Friends,

This week, we have five action items for you,  We hope you do as many as you can! And encourage your friends to take the solidarity pledge as well – all are welcome to sign!

  • 1) Support candidates in the VA state special elections
  • 2) Plan to engage more with your Congresspeople
  • 3) Fight climate-denying Cabinet nominations
  • 4) Learn to practice critical media analysis
  • 5) Russian interference in the 2016 Election

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1) Support candidates in the VA state special elections

Virginia holds state-level special elections on Jan 10, and there are several seats in their state House are in contention. State legislatures matter for a number of reasons, not least of which is their role in the gerrymandering process that helps maintain the Republican stranglehold on the House of Representatives. Support the candidates in the VA special elections by phonebanking or donating; further instructions and details here.

While you’re at it – sign up for Flippable, whose mission is to turn America blue by building a movement to flip seats at state and federal level.

2) Plan to engage more with your Congresspeople

Find out about your local Congressional contact (more info on representatives here and senators here) and figure out how to engage with them more closely.

  • Put their number in your phone to make it easier to call them on specific issues.

  • Better yet, if you’re up for it, attend your Representative’s office hours or town hall meetings, especially if you’re a student still home on break (especially in a red state/district)! Individual Representatives’ websites will have information on office hours, where you can meet with them in person, or at least with a senior staffer. For this, it’s best to have a specific issue you want to talk about, or better yet, specific legislation. Try to focus on one issue rather than a laundry list of concerns. (Consult some of our previous emails for ideas.)

  • If you do go visit your Congressperson, we want to hear about it! Drop us a line at solidaritymit@mit.edu.

  • If you’d like to go a step further, most Congresspeople have calendars of events on their websites – follow their calendars, show up to events or public meetings and ask uncomfortable questions!

3) Fight climate-denying Cabinet nominations

Trump’s cabinet nominations are dangerous for a whole host of reasons, but if you care about climate change, there’s particular cause for concern with Trump’s nominations for the State Department, Department of Energy, and Environmental Protection Agency – Tillerson, Perry, and Pruitt (the new TPP!).

  • Rex Tillerson, currently the CEO of ExxonMobil, has been nominated to replace John Kerry as Secretary of State. ExxonMobil is a documented funder of climate change denial and is under investigation for potentially misleading investors about the threat that climate change poses for its asset valuation, and Tillerson himself has downplayed the threat of climate change. Tillerson also faces severe conflicts of interest as Secretary of State, having advocated in the past for a relaxation of Russian sanctions that would open up billions in profits for Exxon and millions for Tillerson himself.

  • Rick Perry, former Texas governor and Republican presidential primary candidate, has been nominated to replace Ernest Moniz as Secretary of the Department of Energy. Perry, who would be charged with overseeing the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal and energy R&D and deployment agenda, stated in 2011 that he wanted to abolish the DOE, but forgot the name of the department. Perry, who has no background in science, claimed in 2011 that climate science is a “contrived phony mess”. Perry is also on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the main company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

  • Scott Pruitt, currently the Attorney General of Oklahoma, has been nominated to run the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, who publicly denies the scientific consensus on climate change, spent much of his time as Attorney General suing the EPA in attempts to weaken the agency’s enforcement of emissions regulations mandated under the Clean Air Act. Actually, to say he spent “much of his time” doing so may be inaccurate, since on at least one occasion he has simply signed his name to a letter to the EPA written by an Oklahoma oil and gas company. Pruitt has also supported Exxon against other state Attorney Generals investigating Exxon’s support of climate denial.

What can you do? First, be informed. Pay attention to public statements made by TPP and by individual members of Congress. In your own circles, draw attention to words and actions that will have a significant impact on both climate policy and the discussion surrounding climate change.

Secondly, call your senators! These nominations have to be confirmed by the Senate, and it’s important to encourage your Senators not just to vote against the nominations, but to question these nominees heavily. Explain your reasoning, and ask your Senator to encourage others to also be heavily critical of these nominees during the confirmation process. While filibustering is no longer allowed for these confirmation hearings, the Senate is close enough that a few Republican defections could result in a rejection. Senators’ contact information available here, and check out this script from Wall of Us for a list of questions to encourage your Senators to ask of Tillerson.

