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Anti-maskers explain themselves
Supporters and members of Patriot Prayer and People’s Rights Washington take part in a rally against Washington state’s mask mandate on June 26, 2020, in Vancouver, Washington. | Karen Ducey/Getty Images “If I’m going to get Covid and die from it, then so be it”: What it’s like to be against masks. At the outset of the pandemic, Amy, a 48-year-old mother of two from Ohio, was afraid. When the government began recommending people wear masks, she not only complied but also made masks for others. “I was like, oh, this is scary, this could be really bad,” she said. But when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state would extend its lockdown for the month of May, she’d had it. Pandemic over or not, she was done. After that, Amy became vehemently anti-mask and began to doubt whether coronavirus was really that big of a deal. Her mother unfollowed her on Facebook over her “anger posts” about masks, and she hasn’t heard from her in a month. She carries a homemade mask with her, just in case, but she doesn’t believe in them. “It’s a violation of my freedom, I think, and then also I just don’t think they work,” Amy said. “A lot of stuff says it does, but then some doesn’t.” Masks have become an extremely heated point of contention during the Covid-19 outbreak. Viral videos of people having meltdowns over masks are commonplace, and in many parts of the country, it’s not abnormal for strangers to confront each other publicly over the issue. A small but vocal segment of the population has dug in and ignored the growing evidence that masks may make a difference in combating the coronavirus. For those who believe that at the very least, wearing a mask can’t hurt, it’s hard to not develop some animosity toward those who refuse. The question I keep hearing from pro-mask friends and family is always the same: What are these people thinking? In recent weeks, I spoke with nearly a dozen people who consider themselves anti-mask to find out just that. What I discovered is that there is certainly a broad spectrum of reasons — some find wearing a mask annoying or just aren’t convinced they work, and others have gone down a rabbit hole of conspiracies that often involve vaccines, Big Pharma, YouTube, and Bill Gates. One man told me he wears a mask when he goes to the store to be polite. A woman got kicked out of a Menards store for refusing to wear a mask amid what she calls the “Covid scam garbage.” But there are also many commonalities. Most people I talked to noted government officials’ confusing messaging on masks in the pandemic’s early days. They insist that they’re not conspiracy theorists and that they don’t believe the coronavirus is a hoax, but many also expressed doubts about the growing body of scientific knowledge around the virus, opting for cherry-picked and unverified sources of information found on social media rather than traditional news sources. They often said they weren’t political but acknowledged they leaned right. Most claimed not to know anyone who had contracted Covid-19 or died of it, and when I told them I did, the responses were the same: How old were they? Did they have preexisting conditions? They know their position is unpopular, and most spoke on condition of anonymity and will be referred to only by their first names. Amy told me people are “not very nice about this.” The mask debate is complex. As much as it’s about science, health, and risk, it’s also about empathy. If someone doesn’t personally know anyone who died from Covid-19, does it mean those lives don’t matter? Are older and immunocompromised people disposable? Does one person’s right to ignore public health advice really trump someone else’s right to live? “Death is happening in these wards where even family members can’t visit their loved ones when they’re sick with Covid, so the death and the severity of this disease are really invisible to the public,” said Kumi Smith, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota who studies infectious diseases. It leads some people to brush the issue aside. “I’m empathetic that anyone has to die ever, but that’s the reality of our lives. And I almost feel like if I’m going to get Covid and die from it, then so be it,” said Gina, a Pennsylvania real estate agent who wears a mask at work but otherwise opposes mask mandates. “I’m empathetic that anyone has to die ever, but that’s the reality of our lives” But the empathy question also works the other way — attacking people for not wearing a mask doesn’t change minds. An open, more forgiving conversation might. That’s what happened with Scott Liftman, a 50-year-old man from Massachusetts who read a story in the Atlantic about men who won’t wear masks. He contacted the article’s author, Harvard epidemiologist Julia Marcus, and has come around — somewhat — on the idea of putting one on, at least in certain situations. “I want to be sensitive, I want to follow scientific principles, but I also want to exercise common sense, too,” Liftman told me. “You never want to read something that just shames you. I really think that no two people are so different that they can’t find some common ground.” “These people are part of our community, and they are putting other people at risk,” Marcus said. “If you can inch some people, you will see risk reduction overall.” Freedom, but for your face As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spin out of control in the United States, many states, localities, and businesses have turned to requiring people to wear masks in hopes the measure will slow the spread of infection. Currently, 34 states have mask mandates, and polls show a hefty majority of Americans would support a national mask mandate, as well. For those who disagree, that’s partially where the problem resides: They insist they’re not anti-mask, they’re anti-mandate. “If you want to wear a mask, great. I will never look down on you, have anything bad to say to you, do what you want. But the mandates are what I disagree with and I don’t think are right, especially now,” Gina said. Rallies against mask mandates have popped up across the country, much like the protests to reopen the economy that took place at state capitols earlier this year. People wanted the freedom to get a haircut; now they want the freedom to go to the grocery store without covering their face. Some of the people I spoke with drew the line, specifically, at government mandates. It’s one thing for a private business to require customers to wear a mask, they said, but another thing for a state government to do it. Private establishments “have a right to do so, and you should respect those rules,” Jason, a paramedic from Michigan, said. Others, however, chafed at rules from businesses, too. Members of one Facebook group circulated a list of stores with mask requirements, chatting about boycotting those retailers or visiting