawed and hilariously dysfunctional, but their problems and misadventures are mostly universal ones.  Mostly.

When he accepted his award, the show’s producer, Steve Levitan, told of being approached by a real-life gay couple who wanted to say thanks.  “You’re not just making people laugh,” they said, “you’re making them more tolerant.”
This is profoundly true.  Television has the power to bring new people into our homes and lives, to make us know and even love characters and situations that may have seemed foreign or frightening.  It has the power to make the “other” part of “us.” 

Over the past decade or so, Hollywood has begun to do so with LGBT characters and situations in ways that are creative, heartwarming, and important.  And there is little doubt that the dramatic rise in public support for LGBT human rights, and particularly marriage equality, is attributable in part to these depictions.

This change was the result of struggle.  In particular, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has worked tirelessly to hold Hollywood accountable for bigoted, stereotypical depictions, while applauding it for positive ones.  Insiders note, also, that the progress of LGBT writers, producers, and actors in Hollywood has meant a presence and an authentic voice for characters who might have been written as offensive caricatures in past decades.

Which brings me to the other side of Modern Family.  Gloria, the Colombian immigrant wife on the show, played by Sofía Vergara, did increasingly become a caricature last season, and sometimes offensively so.  There is the increasing ridiculing of her accent and misinterpretation of English idioms that I thought went out with Ricky Ricardo.  But more troubling are the repeated implications that, as a Colombian, she devalues life, is accustomed to mayhem, and may be dangerous herself.  These are not so much perceptions that other characters have about her, but stereotypes that her character reaffirms through word and deed.

Modern Family has sometimes satirized racism as expertly as All in the Family ever did.  But when the writers repeatedly put in Gloria’s mouth lines about knowing how to use a knife or how to kill because she’s Colombian, they are feeding stereotypes, not roasting them.  And when Gloria responds to an ethnic slight from her husband by saying “Ah, here we go…Because, in Colombia, we trip over goats and we kill people in the street. Do you know how offensive that is? Like we're Peruvians!” they are saying, perhaps unintentionally, that stereotyping is OK because, hey, even the immigrants do it.  It’s a stark contrast to the show’s smarter moments, when it mocks bigotry instead of riding on its back.

On balance, Modern Family is likely doing more to advance inter-ethnic understanding than to undermine it, particularly in its clever portrayal of Gloria’s son, Manny, played by Rico Rodriguez.  Nor should we expect any sit-com to make audience enlightenment its prime objective, Norman Lear notwithstanding.  But if Steve Levitan and his colleagues are going to take credit for “making people more tolerant,” they must also take responsibility for the stereotypes and intolerance they may be sewing, particularly at a time when America is debating the future of millions of immigrants in our modern American family.

 

 

September 11, 2011

On the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the time is right to consider how we have changed as a country and how we remain the same.  It is a widely-accepted truism that we were all changed after the terrorist attacks in Washington, DC, New York, and Pennsylvania. However, even though some made use of the fear and heated emotions following the attacks to suppress human and civil rights, our bedrock principles endure, and in fact, flourish.

Throughout the history of our country, we have struggled to navigate the tension between security and fairness.  At times, we have experienced shameful failures – the World War II internment camps for Japanese Americans are a notable example.  And yet, our democracy continues, striving to reaffirm our national unity of purpose. This tension is not a simple intellectual exercise – it goes to the heart of what America will be. This dialog and our ability to have it demonstrate how deeply our country values freedom.

In the decade since September 11, 2001, the evolution of our counterterrorism policies has clearly exemplified this struggle.  Some of the measures we’ve taken have put human rights at risk and promoted suspicion of particular communities. The indefinite detentions following the Patriot Act are one example. However, an atmosphere of suspicion toward immigrants and our history of immigration risks a core element of our country and does not make us safer. In fact, the opposite is true.  Experts have noted that the decision to institute military commissions in the wake of the attacks had the potential to place the men and women of our own armed services at greater risk. Moreover, alienating or demonizing some of our communities prevents the flow of information that is vital to effective security, damages our unity, and most importantly, violates our fundamental values.

Our commitment to fundamental freedoms and human rights must trump partisan political divisions as we work together to ensure American security. We must reject ethnic or racial stereotyping, we must protect religious freedom, we must protect civil and human rights, and we must stand together – to prevent losing even more than the lives we lost that day and the human rights we lost in the aftermath.

