Last night my senior Senator was temporarily silenced as she read a statement Coretta Scott King wrote in 1986 about Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. In it, Mrs. King went into detail about some of the reasons she was opposed to Sessions’s confirmation as a federal district court judge for the Southern District of Alabama.
Her statement was supposed to have been entered into the Congressional Record, but noted segregationist Strom Thurmond, who was the Chair of the Judiciary Committee at the time, never did so. What a surprise.
Chuck Grassley, the current Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, is also involved. People trying to find the statement for use during the current confirmation hearings asked him for a copy, and he did not respond. Democrats on the Committee were unable to help because only the Chairman had the authority to release the long-buried testimony.
The statement had such influence in 1986 that the Sessions nomination never even made it out of committee. They voted 10-8 against bringing Sessions to the full Senate for a vote. Reagan withdrew the nomination.
We live in a different time now, with another racist president trying to throw a bone to the white supremacist wing of his party (some of whom are still angry about Sessions being refused 31 years ago).
So this evening, the man whose race-based abuses of power led to him being rejected for the position of district court judge in 1986, was confirmed as Attorney General of the United States. He is now the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the country. The responsibility for compelling racist local governments in the South and elsewhere to comply with federal civil rights laws, including voting rights laws, is in his hands now.
Well, I suppose we should count our lucky stars that he was too old to be nominated to fill the open Supreme Court seat.
That brings us to what happened last night, when Senator Elizabeth Warren attempted to read Coretta Scott King’s statement during a planned all-night debate session led by Democrats in opposition to the Sessions nomination.
Most of you have seen the clip:
Whenever you try to speak truth to power, someone will step up to try to silence you.
In fact, if no one is trying to silence you, you are not doing it right.
The powerful do not like anyone who speaks truth because the truth so frequently makes them look bad. If you even get close to speaking the truth they will do something to shut you down. If no one is trying to silence you, then you only imagine you are speaking truth to power. If no one is trying to silence you, then no one is of importance is worried that you will say anything of significance to a number of people worth caring about.
But Rcons knew what was in the letter, especially McConnell, one of the few people in the current Senate who was also there for the previous failed nomination in 1986.
The full text of Coretta Scott King’s cover letter and ten-page testimony is available here.
Below are a few representative quotes:
Mr. Sessions has used-the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens
in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.
Mr. Sessions’ conduct as U.S. Attorney, from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his
indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness
and judgment to be a federal judge.
A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of
those rights by Black people should not be elevated to the federal bench.
The irony of Mr. Sessions' nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal
prosecution what the local sherifls accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods.
The scope and character of the investigations conducted by Mr. Sessions also warrant grave concern. Witnesses were selectively chosen in accordance with the favorability of their testimony to the government's case. Also,
the prosecution illegally withheld from the defense critical statements made by witnesses. Witnesses who did
testify were pressured and intimidated into submitting the "correct" testimony. Many elderly blacks were visited multiple times by the FBI who then hauled them over 180 miles by bus to a grand jury in Mobile when they could more easily have testified at a grand jury twenty miles away in Selma.
These voters, and others, have announced they are now never going to vote again.
I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence, and sensitivity to the rights
guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court. Based on his
record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband's dream that he envisioned
over twenty years ago.
Gee, I wonder why Senator Sessions did not want these statements read aloud on the Senate floor.
Good thing his old pal McConnell came to the rescue. I’m sure he thought he was being very clever in pulling Rule 19 out of his pocket.
But it backfired.
McConnell made sure that MANY more people heard the statement than would have if he had just let EW give her speech on the floor of the Senate in the first place.
The reasons it backfired are what we need to study for any future occasions when someone may want to silence us.
The first step is psychological.
Make your best effort to be heard in the situation where you are being silenced, but if they do manage to cut you off, decide that your silencing is temporary.
Whoever it is may has only managed to silence you for the moment.
So instead of putting a lot of frustration energy into being angry about being silenced, go as quickly as possible into step two.
The second step is to immediately find another venue to be heard in.
Within moments of the censure, EW was on national television with a much larger viewership than C-SPAN.
