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Politics

Political Advocacy in Social Work

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By: Rachel L. MSW, LMSW

Update: Transcript from chat here.

The always insightful Melinda Lewis, LMSW will return to Social Work Chats on Monday May 20th to discuss political advocacy in social work.

In addition to teaching policy at the University of Kansas, Melinda works as a consultant and lobbyist.  She runs a wonderful blog, Classroom to Capitol, which serves as an excellent source for information about community practice social work.

Back in January Melinda was our guest for a discussion about comprehensive immigration reform, a topic she is an expert on.  You can read more about the chat here.

Social Work Chats will take place on Twitter Monday at 8 PM Eastern Standard Time.  Use hashtag #swunited to participate in the discussion.  In preparation for the chat I have compiled a list of articles and websites related to political advocacy in social work.  You can find the links below.

Articles

 

Jeanette Rankin

Jeanette Rankin

Lobbying-NOT a Dirty Word by Melinda Lewis, LMSW

Clinical vs. Macro Practice by Melinda Lewis, LMSW

A Diary of a Social Worker in the Political Arena  by Becky Fast

Social Work Must Be Political  by Rachel L. West, MSW, LMSW

Social Workers in Politics: An Interview with Tanya Roberts  by Deona Hooper, MSW

Where are the Social Workers, and why are they Missing from the National Conversation?  by Deona Hooper

Websites

Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP)
A think tank founded by retired Congressman Ed Towns to advocate on behalf macro social workers and issues important to the social work profession.  Towns is a social worker and established the Congressional Social Work Caucus during his time in office.

Congressional Social Work Caucus
An authorized congressional member organization.  Members of the Caucus supports the social work profession and societies safety net.  Rep. Barbara Lee, a social worker, is currently serving as chairman.

The Association for Community Organizing and Social Administration (ACOSA)
ACOSA is an organization that supports community practice social workers.  They publish the Journal of Community practice, which is an fabulous resource for those in macro social work and community organizing.

photo credit: peterjr1961 via photopin

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Rachel L. West is the Founder of the Political Social Worker, a blog dedicated to macro social work and politics. She holds a BA in History from SUNY Stony Brook and an MSW from Adelphi University. She is a community outreach and engagement specialist. Rachel resides in New York State, and she is available as a consultant and coach. You can find out more about Rachel at The Political Social Worker at (politicalsocialworker.org).

          
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Human Rights

Abortion Laws, Feminism, Politics, and Neoliberal Societies in Developed Nations

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Re-conceptualizing restrictive abortion laws with a sex equality framework allow us to identify the limitations of women living in developed nations to act in a free manner with their physical bodies as men do. On many occasions, rules, regulations, and laws are enforced to reduce chaos/harm, but the same is similarly used to limit the freedoms of the individual which can also be oppressive in itself.

Historically, anti-abortive attitudes were prominent and common due to societies ignorance of scientific knowledge surrounding an embryo. Often when a pregnancy was declared, the fetus had already grown to a more formed stage which made abortion seem more of inhumane act. Early feminists radically opposed abortion claiming it was “child murder” that exploited both women and children. The core of the radical feminist’s argument was to ‘protect women at the embryonic stage’, hence leading to the anti-pro choice view.

Today, the attitudes of radical feminists have progressed to campaigning to eliminate the ‘root causes’ which drives women to abortion such as providing access to free childcare, financial support and enabling access to practical resources. Modern feminism has not adopted the ‘extreme’ stances of the past which have led to tensions within feminist communities. Depending on the feminist spectrum, some radical feminists believe motherhood is an obligation of womanhood while others may renounce the obligation of motherhood despite being financially and resource able to do so.

Modern feminism is defined in a variety of ways which is then filtered through our many lived experiences. One of the most basic and foundational definitions of feminism is the “advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of sexes”. The origins of the feminism began in the 1950s as a movement in the USA inspired by Betty Friendan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, which inspired women to pursue goals of freedom and autonomy.