When Social Media and Cause Engagement for Minorities Come Together

The use of communications during the struggle for social justice in the United States is far from being a novelty. News spread quickly by word of mouth when black college students started a host of nonviolent sit-ins in several states almost 50 years ago, as The Washington Post’s Krissah Thompson noted. Today, civil rights activists, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, have found in social media a powerful channel to voice their support for a cause and generate cause engagement, according to a latest study by Georgetown University and Ogilvy PR Worldwide.

The study found that nearly one in three African-American adults (30 percent) and four in 10 Hispanics (39 percent) say “they’re more likely to support a cause or social issue online than offline,” whereas one in five (24 percent) of Caucasians expressed the same interest. Likewise, a slight majority of African Americans (58 percent) and Hispanics (51 percent) are more likely to believe that they can help spread the word “about a social issue or cause through online social networks” adding that they feel they’re part of a community by supporting causes online --compared to 34 percent of Caucasians.

The study goes on to say that, although television and print media are still regarded as reliable sources to learn about causes, both African Americans and Hispanics are significantly “more likely than Caucasians to look for social media as an additional source of information (31 and 27 percent versus 21 percent, respectively.)”

The Georgetown/Ogilvy study seems to corroborate a number of successful online campaigns within minority-oriented organizations. Color of Change, for example, is an online civil rights group that has proactively used a large email list of subscribers to champion causes like the fundraising to help reduce charges for a half-dozen young black men in Jena, LA in 2007. Also, the NAACP enhanced its webpage in 2009, started a new blog site, and has revamped its online advocacy list that hovers around 400,000 members.

Also, Thompson noted that a study by the Pew Internet & Family Life Projectfound an increasing preference among minority Internet users for Twitter, and in the past decade, “the proportion of Internet users who are black or Hispanic has nearly doubled—from 11 percent to 21 percent.”

Minorities’ zeal to join causes online signals the importance of social media for furthering civil rights, hence changing the nature of activism nowadays. And it’s proof that, even amid the latest display of partisanship in Washington, communities in the United States can find unity by way of technology.

 

 

Percentage thinking the US has fulfilled MLK Jr.’s vision drops to pre-Obama election levels

When Barack Obama was running for President in April of 2008, slightly more than a third of the adults in the US thought that the vision of Martin Luther King Jr. as outlined in his “I Have a Dream” speech, had been fulfilled.  Just before Obama was sworn in as President in January of 2009, the perception that the King vision had already been fulfilled had swelled to nearly half of all adults in the US.  Perceptions of African Americans improved dramatically during this period increasing 30 points to 65% between April 2008 and January 2009.

But now, according to a recent Washington Post poll (August 2011), the election time gains have been entirely wiped out and people today are substantially less likely than at inauguration time, to perceive that the vision of Dr. King has been fulfilled.  In fact, the current percentage of African American reporting fulfillment has dropped back to its pre-Obama election level. Disappointingly, the decline among whites is even greater, with fewer whites today than pre-Obama election time (April 2008), considering the MLK vision fulfilled.

It is important to keep in mind how the question is asked in these polls:
"Martin Luther King gave his famous 'I Have a Dream Speech' at a civil rights march in Washington in 1963.  In your view, do you think the United States has fulfilled the vision King outlined in that speech, or don't you think so?:"  

The question essentially asks people to indicate their perception of vision fulfillment by responding either “fulfilled” or “not fulfilled.” It neglects to check whether people answering the question had an accurate understanding of the vision outlined within the “dream“ speech.  However, we know that peoples’ perceptions of reality, regardless of their factual knowledge, does matter (especially in election years) and are related to public sentiment. 

Optimism that the vision will eventually be fulfilled has also deteriorated—especially among African Americans.  A follow-up question in each of the polls conducted by CNN and now the Washington Post, asks people who did not believe that the vision had already been fulfilled, to indicate whether or not they thought it eventually would be attained. 

It is disheartening to see that adults in general are less optimistic today  than in April 2008 (avg. 15% less).   Furthermore, optimism among African-Americans, which had grown to 84% as inauguration time approached, dropped precipitously to 48% by the 2011 poll, - far below the 63% level reported in the pre-Obama election poll of 2008.  
One might wonder what is going on here?  Were the observed inauguration time increases in perception and optimism about King’s vision fulfillment simply artificial and spurious or were they real but perhaps ephemeral?   One may argue that the increases were artificial and merely an artifact produced by the overall raised level of expectations and “hope” associated with the Obama campaign and its messaging.

