Women

Fairness and Equality Will Save Our Union

For months, we've endured the back-and-forth banter among Republican presidential candidates as they fight for their party's nomination. Relentlessly tearing each other apart and proving just how contentious and petty they can be, these so-called front-runners exemplify what the GOP stands for at this very moment: obstruction & division. Last night during President Obama's State of the Union address, we were reminded of just how much we can achieve with a unified government and with leaders who put the nation's best interest before their own political agendas. At such a pivotal time when some would have us believe that there's no such thing as income inequality, the president has called for tax reform, a ban on insider trading in Congress and more as he vowed to tackle perhaps the greatest challenge of our time: fairness. Delivering a reassuring voice to the men, women and children still suffering during these tough economic times, the president drove home the notion that it isn't about jealousy; it's about equality. "We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by," stated the president. "Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What's at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them." For far too long, Americans have been watching as the wealthiest among us pay lower tax rates (or avoid them all together), while they themselves continue to give exorbitant percentages of their income to taxes. CEOs have shipped jobs overseas, while those struggling to find work are scapegoated as somehow 'lazy' or inept. Following predatory lending practices that targeted certain segments of the population, some would like to pass off the blame to the victims of the greatest housing scandal in modern history. At a time when education costs have skyrocketed beyond belief, there are those that look down upon the millions unable to attend college despite academic achievement. When more and more of the work sector requires increased education, those unable to afford it are often times left in the dust of uncertainty. And as the president articulated last night, early education has suffered a setback with tight budgets and teacher layoffs all across this country. While teachers (like Sara Ferguson who sat in the First Lady's box during the address) continue to make sacrifices and support students, politicians and those with ulterior motives attack and discount all of their selfless efforts. To quote the president -- 'teachers matter'. As Americans watch entire companies fold, and work multiple jobs just to make ends meet, the costs of health care are relentlessly on the rise. With corporations eliminating benefits, many with full-time employment are even finding it impossible to afford health insurance on their own. In addition to the tens of millions without coverage, millions of us are only one illness away from bankruptcy. Instead of welcoming health reform in an industrialized nation with such sobering statistics, some continually attack the measure for the simple fact that it was proposed by this president. Despite the multitude of rising challenges like income inequality, diminishing employment opportunities, lack of affordable education, health care and more, most Americans remain optimistic. They still firmly believe that hard work will yield progress, and that the notion of the American dream is very much alive. And still, some would like nothing more than to blame, castigate and demean hard-working Americans as they revel in the luxury of their unfair advantages. All the American people want is fairness; all they want is the same opportunities given to the rich and powerful. And that is precisely what last night's State of the Union emphasized: a level playing field for all. As the president stated: "No one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other's backs."

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Are You Smart Enough to Be a Religious Bigot in the Voting Booth?