The feminist anti-abortion arguments come with a variety of justifications for its campaigns – religious (when does life begin?); scientific (damaging a females body?); conservative (securing the future of mankind); power (forcing restrictive laws on women to exert power and control, potentially for political grounds).

Let us contextualize some of the laws in developed nations where women are forced to abide by policies informed by these anti-abortion justifications:

El Salvador – Illegal under every circumstance (rape, ill physical and mental health. Women can be jailed for up to a decade for performing the procedure. It is noted that low-income women who have miscarriages and stillbirths may be prosecuted due to being wrongly accused of abortion or homicide (White-Lebhar, 2018).

Alabama, United States of America – Illegal under every circumstance. What is concerning about this case though, is that it was only just voted in (last month), meaning that the senator they have in office today, have these views.

Northern Ireland – Illegal under every circumstance (including a result of rape). Medical professionals are afraid to provide their candid opinions about the health of the pregnant female and/or the fetus due to repercussions.

Under further examination, these laws celebrate a lack of individualization and are enforced by these powerful societal structures. Women are forced to adhere to laws derived from cultural and/or religious values in which they may not believe or practice. As Social Workers, our ethical practices use a person-centered approach with a systematic theoretical underpinning of self-determination for those we serve.

This approach applauds the unique and individual dynamic in one’s life and that these dynamics are even more special when they interact with their environment (person-in-context). No one person’s issue is perceived or dealt with in the same manner – social work theory acknowledges these humanistic values yet, we are forced to operate in neoliberal societies where under resourced service providers do not have the capacity and flexibility to approach each client uniquely.

Our role working within the abortion context means we can advocate change on multiple levels – through therapeutic supporting (counselling); by advocating for policy changes by sparking dynamic public discourse (policy); educating generations of women on abortion in an impartial manner (education) and much more. Our perspectives on the matter, and with feminism itself, comes from the top down – our attitudes are shaped by the leaders we have, whether they conflict or reflect our beliefs.

Relieving restrictions surrounding abortion isn’t only about the freedom of choice for women, it’s also an opportunity to examine and identify where first world nations fall short in imploring the sense of freedom we so frequently advertise to eastern societies and third world nations. Developed nations are allowing powerful politics driven by strong single-sided opinions often funded by the wealthiest ten percent of the world decide about life, death, family, and women health decisions.

There are no solidified answers on what restrictive abortion laws mean for women and feminism – whether regressive or progressive for the feminist movement. Whether we identify with feminism and all that it embodies or not, we are ultimately shaped by the societal constructs we were influenced by in our youth and our family values. However, context changes through life experience and transcultural immersions. Therefore, we must evolve individually and collectively.

Our society is ever changing in this way and essentially to be progressive on these fronts, decision making regarding policy should evolve towards being free of judgment, opinions, religion, and power – thinking about individual lives at the core is crucial. Some may view this perspective as idealistic, especially in countries where government structures have the funds to create change, but government money is alternatively utilized to support the community as a whole with supports mainstreamed, directly conflicting with the individualistic nature of social work approaches.

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Global

Scotland’s Vulnerable Witnesses Bill Unanimously Passes in Parliament – Victim Support Scotland reacts

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Today (10 May 2019) legislation was passed in the Scottish Parliament to ensure more child witnesses are able to pre-record evidence ahead of a jury trial, preventing the traumatic experience of presenting in court.

The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill aims to improve the quality of evidence given for the most serious offences.

In response, Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, commented:

“We welcome the passing of this Bill, which we believe is a crucial step forward in protecting and supporting children and families who have been involved in serious crime. It is well known – as we have seen through our own Witness Services from throughout Scotland – that the process of giving evidence in criminal trials can have adverse mental, physical and psychological effects on child witnesses.

“Victim Support Scotland agrees moving to pre-recorded evidence for child witnesses is one way of avoiding such trauma. Further to this, we believe that this should elicit better evidence from victims and witnesses of crime and outcomes for everyone involved in the justice sector.