On the other hand, as Michael Fallig, Ph.D., SVP GfK CRNA has suggested: “It could also argue that the actual election results provided sufficient evidence to raise peoples’ perception and optimism about fulfilling Dr. King’s vision of better racial relations.  But events and policy decisions that took place after the election were more powerful factors that led people to reassess and change their earlier perceptions and optimism about the US having the capacity to fulfill the vision. 

Until evidence suggests otherwise, let us assume that the election of Barack Obama did have a positive and real impact on peoples’ perception and optimism about Dr. King’s vision.  However, let us also assume that events and/or policy decisions that took place post-election altered or moderated peoples’ perceptions as well as the relative strength of the election’s impact on perceptions and optimism about equality. 

Think about the events that might have more impact than the election: The tanking economy, home foreclosures in the news - hitting some communities harder than others, the nasty and confrontational debate over healthcare -- that appeared to have overtones of racism, the country’s continued high unemployment rate – punctuated by the increased disparity in African American vs. white joblessness, the negative feelings about the leadership role of the US – highlighted by our mediocre to poor global math and science rankings and stories in the news about the lack of support for public education funding and for unions that have their share of African American members.  The above might all be powerful contributors to the reduction in perception and optimism about the vision of racial equality espoused by Dr. King in his unforgettable speech.

A third argument could also be made: One might say that the policies of the President and this administration or the lack of success that the administration has had with moving forward with his grand agenda, has led people to call into question the capacity of the President and his policies to move the US forward.  If his policies are stalling, if there is no improvement in joblessness as an example, it is entirely possible that despite the positive role that his election has played in the perception that racial relations have moved forward, these lack of successes signal a stalling of progress and may reduce peoples’ perceptions and optimism that that Dr. King’s vision about racial relations in the US is attainable.

Genuine Investment in Jobs .. and Infrastructure

The U.S. unemployment rate remains dangerously high, and in some communities, rivals the rates of the Great Depression. Clearly, there is a jobs crisis in this country.  While the temptation for those who are employed might be to be thankful and exhort one another “not to rock the boat,” there is a plethora of reasons why that would be a Very Bad Idea. Ok, the thankful part is probably a good idea.

On the other hand, the boat needs to be rocked. At least a little.  On both sides of the partisan divide, talking heads are beginning to posture. “I stand for job creation.” says one. “No – I stand against all job-killing legislation.” boasts another. “I’m pivoting to focus on jobs.” “I will work tirelessly to focus on what the American people need – jobs.”  If we could create jobs out of hot air, the unemployment rate would be 0.0 percent.

People want and need jobs. Good jobs - that offer a living wage, necessary benefits, and the ability to conceive of a future beyond where you are today. An essential element of the American Dream is a belief in the ability that hard work should be rewarded. But what happens when large groups of our fellow Americans are encountering some of the longest-term and most intractable unemployment seen in decades?  It’s not a problem only for the unemployed, although the point can be made that even if the effects were only felt by the unemployed, it would still be a problem that each of us would be responsible for. However, even in an argument based entirely on self-interest, the current unemployment rates cannot stand.

First, people out of work, unable to find work, and losing hope of finding work, are not spending money. People out of work are losing their homes. People depleting their savings are unable to plan for their children’s education.  Thus, your neighbor’s unemployment may: 1) lower consumer confidence; 2) lower the value of real estate in your neighborhood; and 3) decrease the number of students attending college and/or raise the number of students competing for increasingly limited financial aid.  These are relatively simple examples.  There are more nuanced arguments to be made – for example, herehere, or here.

The solution seems simple. Invest in jobs. After all, it’s become a widely accepted truism that our infrastructure is crumbling. Pay our unemployed to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.  In the words of Aziz Ansari, “Jay-Z has vodka he makes. Jay-Z signs the tab, money goes back into his own pocket!” We need planners, construction workers, architects, clerical workers, lawyers, accountants, and numerous other job titles. They need work. Again, there are more nuanced arguments to be made – for example, herehere, or here.  It may be complicated to figure out how to actually implement and maximize our investment in our future. But it’s not just necessary. It’s imperative.

Progressives Taking Charge

The President has shown a talent for slowly but surely moving public opinion in the right direction on crucial policy points, then inexplicably giving those points away to his political opponents for little or nothing in return. According to last month’s Gallup poll, for example, only 20% of Americans want Congress to reduce the deficit solely through spending cuts, while the overwhelming majority favor some mix of taxes and cuts, and an additional 7% support tax cuts alone. This was President Obama’s stated position, the one thing he said he would stand by, yet the deal he ultimately signed off on included zero revenue increases.

