Fighting For Disability Rights Is Fighting For Democracy

Our guest author today is Randi Weingarten, president of the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers.

We are witnessing the most ominous threats to our democracy in our lifetimes—from the January 6 insurrection and attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election, to the slew of voter suppression laws recently passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures, to the anti-democracy forces working to interfere with vote counting and even manipulate the outcome of elections. Another threat to democracy receives scant attention despite its substantial impact—the disenfranchisement of voters with disabilities. One in four people in America lives with a disability, and many face steep obstacles that make it difficult or impossible to vote.

Our responsibility as citizens is not just to vote; it is to demand Access and accessibility so that everyone who is eligible can vote and every vote is counted. That means fighting against voter suppression laws that disproportionately target racial minorities, older Americans, veterans, and low-income voters. And it includes demanding that people with disabilities have the unfettered ability to vote. The fight for voting rights is one that should include everyone. When we help each other vote, we are helping our democracy thrive.

Teaching The Constitution As A Living Compact

In honor of Constitution Day (September 17th), this blog series invites teachers and leaders in the field of civics and democracy education to address the question: Why is it important to teach the Constitution? Our final guest author in this series is Randi Weingarten, president of the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers. Other posts in this series can be found here.

At a time when the future of American democracy hangs in the balance, how should we teach the U.S. Constitution?

The Preamble to the Constitution, where the framers laid out its purposes, provides us with six words that help answer this question. The Constitution was intended, its authors wrote, “to form a more perfect union.” With this phrase, the framers made it clear that they did not conceive of the Constitution or the republic it established as a finished product, perfect and complete for all time, but as a work in progress, in need of continuous renewal and “re-founding.” By the design of the founders, the Constitution is a living compact, changing and evolving with “we the people” who authorize it and give it legitimacy anew with each successive generation of Americans.

Federal Policy And Tribal Sovereignty

In honor of Constitution Day (September 17th), this blog series invites teachers and leaders in the field of civics and democracy education to address the question: Why is it important to teach the Constitution? Our guest author today is Jordann Lankford-Forster. an educator and an IEFA instructional coach for Great Falls Public Schools in Great Falls, Montana. Jordann is A’aniiih and Anishinaabe, and her A’aniiih name is Bright Trail Woman. Other posts in this series can be found here.

American Indian Federal policy has historically played a significant role in tribal sovereignty. This is always a difficult subject to explain because it is so multifaceted. Prior to colonization, tribal sovereignty was exercised absolutely, with tribes interacting on a government-to-government basis, and under total self-sufficiency. Today, major contributing factors to achieving total sovereignty include location, access to resources, and relationship status with the Federal Government. It is important to remember that tribal sovereignty—or the ability to remain separate and independent—looks different for every tribe. As (the 574) tribes and individual American Indians navigate their future, the Constitution is continually referenced as a means to gain a strong foothold within the country that we now know as the United States of America. 

I teach in a small district in Great Falls, Montana. Our student population is 16.5 percent American Indian and 44 different tribes are represented within our school system. My district is considered “urban” because it is in a city rather than located on a reservation. In 1972 the Montana Constitution was revised to recognize the “distinct and unique cultural heritage of American Indians”  and to be “committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity.” And, as a district, we are continually trying to ensure we honor that. At times, it is difficult for my students because they do not always feel like they have a sense of identity within this country.

Why Teach The Constitution?

In honor of Constitution Day (September 17th), this blog series invites teachers and leaders in the field of civics and democracy education to address the question: Why is it important to teach the Constitution? Our guest author today is Zeph Capo, a public school science teacher, president of the Texas AFT, and member of the Shanker Institute Board of Directors. Other posts in this series can be found here.

Collective bargaining is the cornerstone on which we built the middle-class. As a labor leader, it is the best tool used by workers to earn a seat at the table as equals with their employer. It is also how we develop a contract outlining one another’s roles, rights, and responsibilities in the workplace. As an educator, I ask: How do we expect workers to understand the process and power of collective bargaining if they don’t understand the power and process of governance as outlined in our Constitution?