“We are also heartened by the £2 million funding which the Scottish Government has committed to enabling the creation of a specialist evidence suite for children and vulnerable witnesses in Glasgow, as well as upgrades to support facilities in Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Victim Support Scotland is looking forward to supporting this initiative on the ground as part of putting victims and witnesses first in Scotland’s criminal justice system.”

About Victim Support Scotland

Victim Support Scotland is an independent charity providing support and information services to around 200,000 victims and witnesses of crime in Scotland each year.

We manage a national helpline and community-based services in courts and every local authority area in Scotland. We also provide specialised training programmes and work to raise awareness of the impact of crime on individuals, communities and society.

We have around 130 paid staff and around 500 active volunteers, working from our 30 offices as well as 40 courts across the country. Our expenditure in 2017/18 was £4.5m with the majority of our funding coming from the Scottish Government and local authorities.

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LGBTQ

Certain Moral Values May Lead to More Prejudice, Discrimination

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People who value following purity rules over caring for others are more likely to view gay and transgender people as less human, which leads to more prejudice and support for discriminatory public policies, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

“After the Supreme Court decision affirming marriage equality and the debate over bathroom rights for transgender people, we realized that the arguments were often not about facts but about opposing moral beliefs,” said Andrew E. Monroe, PhD, of Appalachian State University and lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

“Thus, we wanted to understand if moral values were an underlying cause of prejudice toward gay and transgender people.”

Monroe and his co-author, Ashby Plant, PhD, of Florida State University, focused on two specific moral values –what they called sanctity, or a strict adherence to purity rules and disgust over any acts that are considered morally contaminating, and care, which centers on disapproval of others who cause suffering without just cause – because they predicted those values might be behind the often-heated debates over LGBTQ rights.

The researchers conducted five experiments with nearly 1,100 participants. Overall, they found that people who prioritized sanctity over care were more likely to believe that gay and transgender people, people with AIDS and prostitutes were more impulsive, less rational and, therefore, something less than human. These attitudes increased prejudice and acceptance of discriminatory public policies, according to Monroe.

Conversely, people who endorsed care over sanctity were more likely to show compassion for those populations, as well as support public policies that would help them.

“The belief that a person is no better than an animal can become a justification for tolerating and causing harm,” said Plant. “When we believe that someone lacks self-control and discipline, we may make moral judgments about their life choices and behaviors, which can lead down a dark path of discrimination and hate.”

The first experiment involved people who were generally moderate politically and religiously. They rated their agreement with five moral values (care, fairness, sanctity, loyalty and authority) and then read short descriptions of five different men: a gay man, a man with AIDS, an African-American man, an obese man and a white man. Afterward, the participants filled out questionnaires about their thoughts on each man’s state of mind (e.g., “John is rational and logical”) and emotions (e.g., “John is rigid and cold”) and their attitudes and feelings of warmth toward each man.

“We found that people who placed more value on sanctity were more likely to believe that the gay man and man with AIDS had less rational minds than the obese, African-American or white men,” said Monroe.

Experiment two focused on how political affiliation might affect responses. The researchers recruited an equal number of self-identified liberal and conservative participants and used the same morality survey as in the first experiment, but this time, participants rated their thoughts on the state of mind for only four men: a gay man, a man with AIDS, an African-American man and a white man.  The liberals and conservatives then assessed their feelings of prejudice for each man (e.g., “I would rather not have a black person/gay person/person with AIDS in the same apartment building I live in”), their attitudes about public policies that would help or harm gay people (e.g., conversion therapy) and people with AIDS and their willingness to help them by being involved with pro-gay/AIDS awareness activities.

Liberals tended to value care and fairness more while conservatives were more focused on loyalty, authority and sanctity. And the people who valued sanctity were more likely to discriminate against the gay man and man with AIDS but not the African-American or white men, according to the study.

Experiment three focused on perceptions of transgender people and found that participants who endorsed sanctity were more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes about transgender people and to support discriminatory public policies.

