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The legacy of Black Lives Matter
A woman holds a “Black Lives Matter” sign during a rally at Woodhouse Moor in Leeds, United Kingdom, on June 21. | Danny Lawson/PA Images/Getty Images The power of the movement lies in making the public, and politicians, take notice. Since its founding in 2013, Black Lives Matter has awakened millions across the globe to how Black people are systematically targeted for violence. The member-led network was formed by three Black women — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi — in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin. Since then, the movement can claim credit for protests in the name of everyone from Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2014, to Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, this March. Though the organization has renewed what may seem like a new fight for civil rights in the 21st century, it is in every way building on a long history of activism that goes back to slavery. As University of Pittsburgh historian Keisha N. Blain argues, if we were to draw a line straight from 1619 to the present, it would be clear that Black Lives Matter is one major wave in a larger narrative. “If civil rights ultimately means citizenship rights, then that means that you would be fighting for it for as long as you don’t have it,” Blain told Vox. But to fully understand the change that Black Lives Matter is effecting today, we also have to look to the 20th century to examine how the movement is advancing the ideology and strategy of Black female justice seekers like Ella Bakerand Fannie Lou Hamer, and even lesser-known activists like Mary Bumpurs and Veronica Perry, who joined together to fight police violence in the ’80s. Such an exercise also helps us see where the movement stopped short — and continues to. Blain argues that overlooking Bumpurs and Perry and currently excluding Black women from the police violence debate sets up a false sense of security for Black women. “I’ve had people say to me that as a mother, I should be concerned about my son because police violence is so prominent. And they’re right — I have to think about it,” she says. “But I have to say to them, ‘I have to be concerned about me too.’ I have to tell them, ‘Remember Sandra Bland and Korryn Gaines? People are somewhat startled because they don’t immediately think about those names.” I talked to Blain, author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom, about how Black Lives Matter is advancing the efforts of hundreds of activists who fought for Black liberation in the US and abroad — and how the movement’s impact stands out from past efforts. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity. Fabiola Cineas In your book and other writings, you’ve repeatedly said that Black Lives Matter is currently building on a longer history of activism. Can you explain how the organization is doing that with the protests currently underway? Keisha N. Blain There are several factors. I focus a bit on Black nationalist politics, and there are several threads that I see between Black nationalist movements of the 20th century and the Black Lives Matter movement. One is the focus on community control. One of the things that Black Lives Matter activists have been demanding for quite a while is greater community control. Today we’re talking about it within the context of policing. But in general, they have been demanding the need for Black people within Black communities to make their own decisions about how the communities would be controlled and how things will be run, as opposed to having people from the outside impose upon them their strategies and tactics. And we see that certainly in the 1960s context but even earlier to the 1920s, with groups like the Universal Negro Improvement Association[a Black nationalist organization founded by Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey]. These organizations emphasize the importance of Black communities having greater say and autonomy. So, ideologically, we see this thread. The second connection that stands out to me is the vision of internationalism, which is one of the core ideas of the Black Lives Matter movement. I would say a lot of people don’t focus on it as much as they should. Black Lives Matter activists have been very vocal about showing that the fight to end state-sanctioned violence is not solely a US problem, but it is a global problem. And, not surprisingly, we’ve seen the creation of Black Lives Matter movements in various parts of the world — in London, Berlin, Toronto, and more. That is intentional, and it’s actually to the core of their message. The movement has previously stated the importance of internationalism and broadening the vision beyond just a national conversation. They’ve expressed the importance of collaborating across nations to demand an end to state-sanctioned violence. This is key to various movements throughout US history. Black political movements have been deeply internationalist in their perspective, whether it’s in the ’60s with civil rights activists connecting their struggles to African liberation struggles or whether it’s even earlier Black activists standing up in defense of Ethiopia. These are the ideological threads. Fabiola Cineas How do you see Black Lives Matter furthering these ideologies and advancing these threads? Keisha N. Blain What is perhaps novel in the contemporary moment is the specific focus on anti-Black law enforcement. If we think of Black Lives Matter as an idea, we can trace the history far back and draw connections to Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin — all of these individuals who were in effect insisting that Black lives matter and that we need to create policies and laws that demonstrate how Black lives matter. In a way, this is part of a larger struggle. And I’m not suggesting that these early activists didn’t talk about law enforcement; they certainly did. But I would say that the way the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement managed to bring the issue to the forefront, that is a distinct trait. Because we talked about police violence in the past — even someone like Martin Luther King talked about police violence; Hamer talked about it. But it almost didn’t capture people’s attention the way that it captured people’s attention in 2014 or in 2015 after the killings of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. So Black Lives Matter, they were almost able to harness the moment as soon as these unfortunate incidents took place. They were able to get people on board, and not just regular American citizens, but politicians — that part is key. In the 2016 election, I was intrigued by how many candidates, leading up to the election, kept talking about Black Lives Matter, even Republicans. Those in the running before Trump became the nominee were trying to figure out how to weave it in. They recognized the significance of the moment, so they needed to gesture to it in some way without offending their base. And certainly, Democratic nominees were grappling with it, too. Black Lives Matter managed to capture the attention of people, but also of individuals who wield political power. That, to me, is quite distinctive. Fabiola Cineas What about the pace and speed at which today’s movement is bringing about change? How does it compare to the speed at which movements of the past operated? Keisha N. Blain It’s hard to say because I think about history as a very long movement. For example, when we think of the civil rights movement, we generally mean the ’50s and ’60s. But I would argue that you can’t quite understand the civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s if you don’t look back to even the ’20s or the ’30s. It’s almost as if you wanted to put a straight line from 1619, which in itself is a troubled date, but imagine that you started there. You could argue that the movement for civil rights began at the very moment that the group of 20 Africans landed in Jamestown. You could make that argument because they arrived at a moment where they didn’t have full political rights and freedom. If civil rights ultimately means citizenship rights, then that means that you would be fighting for it for as long as you don’t have it. So there are certain gains that took place in the ’50s and ’60s. We can talk about the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Brown decision — all these things matter. But you don’t quite understand how we get to Brown if you don’t look back to some of the earlier efforts to integrate public spaces. You can’t even talk about the Voting Rights Act if you don’t go back to the US Constitution and think about the 14th and 15th Amendments, which were passed in the 19th century. So, when you think about Black Lives Matter, you can think about it as a continual struggle. You could argue, then, that the movement for civil rights has been a very long movement, but the difference is the waves, ebbs, and flows — moments when you’re able to accomplish some things and moments when we struggled before accomplishing some more. That’s why I see Black Lives Matter as an extension. It’s not a direct line. Fabiola Cineas What about the structure of Black Lives Matter? Early on, people were looking for one central hub of Black Lives Matter or one central leader, but Black Lives Matter made it clear that they were decentralized and spread out, with different organizations all across the country. How does this structure line up with the structure of groups and movements in the past? Keisha N. Blain