Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat representing the state’s 8th Congressional District, is a thoughtful and devoted arbiter of democracy. In other words, he is truly one of the rare politicians who, lucky for us, is on our side.
I spoke with Raskin on the day the House reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, which helps in the battle he’s fighting on behalf of missing and murdered Indigenous and Black women through his work as chair of the U.S. House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
In addition to $1.5 trillion in funding, the measure includes a “tribal title,” a provision that gives tribal courts jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Native offenders—sexual assault, sex trafficking, stalking, and child abuse, as well as obstructing justice and assaulting tribal law enforcement officers.
Raskin told Daily Kos that the panel on missing and murdered women of color catalyzed people’s attention to the problem. He says the next steps are to assure that “law enforcement resources go to every level of local and regional and tribal governments to bolster their ability to respond to people who go missing,” and he added that “the Biden Justice Department is going to be seriously focused on this issue.”
Raskin says his dedication to political life began at home. He grew up in a family of what he calls “intense political activists and intellectuals,” adding, “it was sort of the air I breathed as a kid.”
Raskin’s maternal grandfather was a state legislator in Minnesota, spending his days, Raskin says “solving people’s problems.”
“So when I decided finally to run for the state Senate, I was in my early 40s. I thought a lot about my grandfather and what he did and how he did it.” And indeed much of what Raskin does in his daily political life, outside of being a member of the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, leading the impeachment drive of former President Trump in the Senate, and the plethora of other committees he sits on, is work on the concrete needs of his constituents—getting people their passports, resolving visa problems, procuring people’s lost Social Security checks, getting people their PPP money or VA benefits—in essence, he says, “figuring out how to get government-funding to lots of needy entities.”
He admits that these small wins offer momentary satisfaction when there’s a stalemate at the national level for new legislation. Which immediately brought to mind the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and why it’s so hard to get it passed.
“Voting rights legislation is a direct threat to the GOP's cynical and governed and governing model today. The GOP is a minority party and a shrinking minority party. Hillary beat Trump by three million votes. Joe Biden beat them by seven-and-a-half million votes, and they thrive on voter suppression and the use of a bag of tricks involving anti-democratic maneuvers like gerrymandering of our congressional districts, the use of the filibuster to thwart voting rights legislation, right-wing judicial activism, and even manipulation of the Electoral College,” Raskin says.
He added: “What we're suffering from today is not democracy. It's a series of anti-democratic impediments to majority rule. That's the struggle we're in today. It's a race between the clear will of the majority and the manipulation of these levers of anti-democratic power.”
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Raskin also focuses much of his work on the environment, calling the nation’s thinking on this issue “obsolete.”
“I think we need to recognize this as a universal political imperative. If our brains were bigger and we had greater collective cognitive intelligence, we would all be focused on this front-of-mind centrally in terms of everything we're working on. But we're not and we continue to be dragged back into wrestling with monsters and ghosts from the 20th century like racism and authoritarianism,” he says.
On Dec. 31, 2020, just days before a violent mob stormed the Capitol, Raskin lost his son Tommy to suicide. He chronicles the suicide in his book Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy, published in January of this year.
“It would be my own attempt at a personal answer, a labor of love and a way to respond to all those people who told me, in such fine-grained detail, about the love and the crises in their own families, about their grievous personal losses and their incremental triumphs, and about the desperate fears they have for our nation’s future and the most cherished hopes they have for what America may still become in a world of so many frightful dangers,” Raskin told The Washington Times about the book.
In response to his son’s death, Raskin says he’s working on several bills that directly deal with mental health services. One is a bill asking for funding from the Department of Health and Human Services to give grant funds to state, county, and local governments nationwide to beef up behavioral services in schools.
“We need to make sure that there is funding in the schools for enough behavioral service health service workers such that they can begin to address the crisis. But we are, you know, the behavioral and mental health staff are overwhelmed everywhere across the country, and we have huge workforce shortage problems. So that's something that we need to deal with,” he says.
In light of so much darkness in Raskin’s life and what he’s faced in his years fighting Republicans, an attempted coup, and a failed twice-impeached U.S. president, it’s a miracle that Raskin stays as upbeat and engaged as he is. How does he do it?
“My dad always used to say that when everything looks hopeless, you are the hope. It's incumbent upon all of us to help bring some optimism and light to young people. It's a generation that itself is bringing a lot of hope. I mean, they are beyond racism and sexism and antisemitism and immigrant-bashing. So, we derive a lot of hope from young people.”
Raskin’s father Marcus G. Raskin was a Juilliard-trained pianist in addition to being an author, philosopher, and co-founder of the progressive think tank Institute for Policy Studies
So, it’s no surprise that Raskin’s hope comes from the arts.
“We need to restore culture and music and drama and humor to a central place in what we do. Politics cannot just be about grim news, coups, and insurrections; it's got to be about the kind of social future we're looking for.”
The Good Fight is a series spotlighting progressive activists around the nation battling injustice in communities that are typically underserved and brutalized by a system that overlooks them.
Editor’s Note: Rep. Raskins congressional district was misidentified and has been corrected.