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Whenever he was asked about the impact of his race on the 2008 election, President Obama would predict that while his race may cost him some votes, it might gain him some votes, just like a lot of other characteristics over which he has little to no control. Of course, as we later learned, there was another trait President Obama has little control over that had, and continues to have, the potential to cost him and other candidates even more votes than race: perceived religious beliefs. The fact that one in five Americans believe President Obama is not a Christian and view that as a justification for questioning his leadership and patriotism represents a political landmine for the president, one that increasingly his 2012 GOP opponents are in danger of stepping on as well. Newt Gingrich's win in South Carolina has now made the unthinkable not just possible but virtually certain: a non-evangelical Christian is poised to become the Republican nominee for president. Of the four remaining candidates, just one Dr. Ron Paul, is a protestant. Two, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, are practicing Catholics, while former frontrunner Mitt Romney is Mormon. Though I know this will elicit a lot of angry comments from Paul supporters, by now everyone besides them seems to know that he has as much chance of becoming the GOP nominee as I do. This means that the party for which faith has been as fundamental as family values (in messaging at least) will soon join the thousands of Americans each year who embrace another religion for love, or more specifically for marriage; in this case, a political marriage of convenience. (It's worth noting that Gingrich did this, quite literally, converting to Catholicism at the behest of his third wife.) But here's a question. As we have evolved into a country in which divorce, out-of-wedlock births, premarital sex and other religion-inspired one-time taboos have lost most, if not all, of their stigma, why do we continue to be a country in which our religious beliefs significantly affect how we vote? A Gallup poll taken just months ago found that 22% of Americans -- across party lines -- will not vote for a Mormon candidate. Keep in mind that like discussions of race and sex, religion is a topic about which some people lie out of embarrassment, which means the number of Americans possessing some religious bias about Mormons, or any other group, is likely even higher than the numbers contend. A 2007 survey found that 46% of Americans said they would be less likely to vote for someone who is Muslim but that pales in comparison to the number who said they were less likely to vote for an atheist: 63%. As of 2011 that number is still holding pretty steady at 61%. In fact a separate study released just last month found that atheists are as distrusted by Americans and Canadians as rapists. Yes, rapists. (Click here to see a list of atheists who have been elected to office along with other religious trailblazers in American politics.) Religious prejudice has officially become one of the last remaining bastions of surface-based voter bias, with the number of Americans saying they would not vote for a racial minority, a woman, or a gay American decreasing significantly in recent decades. This is somewhat surprising for a number of reasons. For one, it is arguable that religious labels alone mean very much. For instance, Sen. Ted Kennedy and his brothers were devout Catholics, yet their interpretation of their faith and its role in their politics is miles apart from the interpretation of Sen. Santorum. But perhaps the most ironic thing about all of this is that according to yet another study, an overwhelming majority of those who believe in God are ignorant of basic Biblical facts, and facts about other religions. A 2010 Pew study found only 2% of those surveyed could answer 29 of the 32 questions asked correctly. Most could answer about half. This means that people who aren't well-versed in their own religious beliefs, or anyone else's, are making decisions in the voting booth fueled by prejudice that isn't even well-informed prejudice. You know who is well versed in religion, and well-informed too? Atheists, that's who. They were among the top scoring groups on Pew's religion pop quiz. Mormons also scored well. (You can test your own knowledge with questions from the quiz here .) So this begs the question. If most of us are not knowledgeable enough of our own faiths to truly know if another faith is at odds with our own, then how can a vote based in part on someone else's designated religion be rooted in anything other than prejudice? Though the Romney campaign has certainly been plagued by its own share of candidate-made missteps, it is hard to believe that were he a Methodist, instead of a Mormon, that Mitt Romney would be struggling the way that he is. As far as candidates go, he is practically perfect on paper, checking every box a political consultant could dream of for a "Franken candidate" resume, except of course one. (Some political analysts have even speculated that his tax release debacle was bungled in part out of fear of allowing already jittery evangelical voters to see just how much of his fortune the governor has donated to the Mormon Church over the years.) When family values obsessed, evangelical die-hards who normally consider one divorce grounds for suspicion, two divorces grounds for derision, and proven adultery grounds for candidate ineligibility, choose Newt Gingrich over the guy who's been with his wife for life but just so happens to be Mormon, that tells you something about the role religious prejudice continues to play in American politics. The bigger question of course becomes whether or not Mitt Romney will ever have the temerity to say so out loud, or if it will take losing the nomination for him to finally understand and acknowledge that forms of bigotry still exist in America, and still hold people back. For some people it may be their skin color keeping them from a job that they need. For others it may be their religion keeping them from the presidency they so desperately want. Question: Would you be willing to vote for a candidate who practices a different religion than your own or doesn't practice one at all? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate , a novel about a black, Jewish candidate for president. She is a contributing editor for Loop21.com where a version of this post originally appeared.

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Obama Must Choose on Housing: A Sweetheart Deal for the 1% or a Fair Deal for the 99%