What’s interesting is the structure of Black Lives Matter, actually, in so many ways, encapsulates this idea of group central leadership, which is an idea that comes directly from Ella Baker, a civil rights activist who mentored Black activists in the SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in the 1960s. This is an organization that actually grew out of a bit of resistance with an earlier movement — the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which is an organization that Martin Luther King Jr. ran. Both organizations were interesting because in many ways, they demonstrated the generational divide at the time, which is in some ways still reflective today. So SNCC, the younger activists, their approach was very much about avoiding one central leader. The thinking was if you have one leader, one person who represents the voice of the movement, crippling the movement isn’t so difficult. All you have to do is attack their leader. And obviously people figured that out, which is why, unfortunately, Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. And then someone like Malcolm X was assassinated. You have all of these key people who get targeted in order to cripple a movement. What Ella Baker was saying is we need a kind of movement that is leaderless. But while it was articulated as leaderless, it materialized with multiple leaders — multiple leaders without one necessarily dominating over the other. And it allowed space for people to go from participant to leader in a very rapid moment. You could just be mentored and encouraged by someone to use your gifting — you could just lead within whatever context. We saw that in the 1960s when Ella Baker mentored someone like Fannie Lou Hamer, [a community organizer and co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party]. Now we talk about Fannie Lou Hamer as a leader, but Hamer would not be someone we even talk about were it not for the fact that the movement made space for someone like her to emerge. So Black Lives Matter is drawing upon that earlier model of Ella Baker. But you and I both know that it doesn’t play out the way you imagine. Because even when we say the movement is leaderless, it doesn’t stop, for example, the media from determining who they think the leader is. The same people get called over and over again, sometimes overlooking even the founders of Black Lives Matter. There have been situations where there are conversations about the movement where not even one of the original founders [is] at the table and one wonders how that is even possible. Did someone invite them? Did they just immediately go to the men? So even when you try to have a movement that is group-centered in its leadership, external factors impose in ways that you just can’t control. Fabiola Cineas I’d love to talk more about your focus on Black women and how Black women are building on a unique history of activism. You’ve written about how Black women are being left out of discussions about policing and then how that connects to their activist roots. Keisha N. Blain The first thing that I would emphasize is Black women and girls are vulnerable to state-sanctioned violence. It almost seems like an obvious statement, but the sad part is that I don’t think many people fully get it, or even accept it. And I know this to be true because I think about even personal narratives where I’ve had people say to me that as a mother, I should be concerned about my son because police violence is so prominent. And they’re right — I have to think about it. But I have to say to them, “I have to be concerned about me too.” I have to tell them, “Remember Sandra Bland and Korryn Gaines?” People are somewhat startled because they don’t immediately think about those names. They think about Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, or Mike Brown. And I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t think about those individuals, but the danger is we fall into this thinking that Black men and Black men alone are the ones who are targeted by the police, and [that] maybe gives Black women a false sense of security, though reality tells us otherwise. I write about this to remind us that this is a problem and simply say that the challenge here is being targeted for Blackness. And that’s whether we’re talking about Black women and girls or Black trans men. If you are Black, you can absolutely lose your life — in an instant — once you have an encounter with the police. The other part that is key is how people overlook how significant Black women are to the movement against American policing. I mentioned Black Lives Matter and the fact that it was founded by three women. But how about the example of Sean Bell. He was shot in Queens, New York, in 2006 on the morning of his wedding. He unfortunately was never able to get married. The person who emerged following his killing was his fiancé, Nicole Bell, who for more than 10 years and till this day is still fighting to not only keep his memory alive but to bring about some concrete changes. We don’t often talk about Nicole Bell. Or how about Trayvon Martin’s mother? With the focus on Black men who are targeted by police, we often don’t spend time thinking about all the people they’re connected to, including all the women they’re connected to — the mothers, the sisters, the daughters who then carry the mantle forward to demand justice not just for them but for every single person who lost their life. This includes the mother of Amadou Diallo [Kadiatou Diallo], the daughter of Eric Garner [Erica Garner], who unfortunately passed away, and now [Eric] Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr. The list goes on and on. I try to get people to understand that you can’t talk about police violence from any angle without centering the ideas, experiences, and activism of Black women. Fabiola Cineas Can you highlight any women from earlier waves of the struggle who you think show us how Black women today are building on that person’s activism? Keisha N. Blain For a few years, I’ve been researching Mary Bumpurs and Veronica Perry. They are two women who people would know about in the context of New York. Mary Bumpurs’s mother, 66-year-old Eleanor Bumpurs, was killed by police in 1984. Police had been called to her home for what was supposed to be a wellness check. She did not want to leave her apartment, as she was having some mental health issues at the time. They wanted to evict her, and she was resisting. The officer at the time said she had a knife and was charging toward him, so he shot her. A year later, Veronica Perry’s son, Edmund Perry, was shot at age 17 by a plainclothes police officer. These two women, who didn’t know each other before, actually collaborated. These women came together in the 1980s and decided that they will try to figure out how to change policing in New York City. They organized events and meetings with local officials to talk about changing policies that would push for legislation to stop police killings. They came together to reflect and just be together and support each other. This reminds me of the Mothers of the Movement today. There are so many parallels to the present. Their story really moves me, but a lot of people don’t know about them. Because these police killings are happening so frequently, the news cycle keeps changing and shifting our focus. But the loved ones of those killed can never shift their attention because it stays with them forever. They keep pushing and demanding changes. If we were to focus on the work that the mothers are doing, you’re able to see this longer history; you can see how the work of the Mothers of the Movement is a part of a longer tradition of Black women trying to figure out how to stop this. Sadly, it keeps happening over and over again. The fact that Gwen Carr showed up at the funeral of George Floyd is a symbol of how the struggle continues. Fabiola Cineas So what comes next? Can you comment on the kind of change that you see Black Lives Matter bringing forward in this long tradition? What are tangible things that you see happening besides dialogue? Keisha N. Blain What Black Lives Matter has been able to do is move the members of the Democratic establishment a bit further to the left. Joe Biden is still very much careful about how he’s even addressing police violence. We’ve seen him go back and forth on it, and he may or may not come to the place where he fully supports protesters who say defund the police. Mass protests work. Historically, we know that those who wield power make decisions sometimes driven by their own personal convictions. But for the most part, they make decisions because people compel them to do it. Black Lives Matter as a movement is powerful. They may or may not accomplish the tangible goals within their lifetime, but what they are able to do is capture people’s attention. They force people who might otherwise be complacent to listen and consider changing their view. They mobilize people on the ground, who in turn place pressure on leaders to do something. Results from polls that show how many people now support defunding the police are extraordinary. I don’t think it’d be possible without a group like Black Lives Matter shedding light on the problem of policing and doing so since 2014. So people finally get it. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
What you need to know about coronavirus on Monday, July 6
Coronavirus can float through the air. It's likely transmitting that way. That's why experts want you to wear face masks and stop going to crowded bars, churches and other indoor spaces.