The President long ago convinced Americans that the Bush-era tax cuts should be allowed to expire, either for those making more than $250,000 per year, or for all taxpayers. Yet the President caved on this proposition during the lame duck session of Congress, and again in the debt ceiling debate.

So now we’re waiting on a deficit “Super Commission” likely to be packed with conservative hardliners, and a process in which the President promises, once again, that increased taxes for the wealthiest among us must be part of the mix. But the stakes are high. And the default outcome—in the likely event that the commission cannot agree—is across the board cuts that would devastate Americans hardest hit by the recession and bury the prospects for job creation and recovery.

We can hope that the third time will be the charm. We can wring our hands and expect to be sold down the river. Or we can take action to make sure it’s a real fight, with or without the President’s resolve. That course, the right course, will require innovative ideas, aggressive organizing, and a powerful narrative that has been lacking from the debate so far.

Fortunately, progressives have already launched several efforts that are crucial to winning the fight. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (many of whose members opposed the debt deal) led a jobs tour around the country, proposed a Progressive Budget, and is calling for job creation as a top priority, including in budget negotiations. The Congressional Black Caucus has its own jobs initiative and has vowed to push back against harsh, cuts-only approaches.

From the Rebuilding the American Dream movement, to the Home for Good Campaign, and beyond, activists are taking to the streets, to Facebook, and to the halls of power in their call for an opportunity society, including an opportunity budget.

Just as crucial will be telling our story, a story that inspires the base, persuades the undecided, and marginalizes our opposition. It must be a story rooted in shared values of opportunity, and economic security, and the idea that we’re all in it together. It must identify corporate misconduct, inadequate regulation, and wrongheaded economics as the forces that got us into this crisis. But it must focus overwhelmingly on positive, pragmatic solutions that enable Americans to get back to work and rebuild their dreams, as well as their assets. Hardly a fringe message, research and experience show this fits well with what everyday Americans already believe.

Armed with ideas, organizing, and a compelling American narrative, we can win not only the budget and deficit fights, but the fight to restore our economy and expand opportunity into the future. It would be nice to have the President in the lead in this fight, but we may have to pull him along behind us.

Support for Gay Marriage Is on the Rise

Gay marriage has been a contentious issue for decades now, especially among more conservative, religious groups, but recently there has been an important shift in public opinion. According to a recent poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post, more than half of Americans believe that gays and lesbians should have the right to legally marry. In a similar survey, CNN/Opinion Research found that 51% of respondents said that same-sex marriages should be legal.

Even though the opposition to gay marriage is more than 2-1 among Republicans and conservatives and 3-1 among evangelical white Protestants, there has been a decline in opposition to gay marriage among these groups in the last few years, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. Other more traditionally conservative groups such as Catholics and moderates, adults in their 30’s and 40’s, and men, have shown increasing support for the issue in recent years. Furthermore, the generational/gender disparity remains in tact, as 60% of Americans under the age of 50 still support gay marriage, but only four in ten of those individuals over 50 also support same-sex marriage. A recent CNN/Opinion Research survey found that more than half of men are against the legalization of same-sex marriage, while 57% of women are in favor of it. 

Furthermore, a recent Gallup Poll  found that 56% of people say that they believe that gay or lesbian relations are morally acceptable, which is the highest percentage it’s been since the question was first asked in 2001. Yet, when it comes to the origins of same-sex orientation, there is an almost even split among Americans. 42% say that being a lesbian or gay is “due to factors such as an upbringing and environment,” whereas 40% believe that it is “something a person is born with.” The trend over time demonstrates that since 1978 the majority of Americans (56%) believed that homosexuality was a product of one’s environment. Throughout the years, however, there has been a significant shift in the beliefs around the origins of homosexuality, and now in 2011 there is an almost even division among Americans regarding the nature vs. nurture argument. 

However, due to a particularly polarizing political climate surrounding the issue, the fight for the legalization of gay marriage is far from over. Same-sex marriage has been legalized in five states and the District of Columbia since 2003, but many other states still prohibit it. Last February, the Obama administration said that it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is a 1996 law banning federal recognition of gay marriages (please see ABC News/Washington Post Poll for more info). Therefore, although some states recognize the legalization of same-sex marriage, there is still important work to be done.

Despite some remnant opposition, this upward trend in support of gay marriage reveals some major shifts in the hearts and minds of Americans, as compared to several years ago. With this kind of progressive thinking in conjunction with legal action, we may be one step closer in achieving equal opportunity for all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. 

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