to try to challenge the rules. When I spoke with Jacqueline, who lives in Wyoming, she was upset over the mask requirement at her local Menards. She’d been to the home improvement store, sans mask, twice in recent days — the first time, she was allowed to make her purchase despite ignoring the rules, but the second time, she had no such luck. She was asked to leave the store after a physical altercation ensued — Jacqueline says a worker pushed her, the store says she rammed someone with a cart — and management called the police to file a report. She’s now banned from the store. “They don’t have to ban me because I’ll never go back again,” Jacqueline said. She told me she’ll go to Home Depot instead. (It also appears to require masks for customers.) As to why she believes she’s exempt from the rules, Jacqueline cited the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. “No states are allowed to make laws that take our freedoms and liberties away,” she said. But then she mentioned a mask exemption card she got — not from a doctor, but from a friend. It appears she has one of the fake cards some people are using to try to get out of wearing a mask by claiming they have a disability. “I get overheated really easy,” she explains. The issue with the freedom argument is that wearing a mask is about more than protecting yourself — there’s growing evidence masks are useful for protecting others from those who may have Covid-19 and not know it. Not wearing a mask may encroach on another person’s freedom to go out in relative safety. Megan Jelinger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images An anti-mask protester holds an American flag during a rally July 18, 2020, at the Ohio Statehouse. Part of the problem is the facts have changed. Another part is where the facts are coming from. There is no denying that Covid-19 messaging from official channels has, at times, been confusing and contradictory. Early on, people were told not to wear a mask, but now that’s changed. Scientific consensus evolves with new information, this is a new disease, and like it or not, the world is full of uncertainty. Given that uncertainty, it makes sense people would have doubts. If officials changed their minds on masks before, what’s to stop them from doing it again? Some people also feel the pandemic isn’t as bad as it was made out to be in the spring. They don’t know very many people, if anyone, who have gotten sick, and in some places, especially more rural areas, masks just aren’t that common. Among those I spoke with, however, I noticed that while the conversation might begin with contradictory messaging and doubts about efficacy, it often devolved into conspiracy theories. The mainstream media was lying, they said, asking whether I’d seen this video on YouTube or followed that person on Twitter. Jacqueline’s Facebook timeline was filled with posts the platform had flagged as false, and with diatribes that the company was censoring her. She told me she hurt her hand several weeks prior, and that she had weighed going to the emergency room but decided against it: She’s 65 and believes she’d automatically be given a positive Covid-19 test and placed on a ventilator to likely die. Bryan, who lives in New Jersey, declined to speak on the phone for this story out of concern I might misconstrue his words. He opted to communicate via LinkedIn, sending over several days more than 4,000 words explaining his thoughts on masks and the pandemic. Initially, he said his main issue was the mandate. “What the mandates have done is scare people into believing they are a must if they are to avoid catching the virus. And because those scared few feel that way, they become angry and vile towards anyone who does not share in their fear,” he wrote. Bryan told me that he and his fellow “truth seekers” have always questioned the numbers on Covid-19’s mortality rate, and he expressed doubts about government officials’ advice and the media’s coverage of the pandemic. He acknowledged that some of what he was saying made him sound like a conspiracy theorist, but also leaned in: He believes masks are a step in “getting people into compliance so that they can make vaccines mandatory as well.” His theory: “Soon it will be, ‘take the vaccine,’ or you can’t travel, shop, etc.” Or worse, he said, digital IDs or “health care passports.” Certain theories and conspiracies came up over and over again. Nearly everyone I spoke with referenced a single Florida man whose death in a motorcycle crash was erroneously listed as a Covid-19 death, saying it was evidence the virus’s fatality count was vastly overstated. (Research has shown that coronavirus deaths are likely underreported.) Many said that hydroxychloroquine is the miracle cure for Covid-19, despite evidence it is likely ineffective, and that efforts to develop other drugs or a vaccine are simply a ploy by Big Pharma to make money. Sometimes Bill Gates was involved, though exactly why he was painted as a nefarious figure was somewhat unclear. Bryan mentioned an event related to pandemic preparedness, hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in October 2019, as evidence of activity that seems “strangely coincidental” given current events. “Who is one of the ones backing all of that ‘preparedness?’ Good ole Bill Gates, a man who not long ago had a huge image problem due to some monopolistic practices, etc. Now he seems to have revived his image because he is a ‘virus and vaccine expert?’” Bryan wrote. Most of the people I spoke with got their information from their own “independent investigations” or content they found on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. “YouTube is where alternative thinkers are going to do their thinking,” Mak, whose hot yoga studio in British Columbia was shut down due to the coronavirus, told me. “There’s definitely some sort of an agenda here to initiate control upon the people and to make people more obedient and compliant, and see which people are going to comply with some directives,” he said. “I know they’re lying to the masses” Some anti-maskers have turned to making content of their own. Tanya, also from British Columbia, had gone to local hospitals to try to record what was going on and prove that media stories about the outbreak were false. “I know they’re lying to the masses,” she told me. “I don’t know anybody who has had coronavirus, I don’t know anybody who knows anybody, and I know a lot of people.” “Anti-maskers will say masks are making you breathe in your own carbon dioxide,” said Eleanor Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University. “That’s not at all a thing, because we know ... there are plenty of people whose occupations require them to wear a mask.” Politics is part of it, but not all of it Like so many things, masks have become a politicized issue. President Donald Trump and many Republicans have spent months using them as a political lightning rod. Some have since changed their tune — the president has begun recommending masks, though his message hasn’t been consistent or wholehearted. “The challenge is that when you had political leaders early on saying we are not wearing masks, we don’t think it’s important, we don’t think it’s a good idea, there are a lot of people in the country who very, very seriously follow President Trump,” said Catherine Sanderson, a professor of psychology at Amherst College. “When you have somebody in that sort of a vivid role saying, ‘I’m not going to do this,’ it creates a norm people are motivated to follow.” Jacqueline told me she believes the pandemic death count has been inflated in an effort to undermine the president. “They’re all saying this so that they can make the president look bad, so they can cause the problems they are causing,” she said. Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images After months of refusing to wear a mask in public, President Donald Trump wears one on July 11, 2020, while visiting Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Politicization is playing out at a much more local level, too. I spoke with Anthony Sabatini, a member of the Florida House of Representatives who has filed multiple lawsuits over mask mandates. Ahead of our interview, he emphasized he’s worried about mandates and government overreach, not the masks themselves. During our discussion, he initially claimed that police would be going into businesses and homes, checking to see whether people were wearing a mask. When I asked for evidence, he referenced to an ordinance against gatherings of more than 10 people — not masks — but claimed they were “part and parcel” of the same issue. When I asked Sabatini whether he personally wears a mask, his initial response was, “Where? In my bed?” I clarified: when he goes out, like to the grocery store. Sabatini, who is 31, told me he doesn’t go to the grocery store because he’s “too busy” and “a millennial,” and therefore eats out all the time. He conceded he sometimes goes to the grocery store, so when I asked whether he wears a mask there, he insisted I name which specific store. Sabatini said older people are generally most at risk of dying of Covid-19, adding that he is “very careful” around them — specifically those 82 or older. The majority of deaths have been in nursing homes, he explained, and he doesn’t know anyone personally in a nursing home. “Anyone in my age group, it’s just rare that you know anybody that’s in that age group,” he said. According to the Florida House of Representatives’ website, there were more than 500 people residing in nursing facilities in Sabatini’s district as of the 2010 census, and about 5 percent of the population he represents is age 80 or older. “Grandmas and grandpas die all the time” Spring outside of my Brooklyn apartment had been a symphony of sirens. If there’s a chance wearing a piece of cloth over my face will do something to help, that’s fine by me. It was an issue I posed to many of the anti-maskers: If I’m wrong, the worst that happens is I was a little uncomfortable at the grocery store in July. If you’re wrong, you and others could get sick and die. Is that worth the risk? “I don’t want to be responsible for killing anybody,” Gina, the Pennsylvania real estate agent, told me, though she still insisted the virus is overblown. “If the cases weren’t reported on anymore and talked about, coronavirus would be gone.” “I hear all the time, people are like, ‘I’d rather be safe than sorry, I don’t want to be a grandma killer.’ I’m sorry to sound so harsh,” Mak said, chuckling. “I’m laughing because grandmas and grandpas die all the time. It’s sad. But here’s the thing: It’s about blind obedience and compliance.” “When there is a vaccine, these are the same group of people who are saying they’re not getting a vaccine” As tempting as it is for many people to write off the anti-mask crowd, it’s not that simple. As Lois Parshley recently outlined for Vox, enforcing a mask mandate is a difficult and complex task. But it’s an important one: A lot of anti-maskers also have doubts about a vaccine, which public health experts say will be a crucial part of moving past the pandemic. “Masks are actually probably a proxy for not believing in science, not believing in experts,” Amherst College’s Sanderson said. “The challenge, of course, is when there is a vaccine, these are the same group of people who are saying they’re not getting a vaccine.” So how do you break through? As enticing as it may be for some people to shame and attack people who won’t wear a mask, it’s probably not the answer. “One of the challenges is that you need to bring people to your side without saying, ‘You’re stupid,’ because when it’s, ‘You’re stupid,’ it’s very hard to convince someone,” said Sanderson, who’s also the author of Why We Act: Turning Bystanders Into Moral Rebels, a book about social norms. As difficult (and at times contentious) some of the conversations were, across the board, everyone was extremely nice. They also sent follow-up information to try to get me to see things their way. It’s easy to see how, for someone who’s on the fence, you might get sucked in: If pro-mask Bob tells you you’re a murderer but anti-mask Sue tells you she’s got a video you should see, you might prefer to deal with Sue. Masks aren’t a panacea, Smith, from the University of Minnesota, said. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile. “We’re at this point where we are desperate in the United States,” she said. “I’m not about to argue anti-maskers down and say, ‘No, this will save everybody’s lives most definitely,’ but I think to reject it wholesale because some scientist changed their mind is really problematic.” Like it or not, we’re all in this together, mask on or mask off. And just like the science can change, minds can too. Liftman, the Massachusetts man who spoke with the Harvard epidemiologist who wrote about men who won’t wear masks, told me his conversation with the writer changed his mind. He felt like she showed compassion and didn’t condemn him. He’s still a little skeptical — he thinks it’s bad he’s supposed to wear a mask when ordering from the ice cream truck outside. But when he’s inside a store or in a crowded area, he gets it. While he still believes in individual liberty, he says it’s not just about himself, it’s also about the worker at the grocery store who doesn’t have a choice, and the person next to him in line. “I was kind of very skeptical about the whole thing. Is this about government control? Do we really need it? As the science has evolved, I’ve become more in line with the idea that we really should protect ourselves more often than I initially thought,” Liftman said. Speaking with Marcus, and another virologist he reached out to, made a difference. “It opened my eyes up to being a little bit more sensitive.” 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.