Former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden on coronavirus surge, testing and wearing masks
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Mike Trout's mom has simple message about wearing mask during pandemic
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Cam Newton 'tired of being humble' as he gets ready for first season with Patriots
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Redskins' minority owners looking to sell stakes amid name-change dilemma: reports
Three minority owners of the Washington Redskins are looking to sell their shares due to their due to their different standpoint from majority owner Daniel Snyder, according to multiple reports.
First On Screen Kiss: Cristin Milioti and Camila Mendes
"Riverdale" gave Camila Mendes her first on-screen kiss, while Cristin Milioti is still ashamed about hers. (July 6)
Indian man wears $4,000 gold face mask during coronavirus pandemic
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Sasse slams 'Chairman Xi’s spy web' after reports UK will freeze Huawei out of 5G networks
The foreign policy victory for the United States comes amid tensions over the coronavirus, trade, the South China Sea, and as the two nations are engaged in a 21st-century version of the space race.
Man fleeing debris in iconic 9/11 photo dies from coronavirus
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Bars Are Easy. Schools Are Difficult.
If American society is going to take one major risk in the name of reopening, ideally it should be to send children back to school. This issue is personal for me. I have three kids, one in college and two in a local public high school. It’s now early July, and we still have no idea whether or how they will be returning to classes that, ordinarily, would resume just weeks from now. My children’s summer has been idle. They have no jobs and not much summer programming to keep them busy. I try to convince myself they aren’t missing out on much. Hey, I grew up in the ’80s, I think, and all we did during the summer was hang out at the beach. Most days, I make it to about 10 a.m. before I rouse them.I’m lucky, at least in comparison with working parents who have younger kids, because my teenagers are mostly coping and don’t need me—or want me—to keep them occupied. Our stresses as a family are merely those of inconvenience, and we still find our current situation unsustainable. Parents who have no control over their own work schedule are far worse off, as are younger children for whom an indefinite absence from the classroom holds many dangers—the mental-health and emotional risks of long-term isolation, the greater likelihood of abuse and neglect going undetected, the internet-access disparities that turn some of the most vulnerable students into virtual dropouts.In the past week or so, more and more Americans have suddenly remembered that fall comes after summer. Recent headlines have heaped scorn upon the values of a society that seemingly prioritized inessential businesses over schools. “We Have to Focus on Opening Schools, Not Bars,” The New York Times declared. “Close the Bars. Reopen the Schools,” a piece in Vox implored. The hashtag #schoolsbeforebars is trending.Reopening indoor bars—closed spaces where wearing masks and maintaining social distancing are difficult—was clearly a mistake. Yet approximately zero public officials believe that letting adults drink is more important than educating kids, and any implication that reopening bars and reopening schools are roughly equivalent tasks badly understates the enormous barriers to the latter. From the government’s perspective, the only thing bars need is permission to reopen. Once they get it, owners and employees can go back to work, and the money starts flowing.Schools do not have a simple on-off switch. To reopen schools will not just take a lot of money. Classroom layouts, buildings, policies, schedules, extracurricular activities, teacher and staff assignments, and even curriculums must all be altered to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission. Stakeholders—including teachers’ unions, scared parents, and the colleges and universities that will someday enroll a portion of the 50 million students in the nation’s public K–12 schools—all have interests, some not easily avoided or ignored by a governor. Assigning a young, healthy high-school math teacher to substitute for a second-grade reading teacher with chronic health conditions—or inviting idle recent college graduates to sign on as teaching assistants—might sound easy on paper; in reality, the regulations meant to ensure that adults in classrooms are appropriately trained and vetted to work with children are also impediments to making rapid personnel moves in a crisis. Without clear direction and substantial financial support from the state or federal agencies, the easiest course for school administrators is to say nothing. According to a survey in mid-June, 94 percent of K–12 superintendents weren’t ready to announce when or how their schools would reopen.Two things need to happen before students can go back to school: First, Americans and their elected representatives must consciously decide that children’s needs are worth accepting some additional risk. Second, states and communities must commit the money and effort necessary to reinvent education under radically changed circumstances. Even in states where case counts have plunged, doing what’s right for children will require a massive civic mobilization.The problem isn’t that policy makers—many of them parents too—don’t know what families are going through. It’s that, fundamentally, the way public officials thought about the consequences of this crisis was flawed. Early in the pandemic, authorities viewed the closure of schools as essential to preventing the spread of a deadly new disease. The federal government and the states have no firm plans for restarting school in August and September because they had no such plans in February and March; public officials simply didn’t classify education as a crucial form of infrastructure in need of protection.The Department of Homeland Security identifies 16 infrastructure sectors as “so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction, would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety.” Those sectors include agriculture, communications, electricity, financial services, health care, transportation systems, water, and even dams. The official list guides how local, state and federal homeland-security experts spend their time and resources. For each sector, a major federal agency is in charge of determining the best way to prevent essential functions from harm and support their recovery if necessary. (Water security falls under the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, and financial services under the Department of the Treasury.)Bars are not on the list of essential sectors. But neither are schools. The lingering uncertainty about whether in-person education will resume isn’t the result of malfeasance, but utter nonfeasance.Four months of stay-at-home orders have proved that, if schools are unavailable, a city cannot work, a community cannot function, a nation cannot safeguard itself. That the federal government deemed schools a potential health threat to be shut down during a pandemic—but not an essential service—may reflect the American view of education as a state and local matter. More likely, the omission reflects a lack of imagination. In March, few foresaw that the shutdown measures would go on this long, and almost everyone assumed that the U.S. government in particular would spend the time far more wisely.While Americans closed down their businesses in the name of flattening the curve, President Donald Trump pitted states against one another and drummed up opposition to public-health guidance. Had he done his job properly, the governors who spent March and April trying to outbid one another for masks and ventilators could have devoted more energy to education. Had Trump implored his supporters to wear masks and be patient, case counts might well be dropping across the country. Instead, as many states experience an upswing in the virus, plans to remake the education system—contemplating changes of a magnitude that would ordinarily take years to implement—are just now being written.In my work in security and disaster management, I have advised a number of public and private entities about how to move forward during a pandemic. I am currently part of a consulting team advising the state of Massachusetts, where I live, specifically on its school reentry plans. As my children sleep in day after day, and their memories of their most recent in-person classes grow hazier and hazier, I am desperate for my state to reopen schools and hope it gets the details right. Massachusetts seems to have weathered one of the nation’s worst outbreaks reasonably well; infection rates have declined to the point that—with protocols in place to protect children, teachers, and staff—students might be able to go back to at least some normal classes. The harm they face from staying home is enormous. I would accept additional risk for the good of my three teenagers, and children younger than them would benefit even more from being in school.The notion that schools can’t open again to students until a vaccine arrives should not be the guiding moral standard. The vaccine may never come, and the many other nations that handled their outbreaks far more successfully than the U.S. can show Americans what to do and what not to do when reopening schools. Americans must learn to manage around the virus, to mitigate its potential for spread. Fall isn’t far off, and school systems nationwide need to make up for lost time. A bar doesn’t need a groundswell of public support to reopen, but schools most certainly do.