If you are silenced in some official capacity, you may not be able to call Rachel Maddow or Don Lemon and get immediately on cable news.
However, you may know someone else who does have that kind of reach, and if you do know someone like that, call that person first.
Contact your activist network next and get them on social media. Send them the statement you were not allowed to give as soon as possible so it can be shared.
EW made good use of social media. Twitter exploded. Quickly #LetLizSpeak was trending.
Live video is even more powerful—make your video as soon as possible while you can still draw on all the passion and fire you feel about being silenced. Make sure you have Facebook Live and Periscope on your phone.
EW recorded herself reading the document and posted on Facebook Live. So far it has 9,693,876 views.
I do not think that many people were watching C-SPAN 2 at that time of night.
If you are silenced at a Town Hall or a local political meeting, get a quick Letter to the Editor off immediately to your local paper and to the largest regional paper in your area.
When you go to events like Town Halls with the intention of saying something controversial, always bring more than one person with you who will agree to videotape your statement. If you are allowed to speak, you will have video to post on social media later. But if you are silenced, removed from the room, or something else happens, your friends will have cell phone video from several different angles, which can also be posted on social media and may be needed for evidence if you are manhandled or your rights are violated.
In the event of something drastic happening, make sure that someone sends the video to local television. They may not run it. But they will have it on file in case a similar event happens later with someone who is more high profile than you.
Pre-planning: as you get ready for any public statement you plan to make, make sure you and your partner activists each
1) know how to share video directly from a cellphone camera app, and also have Facebook and periscope on their phones.
2) know how to put a digital identifier bug on said video before sending it to local/national television. Decide in advance whose name, blog, twitter handle, etc. will be part of the bug.
3) have a list of twitter handles, phone numbers and email addresses for appropriate local and national media contacts, as well as contact info for anyone you know who has a wider reach than you (a friend with 50,000 twitter followers, someone whose roommate works for CNN, etc.).
Last but not least, do not overlook the ultimate l0-tech tactics of posting on community bulletin boards, belonging to activist list servs and email lists, or even standing on a popular street corner with a megaphone and printed flyers.
Look around, look around. The revolution’s happening. We will not be silenced because we cannot be silenced.
We cannot be silenced because the task is too important and we must speak out anywhere and everywhere we can.
And we cannot be silenced because if they try to silence us we will just speak up someplace else.
Be persistent and the message will get out.
They can’t shut us all up because we outnumber them.
Previous TRUE BLUE REPORT diaries
Feb 7: Plain Talk Tuesday: Tell people the Affordable Care Act is the same as OBAMACARE
Feb 6: Interview Skills 101—Internalized oppression and what Ryan Lizza did right. BRAVO!
Feb 5: These protest signs with Bible cites will confuse and befuddle RWNJs
Feb 4: Blue Ribbon Winners: Temple B’Nai Israel, Judge Robart, CNN, Senate Phone Callers
Feb 3: Not rich, not smart, not a good businessman, not a winner—DJT is NOTHING he claims to be
Feb 2: Thursday action—Encouragement, thanks, and apologies (pick one or more)
Feb 1: July 7, 2009 to August 25, 2009 and September 25, 2009 to February 4, 2010
Jan 31: If you’re on overload that’s part of their plan—there’s more than one way to #resist
Jan 30: Interview Skills 101 for reporters attempting to interview KAC and other Rcons
Jan 29: Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness
Jan 28: Blue Ribbon Winners: Women's March participants and #NoMuslimBan demonstrators and...
Jan 27: I wish Steve Bannon would tell me to keep my mouth shut
Jan 26: Thursday Action—Have you ever written a letter to the editor? Here’s how to start
Jan 25: The Asch Conformity Study, inauguration crowds, and the importance of speaking out
Jan 24: #ResistTrumpTuesday—good news day or another paying dues day?
Jan 23: Spy the Lie 101: How to enjoy watching Rcon spokesbot interviews, even KAC!
Jan 22: Why I prayed for the President* today
Jan 21: The only silver lining in the midst of these clouds
Inaugural (!) diary: Stop expecting Republicons to make sense