Laid off, vulnerable, and far from home in wake of Beirut blast
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Jeff Bezos offers a clue to his $10 billion climate change strategy
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If Bezos does plan to use this LLC to make the donations, it would limit transparency into the Earth Fund as LLCs are not required to file publicly available tax documents. Trademark experts tell Recode that it’s also possible, however, for the LLC to merely end up owning the trademark to the “Bezos Earth Fund” name and then lend that trademark to another to-be-created Bezos entity that may be structured in a more transparent way, such as a traditional foundation. Bezos’s team isn’t saying. Amazon declined to comment on Fellowship Ventures, and Bezos’s personal lawyers who signed the documents didn’t return Recode’s requests for comment. Bezos previously said he would start making grants to climate change organizations this summer. The Amazon founder isn’t done clinging to secrecy. The trademark application by Fellowship Ventures was filed first in Jamaica, a trick sometimes used by companies to shield information about their plans, trademark experts say, because Jamaica makes it impossible to access applications online. (A side note: Bezos’s ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, made headlines last week by announcing her own $1.7 billion in charitable donations. Scott is one of the world’s wealthiest people. And she, too, is using a less-transparent vehicle — a donor-advised fund — to make at least some of those gifts, two grantees tell Recode.) It’s likely that Fellowship Ventures is working on other projects on Bezos’s behalf, too, although the full scope of its work isn’t clear. Billionaires — and especially billionaires like Bezos, who is nearing a net worth of $200 billion — oversee vast empires to manage their personal affairs and family offices. They’ll create new LLCs to execute a particular real-estate deal, for instance, or to manage the work of a new contractor. Bezos’s empire includes his space-exploration company Blue Origin, his ownership of the Washington Post, and a clock in a hollowed-out Texas mountain that Bezos is building to last 10,000 years. That’s what makes the creation of yet another LLC all the more intriguing. Bezos already controls LLCs that help oversee his existing charitable work, including Zefram LLC, which owns the trademark to the “Bezos Day One Fund,” his philanthropy to combat homelessness and support education unveiled in 2018. One possibility is that a new vehicle was needed after Bezos’s costly — and no doubt financially complicated — divorce last summer. Fellowship Ventures was incorporated in Delaware last summer, too, according to records obtained by Recode. Zefram, for what it’s worth, is named after a fictional spaceship designer on Star Trek, a favorite of the Amazon founder. And the words “fellowship” and “venture,” too, have long held special meaning for Bezos — so much so that they’re part of his customary toast: “To adventure and fellowship!” “The word ‘fellowship’ conjures a vision of traveling down the road together. It has more ‘journey’ in it than friendship,” Bezos shared when interviewed by his brother in 2017. “Friendship is great too, but fellowship captures friendship and traveling down that path together.” Details like the name and the structure are some of the few scraps of insight into how the world’s wealthiest person is going to spend his billions. And that’s one of the big criticisms of billionaire philanthropy, that the mega-rich can release as much or as little information about their charitable gifts as they choose. 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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The Anti-Abortion Movement Prepares to Build a Post-Roe World
In most circles, abortion does not make for polite dinner-table conversation, especially if you happen to be running a billion-dollar global franchise. So for years, Cheryl Bachelder kept quiet. She stood out professionally as the rare female CEO of a major corporation, overseeing Popeyes while chasing after three daughters and, eventually, four grandsons. As a Christian, she watched with distaste as her fellow business leaders indulged the decadence and money-fueled antics of the 1980s and ’90s, posing on magazine covers with jets and girls. She and her husband donated to candidates for political office whom they knew and personally trusted. But because she oversaw a large, publicly traded company, Bachelder mostly kept her views on one particularly controversial issue secret. “If I go to lunch with a good friend, and they find out I’m pro-life, I can tell you the look on their face,” she told me. “‘You’re kidding me. You are an educated, CEO woman and you’re pro-life. What’s wrong with you?’”Recently, Bachelder has become captivated by what will happen if the anti-abortion-rights movement succeeds in its goal to make abortion illegal in the United States. “What if there were a lot more God-given babies, and we were, as a community, completely unprepared to help their mothers?” she said. Now that she’s retired, Bachelder is willing to speak publicly about her views on abortion—our conversation was the first time she had spoken with a journalist for a national news outlet about her involvement in the anti-abortion-rights movement.Activists in that movement are working towards a grand, and perhaps fantastical, vision: a world where abortion is not just illegal, but unthinkable, and where babies are much more common as a result. This future has felt more tangible since the election of Donald Trump, who appointed two justices to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who are skeptical of the constitutional right to abortion laid out in Roe v. Wade. With Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the staunchest defenders of abortion on the Court, recently hospitalized and going through a new round of chemotherapy, it’s possible that abortion rights will face an existential challenge within the next few years. Anti-abortion-rights activists realize that this moment of triumph will require planning—and infrastructure. “The magnitude of that question is huge,” Bachelder said. “I think it’s fair to say every community is unprepared to answer that question today—probably hasn’t even thought about it.”She has long believed that life begins at conception and that death is “God-ordained” and should not be invited early with assisted suicide or other kinds of interventions. She and her husband have donated to faith-based organizations that provide pregnancy support and attempt to direct people away from abortion. But she nevertheless worries about getting into “the mud-throwing conversations of politics,” she said. “We actually work on solving things, in the business world. We don’t have any time to yell and scream and throw things.” She longs, in other words, for association with an anti-abortion-rights movement that is apolitical, even though abortion is one of the most politically charged topics of our time.