How camping became the social distancing activity of the summer
People are planning road trips to national parks or public campgrounds to get out of the house, while still remaining socially distanced from others. | Thomas Barwick/Getty Images After months indoors, people are renting RVs, cabins, and fancy tents to spend time in nature. During the first wave of strict coronavirus lockdowns in late March, the only outings most Americans could look forward to with some degree of certainty were cautious trips to the grocery store. Slowly but surely, those fortunate enough to work or quarantine at home began adapting to life indoors: People learned new hobbies, redecorated their homes, dyed their hair, attended lots of virtual events on Zoom, and even planned mini staycations. Now, as the weather warms up, Americans are eager to get back outdoors as most states at least partially reopen, despite the concerning uptick in coronavirus cases. Tired of the confines of home and its familiarity, many are gravitating toward nature — planning road trips and reserving RVs to national parks and campgrounds, or booking short-term stays at tiny cabins and luxury tents away from society. People crave the experience of travel, but there’s an increased interest in private spaces and areas where they can get away from others. Travelers naturally want a greater sense of control, especially in the midst of a pandemic, said Alan Katz, an epidemiology professor at the University of Hawaii. And as such, many are seeking out socially distant leisure options that appear to prioritize hygiene and overall well-being, while spending time alone or with those in their social cluster. In recent years, young travelers have been drawn to camping (or, occasionally, luxury camping with added amenities, also known as “glamping”) in greater numbers, but these outdoorsy activities have new appeal in a world where we’re encouraged to remain 6 feet apart. “Nature allows you to social distance without thinking about it,” said Josh Lesnick, president and COO of Collective Retreats, a luxury camping company. “The ability to be just outdoors surrounded by fresh air in a safe environment, and not too prescribed where you feel like you’re in a bleach box, I think that’s what people are looking for.” From what health experts know about the coronavirus, outdoor spaces appear to present a much lower risk than indoors in terms of transmission. Plus, being close to nature allows for a refreshing change in pace and scenery for those accustomed to the drudgery of daily work and life. “Nature allows you to social distance without thinking about it” Since stay-at-home orders started easing in May, tourists have been flocking to national parks in droves, worrying local community members who fear the sudden influx of people could lead to an increase in Covid-19 cases. According to RVshare, a peer-to-peer RV rental company, among the most popular destinations for renters this year are Yellowstone, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. State campgrounds are also anticipating crowds, with some preparing to reach capacity during holiday weekends. Car rental companies are seeing an uptick in reservations, too, especially in urban hot spots like New York City. RV reservations for the July Fourth weekend skyrocketed, and overall, RVshare has seen “booking levels of three times last summer and a 1,600 percent increase in bookings since early April,” a spokesperson for the company told Vox in an email. It’s not just RVs and campgrounds that are seeing unprecedented levels of interest. Travel companies in the outdoor hospitality space — which usually caters to more urban, upwardly mobile travelers — are receiving an overwhelming number of bookings. It could be that people are itching to leave dense cities, even if for a brief period of time. Plus, there are simply fewer vacation options available with activities that are socially distant; places like family-friendly resorts and amusement parks have either closed down or could be deemed unsafe for wary travelers. Camping trips, then, seem to be a much safer choice, especially if hotel-like amenities (such as showers, clean tents or cabins, and comfy beds) are involved. Upon first glance at the Instagram page for Getaway, the travel startup is peak cozycore, featuring a grid of warm, yellow-toned photos, comfy white sheets and blankets, and an expansive view of the great outdoors. The company offers an array of small, cozy cabins in the woods for short-term rentals, located a few hours outside major cities, and appears designed to cater to young professionals in urban areas. Many outposts are close to being sold out in July and August, according to co-founder Jon Staff. View this post on Instagram A post shared by GETAWAY (@getawayhouse) on May 19, 2020 at 7:01am PDT “We saw a huge jump in bookings, about 400 percent, right when Trump announced the Europe travel ban in March,” Staff said. “We did have a bunch of cancellations when the stay-at-home orders came out, but many people did opt for short-term bookings when their vacations or work conferences got canceled, so it was balanced out.” It “just so happened” that Staff and Getaway co-founder Pete Davis created a socially distant business. “We just kind of got lucky that Getaway was well-suited for this moment,” he said. “Our cabins have always been 100 to 150 feet apart. There’s no check-in desk. We have no bar or restaurant.” Sara Fopiano, who stayed at Getaway’s Boston outpost, told me she was initially hesitant to move forward with the trip during the pandemic, despite booking back in January. However, the socially distant nature of the cabins reassured her. “I really appreciated the fact that the check-in and -out [process] was completely contactless, so we did not cross paths with anyone at the outpost,” Fopiano said. That choice could be much more reassuring than, say, staying at a typical hotel or an Airbnb, where guests might be more likely to bump into strangers in enclosed spaces. The appearance of openness and isolation could be liberating — and help grant worried guests like Fopiano some peace of mind. “We don’t have hallways, and our lobbies are like yards,” Collective Retreats’s Lesnick said. Collective Retreats is more geared toward visitors with the means to pay for the luxury of hotel amenities in an outdoor setting. The experience is similar to that of a public campsite but without the shared spaces (like bathrooms), Lesnick said, and the retreats are close enough to travel to by car from a major city. At the start of the pandemic, experts predicted the coronavirus could fundamentally change travel as we know it — by affecting flight affordability, how we share public and private spaces, and the measures needed to ensure a trip is safe. These predictions also highlighted how people, in search of comfort and security, might pay more for it. Ideally, spending time in nature should cost you relatively little. But in pandemic times, those who are willing and able to fork over extra money can experience nature with the added comfort and cleanliness you might not get at a regular campground. At Collective Retreats, for example, some locations employ private chefs, and guests are able to order food service from their respective tents. The broad increase in leisure travel, especially around the Memorial Day and July Fourth weekends, suggests that people are starting to feel confident enough to venture away from home. Plus, those who are traveling likely have disposable income, secure jobs, or vacation benefits. But that doesn’t necessarily means they’re not taking the pandemic seriously, Katz, the epidemiologist, said. While Katz admits that people “are notoriously bad at assessing risks,” it seems travelers are actively attempting to scope out socially distant options. “Travel has always been about the reward of the destination,” Katz told me. “If the risk is high in that area and is broadcasted as such, travel to that destination will fall off by both car and air.” Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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How I Became a Police Abolitionist
