“All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.”
— John Steinbeck, “Once There Was War”
It’s been hard to watch the images coming from Ukraine — families fleeing their homes and bravely risking their lives for their country — and it’s only the beginning. This invasion is an unjust aggression at the hands of an overly ambitious man bitter about losing power. His justifications for the invasion are imagined and distorted to gain support in his country.
It’s also been inspiring to people standing firm against the Russian invasion: President Zelensky refusing to leave despite severe risk, thousands of Russian citizens protesting despite the consequences for speaking out, and the outpouring of love and support from the global community.
War Abroad and Battles at Home
We’re fighting a different kind of battle here at home, yet there are echoes. As Republicans lose numbers and strength in Georgia, they are using any means possible to maintain power. The problems they claim to be solving are exaggerated to whip up their base in hopes of winning elections.
We’re fighting on many fronts — battling misinformation, lack of logic, and unreasonableness. There’s a real human toll at stake. It’s been exhausting, but we’re using our best weapon — our voices.
The Battle over Guns
When Rose Scott asked me what people get wrong about the second amendment on her WABE radio show “Closer Look” earlier this week, I replied, “The second amendment does give us the right to bear arms. But it doesn’t say that we do that without regulation.” We talked about the various ways we can change the laws to better prevent accidents, suicides, and other gun-related tragedies.
Then later in the week, in a point of personal privilege asserting his support of the second amendment, the powerful Republican Senate Rules Chair, Senator Jeff Mullis, declared, “In fact, if the NRA wanted to pass a bill that a baby had to put a gun in his diaper, I would be voting for it.”
This is the mindset we’re fighting in today’s Republican Party. There is no room for reasoned discussion about responsibility or safety. Just a decade ago, some of these same Republicans voted for a bill to require permits to open-carry guns. Now on Monday, they will be voting to remove those permitting safeguards when the Governor’s “permitless carry” bill comes to the Senate floor along with other gun bills.
The Battle Against Voter Suppression
I’ve developed a familiar routine on Tuesday mornings. After getting my Covid test, I go stand on the South-wing steps because there is typically a press conference I want to join. This Tuesday, I stood with House and Senate colleagues from Cobb, Gwinnett, Fulton,Richmond, Bibb, and Chatham counties to protest the unprecedented GOP takeovers of the local redistricting process.
As our Minority Leader, Sen. Gloria Butler, said to Republicans from the Senate well later that morning, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
That same morning, Senate Republicans voted to approve a new map for Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) districts, which oversees the cost of electricity and utilities. As this bill moves through the process, a federal court case is concurrently determining if the very structure of how PCS members are elected in Georgia dilutes Black vote, violating the 1965 Voting Right Act. Currently, candidates must run state-wide but also live in the district they represent. The PSC consists of five elected members and they earn over $121,000 per year.
The Battle Against Racism
Underlying so many of these “red meat” issues is the subject of racism. The GOP local redistricting takeovers have primarily targeted majority Black county commissions and school boards. Education bills like the “Parents Bill of Rights” that allow parents to override teachers and micromanage what is being taught in Georgia’s classrooms, and the anti-Critical Race Theory bill seek to suppress discussions about race.
Standing with my Black colleagues at the press conference on Tuesday inspired me to speak directly to this issue in a Point of Personal Privilege later in the week. In my speech, I shared a conversation I had with my grown kids about their experiences learning about Black history in school. They thoughtfully explained that when they were little they viewed stories in terms of “good and evil” — children’s stories are full of villians and heros. And as they learned about the ugly parts of our history, they acknowledged that it was hard to be seen as the “bad guy” side. As parents, we have the responsibility to teach our kids that while what people did in the past is not their fault, they must work to make things better in the future. And as legislators, we have a responsibility to unravel laws that disadvantage Black people.
“This is hard,” I told my colleagues, “because it’s hard for white people to see where laws favor them, because we haven’t lived these laws like our Black friends have.” So when a Black person points out that a law is racist, we white people need to listen.
It’s hard to be called racist, especially when we don’t mean to be. But it’s a whole lot easier if we acknowledge that we can act in racist ways, even when we don’t intend to. That just means that we don’t fully know, really know, what it’s like to live a Black person’s life.
So to my white friends, if you find yourself saying defensively, “I’m not racist,” STOP, and say to yourself, maybe there’s something I’m not seeing. And try to listen a little harder. That’s what will allow you to see how a law might be favoring white people over Black people. And the amazing thing is — YOU have the power, and responsibility, to change it.
The Battle For Trans Rights
The most emotional battle for me this week was over SB 435, the “anti-trans sports bill.” While acknowledging that this is an issue in need of a solution, the bill put before us was sloppy and premature. In the Senate Education Committee, the authors realized the bill might be in violation of federal law, so they rewrote it on the fly. It should have gone back to legislative counsel to be redrafted, but the legislators carrying it are in a hurry to please the Governor, who wants this issue in his campaign toolbox. And all this was happening while our kids were watching.
I couldn’t just sit in my seat and watch that happen, so I rose to share my story. I spoke because I have hope — hope that I could stir the hearts of my colleagues and make them realize voting “yes” on sloppy legislation is not without consequence. I didn’t change their votes, but I fully believe, in the silence of the chamber as I spoke, that I was stirring a few hearts.
Standing before the Senate, I said, “Colleagues, I’m the mother of a trans child. And it’s hard to stand up here and say that, because it hurts, it really, really hurts.” I went on to talk about the complexity of this issue, and how so many kids get left out of sports, because they’re too short, or too small, or they didn’t get started early enough. I pleaded with my colleagues to slow this process down. You can watch my remarks here.
It’s Only Day 20
This year’s legislative session has been hard, to say the least. But I assure you, I will keep going. I will keep speaking the truth. I will keep calling out evil. And at the same time, I’ll do my very best to get a few good things done. I still choose hope.
P.S: It’s Your Turn to Be Loud
I would love for you to join me and advocates and allies for adults with disabilities to “be loud” on Monday at 2 pm on the South stairs inside the Capitol. We’ll be asking for increased funding to reduce the state’s waiting list for NOW/COMP Medicaid waivers that help cover the astronomical cost of care these Georgians need to live full and productive lives in their communities. The Capitol is crowded these days, usually with unmasked visitors, so please plan accordingly.
We hope to see you there!