[Read: The progressive roots of the pro-life movement]Late last year, Bachelder attended a fundraiser hosted by the Susan B. Anthony List, or SBA List, the anti-abortion-rights organization that has arguably had the most influence over Trump’s judicial appointments and voter outreach on this issue, at a home in Sandy Springs, Georgia, a tony city north of Atlanta. She and a group of friends, mostly other business leaders, were there to brainstorm all the community support systems that would need to be stronger in a world where abortion is illegal: mental-health services, addiction-recovery programs, affordable child care. Many of their proposed solutions didn’t touch the messy business of politics. One woman even suggested that they consider taking pregnant women into their homes. Wow, Bachelder said to herself, I haven’t thought about that. Along with other members of this group, Bachelder agreed to financially back an SBA List test program in Georgia called PLAN—the Pregnancy and Life Assistance Network—that would compile and publicize resources already available to women dealing with unplanned pregnancies, modeled after a version of the program in Northern Virginia. In theory, it’s an ambitious effort to find common ground between hard-core anti-abortion-rights activists and people who want to help pregnant women but may not be convinced that abortion should be completely banned.Marjorie Dannenfelser, the head of the SBA List, brought White House-branded Twizzlers and a commemorative plate along to the gathering—spoils of her success in Washington. “We believe we are coming much closer to a different kind of world, where Roe v. Wade is either unrecognizable because it’s been chipped away or it’s overturned and laws start to flourish in states that reflect the will of the people who live there,” she told me. Over the past year, the SBA List’s research organization, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, has undertaken a massive effort to look at the state resources available to pregnant women and children, including housing, medical centers, income limits for Medicaid, and more. This served as a foundation for PLAN, which is still in its early stages. The project—imagining the “beatific vision” of a post-Roe world, as Dannenfelser put it—is partly pitched at people like Bachelder who oppose abortion but shy away from partisan battles. “A lot of donors, a lot of people in the evangelical community, a lot of breathing human beings just hate politics right now,” Dannenfelser said. She spends her days in the “roughest area” of politics, she added, fighting over a controversial issue in tightly contested elections. “My dream, and my belief, is that at the heart of the pro-life movement, there is not that dissonance” of political opposition.There is an inherent tension in an anti-abortion-rights project designed to rally social services for women, no matter how ostensibly apolitical it may be. Over the past two decades, the anti-abortion-rights movement has aligned itself almost exclusively with the GOP, which generally favors cutting government funding for housing, food stamps, and other programs that support poor women and children. No group has solidified this partisan alignment more than the SBA List, which pours money and manpower into supporting Republicans in competitive races. As Democrats more aggressively pursue the expansion of abortion rights, the SBA List sees the Republican Party as its only viable ally, at least at the national level.Bachelder envisions a future stage of the PLAN project in which policy makers would do a version of the “gap-planning analysis” that businesses use to anticipate what customers—in this case, pregnant women—might need. But getting there, to a place where most anti-abortion-rights legislators would also champion the expansion of social services, would require a massive political realignment. Although a post-Roe world has seemed more possible than ever lately, it’s also a ways off.[Read: When conservative justices revolt]This summer, the anti-abortion-rights movement suffered a major defeat at the Supreme Court, when Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal wing in June Medical Services v. Russo to strike down a Louisiana law that would have restricted abortion access. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence lashed out at Roberts in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, calling him “a disappointment to conservatives.”Some anti-abortion-rights activists may dream of building a postabortion future. But for the present, the political fight is all-consuming. “One thing is clear,” Pence tweeted in June: “We need more Conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. #FourMoreYears.”
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Turning to Frederick Douglass in a Moment of Rage, Reckoning, and Possibility
Illustration by Mark Harris; Mark Summerfield / Alamy; Library of CongressThe water under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge whipped against itself, the wind lifting up handfuls of foamy white and slapping them back down. The sky was a pearly blue, and thick, milky clouds hung above us like bulging lanterns. As we passed over the bridge—4.3 miles connecting Maryland’s eastern and western shores—I rolled down the windows and pulled back the sunroof. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed the feeling of wind rolling over my fingers; the feeling of my entire family singing along at the top of our lungs to my children’s favorite Disney songs.It was the first time since sheltering in place had begun, almost three months earlier, that my family was all together in the car for an extended period of time. We’d packed our masks, our sandwiches, and more Ritz Crackers than anyone was physically capable of eating. One never knows how traveling any meaningful distance with a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old will be, so my wife and I had emotionally prepared ourselves for tantrums and tears. But our children were well behaved, perhaps themselves simply grateful to be anywhere other than inside our home. They too seemed to relish the wind rushing past their faces.“It is always a fact of some importance to know where a man is born, if, indeed, it be important to know anything about him.” So wrote Frederick Douglass in his 1855 autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom. I had been spending time with Douglass’s work for several weeks, hoping that reengaging with his writing might help me more fully understand how our country had arrived at this moment. A moment in which a global pandemic has torn away the veil and revealed the deepest fissures and failures of America’s promise to its most vulnerable. A moment in which people of all generations and races have taken to the streets to demand an end to state-sanctioned violence. A moment in which the statues of white men who paved the way for genocide and fought to defend slavery are being taken down by cheering crowds. A moment in which Black lives matter has moved from a phrase laden with controversy to language at the center of our public discourse. A moment filled with rage, reckoning, and possibility.It was with these reflections and Douglass’s words in mind that, on Juneteenth, I got in the car with my family and drove from our home, outside Washington, D.C., to Talbot County, Maryland, where Frederick Douglass was born.