I believe teaching the Constitution is vital, because it is the premier collectively-bargained contract present in our lives. The rights, responsibilities, and regulations set forth in the Constitution serve as the bedrock on which we develop all other aspects of the agreements governing the many facets of our society.

Understanding The Complexities Of History

In honor of Constitution Day (September 17th), this blog series invites teachers and leaders in the field of civics and democracy education to address the question: Why is it important to teach the Constitution? Our first guest author is Stephen Lazar, is a National Board Certified Social Studies teacher, who is typically teaching students Social Studies and English at Harvest Collegiate High School in NYC, which he helped to start. This year, he is on sabbatical and a Ph.D. candidate in history at the CUNY Graduate Center and is one of the Shanker Institute Civics Fellows. Other posts in this series can be found here.

This is my first Constitution Day in some time where I will not be teaching high school students, since I am on sabbatical as I work towards a Ph.D. in history. When I am teaching history, there are two things I want students to understand more than anything else. First, history is complicated; things are rarely simply good or bad. Second, I want students to understand that that history is not merely a list of sequential facts. Instead, history is made up of competing interpretations. I regularly tell my students that historians, far more knowledgeable than we are, look at all the available evidence and come to different conclusions from each other. When I return to the classroom next fall, I plan to engage my students in one such disagreement in looking at the impact of the Constitution on people who were enslaved.

Increasingly over the past few years, my students have come with strong opinions on the Constitution’s relationship to the institution of slavery. This happens for a variety of reasons: engagement with the Black Lives Matter movement, watching Thirteenth on Netflix, and exposure to the growing public discourse that examines the history of racism in the United States. Whereas a decade ago, most of my students knew very little about the Constitution or had a relatively positive view of it, now a critical mass of my students strongly believe that the Constitution laid the foundation for a racist society because it was proslavery.

Putin Won. Will He Again?

Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe.

Over the past four years, an authoritarian-minded president has posed a continuous challenge to American democracy.1 With electoral victory in doubt in the 2020 presidential election, he now even refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and openly states that he is stacking the Supreme Court in order to determine a contested outcome in his favor. 

But an equally serious constitutional challenge has been obscured in the tumult of the 2020 presidential campaign. The republic’s democratic institutions have failed to respond to a hostile foreign power’s ongoing intervention in American politics and the outcome of its presidential elections. Despite all the attention given Russia’s efforts in 2016, no significant bipartisan action was ever taken sufficient to deter Russia from its ongoing active measures operations. 

The reasons for this failure are as alarming as when the American public was first presented information of Russia’s interference.

Can It Happen Here? Donald Trump And The Fracturing Of America's Constitutional Order

Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe and principal author of the Albert Shanker Institute’s Democracy Web, an extra-curricular resource for teachers. 

“The main thing is, they’re talking about us.”
Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries, 1932-34

Comparing Trump’s presidency with past fascist regimes, and particularly that of Hitler’s Germany, is generally seen as partisan hyperbole. Past warnings of a Nazi-like leader taking hold in America — like Sinclair Lewis’s ironically titled It Can’t Happen Here — were belied by history. America’s constitutional system can withstand even Trump. Can’t it?

The Trump presidency is certainly not the emergent Third Reich. Adolf Hitler, once handed power, acted swiftly to supplant the existing constitution by emergency decree, directed widespread repression against political opponents, purged Jews from state institutions, and held elections and referenda under conditions of mass intimidation to cement Nazi rule. By contrast, America saw three years of generally unhindered political opposition, media criticism, and free (if flawed) elections in which an opposition party made serious gains. 

Yet events keep giving resonance to the warnings about Donald Trump’s rise to power. In response to national protests and unrest over brutal police violence against African Americans, Trump had peaceful demonstrators in front of the White House attacked and ordered the military to “expand the battlespace” to U.S. soil. What is happening here?

Russia-gate Still Matters

Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe.

A majority of Americans support the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. With each witness’s testimony, they learn the extent to which Trump risked America’s national security and betrayed his oath to the Constitution to extort Ukraine’s new leader for his own political benefit. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has described the issue as having “clarity.”