The fourth experiment tested whether temporarily increasing sanctity values, relative to care, increased dehumanization and prejudice. Experimenters collected survey responses on a college campus on two separate days –Ash Wednesday—a day associated with sanctity and spiritual cleansing in the Christian faith—and a non-religious day. Participants filled out a survey intended to assess their moral beliefs and attitudes toward a woman described as a prostitute.

Participants surveyed on Ash Wednesday reported much higher concerns about sanctity compared to care and this caused participants to become more likely to dehumanize and express negative feelings towards the prostitute, according to the study.

The final study explored whether heightening concern about care was an effective method of reducing prejudice about gay and transgender people. To prime care values, participants listened to a radio news clip about the importance of safe spaces for people of color, while in the control condition participants listened to a clip about Brexit. Afterward, the participants rated their moral values, made judgments of a transgender woman, a gay man and a white man and indicated their support or disapproval of three public policies that would either help or harm gay and transgender people (e.g., national legislation for marriage equality, banning transgender people from the military).

Participants who listened to the clip about safe spaces emphasized caring as an important moral value over those who listened to the clip about Brexit. Caring individuals showed less prejudice toward gay and transgender people and less acceptance of discriminatory policies against them.

“Our study suggests that a person’s moral values can be altered, at least temporarily, and that highlighting certain values, like caring, can be an effective way to combat prejudice,” said Monroe. “We hope that by showing the moral roots of bias and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities we encourage others to conduct further research to increase equity and inclusion.”

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Brexit: Paradise Lost – or Have We Forgotten?

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For over a year now the UK has been wracked with a host of political scandals which rival the most intricate episodes of Yes, Prime Minister.

Yes, Britain is apparently leaving the European Union (a matter knife-edge enough). Yes, there are questions about the tenability of the Prime Minister’s position, and who will usurp her. Yes, the Paradise Papers have long ago told us what we already knew: the rich aren’t paying tax. Yes, our government is regularly implementing and justifying racist policies. But the hottest of the hot topics was, at least for a time, this:

“Why has the sexual harassment and abuse of (mostly) women been prevalent in British parliament for decades?”

Our government has been dealing with everything from rape to groping and sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual or inappropriate comments. Women set up a WhatsApp group specifically to share information about whom to be cautious of.

The Secretary of State For Defence (that’s right, the person responsible for defending the United Kingdom against attacks) resigned on November 1st, 2017 before the full range of allegations was even made public.

The media has, of course, sought answers, ranging from It was the culture to Women need to toughen up to a disappointingly modest mainstream smattering of power, privilege and toxic masculinity.

Some outlets have linked this (to some, unsurprising) spurt of public revelations to the infamous Harvey Weinstein allegations. This is a man whom, for decades, sexually harassed and abused (mostly) women in Hollywood. His behaviour was known-yet-unknown, referenced in public but never revealed.

Given this, Hollywood responded with the full spectrum of shock, anger, feeling ‘sad’ and ‘bad for’ Weinstein, expressing renewed curiosity about women’s dress codes and naïveté of ‘the culture we live in’. This British Bank Holiday, on the 25th May 2018, he was finally charged, with rape, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct pertaining to two women. Two.

However, we now know about comedian Louis CK, actor Steven Segal, and the once-beloved Kevin Spacey. Morgan Freeman is on the list of those accused. Heartbreakingly, there will be others to come.

To what extent can we continue to suggest it’s women’s responsibility and women’s fault – when it’s happening to a whole spectrum of people? Let’s be clear: every single accused person is a man. And we are all – no matter our personal gender – at risk of the violence of male power.

As Judith Hermann writes in her seminal work Trauma and Recovery, “It is now apparent that the traumas of one are the traumas of the other. The hysteria of woman and the combat neurosis of men are one. Recognising the commonality of affliction may even make it possible at times to transcend the immense gulf that separates the public sphere of war and politics – the world of men – and the sphere of private domestic life – of women” (p. 32).

