Both battles had the goal of enabling ordinary people to exercise more power, over their own lives and in society more broadly.
The United States is in the middle of another COVID-19 surge, and there’s no mystery as to why. Now that a majority of eligible American adults are vaccinated against the virus, social distancing, mask requirements, and other pandemic safety measures in each state have been steadily reduced. But America has not achieved the level of public vaccination that would provide “herd immunity” to the virus—that is, a level of vaccination high enough that transmission of the virus through communities largely ceases due to a lack of infection targets—and so that return to unmasked “normal” has had dire consequences for Americans who are still unvaccinated. Among the vaccinated, pandemic infections remain low. Among the unvaccinated, including children too young for the vaccine, the new “delta” variant is spreading through unmasked communities like wildfire.
There are only two possible solutions to the new surge: Either the vast majority of Americans need to get vaccinated—and quickly—or widespread shutdowns need to again occur to prevent regional hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with new patients. (A third solution preferred by conservative Republicans—in which we allow the pandemic to take its course, with each citizen deciding for themselves whether they will or will not infect those around them and accepting widespread deaths as the necessary price—is too malevolent to take seriously.)
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced the state’s new attempt to address the crisis: Every one of the state’s quarter million-plus state employees will have to choose. State employees will be required to either show proof of vaccination or be tested weekly for COVID-19 infection.
You don’t have to be vaccinated. But if you want to keep your job, you’re going to have to continuously prove you’re not a danger to your coworkers.
This tradeoff between requiring vaccinations or requiring proof of your negative COVID-19 status is likely going to spread, because the status quo isn’t going to be tenable. If the pandemic is spreading almost entirely among the unvaccinated, then the unvaccinated are either going to have to go into lockdown (again) or abide by other safety measures that can prevent infection. Also in California, a group of several hundred San Francisco bar owners are announcing that customers wanting to enter their businesses will either have to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. That mandate may spread to more city businesses, and the city itself is contemplating similar moves.
Within the federal government, the Department of Veterans Affairs will be requiring 115,000 front-line health workers to be vaccinated in an effort to protect patients.
These new vaccination mandates aren’t happening in a vacuum. Vaccination rates among public workers continue to be deplorable in some regions, contributing to pandemic spread. Both governments and private businesses are getting fed up with a surge that didn’t have to happen, resulting in more blunt warnings to workers than have been given in the past. The NFL has warned that if unvaccinated players result in an outbreak that requires the cancellation of a game, the team with the outbreak will be pinned as forfeiting the game. That puts the safety onus on the willfully unvaccinated: You don’t have to get a free vaccine that may save your life or the life of someone around you, but if you take the risk and your decision screws your entire team out of a playoff berth, then that’s going to be between you, the rest of your team, and every one of your irritated fans.
It is not likely that the United States will return to widespread public shutdowns, at least not unless the winter surge threatens to become even more catastrophic than the current one. There is no stomach for it; the places where COVID-19 is spreading rapidly now are the places where public or official contempt for safety measures resulted in lax measures to begin with. That means the next stage of the pandemic may require limiting where the unvaccinated can visit—or work—even as vaccinated Americans face far fewer restrictions.
Yep. Vaccine “passports” may be the government- and business-preferred way out of this new mess. It didn’t have to happen, but it was either widespread vaccination or … this.
No teenager currently living is as cool as the three teen girls who medaled in street skateboarding at the Olympics: Nishiya Momiji (13) of Japan,
One Senate seat. Just one. Four House seats. Four. That’s the very slender reed upon which President Joe Biden’s success or failure is riding in the 2022 midterm elections. Without intervention from Congress very soon, that election will be held under Jim Crow 2.0 in 18 states with 30 new voter suppression laws so far. The states aren’t done yet, and the redistricting—or in many of these states, the gerrymandering—has not yet begun.
The tidal wave of voter suppression laws coupled with the gerrymandering that’s coming mean that when President Joe Biden says that even without breaking the filibuster and passing new voting rights legislation, “the American public, you can’t stop them from voting. […] They’re going to show up again. They’re going to do it again,” voting rights activists respond with, “We’re fucked.”
That’s a quote from Georgia organizer Nsé Ufot, who told Politico that they’re doing their best but “if there isn’t a way for us to repeat what happened in November 2020, we’re fucked,” she said. “We are doing what we do to make sure that not only our constituents, our base, the people, the communities that we organize with, get it. We’re trying to make sure that our elected officials get it as well,” Ufot added. But the latest news out of Georgia completely stacks the deck against whatever organizing they can do: Republicans are plotting the takeover of the elections board for Fulton County—the state’s largest and most important Democratic county. The state where Sen. Raphael Warnock—whose win in a special election flipped the Senate to Democratic control in January—is running for reelection in 2022.
Georgia’s new voting law allows Republican state officials to take over local election operations, basically firing local officials and appointing their own people to control elections. They passed this law and are threatening to carry it out based on the Big Lie that Democratic elections officials stole the election on behalf of Biden. “All legal and procedural options are on the table if they don’t do their job,” said state Rep. Chuck Martin, a Fulton county Republican of local elections officials. “That’s not a threat. That’s just good policy.” By “do their job,” he means not counting all the Democratic votes, presumably.
Which brings us to gerrymandering, the partisan carving up of congressional districts that would be stopped by the For the People Act. Georgia, along with North Carolina and Florida, could help Republicans gain as many as five House seats. David Shor, head of data science at OpenLabs R&D, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to advancing progressive causes, estimates “the negative impact of gerrymandering is ~20X larger than the theoretical upper bound of a massively well funded field program.”
Michale Li, redistricting and voting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, reiterates that with actual data. “In 2012 in PA, Democrats got 51% of the congressional vote but won just 5 of 18 seats. The map was so gerrymandered that even if Ds won 56% of the vote, they would have won only 6 of 18 seats.” House Democrats, in fact, got 4.7 million more votes than Republicans in 2020, and lost 12 seats.
Professor Sam Wang, director of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, sees more of that: As many as eight seats could flip in 2022 in the House as a result of redistricting. “I would say that the national vote could be the same as this year two years from now, and redistricting by itself would easily be enough to alter who controls the chamber.” Even if the record turnout of 2020 was repeated—which is a thing that never happens in midterm elections—the House would still go to Republicans, he is predicting. That is, again, without a federal law curtailing gerrymandering.
Realization might be dawning on at least some filibuster-loving Democrats that this status quo is not sustainable for democracy. Virginia Democrat Mark Warner told Fox News this weekend: “If we have to do a small carve out on filibuster for voting rights—that is the only area where I’d allow that kind of reform.” This isn’t actually a new position for Warner. He told The Washington Post back in March: “When it comes to fundamental issues like protecting Americans from draconian efforts attacking their constitutional right to vote, it would be a mistake to take any option off the table.”
Warner is a key moderate working with the staunch anti-reformer Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin on the bipartisan infrastructure team. That’s what makes his statement—on Fox News on Sunday—noteworthy. It might not be his intention, but the result is that he’s isolating those two staunch filibuster fans just that much more within the caucus.
That’s good, but it might not be enough. Now would be a really good time for the presidential bully pulpit to be used, with the redistricting process now heating up in the states.
Senate Democrats are drafting a blueprint for a pathway to citizenship for 8 million immigrants as part of the reconciliation bill.