You can also participate in a nationwide “Day Against Denial” this Monday, January 9. Events are being held nationwide; if you’re in the Boston area, attend the rally at 12pm at the Park Street T Station.

4) Learn to practice critical media analysis

The election has highlighted for all of us the role that the media plays in our society- how it frames debates, shapes our views, and can ultimately play a major role in our democracy. In light of this, we need to start paying closer attention to the media we consume, and the media we support financially (through subscriptions or advertising dollars).

Now more than ever, it’s important to read the news regularly, to be critical of news sources, and to hold the media and each other accountable for fake, biased, or unsubstantiated “news.” While creating a true shift the media landscape (and our political discourse more broadly) will take time, we’ve put together a list of suggestions on how to get started:

  • Read legitimate news sites daily, and read critically: a great example of subtle but distinctive bias is false equivalence, such as in this NYTimes article. Tips on identifying fake news, and a good list of known fake news sites can be found here

  • Remember that “equal time to both sides” does not mean unbiased when both sides are not factually correct. A good article explaining the historically tragic results of “false balance journalism” can be found here.

  • Beware the media “bubbles”: While being wary of false news, it’s necessary to understand what kind of rhetoric and claims are being made on the other side of the aisle in order to prepare for and refute them. This article provides a helpful list of conservative news sites to help balance out bias and make both sides of arguments clearer.

  • Call out friends and family who post or refer to fake news stories. Try to be calm and clear, and focus on the issue (fake news) rather than on the content of their argument. Some tips for dealing with the conversations can be found here.

  • When posted on Facebook, report “fake news” links.

  • Call out real news sources if they report fake news, show clear bias, or otherwise betray journalistic ethics: comment, respond on social media, and/or write to the author or the editor pointing out the flaws and asking for corrections.

5) Russian interference in the 2016 Election

By now, you may be burnt out on hearing about Russian meddling in the US election. Ignoring Russian involvement, however, will not make it go away, and may pave the way for similar interference in the future. To prevent this, we need to work to keep ourselves and each other informed (see media analysis action item above). While the election has been decided, we should be prepared to combat misinformation and ignorance in our networks in order to prevent this kind of intrusion on our democracy from ever happening again. In light of this, we’ve compiled a quick-and-dirty factual summary of Russian involvement in the election (and you may also want to check out primers by CNN, the Atlantic, BBC, NPR, and NYT in 200 words and longer).

During this years’ Democratic primary, there was an intrusion into the DNC’s e-mail servers. The hack revealed deep seated division within the Democratic Party, and the responses to it also highlighted a growing divide between the President-elect’s administration and members of his own political party.

Both the FBI and the CIA have publicly stated their agreement that Russia was responsible for the email hacking, and with deliberate intent to interfering in the election; they had previously issued a joint statement on October 7 revealing that the intelligence community was “confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions.” The President-Elect has responded with skepticism, and has come out in support of Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, who denies Russian involvement in the leaks. This unprecedented split between the President-Elect and the intelligence community is deeply troubling and could lead to significant restructuring of the intelligence communities, which could in turn lead to less transparency and more human rights abuses both in the US and abroad.

The hack, and the subsequent congressional squabbling, is significant beyond the scope of US-Russia relations and may pose a serious threat to democracy both here and outside the US, as there is evidence that Russia has interfered in elections in Europe as well.

Congressional hearings on the hacking are ongoing as of today, Jan 5; stay tuned in, engaged and informed!

—–

That’s all for this week. Thank you for standing up for progress with us! And don’t forget to share your commitment and actions with friends, both online and in person!

If you have questions or suggestions, or would like to get more involved, contact us at solidaritymit@mit.edu. We especially welcome suggestions for potential action items!

Until next week,

Solidarity MIT

tinyurl.com/solidaritypledge

 

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