Rumor has it that on Monday, after months of negotiation with big banks, the White House may announce a settlement that would let the banks off the hook for their role in the foreclosure crisis -- paying a tiny fraction of what's needed in exchange for blanket immunity from future lawsuits. We hope these rumors are untrue. President Obama has the ability to stop and change the direction of this sweetheart deal. He should reject any deal that benefits the one percent and lets the big banks get away with their crimes. Instead, the president should stand with the 99 percent and push for real accountability and a solution that will help millions of people in this country. Here are the hard facts about the housing crisis we face: 3.5 million Americans are homeless. 18.5 million homes sit vacant. Since 2007, more than 7.5 million homes have been foreclosed. Default and foreclosure rates are now several times higher than at any time since the Great Depression. If President Obama is serious about solving this crisis, he must ensure three things: First: The banks must pay a minimum $300 billion in principal reduction for homeowners with underwater mortgages and/or restitution for foreclosed-on families. This is essential. Every effort to date to reboot the housing market has failed because it has not done the most essential thing -- actually reduce the massive debt load carried by homeowners. As it stands, the deal likely to be announced Monday would have the banks pay only $20 billion, an astonishingly small fraction of what's needed. Add up all the underwater homes in America, and there's an estimated $700 billion in negative equity in the country, according to a recent study . If banks fix what they broke and write down principals for all underwater mortgages, this would free up millions of people to pump billions of dollars back into local economies, create jobs, and ultimately generate revenue to help invest in things that will help our economy grow. Second: There must be a full-fledged, full-blown investigation into Wall Street financial fraud by the Department of Justice. There should be a task force with the staff resources, the authority, and the explicit mission of seriously investigating fraudulent behavior in the way home mortgages were securitized. Reports of the current deal suggest banks could walk away without any actual investigation into their role in the housing crisis. Third: There should be no civil or criminal immunity for the banks from future lawsuits. That means there should be no broad release of claims in any current or future negotiation or settlement. The banks must pay to help solve the crisis they played such a big role in creating. They can afford it. U.S. banks raked in $35 billion in profits last summer alone and are currently sitting on a historically high level of cash reserves of $1.64 trillion. The six biggest banks -- Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley -- hold assets totaling $9.5 trillion; and together paid an income tax rate of only 11% in 2009 and 2010, far below the federally mandated 35% corporate tax rate. And that's not all. Despite their bleak performance this year, the nation's top six banks paid out $144 billion in bonuses and compensation for 2011, second only to the record $147 billion they paid out in 2007 at the height of the economic boom. While banks enjoy record profits and the prospect of total immunity, millions of Americans are drowning in underwater mortgages. Everyday people are already out front, fighting against the malfeasance of the banks; the White House should stand with them. Our national leaders need look no farther than Atlanta, GA, for an instructive profile in courage. Earlier this month, a community church in Dr. Martin Luther King's old neighborhood refused to be ignored. In 2008, a tornado devastated the historic, 108-year-old Higher Ground Empowerment Center church, and they were forced to take out a loan to cover repairs. The loan went underwater and became harder and harder to pay back. For nearly four years, the church asked the bank to modify their loan, but BB&T bank ignored them. Instead, last week, the bank started to evict the church. Sound familiar? Anyone with an underwater mortgage can tell you: banks these days just can't seem to treat their own customers with decency and manners. However, after Occupy Atlanta staged a high-profile press conference, and 65,000 people signed a national petition by Rebuild the Dream, the church got BB&T bank to agree to modify their loan to something affordable and reasonable. This happy ending is, unfortunately, the rare exception. BB&T, after being shaken to their senses (and shamed in the media), came to the table and did the right thing. But millions of homeowners have no way to stage protests and press conferences. Abuse, fraud, conflicts of interest, and lawlessness have been endemic at every stage of the mortgage origination and foreclosure process. This chain of misconduct by many of the nation's largest financial companies is at the root of the foreclosure avalanche and it's time to demand a course of action that will resolve the current crisis and create jobs in the future. If these folks in Atlanta can show this level of courage in standing up to a big bank, then certainly Obama and state attorneys general can show the same courage. The banks got their bailout. Now we need a strong and fair settlement to help Americans drowning in underwater mortgages. Van Jones is the co-founder and president of Rebuild the Dream , a new national organization working to fix America's economy and restore our democracy. George Goehl is the executive director of National People's Action , a network of metropolitan and statewide membership organizations dedicated to advancing economic and racial justice. National People's Action is a leading organization within a national coalition called New Bottom Line that challenges established big bank interests on behalf of struggling and middle-class communities.

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7 Things Poor Voters Want Rich Candidates (and Their Rich Supporters) to Know