Hulton Archive / Getty / Katie Martin / The AtlanticWe called 911 for almost everything except snitching.Nosebleeds, gunshot wounds, asthma attacks, allergic reactions. Police accompanied the paramedics.Our neighborhood made us sick. A Praxair industrial gas-storage facility was at one end of my block. A junkyard with exposed military airplane and helicopter parts was at the other. The fish-seasoning plant in our backyard did not smell as bad as the yeast from the Budweiser factory nearby. Car honks and fumes from Interstate 70 crept through my childhood bedroom window, where, if I stood on my toes, I could see the St. Louis arch.Environmental toxins degraded our health, and often conspired with other violence that pervaded our neighborhood. Employment opportunities were rare, and my friends and I turned to making money under the table. I was scared of selling drugs, so I gambled. Brown-skinned boys I liked aged out of recreational activities, and, without alternatives, into blue bandanas. Their territorial disputes led to violence and 911 calls. Grown-ups fought too, stressed from working hard yet never having enough bill money or gas money or food money or day-care money. Call 911.When people dismiss abolitionists for not caring about victims or safety, they tend to forget that we are those victims, those survivors of violence.The first shooting I witnessed was by a cop. I was 12. He was angry that his cousin skipped a sign-in sheet at my neighborhood recreation center. I was teaching my sister how to shoot free throws when the officer stormed in alongside the court, drew his weapon, and shot the boy in the arm. My sister and I hid in the locker room for hours afterward. The officer was back at work the following week.Like the boy at the rec center, most victims of police violence survive. No hashtags or protests or fires for the wounded, assaulted, and intimidated. I often wonder, What if Derek Chauvin had kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for seven minutes and 46 seconds instead of eight? Maybe Floyd would have lived to be arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned for allegedly attempting to use a counterfeit $20 bill. Is that justice? This, for me, is why we need police abolition. Police manage inequality by keeping the dispossessed from the owners, the Black from the white, the homeless from the housed, the beggars from the employed. Reforms make police polite managers of inequality. Abolition makes police and inequality obsolete.[Annie Lowrey: Defund the police]“Police abolition” initially repulsed me. The idea seemed white and utopic. I’d seen too much sexual violence and buried too many friends to consider getting rid of police in St. Louis, let alone the nation. But in reality, the police were a placebo. Calling them felt like something, as the legal scholar Michelle Alexander explains, and something feels like everything when your other option is nothing.Police couldn’t do what we really needed. They could not heal relationships or provide jobs. We were afraid every time we called. When cops arrived, I was silenced, threatened with detention, or removed from my home. Fifteen years later, my old neighborhood still lacks quality food, employment, schools, health care, and air—all of which increases the risk of violence and the reliance on police. Yet I feared letting go; I thought we needed them.Until the Ferguson, Missouri, cop Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. Brown had a funeral. Wilson had a wedding. Most police officers just continue to live their lives after filling the streets with blood and bone.I drove from Ferguson to law-school orientation two weeks after Brown’s death. I met, studied, and struggled alongside students and movement lawyers who explained the power and the purpose of the prison-industrial complex through an abolitionist framework. Black abolitionists have condemned the role of prisons and police for centuries, even before W. E. B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction. They imagined and built responses to harm rooted in community and accountability. In recent decades, abolitionists have developed alternatives to 911, created support systems for victims of domestic violence, prevented new jail construction, reduced police budgets, and shielded undocumented immigrants from deportation. Abolition, I learned, was a bigger idea than firing cops and closing prisons; it included eliminating the reasons people think they need cops and prisons in the first place.We never should have had police. Policing is among the vestiges of slavery, tailored in America to suppress slave revolts, catch runaways, and repress labor organizing. After slavery, police imprisoned Black people and immigrants under a convict-leasing system for plantation and business owners. During the Jim Crow era, cops enforced segregation and joined lynch mobs that grew strange fruit from southern trees. During the civil-rights movement, police beat the hell out of Black preachers, activists, and students who marched for equality wearing their Sunday best. Cops were the foot soldiers for Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs and Joe Biden’s 1994 crime bill. Police departments pepper-sprayed Occupy Wall Street protesters without provocation and indiscriminately teargassed Black Lives Matter activists for years—including me, twice. Black people I know trust police; they trust them to be exactly what they always have been.After each video of a police killing goes viral, popular reforms go on tour: banning choke holds, investing in community policing, diversifying departments—none of which would have saved Floyd or most other police victims. The Princeton professor Naomi Murakawa wrote to me in an email: At best, these reforms discourage certain techniques of killing, but they don’t condemn the fact of police killing. “Ban the chokehold!” But allow murder with guns and tasers and police vans? The analogy here is to death-penalty reformers who improved the noose with the electric chair, and then improved the electric chair with chemical cocktails. But the technique of murder doesn’t comfort the dead. It comforts the executioners—and all their supportive onlookers. Like so much reform to address racism, all this legal fine print is meant to salve the conscience of moderates who want salvation on the cheap, without any real change to the material life-and-death