A narrow focus on “Ukraine-gate,” however, ignores another grave issue. If the U.S. Constitution demands Congressional action to prevent manipulation of a future election by an incumbent president, it similarly demands action against a foreign power’s past manipulation of  a U.S. a presidential election that the incumbent used to gain power in the first place. Oddly, even as evidence has mounted of this original crime against American democracy, the media have generally ignored  a connection with Ukraine-gate. But it is an issue that also has “clarity.”

Since November 2016, we have known three things: the Russian government interfered in the U.S. presidential elections; Trump and his campaign solicited and used Russian help; and Trump won his Electoral College victory by a total of 77,000 votes in three states while substantially losing the national vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton. The response (as I wrote in the Washington Post) was to look away from the inter-connection. Although, in Russia, the consensus was that “Putin has won,” here it was that Trump’s unlikely election was determined by domestic factors.

Citizenship, Rights, And Race

A week ago, the Departments of Sociology and History at the University of Michigan organized a symposium in honor of Peggy Somers, Theorizing and Historicizing: Political Economy, Rights, and Moral Worth. I have learned much from reading Somers and consider her to be in the first rank of sociologists and theorists of her generation, so I was honored to be asked to contribute to a conference that recognized her work. What follows was adapted from my presentation. – LC 

As the subtitle of Peggy Somers’ 2008 book, Genealogies of Citizenship: Markets, Statelessness, and the Right to Have Rightsmakes clear, her subject rests on a conceptual foundation taken from Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. That is, the twin ideas that citizenship is the “right to have rights” and that the denial of citizenship takes the form of “statelessness.”The architecture of Somers’ compelling argument – including her powerful analysis of the dialectic of citizenship and race in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which unfortunately has proven so prescient for understanding the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico today – is built upon this foundation. To fully appreciate Somers’ use of these concepts, it is important to begin with the understanding that, intertwined in these Arendtian formulations, are political science claims of an analytical nature and political philosophy claims of a normative nature.

Arendt’s political science claim is rooted in her analysis of the historical experience of Jews under Nazi Germany. She finds the immediate origins of the Holocaust in the post-World War One breakup of the Austrian-Hungarian, Ottoman, German and Russian empires. Europe was reorganized into nation states defined by distinct ethnic identities, creating national-ethnic minorities that were denied citizenship in a number of cases. As people who had been the historic target of racist tropes that questioned their loyalty to the community as a whole, Jews and Roma were particularly vulnerable in this new European order, too easily made into "stateless" people with no rights.

A Mouse Gives Birth To A Mountain: What The Mueller Report Tells Us

Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe and principal author of the Albert Shanker Institute’s Democracy Web, an extra-curricular resource for teachers. He also edited the journal Uncaptive Minds from 1988 to 1998.

In the manner of Russian propaganda, where everything is true if it supports the leader, Donald Trump has asserted simultaneously that the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller completely exonerated him (“No collusion, no obstruction, game over”) and that the Special Counsel’s investigation was completely illegitimate (a “Russia hoax,” a “witch hunt” and an “attempted coup”). Vladimir Putin has joined Trump in the propaganda denials, declaring that the Mueller investigation, which previously was a reflection of “Russia hysteria,” was now “objective” and cleared not only the U.S. president but also the Russian government of conspiring together to influence the 2016 presidential election. “A mountain gave birth to a mouse,” Putin quipped.

Robert Mueller’s Report on Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, of course, is hardly a mouse. It is a 448-page mountain of evidence refuting both Putin’s and Trump’s denials. Indeed, the intense focus of politicians and pundits on whether the president obstructed Mueller’s investigation has distracted from the essential findings of the report: first, that the Russian government attacked American democracy and successfully deployed a sophisticated intelligence operation to get the U.S. president it wanted; and second, that the Trump campaign openly and furtively welcomed and used Russia’s help. In the process, Trump promised to improve relations with Russia if he were elected. When one reads the report carefully, even in redacted form, it is hard not to agree with what a Kremlin official e-mailed to a confederate immediately after Hillary Clinton’s concession: “Putin has won.”