When Mitt Romney offered a struggling campaign volunteer all of the money he had on him to help her with an electric bill, the moment stood in stark contrast to the man who dismissed those who have the audacity to raise the issue of economic inequality as champions of class warfare fueled by "envy." I know there are plenty of cynics who consider the moment the height of campaign trail performance art-cum-pandering. (After all, the incident likely did more to humanize him than millions of dollars worth of campaign ads.) Call me a sucker, but I consider the moment sincere yet sad. Not just sad for the woman in need but for Romney himself. See I believe that Romney was sincere in his sympathy for the woman's situation, and in his desire to help her. What's sad is that he's so out of touch that he believes that all Americans in her economic situation have a Mitt Romney they can turn to for help, and that those who don't must be that way through some fault of their own. Furthermore, he's naïve enough to believe that all wealthy people share the commitment to philanthropy and service that his family does, thereby making additional taxes on people in his income bracket unnecessary to help women like his campaign volunteer. With that in mind I thought that as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who once said, "The curse of poverty has no justification in our age," today would be a good day to correct some of the misconceptions that Mitt Romney and other wealthy candidates seem to hold about economic inequality in America. (Click here to see a list of the wealthiest presidents and presidential candidates.) 1) If you were born wealthy, you have not earned everything you have through "hard work." According to a Federal Reserve Study 2 in 5 members of the "1%" inherited money. This is not to say that if you were born into wealth you haven't worked hard and that you may not have earned some of your possessions, property and money. But you didn't earn all of it, and in fact probably not most of it. Think of it this way. You ask an investor to give you the seed money to finance your startup. The company may have your name on it and be based on your idea, but that investor deserves a great deal of the credit and share of the profit if your company makes it big. So if you used your parent's wealth to finance those first real estate successes (Donald Trump) or their connections to land you your first film role (Gwyneth Paltrow), or to ease your first entry into business (Mitt Romney) along with helping to open doors for your foray into politics, (anyone named Kennedy, Bush, and yes Romney), then please don't try to convince the rest of us that you are "self-made." You're not. That's not your fault. Just like it's not my fault that I wasn't born with a silver spoon, fork or any other utensil from Tiffany's in my mouth. But trying to give the rest of us tips on how to make it and how we can become more financially solvent like you, without mentioning the words, "be lucky enough to be born to my parents in your next life!" makes you sound -- for lack of a better term -- like a jackass; an out of touch jackass. The two primary ways someone like me is likely to have the greatest shot at joining Mitt Romney's tax bracket is if I a) win the lottery or B) marry one of Mitt Romney's sons. And from what I've read about the history of blacks in the Mormon faith that's not likely, but brings me to number 2. 2) If you have married into wealth, you have not earned everything you have through "hard work."* See number 1. That means if this describes you please avoid lecturing anyone on how all of us can be just as successful as you are if we're willing to make responsible choices AND please spare us whining about how you don't like the government trying to take so much of "your" money. After all, your ex probably said the same thing about you during the divorce. (*I acknowledge there may be some truth to the old saying "those who marry for money end up paying the rest of their lives," but I think we can all agree that despite Kobe Bryant's foibles his wife did not "earn" her riches in the same way that Oprah did.) 3) America is not an "equal playing field." I know pronouncements like this drive my conservative friends nuts. Sorry. But don't take my word for it, just look at the numbers. Startling new data recently confirmed what many of us already knew: that America is one of the least economically mobile countries in the first world. One recently published study (there are several) found that 62 percent of Americans raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, while 65 percent born in the bottom fifth remained in the bottom two-fifths. The studies also found that parental education is a disturbingly accurate predictor of one's lifetime class status. Translation: If your mom and dad are doctors and lawyers with Ivy league degrees and your grandparents are too, your likelihood of remaining in a similar class bracket is high. The likelihood of those born to grandparents who are sharecroppers remaining in a similar class bracket is even higher. So a word of advice to conservative candidates and legislators: you'd earn a lot more credibility if you prefaced any brilliant ideas you have for those struggling to make it with, "I know many of you started out without many of the advantages many of us take for granted and I'll never know what it's like to walk in your shoes, BUT..." 4) Besides being born rich, or marrying rich, the only other way to really have a shot at significantly improving your class status in America is to be genetically or intellectually extraordinary... and most of us aren't. As the studies cited above confirm, hard work is rarely enough to improve upon the financial situation you were born into in America in a truly meaningful way. If you are not born upper middle class, odds are not in your favor that you will end up upper middle class, unless you marry well, win the lottery or hit the genetic lottery. What is the "genetic lottery?" Well if you're born 7 feet tall and are reasonably coordinated, then you may have a shot at significantly improving your class status through the NBA, or if you are a scientific genius you may become a groundbreaking neurosurgeon like Dr. Ben Carson or if you have the charisma and innate interview capabilities of Oprah you may be given your own talk show. But if you are just a nice person, who works hard and plays by the rules, you may not spend your entire life in abject poverty, but you will most likely spend a lifetime being one medical crisis away from asking Mitt Romney for a handout to keep your lights on. 5) If you are wealthy and have called in a favor, or made a "donation" to get your already wealthy son or daughter a job they don't need and didn't earn, or a college admissions slot they didn't earn, congratulations, you have increased the number of poor Americans. I know this is hard for some wealthy people to believe, but while you may think your son or daughter getting into Princeton, Harvard, Brown, University of Texas, or whatever alma mater you always dreamed that they would attend, is a matter of life or death -- it's not. Because I'm going to go out on a limb here and speculate that Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump probably could have gotten a job working for their father (where they both currently work) whether they attended his alma mater of UPENN or whether they didn't. (No I'm not alleging that Donald Trump bought his children's way into UPENN, but let's not pretend that bearing the name of one of the school's most famous alums didn't greatly improve their admission chances.) But you know for whom college admissions and entry-level jobs can be a matter of life or death? Poor people, that's whom. So the next time an elected official says that it is easy for anyone who wants a job to get one -- I want him or her to know that's true. It is easy to get a job -- when your dad or mom are elected officials, or wealthy and powerful people who have wealthy and powerful friends who are willing to give out jobs to the relatives of their friends. 6) Most poor people are lazy. WRONG. This is a tough one for people hell-bent on preaching the "In America anything is possible for those willing to work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps" mantra to accept, but it's the truth. Yes some poor people are lazy. Just like some rich people are lazy. (Reality TV is filled with them or else there would be no Real Housewives franchise.) But the majority of bankruptcies are caused by medical bills , not by people sitting around buying flat screens and plotting ways to con the government out of benefits. (It's worth noting that Ruth Williams, the campaign volunteer Romney helped was plunged into debt by her son's health problems.) 7) But you are RIGHT about one thing... Those of us who aren't wealthy are envious . We should be. Most wealthy people who are miles ahead of the rest of us started miles ahead the day they were born. Why shouldn't the rest of us be envious? That doesn't mean we dislike the wealthy. In fact, some of my best friends are wealthy -- and I say that without a trace of sarcasm. But, they are willing to acknowledge that they began their journey miles ahead of most and therefore while some of them may balk at their tax rate, they are extremely generous to those who have less than they do, because they realize, as the saying goes, "But for the grace of God go I." It would be nice if more of the privileged demonstrated this level of self-awareness -- and not just when a poor person supporting them for president reminds them on the campaign trail that poor people who are doing the right thing, but still struggling to pay their light bills, exist. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com , where this post originally appeared.