[From the January 1867 issue: Frederick Douglass’s appeal to Congress for impartial suffrage]In My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass described the region of his childhood with revulsion. He called it “thinly populated, and remarkable for nothing that I know of more than for the worn-out, sandy, desert-like appearance of its soil, the general dilapidation of its farms and fences, the indigent and spiritless character of its inhabitants, and the prevalence of ague and fever.” He went on to say that the area was “seldom mentioned but with contempt and derision” and that, living there, he was “surrounded by a white population of the lowest order.”In 1878 Douglass returned to the county, and visited the farm that had once been owned by his master, Aaron Anthony, a man who may have also been Douglass’s father. His grandmother’s cabin had stood there. It was a place that had “few pretensions,” Douglass wrote. “To my child’s eye, however, it was a noble structure, admirably adapted to promote the comforts and conveniences of its inmates.” But it was gone now.What did remain was an old cedar tree Douglass recalled from his boyhood. When he saw it, according to Dickson J. Preston in Young Frederick Douglass, he declared that he had found the exact spot where he had been born. Douglass stood under the tree in silence, and then plunged his hands into the earth to scoop up handfuls of soil to bring back to Cedar Hill, his home in Washington. At an event at the Talbot County Courthouse that evening, he told the audience he had collected “some of the very soil on which I first trod.”It felt particularly important to visit the county of Douglass’s birthplace on a day meant to celebrate the emancipation of Black Americans from bondage. According to the historian and Douglass biographer David W. Blight, Douglass “viewed emancipation as the central reference point of black history” and felt that the nation “had no greater turning point.” As Blight put it, Douglass believed Emancipation Day “ought to be a national celebration in which all blacks—the low and the mighty—could claim a new and secure social identity.”[From the December 2019 issue: David W. Blight on Frederick Douglass’s vision for a reborn America]With two toddlers, I was cognizant of the fact that I would not be able to gradually trek through every place in Talbot County that had a meaningful association to Douglass. My family’s public-history tour schedule was dictated by nap times and diaper changes. But there was one place in particular I knew I wanted to visit: the courthouse where Douglass had spoken nearly a century and a half earlier.We pulled up to the Talbot County Courthouse and walked across the lawn to a large statue. The bronze rendering of Douglass stands atop an octagonal pedestal etched with his name. Douglass is captured mid-speech, his mouth ajar, his eyebrows raised in a spirited fervor. His left hand rests on a lectern. His right hand is lifted into the air, his fingers bending back toward his body. His long, thick hair is pulled into the style so familiar from pictures of Douglass, the most photographed American of the 19th century.While Douglass is known to have spoken outside the courthouse, it is also where he was held in a jail cell for two weeks after attempting to escape from slavery 42 years earlier. In the 19th century, enslaved people were sold on the courthouse’s front steps.Douglass’s statue was not the only one in front of the courthouse. Across a cinnamon pathway splitting the lawn in two was a statue of a young man with a soft, boyish face wearing a brimmed hat. His hands were wrapped around the staff of a flag, the bronze cloth cloaking his shoulder. While my family and I stood in front of Douglass, others came to pose for photos with this statue. They did not take photos of or with Douglass, perhaps because they were attempting to practice social distancing, or perhaps because they had no interest.I wasn’t familiar with the person standing on top of this pedestal, and though I assumed it was an American flag draped over his shoulder, I couldn’t quite make it out. After a woman and a young man had finished taking photos, I approached to get a closer look. Engraved on the front of the stone pedestal was:TO THE TALBOT BOYS1861–1865C.S.A.It did not take me long to understand what C.S.A. stood for, and to understand that the flag this young man was holding was not the American flag.The Talbot Boys were 84 local soldiers in the Confederate States Army; their names are carved into the sides of the stone base. The statue, I would later learn, was erected in 1916, more than half a century after the end of the Civil War and during a period when the majority of Confederate monuments were built. These memorials were an effort to honor Confederate veterans, who were dying off in large numbers—to teach younger white southerners about the war and that this generation of men should be venerated. They were also a physical symbol of white supremacy, an ornament in the landscape of Jim Crow meant to terrorize Black communities. In 2015, the Talbot county council voted unanimously against removing the statue; soon after my visit, however, the council president would introduce a resolution to take it down.I looked up at the statue, its bronze body glimmering under the sun, and then back at Douglass, about 20 yards away. My son was running in circles under the shade of a large oak tree while my daughter toddled after him. I thought of what it meant to have Frederick Douglass share the courthouse lawn with the names of 84 men who fought to keep people like him in bondage.[From the December 2018 issue: The confounding truth about Frederick Douglass]The Douglass statue was approved by the county council in 2004, but it was not immediately installed. It took several years of deliberation and debate to decide how the statue should be erected—resulting in a policy that the Douglass statue, and any other new statues on the lawn, could not be taller than the Talbot Boys statue. When Douglass’s statue was finally installed, in 2011, many were glad to see it erected and thought it might balance out the Talbot Boys monument. But there is no balancing out those who fought to perpetuate slavery with those who spent their lives working toward its demise.Douglass himself was keenly aware that the story of slavery, the story of the war, and the story of emancipation were at risk of being told in ways shaped by southern postwar propaganda rather than truth. As Blight put it, Douglass knew that historical memory was not determined simply by the passage of time; rather, “it was the prize in a struggle between rival versions of the past, a question of will, of power, of persuasion.”On May 30, 1871, just six years after the Civil War ended, Douglass gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. “We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism,” he said,to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember, with equal admiration, those who struck at the nation’s life, and those who struck to save it—those who fought for slavery, and those who fought for liberty and justice.I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant; but may my right hand forget its cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict … We must never forget that victory to the rebellion meant death to the republic. We must never forget that the loyal soldiers who rest beneath this sod