realities for Black people. When Donald Trump was elected president, many liberals feared the end of consent decrees, legal agreements between the Department of Justice and police departments, intended to spur real change. After law school, I worked for the Advancement Project, which supported community organizers in Ferguson on the decree that was negotiated in the aftermath of Brown’s death. Millions of dollars went toward an investigation, publicity, and a lawsuit to rid the Ferguson Police Department of “bad apples” and transform its culture. After a year of militaristic ambush on the community, the consent decree provided members of the police department with mental-health services to cope with the unrest, but no treatment or restitution for the residents who were teargassed, shot with rubber bullets, and traumatized by the tanks at the edge of their driveways. The Obama administration’s DOJ objected to dismissing thousands of old cases that were the result of unconstitutional policing, and protected the police department from criticisms that community organizers shared with the judge in court.[Tracey L. Meares and Tom R. Tyler: The first step is figuring out what police are for]Constitutional policing is a problem too. As the legal scholar Paul Butler explains, the overwhelming majority of police violence is constitutional. Reforms cannot fix a policing system that is not broken.Still, many Americans believe that most police officers do the right thing. Perhaps there are bad apples. But even the best apples surveil, arrest, and detain millions of people every year whose primary "crime" is that they are poor, homeless, or have a disability. Cops escalate violence disproportionately against people with disabilities and in mental health crises, even the ones who call 911 for help. The police officers who are doing the “right thing” maintain the systems of inequality and ableism in black communities. The right thing is wrong. Policing cannot even fix the harms of our nightmares. People often ask me, “What will we do with murderers and rapists?” Which ones? The police kill more than a thousand people every year, and assault hundreds of thousands more. After excessive force, sexual misconduct is the second-most-common complaint against cops. Many people are afraid to call the police when they suffer these harms, because they fear that the police will hurt them. Thousands of rape survivors refuse to call the police, worried about not being believed or about being re-assaulted, or concerned that their rape kit would sit unexamined for years. In three major cities, less than 4 percent of calls to the police are for “violent crimes.” Currently, police departments are getting worse at solving murders and frequently arrest and force confessions out of the wrong people.So if we abolish the police, what’s the alternative? Who do we call? As someone who grew up calling 911, I also shared this concern. I learned this: Just because I did not know an answer didn’t mean that one did not exist. I had to study and join an organization, not just ask questions on social media. I read Rachel Herzing, a co-director of the Center for Political Education, who explains that creating small networks of support for different types of emergencies can make us safer than we are now, and reduce our reliance on police. The Oakland Power Projects trains residents to build alternatives to police by helping residents prevent and respond to harm. San Francisco Mayor London Breed just announced that trained, unarmed professionals will respond to many emergency calls, and Los Angeles city-council members are demanding a similar model. This is the right idea. Rather than thinking of abolition as just getting rid of police, I think about it as an invitation to create and support lots of different answers to the problem of harm in society, and, most exciting, as an opportunity to reduce and eliminate harm in the first place.[Derek Thompson: Unbundle the police]Defunding the police is one step on a broad stairway toward abolition. Cities can reduce the size and scope of police and thus limit their opportunities to come into contact with civilians. There should be as much support for the anti-criminalization organizer Mariame Kaba’s call to cut law enforcement by half as there has been to cut the prison population by half. Communities can demand hiring and budget freezes, budget cuts, and participatory budgeting opportunities to ensure that police will not be refunded in the future. States should stop the construction of new prisons and begin closing remaining ones by freeing the people inside. No new police academies should be established. These are only a few suggestions from a broader set of abolitionist demands.More important, society must spend money and time reducing the root causes of violence. If we want to reduce sexual violence immediately, we should expand restorative and transformative processes for accountability. If we are committed to eliminating this harm long-term, then society must offer quality housing, food, day care, transit, employment, debt cancellation, and free college so that people will not be stuck in unhealthy relationships because they need food, money, health insurance, or a place to live.If we care about reducing neighborhood killings, we must invest in street-violence interruption models such as the one that the feminist organization Taller Salud uses, which minimizes violence through community development and peace programs. These likely would have reduced killings and retaliation in my neighborhood without police. I wouldn’t have hid in the locker room for hours because of a police shooting, and maybe my sister would have a better jump shot. We can reduce and eliminate shootings long-term if we provide the most dispossessed communities with opportunities to thrive, and choose comprehensive gun reform over police occupations in our schools, places of worship, and neighborhoods.[Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Black family in the age of mass incarceration]Slavery abolition required resistance, risk, and experimentation. Black people rebelled, ran away, and built an underground railroad. Abolitionists wrote and orated against the “peculiar institution.” Allies funded campaigns, passed legislation, changed the Constitution. Of course, people then felt a range of anxieties about abolition. Slaveowners worried about their plantations and the profits they wrought. White overseers feared joblessness. Both feared the loss of superiority. Some Black people had reservations about how they’d sustain themselves without the steady, yet violent protection of their owners. Police abolition triggers similar anxieties today—moral, economic, and otherwise.But if abolitionists waited to convince every single person that liberation was worth the pursuit, Black people might still be on plantations. Slavery’s violence and repression was riskier than Black people’s plans, imagination, and will to be free. So they held the uncertainty in their bellies and started running.Rather than waiting for comforting answers to every potential harm ahead of us, let’s run. And continue to organize, imagine, and transform this country toward freedom and justice without police and violence. Let’s run.And never look back.