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How We Should Celebrate Dr. King in 2012

Every year, we pay homage to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the month of January. Most offices are closed, kids are home from school and people generally enjoy the day off from their normal routines. But how many of us take the time to emulate Dr. King's teachings? How many of us actually understand the fight he waged on our behalf? How many of us emulate his nonviolent dedication to defending the poor and seeking economic justice in society? In 2012, instead of just verbally praising Dr. King, we should continue his quest for equality and tackle today's greatest civil rights challenges: leveling the playing field for everyone, fighting voter suppression, establishing stricter gun laws, a commitment to end international potential warfare and providing a quality education in our most impoverished areas. Then and only then will we truly understand the depth and meaning of celebrating Dr. King's life, legacy and purpose. One of Dr. King's last efforts prior to his untimely death was the Poor People's Campaign. Combating issues of economic justice and housing for the poor, the campaign included an 'Economic Bill of Rights', and efforts to lobby elected officials to pass progressive legislation. Because Dr. King intently understood that the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in society were the poor, he dedicated much of his own life to giving them a platform, fighting for their rights and creating a society where they would no longer be dehumanized. Today, as many politicians cut vital programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance, the poor are increasingly watching their concerns fall on deaf ears and their voices drowned out in a sea of political wrangling. That is precisely why we cannot sit silently in the face of oppression. Until the weakest among us are afforded the same opportunities as the wealthiest, we cannot in good conscious accept that the fight for justice is complete. One of the greatest civil rights achievements we ever obtained was the capability to vote. Long denied the very basic ability to participate in the electoral process of the nation we helped construct, African Americans spent years post-slavery battling poll taxes and other discriminatory practices in order to secure the promise of one man, one vote. After some literally gave their lives so that others could one day participate in the democratic process of this nation, we are now watching that very core human right once again under attack. Passing 'voter ID requirements', several states have taken it upon themselves to alter the way in which citizens elect their next leaders. A poll tax by a new name, these voter ID laws are nothing more than intimidation tactics to keep the poor and people of color away from the polls. It is the most egregious and outrageous form of voter suppression we have ever witnessed in our lifetimes. And it is a blatant attempt to reverse the very work Dr. King dedicated his life to. When it comes to communities of color in the U.S., one of the most tragic realities we face is the rampant rise in gun usage and violence. We can argue as to the root causes of this rise -- whether it be poverty, lack of jobs, inadequate schools, lack of opportunities -- but the fact remains that it is our children we are burying and our families that are being torn apart. The larger question is, why are these guns so readily available? As the national rise in violence reaches epic proportions, we must create strict national gun laws, and we must establish programs to diminish this senseless violence. Whether it's conducting gun buyback events, creating more alternatives for people to resolve their disputes, providing counseling where it's often needed and seeking increased employment/opportunities for the disenfranchised, we must work together to save all of our collective futures. If Dr. King were alive today, another issue he would tackle head on would be increasing warfare around the world. As a man of the cloth and someone who embodied peaceful protest, he was always fervent in his anti-war stance. At a time when potential international warfare threatens stability in many nations and pushes us at home into deeper debt, we must look at potential conflicts through his lens. And finally, no society can advance to the next level if all of its children do not receive the same quality education. As I've stated many times in the past, education is often times the key that opens the door to entirely new possibilities and helps to equalize the playing field like nothing else can. But when a child doesn't receive adequate education because of his/her socio-economic status, then we have failed as a nation. As perhaps our greatest modern civil rights struggle to date, good education is something we must ensure all children receive regardless of their race or income status. We agreed that 'separate but equal' was separate and unfair; now let's work to create a united, equal educational system for all. "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends," were words spoken by the great Dr. King. As we gather to honor this civil rights advocate, let's remember to pick up the mantle and continue the good fight, for there are many obstacles which remain. So let us not celebrate in silence, but commemorate with our actions; do something today to bring justice for tomorrow. Reverend Al Sharpton is the president of National Action Network and host of PoliticsNation on MSNBC.

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It’s Our Turn: Celebrating MLK Day

