Pumps and Politics 901

Pumps and Politics 901

 Marissa Pittman, right, is a 17-year-old senior at White Station High School who won the National Civil Rights Museum’s student Freedom Award for her work in educating young women of color about politics and running for office.

This article was originally published on Chalkbeat

Marissa Pittman wants to see more politicians at career fairs. As a high school senior in Memphis, she can’t remember a time when politics was discussed in a way that encouraged young people to get involved.

“They always talk about being a doctor or an engineer and that’s it,” said Pittman, 17, a student at White Station High School. “This is about shifting the narrative.”

She started an organization called Pumps and Politics 901 to encourage young women of color to run for office and get involved in every level of the political process.

Her work earned her the Keeper of the Dream Award from the National Civil Rights Museum this week. The museum’s highest honor for students comes with $500, a trophy, a one-year family museum membership and two tickets to anywhere Southwest Airlines flies in the continental United States.

Pittman wants to reach young women ages 15 to 24 but for now, mostly focuses on high school students. She helped lead a student walkout at her school last year, part of a nationwide movement to call for gun reform and reduce school shootings. The event turned into a community fair of sorts with nonprofit groups presenting advocacy issues relevant to students.

“I did that so students would have the opportunity to channel their anger somewhere else instead of keeping it inside,” Pittman told Chalkbeat. “It’s all about building connections and empowering the community and that’s what I tried to center the walkout on and have youth voice.”

Chalkbeat sat down with Pittman after the museum’s award ceremony and student forum. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What got you interested in politics?

Honestly, I can’t remember. But I’m going to attribute it to all the times I watched political shows and political stations like CNN and just listening to my parents talk with their friends about things going on in the community and their perspectives. I’m the oldest of three girls so I was nosy. I just hear about these things and I want to know.

PHOTO: Shelby County SchoolsMarissa Pittman

When you look at who is not represented equitably in politics, I realized the lack of diversity there. From there, I started looking at the city council website, the state legislature website and looking at local politicians from Memphis and I realized there was something wrong. There were few females of color in office.

What sparked the idea for Pumps and Politics?

I was really involved in Let’s Innovate Through Education (LITE), a student entrepreneurship program, my freshman year. They gave me some funding to try to solve a problem in my community. I started thinking about things that make me angry and the lack of political representation came up again.

I was at a student body meeting at White Station High School and I was the only female person of color. And White Station is supposed to be a microcosm of the city. If this was happening here, what’s happening everywhere else?

What kind of events do you do? What does the training look like?

The first event that I held was at City Hall and was sponsored by Councilwoman Patrice Robinson and my mentor state Rep. London Lamar was also present and now-state Sen. Katrina Robinson was present too. And we talked about the barriers and disparities that come up when people try to run for office.

From there it shifted to be more of a social media campaign because when people see politics and event it kind of scares them off. I realized that in order to make a difference you need to make it to where people can understand politics. So, now I’m working on a workbook for young women who want to run for office including information on mental health, advice about branding, making alliances, partnerships, and endorsements. Those are the “hidden rules” of getting into the political realm and changing the culture to where people think, “Oh, I could be a politician too.”

I look at national organizations and see what they’re doing and I’m trying to mimic that but also change it to where it’s impactful and not too time-consuming for people. I may still do events like an overnight training camp with the workbook and lectures from different female politicians too.

Were you learning any of this in school?

No. Well, not until 12th grade but I think that’s too late. I take AP Government and that’s really the only time you can take a government class. We’re being affected by government and policies as soon as we’re born. We talk about social studies in elementary and middle school but that’s not really in-depth. The most we hear about politics is during presidential election years for like 20 minutes. Any time anybody talked about politicians it was always negatively. You never hear about them doing great things like securing funding for a local project. I want students to know what the job of a politician entails. People always push engineers, but they don’t always push getting politically involved. I think that’s a big problem and could lead to lower voter turnout levels later on in life because people don’t really have the opportunity to learn.

“People always push engineers, but they don’t always push getting politically involved.”Marissa Pittman

What do you think schools should do to encourage students to make their voices heard?

Having discussions about political systems and integrating social studies into other subjects. Politics touches everything. Inviting politicians to career fairs, inviting nonprofit leaders and neighborhood organizers. Having those avenues available for students to explore. I think it’s about access, honestly.

Also creating space for students to express their political views is important — as long as they’re not hateful. At White Station, our principal does a very good job of that, but that’s not at every school. We have a political action club that just started.

Even at a “dress for success” event saying it’s not just for interviews but if you want to lead a political campaign, this is how you dress up or something like that. Little things add up and plant seeds in young people’s minds.

