Jeff Sessions just became the U.S. attorney general. Here's what to do next.
Do something with the emotions you are feeling right now.
On Feb. 8, 2017, Sen. Jeff Sessions was confirmed as our nation's next attorney general in a final vote of 52-47. The Republican from Alabama abstained from voting for himself, and one Democrat voted for him.
Despite resistance and pushback from many organizations — including an open letter from 1,424 law professors from 180 universities in 49 states asking to reject Sessions on the grounds that "it is unacceptable for someone with Senator Sessions’ record to lead the Department of Justice," testimony from civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), a different hearing 30 years ago when a bipartisan group of eight Democrats and two Republicans voted to reject his appointment to the federal bench due in part to a black lawyer testifying that Sessions called him "boy," evidence of his ongoing relationship with problematic organizations (*cough* white supremacists *cough*) — Sessions was voted into office.
Presumably, for the next four years, he will be President Donald Trump's chief law enforcement officer, overseeing how the laws are interpreted around immigration, elections, the War on Drugs, you name it.
It means the next few years could be challenging, to say the least.
Here are 19 real things you can do right now to make sure our justice system is working for everyone.
1. First of all: Don’t freak out. Don’t panic. Don’t give up hope.
We've lived through a lot in our short time on this planet. The world didn’t end when Bush was in charge. Obama didn’t burn civil rights to the ground either or take away everyone's guns. You’re still here. And there are ways to push back. Heck, some judges are already helping with that.
2. Maybe you’ve already donated to the ACLU. But there are other organizations that need your support too.
The ACLU has already raised six times what they normally do online in a year. Which is awesome.
But there are so many other organizations doing important work too, and they aren't getting the same attention the ACLU has garnered in recent weeks. So, if you can swing it, help out organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, and ProPublica that are also doing important work and could use the money too.
3. Support organizations led by people of color who are fighting for justice and equality on the ground.
Organizations like Black Youth Project 100 are creating the next generation of black leaders. There are a lot of brilliant and talented people of color out there doing super-smart things to help make our country more equitable with a focus on racial justice. But fighting for equality and justice isn’t something that tends to be a huge moneymaker, so many people do it with little or no compensation.
Fortunately, The Safety Pin Box recently came onto the scene. It's an amazing business with two important goals: 1. to turn white allyship into meaningful action toward racial justice and 2. more importantly, to fund black women who are doing hard work to change things for the better. The majority of proceeds from their monthly subscriptions are gifted to black female organizers who are doing said work. Their work will be key with Sessions in charge. Like their Facebook page if you want to learn more. And then subscribe. (If you need to know why you should subscribe, read this.)
4. Be ready for the midterm elections in 2018.
Take a few minutes right now to set a calendar reminder to vote so you can let the candidates who did (or didn't) vote for Sessions and who are up for re-election in 2018 know exactly how you feel about that. We’re still dealing with election fatigue from a tumultuous 2016, but midterms really are just around the corner. Stay informed and get involved. And make sure you vote.
Remember, Sessions has a history of prosecuting people who help others vote, as Evelyn Turner experienced firsthand.
Which brings us to…
5. Support organizations that help protect people’s voting rights.
Sessions has a history of being a little aggressive about opposing voter rights. In 2013, he called the gutting of the Voting Rights Act "good news … for the South." The GOP has already started to take steps to eliminate the election commission that helps states protect the vote.
6. Do you know what Black Lives Matter REALLY represents? Maybe it's time to refresh your memory.
One of the criticisms often lobbied at any activist movement — but especially at the Black Lives Matter movement, unjustifiably — is that there is no clear set of goals. That all changed when Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza — who founded Black Lives Matter — and their allies rolled out their guiding principles document, a comprehensive guide to fighting for racial justice in America. Their website has policy agendas, actions you can take, and ways to get involved on a national and local level.
Another organization, Campaign Zero, also has a platform specifically addressing how to reform police departments, offering solutions that will make life better for all involved. If you are a white person looking to get involved, you might also want to check out Showing Up for Racial Justice, which has local chapters across the country.
7. Support organizations that are acting as watchdogs of the Justice Department.
Speaking of policing and crime, Sessions has a history of being a hardliner who prefers harsh sentences for even nonviolent crimes. The Brennan Center for Justice has been keeping track of his long record of filling prisons instead of rehabilitating offenders. Sessions has been very hesitant to let the federal government help reform city and state police departments. He’s blocked common-sense sentencing reforms that even Republicans wanted to implement. And he’s a fan of private prisons.
8. Take some time to learn about the Innocence Project and the Equal Justice Initiative.
About 1 in 25 people sentenced to death in the United States ultimately would be exonerated for a false conviction (if time on death row were unlimited). The Innocence Project is on the front lines of death penalty reform, helping to get innocent people who are wrongly convicted off of death row.
Then, for those who actually did commit crimes in a system that is fundamentally broken, the Equal Justice Initiative is there to call out bonkers things like the fact that taxpayers spend $182 billion a year on mass incarceration or that there are 10,000 children stuck in adult prisons as we speak.
9. Learn about hate groups, since Trump no longer is interested in what they do.
A recent survey of law enforcement agencies discovered that law enforcement is far more worried about right-wing extremism and terrorism hurting Americans than the threat of Islamic terrorism.
Since the Trump administration decided not to track terrorism by right-wing or white extremist groups, make sure you’re following the Southern Poverty Law Center. They keep track of hate groups in America.