Martin Luther King day is one of our only national holidays committed to honoring social and racial justice. Yet too often it has been watered down to a Hallmark card -- a weak commemoration of one of the most inspiring individuals and formative eras in American history. It's time for a true celebration of Martin Luther King Day. This week, Americans everywhere will remember the selfless and historic contributions made by one of the most important figures of the 20th century. Rebuild the Dream members are hosting MLK Day Movement Meet-ups to celebrate Dr. King and link the Civil Rights Movement with today's struggle for an economy that works for all. We will come together to reflect on the struggles of our past, and unite to secure our future. This is a chance to touch base with people who are passionate about fighting for Dr. King's dream. Neighbors and friends will gather in schools, libraries, community centers, and living rooms to watch a short video and open up a discussion on how we can strengthen our movement in 2012. If you would like to attend an MLK Day Meet-up, you can find one here. MLK day is a chance to look back and look ahead -- let's reflect on one of the most important movements of our past as a springboard for the ongoing fight for justice. There is a lot left to fight for, and every day people are continuing Dr. King's struggle. With a powerful movement sweeping the country, we must gather together and ask: What would Dr. King and other civil rights leaders do today? How can we continue their legacy in 2012 and beyond? While the founding reality of America fell short of our ideals, we also had a founding dream that was beautiful -- is beautiful -- and is inherently about equality. The story of America is a story of an imperfect people struggling day after day, year after year, decade after decade, and now century after century to bring that unequal reality closer to our beautiful founding dream. That was Dr. King's dream. That is what our movement is today. 2012 will be groundbreaking, so we have to get together and get ready. It's our turn. Let's honor the inextricable link between the struggles of our past and the struggle for our future.

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Please Tell Romney We’re Not Envious, We’re Fed Up

Last night, GOP candidate Willard Mitt Romney delivered what many believed to be a general election speech after winning the New Hampshire primary and setting his sights on South Carolina. But out of all of the grandiose statements made in his teleprompter-assisted speech, Romney's most outrageous and insulting words came with a reference to the 'politics of envy'. Once again validating his love for the wealthy, and proving just how out of touch with reality he is, the presidential hopeful failed to realize that the majority in this country aren't jealous of the rich -- they are simply tired of a select few controlling a disproportionate amount of our money. It is beyond arrogant and insensitive to think that people seeking fairness and an even economic playing field are envious. And believe me Mr. Romney, they will remember come this November. There's a growing movement afoot in this country. As someone who studied the teachings of Dr. King and who works to organize campaigns around various civil rights issues, I know first-hand that movements just don't emerge out of a vacuum. Even prior to the one galvanizing element which may appear to ignite it, any massive cause is almost always triggered by several events bubbling underneath the surface. For those like Romney who would like to pretend that income inequality and wealth disparity aren't pivotal issues, they better start paying attention to what the majority -- the 99% --- have been chanting in cities and towns all across this country. Last November, voters in Ohio defeated oppressive dictatorial legislation when they repealed Senate Bill 5. Essentially blocking public sector strikes, diminishing bargaining rights for some 360,000 public employees and stripping away overall union abilities, SB5 was one of the most regressive measures created in our lifetime. But proving their numbers and their own sheer power, the people delivered a resounding rejection to a bill that infringed on their rights as hard-working Americans. In Wisconsin, we watched a similar battle play out as Republican Gov. Scott Walker imposed a massive setback to public union and collective bargaining rights. After months of pushback, we now await signature totals in a recall effort by citizens tired of politicians not representing their interests. And it was precisely that frustration, that sense of injustice that also drove people from around the country -- and eventually around the world -- to occupy the streets and demand more opportunities for the majority. Sacrificing their own comfort to camp out in parks, demand that the 1% pay their fair share in taxes and most importantly, change the conversation to highlight the massive economic disparity in existence, the Occupy Wall St. protesters have galvanized into an entity that no presidential candidate can ignore. Time magazine named 'the protester' as it's 2011 person of the year. In the U.S. alone, I saw disenchanted Americans come to my Jobs & Justice rally in Washington, and I went down to Occupy Wall St. in NY to witness mostly young people organizing a platform towards equality for their generation and beyond. Whether it was in Wisconsin, Ohio or any number of smaller fought battles across the nation, there is an undeniable momentum in the air. Emerging out of dissatisfaction with the status quo and the notion that only a tiny minority can control a disproportionate amount of the wealth, this drive for equality has reached the stage of a massive movement. And it's a movement that will not tolerate being dehumanized, nor will it tolerate people like Willard Mitt Romney turning their legitimate concerns into banter. Romney, the people are not jealous of your mansions or boats. They are simply tired of income inequality, and tired of course of your condescending tone.

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Why Politics Needs More Losers Like Newt Gingrich