1 h
Dear Therapist: I Love My Trans Daughter, but I’m Still Struggling
Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Lori Gottlieb answers questions from readers about their problems, big and small. Have a question? Email her at Dear Therapist,Last summer when my son came home from college, he told my husband and me that he is trans. He said he is a girl, and I am having trouble with this.My son and I were always very close. I struggled to get pregnant and when it happened, it felt like a miracle. He is my only child, and I was a stay-at-home mom while my husband traveled and worked a lot.Now she has a new name, one I had no say in choosing. She confides in my husband more than me, which leaves me feeling like an outsider. Although I’m assured that I’ve gained a daughter, my input on clothing and hygiene is no longer solicited.I expected some loss when I sent my child to school. I knew I couldn’t be his best friend forever, but I didn’t think I’d lose everything. It feels like a death. I don’t know how to process the grief. It sneaks up on me, and I have to hide in the bathroom to cry. It’s overtaking everything.I’m not conservative. I love and accept her, but I’m worried for her. I ache when she doesn’t eat or drink during the six-hour drive back to school, because she’s avoiding public restrooms.My husband works really hard to nurture me. He doesn’t pressure me to meet his emotional and sexual needs, but we don’t talk about what’s happened either. He doesn’t share my sadness.The other night, my mom and I were looking at old photos of my child when he was young. His second birthday, his trains, his ripped-up blankie he wore like a superhero cape. It was too much. I told her to put it away, and I feel awful for that.Please guide me.AnnIllinoisDear Ann,What you’re experiencing is a deep sense of loss, and one reason you might be struggling to process your grief is that several strands of it have been tangled into one. Some are related to the loss of your child’s assigned gender, some to the loss of your child more generally as she grows away from you and into her adulthood, and some to the ways in which you may have lost important aspects of yourself long before you heard this news.Let’s start with the first one—the revelation that you have a daughter. Transgender young people, like all young people, do better emotionally when they have the love and support of their parents, especially because out in the world, they face intolerant people and governments that want to take away their rights. They can also experience a sense of isolation along with many logistical challenges, such as your daughter’s dilemma with using public restrooms on her drive back to school. Until cultural and systemic change happens, having the safe landing place of loving and supportive parents is especially important to trangender people’s well-being. I noticed in your letter that you toggle between male and female pronouns, and part of this support includes respecting your child’s identity by using the pronouns that reflect who she is.This doesn’t mean, however, that parents who are loving and supportive won’t also experience their own emotions as they take in this news. Parents can be loving and supportive and also experience loss or sadness or fear or confusion and need some time to process these feelings. Just as transgender kids need compassion and support to navigate what lies ahead, so do their parents.The key here is to be mindful of separating your feelings from those of your daughter. While for you, there are elements here that at this moment feel like the death of the child you knew, for her, this is a time of celebrating the child she has always truly been, and it’s important for her that you see her that way. Remember that your grief belongs to you, not her, and not only does she not share your sadness, but it’s not her job to soothe or be exposed to yours. That’s why you should reach out to the many adults who can talk with you about what you’re experiencing, whether that’s your close friends, a therapist, or a support group of other parents with kids who are transitioning. Unfortunately, many parents instead choose to isolate themselves and hide their range of feelings because they—or, perhaps worse, others—believe that sadness or loss signifies rejection of the child, when what the parent is grieving is largely the loss of an imagined future. In your case, for nearly two decades you likely had a picture of a certain kind of future for your kid, and now that future will be replaced by a different one—one that may feel foreign to you. It makes sense that you’d need time to let go of the future you had imagined for decades in order to make room for a new one that you’ve just recently begun to contemplate. It also makes sense that you’d need some time to work through other feelings many parents of transgender kids have: How could I not have seen this when my kid was younger? Is it disloyal to mourn the memories of the boy I thought I was raising while also loving the woman she is?As you work through these feelings, though, you’ll need to tease out another strand of your grief. Your daughter’s revelation happened to come at a time of transition in every parent’s life: your child becoming an adult. While you’re losing whatever the experience of having a child you assumed to be a certain gender meant to you, you’re also losing what every parent eventually does—your role in your child’s life, which changes dramatically when kids leave the nest and head to college or begin to live independently.Typically, this process of separation from one’s parents begins during adolescence, but you might not have been prepared for it, because of the nature of the relationship you two had. You describe being very invested in every aspect of your kid’s childhood—staying home to provide care, giving “input on clothing and hygiene” well into adolescence, even using the phrase “best friend”—and maybe this investment had something to do with your difficulty getting pregnant with your only and long-awaited child. But there’s a difference between being friendly with one’s child and taking on the role of best friend. What kids and parents both need are best friends their own age. When a parent takes on the role of best friend, that parent may feel abandoned by the child who is doing what she should be doing as she launches into adulthood, which places a huge burden on the child and leaves the parent with a tremendous sense of loss. It might be helpful to consider that you would experience this kind of loss in your life as a parent at this point in your child’s development, regardless of whether your child came out as transgender.This leads to the third strand of your grief—loss of yourself. I get the sense that you put so much energy into being a mother that you lost other aspects of your life a long time ago—for example, your friendships, your interests outside of parenting, and a strong connection within your marriage. You say that your husband traveled and worked a lot while you were focused on raising your child, and now, while your child is doing the work of young adulthood—creating a life of her own—would be a good time for you to find meaning in those potentially neglected aspects of your own life. You might rekindle friendships, explore your passions and interests, and connect more deeply than you have in a long while with the person who could truly become your best friend—your husband.For instance, instead of asking your husband to meet your needs by abdicating any of his own, which probably feels lonely to both of you, you might explore why you two aren’t talking about what’s going on. You say you know how he feels—that he isn’t experiencing the grief that you are—but I don’t think you know how he feels about you and your grief. Maybe he feels helpless or frustrated or sad. Or maybe he does share some of your experience but believes, as some husbands do, that he needs to be the “rock” of the family, and therefore doesn’t feel comfortable sharing his true feelings with you. The point is that as you develop a deeper connection with your husband to meet some of your very human need for closeness, you’ll be able to welcome your child’s move toward becoming her true self separate from you.Working through your feelings may take some time, but by detangling the various strands of your losses, you’ll get a gain in return—a sense of peace with yourself, your husband, and, of course, your daughter.Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.
1 h
Democrats Want to Legalize Marijuana. Joe Biden Doesn’t.