10. Consider running for office locally. Yes, you. You can do it.
As they say, all politics is local. In many ways, what’s happening on Main Streets across America is just as consequential as what’s happening in Washington. Start attending your local city council meetings, and — better yet — run for office on the promise to uphold civil rights and social justice in every way you know how.
11. Support groups that fight for immigrant rights.
A lot of immigration groups will be under attack in the Trump White House. We know this because Trump has already picked a fight with the entire judicial branch of government over his poorly thought-out Muslim ban.
Check out Informed Immigrant for resources. The National Immigration Law Center is on the front lines of the Muslim ban in assisting immigrants with legal advice. The Black Alliance for Just Immigration is helping fight for the rights of black immigrants. Mijente is on the ground, confronting immigrant abuse by government at the source.
12. National organizations get a lot of attention, but did you know many of them have local branches that need help too?
There are lots of smaller groups doing great work protecting and ensuring progress on social justice at the state and local levels (the ACLU has local affiliates, for starters). Ask around. Do some digging.
Also check out Movement 2017, where you can find lots of local organizations that need financial and volunteer support, and see if there are ways for you to get involved and support these efforts in your own backyard.
13. Share this video of Sen. Elizabeth Warren reading the 1986 letter written by Coretta Scott King opposing Sessions for a position as a federal judge.
Ya know, the one most GOP senators don’t want you to hear. King penned a powerful piece in 1986 specifying why Sessions’ controversial record suppressing the rights of black voters in Alabama should disqualify him from a federal judgeship. Warren tried to read the letter aloud before the Senate but was silenced by the GOP-controlled chamber.
Do her a favor — watch and share the video below:
During the debate on whether to make Jeff Sessions the next Attorney General, I tried to read a letter from Coretta Scott King on the floor of the Senate. The letter, from 30 years ago, urged the Senate to reject the nomination of Jeff Sessions to a federal judgeship. The Republicans took away my right to read this letter on the floor - so I'm right outside, reading it now.Posted by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday, February 7, 2017
14. Learn about gerrymandering with this super-fun video from "Adam Ruins Everything" so you know what's at stake in 2018 ... and 2020.
Show this video about gerrymandering to anyone who says “gerrywhatnow?” when you bring up the way voting districts can be redrawn to create party majorities. Sessions will probably be doing everything he can to protect this process.
15. Watch the documentary "13th" on Netflix (or read "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," the book that inspired the film).
This Oscar-nominated documentary was directed by Ava DuVernay ("Selma") and currently boasts a 97% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Its title comes from the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which states: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States."
If you want to better understand the way America’s modern system of mass incarceration is rooted in slavery and racism, "13th" is an eye-opening trip through history.
“By the time her movie ends, Ms. DuVernay has delivered a stirring treatise on the prison industrial complex through a nexus of racism, capitalism, policies and politics. It sounds exhausting, but it’s electrifying.”
— Manohla Dargis' review of "13th" in The New York Times
16. Make sure your bank isn't investing in private prisons, and divest from it if you can.
Several large U.S. banks — namely Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, BNP Paribas, SunTrust, and U.S. Bancorp — help finance debt by CoreCivic and The GEO, two major private-prison companies. In other words, your bank may be helping keep highly unethical private prisons — which rely on an increasing supply of inmates to make their money — thriving. Divest from the banks that support this practice, and spread the word.
17. Support survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Sessions isn’t exactly known for being a champion for women and survivors of sexual violence. In 1994, he voted against the Violence Against Women Act — a fact that wasn’t lost on Sen. Patrick Leahy, who pressed Sessions on his "no" vote earlier this month.
There are a lot of ways to support local women's shelters doing vital work in protecting and advocating for survivors, whether it be volunteering your time with them or donating to shelters in your area. Also, take the time to get to know orgs fighting to create better policies on college campuses, like Know Your IX and SurvJustice.
18. Help pay off the often steep legal fees for those searching for justice.
Funded Justice, an online crowdsourcing platform, allows people to raise money from friends, family, and strangers to help pay their legal fees. Unfortunately, while justice is blind, our justice system isn’t; if you have the money to pay for the best lawyers and legal resources, you’re more likely to get the results you want. This means low-income defendants aren’t given a fair shake. (For more on this, check out the documentary "Gideon's Army.") Funded Justice helps level the playing field.
19. Follow writers who are speaking out about our broken systems.
Read Ijeoma Oluo’s open letter to white people who want to help. Read Rewire’s list of grassroots legal all-stars fighting for justice. Expand your mind and check out our list of 23 incredible black women activists. Seek out new writers every single day.
We've got a long road ahead of us. It's important to stay sane, stay healthy, and stay informed.
There's probably going to be a lot of depressing news being thrown at you for the foreseeable future. Don't block it all out; that's how they win. They want you to feel overwhelmed. Don't give them the satisfaction.
You won’t know what these organizations are doing if they aren’t in your feed, your email inbox, or your mailbox. Take the time to go back through this article and Like the Facebook pages of the orgs that resonate with you. It'll only take five minutes out of your day. It'll help you keep up to date with what we're up against.
And just to say it: If you do feel overwhelmed, take a break from Facebook when you need to. We're all gonna need one occasionally. That's normal.
When that break is over, get back to helping make sure we all live in a more equitable world someday in the future. And make sure to continue to share important information with your community. Share, donate, volunteer, and support folks who are doing the hard work on the ground.