It should be noted here that Hermann’s usage of ‘hysteria’ was of hysteria a debunked and oppressive conceptualisation of women. She discusses  how a range of traumas, apparently so different, are linked  by the political – they are characterised by fear and threat, power and violence.

Her words ring true, except now the traumatic event is the same for both men and women. The personal world of child sexual abuse – largely perpetrated by men – has become political. And, unfortunately, that is meant both metaphorically and literally.

For Britain, however, this does not follow the Hollywood accusations as some have suggested. Its cultural foundations more likely rest on the ‘watershed moment’ of the British Jimmy Savile story.

Between 2011-2013 Jimmy Savile –  an English radio, TV, and media personality who was an avid charity fundraiser – was posthumously exposed as having perpetrated prolific sexual abuse.

Some of the abuse happened live on air, with cameras rolling. Some was with unconscious and disabled children. He was buried as Sir Jimmy Saville, just two months before the truth of his abuse was unearthed to the public.

This case was unprecedented; ghastly, shocking, unspeakable and yet the country could speak of little else. The grim reality of the tale started to unravel with one small thread: a ‘handful of cases’ in the 1960s.

At first, people couldn’t believe it.

Then, eventually, nobody could question it.

His final victim count – following a snowball effect of increased confidence in reporting, public attention, support and helplines – was around 500. At least, that we know of.

It is to the shame of Britain this happened. It is to the shame of Britain nobody listened until it was too late.

Consider now the current political mess. Consider the heated discussions about everything from consensual flirting to discomfort to harassment to rape. At once point, these discussions consumed the media as much as the media is consumed by its audience. Now, the attention has cooled in light of the scandal-machine that is our current government.

However, the sexual consent movement has been built upon the backs of those who were brave enough to stand up and say: this happened. It was real. It is also built upon the humiliation and isolation we heaped upon so many hundreds of thousands of others, by not believing them in the first place.

Arguably, such open discussions about child sexual abuse could not have happened before. They repeat an age-old story, except this time people are compelled and able to hear it.

The personal is political and the political is personal. The social and cultural context for victims, survivors and survivor-victims to finally unburdening their stories is ripe. And abuse is rife.

What does this tell us? It tells us we have a problem with how we teach our men. And it tells us we have a problem with power.

Judith Hermann predicts every few decades, society can acknowledge traumas and set the stage for action and reparation. However, the unspeakable nature of trauma begs that we push it back into our collective unconscious.

And we can’t. We simply can’t let that happen. Not in my country.

The original meaning of ‘watershed’ is an area of land which separates rivers which flow in two different directions. Politically, culturally, socially, morally, we need to make sure things flow in the right direction.

Crucially, we can’t let this stop with perpetrators who are famous, who have pockets of accusers sharing their stories together for their own safety. We need to support ordinary people (ordinary women, particularly), to share their stories outside of the limelight where the public’s support is less tangible. We need to support the poor, the less ‘credible’, the young, those of ethnic, gender and sexual minorities, those already in sex work, those with ‘bad reputations’.

Let’s continue to bring those in power to task.

Let’s support and donate to groups like Refuge and Broken Rainbow, the NSPCC, and other local charities in your area. Let’s protest the closure of women’s shelters. Let’s give our gratitude to groups like Sisters Uncut. And for goodness’ sake, for all that is healthy in this world…

Stop blaming women. Stop blaming victims. Start listening. Don’t let us forget what it felt like when these allegations and stories were fresh. Let’s turn the political back personal again.

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Governor Northam Appoints Social Worker Dr. Angela Henderson to the Board of Conversation and Recreation

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (L)

On October 19, 2018, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Angela S. Henderson, PhD of Glen Allen, as his appointment to the Board of Conversation and Recreation. Dr. Henderson is an Assistant Professor and Research Assessment Coordinator for the Department of Social Work at Virginia State University.