flung themselves between the nation and the nation’s destroyers.I thought of this speech as I looked at the statue meant to commemorate these Confederate soldiers. Douglass feared that such statues might one day line the landscape of our country. But I wondered whether he could have imagined that his own likeness would stand alongside one, as if they were two equally moral sides of the same coin, both worthy of being lifted up and venerated.This is the problem with hollow attempts at “balance” in our public discourse. They mistake balance for fairness. Suggesting that Douglass and the Talbot Boys are equally worthy of public memorialization might be “balanced,” but it is not fair; it is not just. This war, as Douglass put it in an 1878 Memorial Day speech in New York City, was not simply a battle in which two sides fought nobly for what they believed in. No. It was “a war of ideas, a battle of principles … a war between the old and the new, slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization.” He went on: “There was a right side and a wrong side in the late war which no sentiment ought to cause us to forget.”In early June, 113 miles from where I stood, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam had announced that a 130-year-old statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, in Richmond, would be taken down. I had been thinking about Lee a lot lately, how central his name and likeness were to the iconography of my own childhood. Hundreds of statues, schools, and roads across the country are named after Robert E. Lee. The statue of Lee in my own hometown of New Orleans was taken down in 2017. I traveled down Robert E. Lee Boulevard to get to school each day. I remember when, before its name was changed in the mid-’90s, there was a Robert E. Lee Elementary School that was attended mostly by Black children.The veneration of Lee—a slave owner who led an army predicated on maintaining the institution of slavery—began immediately after his death, in 1870. Douglass was appalled. “Is it not about time that this bombastic laudation of the rebel chief should cease?” he asked. “We can scarcely take up a newspaper … that is not filled with nauseating flatteries of the late Robert E. Lee.”The way Lee’s legacy seemed to be taking shape gave Douglass one of his earliest and clearest indications about how difficult the fight against the propaganda machine of the Lost Cause would be. “It would seem from this,” he said of Lee’s rise to saintly status, “that the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven.”My children were growing restless, and it became clear that we would have time to visit only one more place before heading back home and hoping they might fall asleep in the car.As we drove toward Covey’s Landing, the roads became both emptier and more narrow. The houses became less frequent, with more distance between each new address. On one side of the road, wheat fields stretched out in every direction, like a golden blanket had been laid atop the land; on the other, budding corn stalks shot up out of the soil. I remarked to my wife how striking it was to consider that so much of this land had once been plantation fields Black people worked on. How their spirits still sang over these large plots of earth. She mentioned a point we discuss often: None of this was that long ago. We sat with that thought as we drove on, the car spitting up gravel behind its wheels.In front of the last house before the dock, the American flag rose up a tall staff along with a large blue trump pence 2020 flag that whipped in the wind. I looked at my children in the rearview mirror, grateful for all they were too young to know. The road ended at the water’s edge. I parked and kept the car running. I told my family I needed just a few minutes.I walked out onto a small wooden boat ramp and tried to take in my surroundings. The air was thick and heavy. The brown water was still but for the soft current that pulled ripples along its surface. On my right, a small tree jutted out from the shallow water, its branches bending down as if to drink. Across the river was a vast expanse of untamed, luscious green that looked like it ran out into the sky.I turned to my left and saw the river bend to its right. Douglass’s birthplace was less than a mile north up Tuckahoe Creek. The only way to get a close view of the land upon which Douglass spent his childhood is to get in a canoe or kayak and paddle there yourself. I thought of a young Douglass growing up here. Learning, over time, the unfreedoms placed upon his boyhood body. “Living here, with my dear old grandmother and grandfather, it was a long time before I knew myself to be a slave,” he wrote in My Bondage and My Freedom.I learned by degrees the sad fact, that the “little hut,” and the lot on which it stood, belonged not to my dear old grandparents, but to some person who lived a great distance off, and who was called, by grandmother, “OLD MASTER.” I further learned the sadder fact, that not only the house and lot, but that grandmother herself … and all the little children around her, belonged to this mysterious personage.I only had a few minutes to take in the space, to breathe in the air. As I stood at the edge of the dock, I craned my neck and stood on my tiptoes as if that might allow me to get a better glimpse of the land that Douglass had run over as a child, the land he had sunk his hands into when he returned as a man.I got back in the car, shut the door, and made a U‑turn. My children quickly fell asleep in their car seats, and we switched from Disney musicals to the news, trying to hear updates on what had transpired that day with the protests, with the virus, with our country. We made our way through idyllic neighborhoods with open windows and colorful shutters. American flags hung from front porches. So did Confederate flags.“I am not of that school of thinkers which teaches us to let bygones be bygones; to let the dead past bury its dead,” Douglass said in 1883.In my view there are no bygones in the world, and the past is not dead and cannot die. The evil as well as the good that men do lives after them … The duty of keeping in memory the great deeds of the past and of transmitting the same from generation to generation is implied in the mental and moral constitution of man.The next day, I scrolled through my Twitter timeline and came across an image that left me breathless. Under the haze of dusk, activists in Richmond had transformed the Robert E. Lee statue into a canvas blooming with new and reclaimed meaning. Garlands of graffiti wrapped around the statue’s base, their anti-racist messages written in colorful letters that curled and popped on the pedestal. Projected onto the side of the 40-foot base was the face of Douglass, his visage enormous and striking, upstaging the darkened silhouette of Lee above him. Between Douglass’s head and Lee’s silhouette was a quote from Douglass that I think about often when I see the protests, in their myriad forms: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”This article appears in the September 2020 print edition with the headline “Looking for Frederick Douglass.”
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Help! I Found My Great-Grandfather’s Ku Klux Klan Paraphernalia When Cleaning Out His Attic.
Can I burn it?