Democratic political consultants dream of issues like marijuana legalization. Democrats are overwhelmingly in favor of it, polls show. So are independents. A majority of Republicans favor it now too. It motivates progressives, young people, and Black Americans to vote. Put it on the ballot, and it’s proved a sure way to boost turnout for supportive politicians. It’s popular in key presidential-election states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and Virginia. There’s no clear political downside—although marijuana legalization motivates its supporters, it doesn’t motivate its opponents. For the Democratic presidential nominee, the upsides of supporting it would include energizing a very committed group of single-issue voters and making a major move toward criminal-justice reform and the Bernie Sanders agenda.Joe Biden won’t inhale.Democrats eager for Biden to support legalization have theories about why he won’t. His aides insist they’re all wrong. It’s not, they say, because he’s from a generation scared by Reefer Madness. It’s not, they say, because he spent a career in Washington pushing for mandatory minimum sentencing and other changes to drug laws. It’s definitely not, according to people who have discussed the policy with him, because he’s a teetotaler whose father battled alcoholism and whose son has fought addiction, and who’s had gateway-drug anxieties drilled into him.With legalization seeming such an obvious political win, all that’s stopping Biden, current and former aides say, is public health. He’s read the studies, or at least, summaries of the studies (campaign aides pointed me to this one). He wants to see more. He’s looking for something definitive to assure him that legalizing won’t lead to serious mental or physical problems, in teens or adults.America appears to be moving on without him, and so are the future leaders of his party.If Biden really has his eyes on public health, he should think about how many Black people end up in jail for marijuana sale and possession, argues Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba—a young Black progressive who oversaw local decriminalization in his city in 2018. Biden should also think about how an illicit, unregulated market is leading to the drug being laced with other chemicals, and the health effects of that, Lumumba told me. If Biden thinks marijuana is addictive, he said, then he should explain what makes it worse than alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Legalization is a necessary part of criminal-justice reform, Lumumba said. “I would encourage him and his campaign more broadly to do more research on some of the finer points,” he added.Alternatively, John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, says Biden should think about how legalization could raise tax revenue in the post-pandemic economy of state budget deficits. “What better time than now to have that conversation?” Fetterman told me. Before the coronavirus outbreak, Fetterman spent a year traveling his state, including areas that mostly voted for Trump in 2016, proselytizing “commonsense” legalization. There’s even more reason to agree with him now, he said. “It’s the ultimate policy and financial low-hanging fruit,” he said. “If you’re not moved by the gross racial disparities, what state doesn’t need a couple hundred million more in revenue at this point?”[Read: America’s invisible pot addicts]Amid the criticism that Biden hasn’t taken a definitive stance on legalization, it’s easy to lose track of how far ahead he is of any other major-party presidential nominee in history in terms of changing marijuana policy. He’d decriminalize use, which would mean fines instead of jail time, and move to expunge records for using. He’d remove federal enforcement in states that have legalized the drug. That’s further, by far, than Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, has gone. But Biden would keep marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, the same category as heroin. Nor would he move to take it off the illegal-drugs schedule entirely, so that federal law would treat it the way it does alcohol or nicotine.John Morgan, a Florida Biden donor and a major proponent of legalization in his state, is a proud user of marijuana, and told me he knows many Democrats and Republicans who are too. He’s been able to get Ron DeSantis, his state’s Republican governor and a big Trump ally, on board with legalization. Morgan said that when he broached the issue briefly with Biden last year ahead of hosting a fundraiser for him, the candidate responded, “‘I know where you are on this.’ I just took it to be as You know where I am on this.”Erik Altieri, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a pro-legalization lobbying group, told me that although his organization heard from several of the other leading Democratic presidential campaigns last year, it never got a call from the Biden team.Biden’s resistance is particularly frustrating for those who remember how he was a pioneer in standing up for legalizing same-sex marriage, the biggest recent issue on which laws suddenly flipped to catch up to changing views. Maybe, one person who’s spoken with Biden theorized, the difference is that he knew gay people, but believes—almost certainly falsely—that he doesn’t know people who regularly use marijuana.That’s a bad guess too, Biden aides told me.“As science ends up with more conclusive evidence regarding the impact of marijuana, I think he would look at that data. But he’s being asked to make a decision right now. This is where the science guides him,” Stef Feldman, Biden’s policy director, explained to me. “When he looked to put down his position on marijuana in writing for the purposes of the campaign, he asked for an update on where science was today. He didn’t ask for an update on what views and science said 20 years ago. He wanted to know what was the best information we know now. And that is what he made his decision on.”[Read: What Americans don’t know about Joe Biden]This can seem both perfectly reasonable and a ridiculous excuse. There isn’t some conclusive study about health effects that Biden is ignoring, but one is also not likely to emerge anytime soon. And though they insist this is all about health, other ripples from legalization are on the minds of institutionalists like Biden and his close advisers: trade deals that require both sides to keep marijuana illegal would have to be rewritten, half a century of American pressure on other countries about their drug policies would be reversed, and hard-line police unions would have to be convinced that he wasn’t just giving in to stoners.Realistically, marijuana isn’t a priority right now for the campaign. Legalization is at once too small an issue for Biden’s tiny team to focus on and too large an issue to take a stand on without fuller vetting. And it comes with a frustration among people close to Biden, who point out that liberals talk about trusting science on everything from climate change to wearing masks—and, notably, wanted vaping restricted because the health effects were unclear—but are willing to let that standard slide here because they want marijuana to be legal.Biden’s compromise: going right to the edge of legalization, while appointing a criminal-justice task force for his campaign whose members have each supported at least some approach to legalization. But that sort of signaling doesn’t get people to the polls. “Being cute is fine. Being bold is motivating,” Ben Wessel, the director of NextGen America, a group focused on boosting political involvement among younger voters, told me.“If Biden said he wants to legalize marijuana tomorrow, it would help him get reluctant young voters off the fence and come home to vote for Biden—especially Bernie [Sanders] supporters, especially young people of color who have been screwed by a criminal-justice system that treats them unfairly on marijuana issues,” Wessel told me. Publicly supporting marijuana legalization would be an easy, attention-grabbing move, and might help many Sanders diehards get past the fact that he’s not where they want him to be on the rest of their candidate’s democratic-socialist agenda.Altieri, the pro-marijuana lobbyist, said coming up with a legalization policy wouldn’t take much work: Sanders had one, as did Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Andrew Yang. Or Biden could check in with Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who wrote a legalization bill based on the argument that legalization is essential to the criminal-justice-reform conversation. Altieri is not impressed with how little Biden has moved so far. “Where he’s at now would have been maybe a bold stance in 1988. It’s not much of one in 2020,” he told me.In 2018, top Democrats credited a legalization ballot initiative in Michigan with boosting turnout and producing the biggest blue wave in the country—winning races for governor, Senate, attorney general, and secretary of state, along with flipping two congressional seats and multiple state-legislature seats. A ballot initiative is expected for the fall in Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, and possibly Montana. Anyone who believes—hopefully, or out of cynical political calculation—that Biden will announce some big change in his thinking, aides told me, will be disappointed.Just do it, Fetterman said: Do it, if only to secure Pennsylvania’s electoral votes and get that much closer to the White House. “If Joe Biden’s account tweeted out ‘Legal. Weed.,’ it would get a million likes in the first two hours. I guarantee it. And no one’s going to accuse Uncle Joe of being a pothead,” Fetterman told me. “If you think weed is the devil’s tobacco, you ain’t voting for Biden anyway.”
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