She specializes in human behavior, the social environment and social welfare policy. Dr. Henderson received a B.S.W. from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 2003 and an M.S.W from Howard University in 2004. She earned her Ph.D. in social work from Howard University in May 2013.

Dr. Angela Henderson

Dr. Henderson has been recognized in the social work community as a “social justice warrior” and has dedicated her life as an advocate for social, environmental, and education justice. In addition, Dr. Henderson is committed in protecting the human rights of individuals, children, and families.

While she attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University as an undergrad she and her mentor, Professor Ernest Morant, Sr., established “The Princeville North Carolina Project” in 1999 with the support of the Department of Social Work and Sociology for Hurricane Floyd relief efforts. The department adopted the town’s elementary school to support the educational achievement and health care of the students.

Dr. Henderson is branded as the “Fixer” and she is known for her ability to accomplish complex tasks under high-pressure conditions.

She served as the Assessment Task Force Lead for Virginia State University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges Accreditation process. In addition, Dr. Henderson is the Principal Investigator for the Police Minority Recruitment Project funded by the Virginia Office of the Attorney General.

In 2012, Dr. Henderson created Congressional Research Institute for Social Work (CRISP) on behalf of Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr. and Former Congressman Edolphus Towns. The purpose of CRISP was to recognize the importance of the Congressional Social Work Caucus and expand the participation of social workers in federal legislative and policy processes. Dr. Henderson served as the Chief Operating Officer and her tasks included: establishing and managing the daily operations, regulatory compliances, accounting, and legal processes. In addition, she served as the social media marketing strategist.

Dr. Henderson participated in a call to action discussion with the Obama Administration and the United States Department of Health and Human Services regarding the leadership of the Social Work Community in preserving the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Henderson will join Patricia A. (“Patti”) Jackson* of Hanover, American Heart Association and Clayton L. Spruill of Chesapeake on the Board of Conversation and Recreation.

*denotes reappointment

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#WhenWeAllVote Wants You to Vote and Check Your Registration Status

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The upcoming midterm election may be one of the most consequential elections ever for women and minorities. Record numbers of women, LGBTQ, and people of color are running for office in this election cycle.

According to the website blackwomeninpolitics.com, a record 397 black women are running for office in 2018. In places like Harris County, Texas the number of Latino candidates has gone up by more than 40% since the 2014 midterms. There is such an increase in LGBTQ candidates that it has been labeled the “Rainbow Wave.” While the diversity of candidates has gone up, there still remain many obstacles to voting.

In Florida, it’s estimated that “since the 2000 election, thousands of truly eligible voters have been removed from the state’s voter rolls, and many didn’t find out until election day,” according to Deborah Cupples a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of an Ohio law purging voter rolls. 

In places like New York and Alabama, there is no early voting, absentee voters must provide an explanation as to why they couldn’t vote in person, and there isn’t automatic voter registration. Further, it’s been documented that in places which require photo ID, like Alabama and Texas, it discourages minorities from voting.

When We All Vote is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization with the aim of registering voters and getting them to the poles in the face of such obstacles. The organization seeks to bring together “citizens, institutions, and organizations to spark a conversation about our rights and responsibilities in shaping our democracy.”

The organization’s co-chairs are a diverse collection of celebrities including, most prominently, Michelle Obama. She wants us to understand the importance of the upcoming midterms.

Other co-chairs include Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monáe, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw. Faith Hill recently hosted a When We All Vote Event in Nashville.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “This is a high-stakes mission. You’ll be asked to do big things between now and November. We’ll arm you with the information you need — like candidate scorecards, registration deadlines, your polling locations, as well as ways to take action — so that you’re heard and counted. But you won’t be alone — millions of people across our country will line up side-by-side with us to take back our democracy and vote like our rights depend on it. Together is the only way we’ll win.”

Don’t let the proliferation of fake news create apathy and cynicism. It is possible to make a difference. So don’t sit this one out. Democracy only works When We All Vote.

Contact your local Supervisor of Elections to check your registration status and for poll locations.

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