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Bike shorts are the official uniform of pandemic summer
See? So cute! | Courtesy of Girlfriend Collective The infamously unflattering garment is cool again. Here’s how the impossible happened. Welcome to Noticed, The Goods’ design trend column. You know that thing you’ve been seeing all over the place? Allow us to explain it. What are they: Stretchy, form-fitting, and usually high-waisted shorts that hit above the knee. Like leggings, but y’know, shorter. As their name suggests, bike shorts are best known for being worn by cyclists, but over the past few years they’ve been given a stylish “camp-counselor chic” upgrade. Where are they: On the bodies of seemingly everyone in quarantine, even though you wouldn’t know it from their floating heads on Zoom. And, of course, Instagram influencers are wearing them — a lot. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Caroline Daur (@carodaur) on May 23, 2020 at 12:05pm PDT Why you’re seeing them everywhere right now: Believe it or not, the infamously unflattering garment was having a fashion moment long before everybody got stuck at home. The story begins with Kanye West, who was exploring bike short silhouettes in his then-nascent brand Yeezy as early as 2015. It was his wife and muse Kim Kardashian West, though, who really put them on the map when she began regularly pairing bike shorts with oversized jackets or skin-tight bra tops for the paparazzi, much to the shock of the fashion and celebrity press at the time (sample headline: “Kim Kardashian Is Hell-Bent On Making Bike Shorts a Thing Again”). Despite his distaste for sweatpants, the late Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld was putting bike shorts on the runway around spring 2016, which meant that by summer, Vogue was already publishing “how to style bike shorts” blogs. By 2018, bike shorts were a street-style staple at fashion week shows, adding a sporty touch to delicate blouses or preppy blazers. It’s a look best exemplified in Virgil Abloh’s Princess Diana-inspired 2018 runway show, which Naomi Campbell closed in a white double-breasted jacket and matching spandex shorts. Bike shorts may have just been another one of the billions of ‘90s nostalgia trends that “work” only on supermodels (see also: tiny sunglasses) if it hadn’t been for a pandemic forcing almost everyone inside for several months. I knew something was amiss when the bike shorts I wanted from American Eagle were sold out: Although I’d spent the first few months in my apartment wearing exclusively high-waisted leggings, it took me until May to realize there was a summertime solution to being too hot and wanting to wear something that felt like nothing at all. Edward Berthelot/Getty Images Street style at Paris Fashion Week in June 2019. The answer presented itself, of course, on Instagram, where housebound influencers were showing off their expensive matching athleisure sets. Although the tie-dye sweatsuit may have been the quarantine uniform back in March and April, when summer weather started to hit larger swaths of the country, so too did their shorter, thinner counterparts. Bloggers like Danielle Bernstein and models like Emily Ratajkowski were posting their capital-f Fashion bike shorts, while the ads on my feed were coming from Outdoor Voices and other cool-girl athleisure labels. Not only were bike shorts everywhere I looked online, but they were selling out IRL too, at brands such as Girlfriend Collective, Aerie, and Fashion Brand Company, just as Google searches for bike shorts were skyrocketing higher than they had in more than a decade. Erin Collins-Rittling, Senior Manager of Aerie Styling says, “They are the perfect mix of leggings and shorts — two summer faves.” She says that bike shorts have been a top seller for the company in recent weeks, and continue to “crush expectations.” But unlike the versions on Instagram models and in ‘90s mood boards, they’ve taken on new meaning during the pandemic — and found a new audience in the process. Anna Lindy, a 25-year-old in Oklahoma City who works in retail, noticed their company was selling way more bike shorts this year than normal. “As a plus-sized person, I just saw bike shorts as another item that might not flatter my body type,” they told Vox. Lindy eventually bought a pair of Old Navy compression shorts and realized the style wasn’t just for “tall, thin bodies.” “Quarantine has a lot more people spending more time with themselves, which for me encouraged me to spend more time listening to what my body needs and loving myself in more ways than I had before,” they said. “I’ve been more active, and as I’ve grown to love my body over the years, if I’m comfortable and confident in something, it really doesn’t matter what other people think of it.” Although influencers tout products and workouts meant to stave off the “quarantine 15,” others are finding bike shorts the perfect garment to stay comfortable even when their old clothes don’t fit. The second, and arguably more important, function of bike shorts, of course, is that they prevent painful summertime thigh chafing (or the delightfully named “chub rub.”) At BuzzFeed, Shannon Keating wrote that after gaining a few pounds this spring, bike shorts were “the perfect middle ground. They’re ridiculously comfortable, definitely more so than jeans, but they still hold me in.” View this post on Instagram A post shared by Kellie Brown (@itsmekellieb) on May 29, 2020 at 10:32am PDT Bike shorts are the epitome of what many professionally stylish people are dubbing the “camp-counselor aesthetic,” notable for tie-dye, homemade friendship bracelets, ugly sandals, and oversized tees. It’s like “VSCO girl” meets normcore, which, as Felix Petty described in i-D, “sit[s] under the same big trend umbrella as dad shoes, city merch, gorpcore, and bumbags. Which is to say, ironic ugliness remade into sarcastic-but-practical luxury ... Comfort only comes couched in something sardonic and knowing.” Vogue’s Michelle Ruiz told Vox that she started feeling a “magnetic pull to tie-dye” a few weeks into quarantine. “I think it was the perfect storm of being stuck at home and wearing loungewear all the time, and the news getting increasingly dark, so wanting that loungewear to be incredibly colorful and happy,” she said. The fashion industry was leaning in, too: Ruiz noted that her social media feeds were soon filled with targeted ads for camp-counselor chic clothing. The aesthetic might be a quarantine-inspired iteration of escapist dressing, much like gingham and the “sexy milkmaid” look have been in years previous. “If I had to psychoanalyze it, it’s about wanting to return to the simple, innocent time of being a camper,” Ruiz said. I’m thrilled to say that I did, eventually, find several pairs of bike shorts that weren’t yet sold out, and even more thrilled to say that although they look absolutely terrible on me, it doesn’t even really matter. The soft, stretchy fabric is breathable enough to survive alone in sweaty apartments, and just dorky enough to provide a rare source of joy in pandemic summer. In fact, I’ve worn them so much that I even bought the next level up in the hierarchy of camp-counselor garments: a skort. 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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On This Day: 7 August 1997
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Former education secretary discusses safely returning to school
On "The Takeout" this week, King spoke with host Major Garrett about what measures should be taken to make schools safer amid the coronavirus.
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