There are so many misstatements, distortions, exaggerations, flip-flops, falsehoods and flat out lies in politics, and particularly in political campaigns, that when a politician displays a rare moment of unquestioned honesty and authenticity, it becomes a major news story. (Remember the obsession with Hillary's near tears on the campaign trail in '08?) After months of the GOP presidential candidates accusing each other of lying about their own records and about the records of one another, we finally experienced one moment of unimpeachable, unadulterated honesty from a candidate. I'm not talking about the moment Newt Gingrich choked up while recalling his mother, or even the moment he let slip his real feelings about black people and food stamps . In fact I'm not talking about what Newt Gingrich said at all, but what he didn't say. When Newt Gingrich refused to call Mitt Romney for the customary congratulatory call following Romney's razor thin victory in Iowa, he said much more about what he thinks of Mitt Romney than he ever has in any debate. For that I applaud him. Being gracious in defeat is one of those idealized character traits that we all aspire to (you know, like how we're supposed to say something nice or not saying anything at all) but few truly succeed at. We may say the right thing when our co-worker beats us in that pickup basketball game, or when our boss beats us in that "friendly" game of tennis, but how many actually mean the words, "You played a really great game" or "the better man won today" deep down inside? And if your coworker won with help from a questionable call or two, or your boss called a certain ball out on match point that looked very in to you (and everybody else), you may want to say a lot of things to them once the game is over, but "good game" probably isn't on that list. Political campaigns are often filled with one bad call, one cheap shot, one sharp elbow and one foul after another. Yet despite often being more bruising than any contact sport (after all, even football players don't go after each others' families on the field), at the end of play, regardless of what happened on the court you are still supposed to pick up the phone, and call the guy who beat you, possibly by lying about you or criticizing your spouse, to say "Congratulations. I wish you the best." Even though we all know you probably wish he would get hit by a bus. Though they may have little in common politically, former George McGovern and Gingrich do have something in common. According to the New York Times , after being trounced by Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election the former Senator also declined to pick up the phone for the standard concession call to his adversary. He sent a telegram instead. (Click here to see a list of some famous sore losers -- from politics, to sports and entertainment.) (In light of the Watergate break-in, I might have opted for a singing telegram--delivered in the least favorite musical genre of the intended recipient.) Don't get me wrong. I realize kids need to be taught the value of good sportsmanship. Frankly, that's a lesson we could all use. But another lesson we can use? Learning to play fair. You can say a lot of things about Newt Gingrich (for instance my 90 year-old grandmother who can't always remember his name calls him the one with "all the wives") but one thing you can't say about him is that he lost in Iowa fair and square. The loss may have been legal thanks to Citizens United , but I wouldn't call it fair. He -- and most of the other candidates -- ultimately lost to Mitt Romney because Romney, and those supporting him, massively out spent the others. Whether or not the ads unleashed by the Romney campaign, and the super PACs supporting him, were inaccurate (a longstanding Gingrich complaint) is really secondary. If someone is flooding the airways with one message, and that message is drowning out all others, that message will get mistaken for fact -- regardless of whether it is or not. Gingrich may have lost in Iowa, but he could perhaps take some small consolation in coming close to winning an unexpected new role by default: spokesperson for the movement to get rid of super PACs. Of course, then his opponents would have another example for their attack ads already going after him for his brief love fest with Nancy Pelosi over climate change, which supposedly proves that he's occasionally too nice to liberals to be a true conservative. (Yes I laughed just as hard while typing that as you did when reading it.) But it appears that before embracing his new cause with both arms, he used one arm to signal, "Well if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." A super PAC supporting Gingrich will be spending millions of dollars on attack ads aimed at--you guessed it--Mitt Romney in South Carolina. Since Romney didn't play fair, I must say that I don't have a lot of sympathy for him regarding what's about to come his way. That doesn't mean I applaud Gingrich's super PAC. I don't applaud anyone, or any entity, that uses obscene amounts of money to hijack our political system. But I do find it refreshing that Gingrich actually took a stand in Iowa and essentially told Romney just what he could do with his win. And he did it without saying anything at all. Of course, a singing telegram might have worked too. Maybe a certain song by Cee-Lo Green? Keli Goff is the author of " The GQ Candidate" and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com , where an earlier version of this post originally appeared.

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Will We Be a Cohesive Country of Laws or a Divided States?

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As the new year begins, everyone's attention is intently focused on the 2012 elections this fall and the direction of the nation. But while we parse the primaries and assess the candidates, there is another battle about to take place in this nation's highest court that is just as vital. They are two cases set to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court in the early part of this year, and the outcome of both will determine whether we are a cohesive country of laws or whether we are a divided states that would like to make up our own rules as we go along. It is the ultimate test for many of the rights we garnered throughout the decades, and the results of these rulings will directly impact each and every one of us as Americans and the values that we hold so dearly. The two pertinent cases involve Obama's health care reform legislation and the federal government's ability to supersede states when it comes to the notion of immigration. By taking these two issues to the Supreme Court, some conservatives are making a feeble attempt to undo many of our civil liberties, but we, the people, refuse to stay silent. They may think they're slick, but guess what, Republicans, we know your games all too well. On March 26th, my organization, National Action Network, will be rallying in front of the Supreme Court as it begins hearings on the ability of the federal government to enact the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. While this is merely politics for a Party struggling for relevance in an increasingly diverse nation, this case and health care reform are no laughing matter to millions of Americans living with little to no coverage. More than 2.5 million adults younger than 26 have already been able to stay on their parents' insurance plan, and millions of children with pre-existing conditions have not been denied coverage thanks to this Affordable Care Act. In essence, that is what this legislation is all about -- creating affordable options. It is the ability of millions of Americans to purchase insurance coverage at reasonable rates at a time when so many are either unemployed, underemployed or simply losing benefits as their employers cut costs. Perhaps those pushing for an end to this health care reform bill have never felt the pain of deciding whether to take a young child to the doctor or buy groceries to put food on the table. Maybe they don't know the anguish of watching loved ones suffer because you can't afford the right medication or the necessary treatment that could possibly save his/her life. Too busy conjuring up politically divisive terms like "Obamacare," many on the extreme right have attempted to hide the tremendous benefits of this program that begins to rectify an unfair health care system. There is no reason why in the most powerful nation on Earth so many of its citizens are living without proper health care. As the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act reaches the Supreme Court, we will be there letting our collective voices be heard. Be sure to join us on March 26th. The other case sadly finding its way to the Supreme Court this year is the regressive attempt by Republican-led states to enforce blatantly racist immigration laws. After Attorney General Eric Holder led the Justice Department to file a lawsuit against Arizona's SB 1070 immigration bill, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked much of the AZ law from taking effect, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her decision in a 2-1 vote. Still unable to accept these rulings, AZ Gov. Jan Brewar is now taking the issue to the Supreme Court, as she and other harsh immigration law proponents are screaming states' rights and denouncing the federal government. Last time I checked, the federal government trumped states' rights -- and good thing they did or else we would still be sitting in "separate but equal" facilities, and still be barred from participating in much of society. With an increasingly conservative Supreme Court, we all need to pay extra attention to their findings and their rulings scheduled for later this year. And with Justice Elena Kagan recusing herself from this case, and with Justices Thomas and Scalia not recusing themselves from the health care case, we must wake up and see the bigger the picture. Make no mistake, these two Supreme Court cases are clear attempts to diminish our federal government and lay the groundwork to give states more authority to do as they please. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it was the federal government that enforced the Civil Rights Act of '64, and it was the federal government that ended open discriminatory practices throughout the country. Without federal laws ensuring that varying states couldn't ignore progressive regulation, women and people of color would not have many of the civil liberties we cherish today. These two Supreme Court cases are an attempt by some to slowly undo the very foundation of justice and equality in the country. They are an attempt to slowly reverse the Civil Rights Act and eliminate everything we have so consistently fought to attain. Join us on March 26th as we begin our rally in front of the Supreme Court to show our support for health care reform. As we diligently monitor both pertinent cases, and all rulings that emerge, we will be planning more action throughout the year. This may just be politics to those seeking a victory in Nov., but it is our lives and our children's lives they are holding in the balance. Democracy is the ability of everyone to have a voice, and to have an opportunity to dictate what they want their future to look like. Make sure yours is heard.

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In Politics, A Closed Mouth Won’t Get Fed

While watching the Iowa caucus this past Tuesday and all the analysis that ensued, I had a random thought:  I wonder how many Black women live in that state? SEE ALSO: Did Romney Have 20 Incorrect Votes? College Kids Boo Santorum In a vastly conservative part of the country, how many Black women are Republicans and how many participated in the famed caucus?  As the focus now shifts to the New Hampshire primary, I realize more and more that my thoughts aren’t random at all; they are actually very relevant.  As the GOP attempt to “diversify” and branch out (so they say), whose issues are they really addressing?  Do we ever hear poor people’s concerns, women’s issues or young folks’ apprehensions ever answered?  The answer is a definite, “Hell, no!”  But, the real question is, who is to blame? Growing up as a Black woman in a multicultural city, I was exposed to differing viewpoints and ideas at an early age. What I quickly grasped as a young kid is the notion of  “a closed mouth won’t get fed.”  If you don’t speak up, raise your concerns, let your voice be heard, nobody will pay attention and nothing will change.  Silently going along with the status quo and accepting unfair practices will get you nothing but more injustice and frustration.  You must make your issues a priority if you intend on seeing a different result going forward.  That’s a vital lesson that I’ve carried with me throughout my work at National Action Network and in my everyday life.  If you do not make others recognize and respect your grievances, things will remain the same forever.   And that’s precisely the concept we must remember when it comes to politics, the 2012 election, and our future. Over the last several months, I carefully observed the Republican debates to see what these candidates were discussing and more importantly, whom they were addressing.  Never did I hear concern for the poor, or policies that would improve the lives of the impoverished.  Instead, what I consistently heard was talk of more tax breaks for the wealthy and improvements for big business.   Never was there a mention of African Americans (forget about Black women specifically) and the unjust hurdles facing us.  And never did I hear any concise solutions for this nation’s youth and how we could improve their possibility for a stable tomorrow.  After these past few months of campaigning, the GOP has made it abundantly clear that they are not concerned with my issues, nor that of the next generation. Now as these candidates head to the next primary, we must ask ourselves, how can we make our issues a priority? How can we get them to acknowledge us and address our concerns in a respectful manner?  To all the Black Republicans out there, I say raise your voice and try to shed light on some of the Black communities’ issues.  That’s the only way we will truly see if all the talk of “inclusion” is a reality.  Let’s hold all of the contenders accountable and let’s watch if they really have the backbone to match their rhetoric. SEE ALSO: Why GOP Candidates Keep Talking Race Black Couple Donates Priceless Art Collection

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