PHOTO: Shelby County SchoolsMarissa Pittman, far right, with other student winners (in front) and the National Civil Rights Museum’s honorees for Freedom Award (in back from left) Hafsat Abiola, Gloria Steinem, and John Legend.

Are there any education issues you’re rallying or organizing around?

Well, I don’t like vouchers. When we talk about Tennessee education, that’s something that always comes up because it’s going to be implemented in Memphis and Nashville. All the representatives in those two cities didn’t want it.

And the City of Memphis doesn’t give a dime to Shelby County Schools as far as public education and that angers me a lot. County commissioner Tami Sawyer’s mayoral campaign talked about that a lot and it wasn’t something I thought a lot about. That’s the great thing about having more women in the political process. They will bring things that you don’t really think about.

In state politics, voter suppression is something I’m really trying to figure out how I want to make an impact in next, especially going into college.

Will we see your name on a ballot soon?

Maybe! I don’t know. I think before I do the work, there’s so much that needs to be done to dismantle broken things in politics like voter suppression. I’m more focused on making the ballot box equal for people, especially non-violent felons who have been released. And just making elections more accessible to people. I don’t understand why there’s not early voting in every state.

A lot of people have been telling me that I need to run for school board (She can when she’s 18). I think we need a student representative on the school board and not just a token. The student congress doesn’t do as much as I would like them to see them do. They plan an event once a year, the Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) conference, but there are more things that students should have a voice in.

I feel like in a lot of these systems, there’s an exclusion of the youth voice. They think we’re not old enough to have input. But we’re experiencing these things on a daily basis and we know what we’re talking about when it comes to things that teachers do and the quality of education in Shelby County Schools. I feel like we’re left out of that sometimes. They’ll come around with surveys for us to do, but are they really evaluating the surveys? Things like that.

I had a few girls texting me saying they were reading the Mueller report. Even if some girls don’t want to go into politics, I want them to be inspired. We may not be able to run for office right now, but we’ve got to get involved.

Do the Democrats have a religion problem?

Do the Democrats have a religion problem?

Nationwide map of 2016 U.S. presidential election results shaded by vote share in each county. Image courtesy of Creative Commons


For the past couple of decades, the question, “Do the Democrats have a religion problem?” has seemed to answer itself. Of course, they do!

The basis for this conventional wisdom is what came to be known in the early 2000s as the God gap. Measured in terms of the preference for Republicans among those who say they attend worship at least once a week, the gap grew from 5 percentage points to 20 between 1990 and 2000. That is to say, by the 2000 election, weekly worshippers (of all spiritual persuasions) were voting for Republican presidential and congressional candidates by a margin of 60% to 40%.

It’s not so easy to say why this happened when it did. President Bill Clinton was a regular churchgoer, a Southern Baptist who believed abortion should be “safe, legal and rare,” opposed same-sex marriage and instituted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” LGBT policy in the military. But then there was the Lewinsky scandal and, thanks to serious grassroots politicking by Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, the coming of age of the religious right.

Democratic presidential candidates participate during the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on June 26, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

However it is explained, the 20-point gap persisted in the 2002 midterms, and by 2004 Democrats were beginning to worry. In the keynote address that launched his national career at the Democratic convention that year, Barack Obama famously pointed out that “we worship an awesome God in the blue states.” Which was nothing if not an acknowledgment that the blue states had come to be seen as dominated by the godless.

Obama’s claim notwithstanding, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry didn’t handle religion very well. Albeit a pretty observant Catholic, he was pro-choice and, like most New England politicians, averse to speaking about his faith on the campaign trail.

After Kerry went down to defeat, the party chairmanship fell to Howard Dean, another New England pol with a secular style. But Dean, determined to change the party’s image, recruited a black Pentecostal woman to do religious outreach and rounded up candidates around the country capable of engaging religiously. Lo and behold, in 2006 the Democrats captured control of both houses of Congress, as the gap shrank to 12 points.

Two years later, two books by prominent journalists chronicled the Democrats’ apparent revival: “The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap” by Time magazine’s Amy Sullivan and “Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right” by The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne.

President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha attend Easter church service at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., on April 24, 2011. Official White House Photo/Pete Souza/Creative Commons

Indeed, the 2008 election cycle saw a lot of religion on the Democratic side. During the primaries, Obama and Hillary Clinton competed in religious outreach. During the general election campaign, the prominent evangelical pastor Rick Warren conducted high-profile interviews of Obama and GOP nominee John McCain. But religion proved to be more of a burden than a balm for Obama as president, and in 2012, it more or less disappeared from his presidential campaign.

At the presidential level, none of this mattered. Regardless of the degree of attentiveness to religion by the Democratic nominee, the 20-point God gap persisted.

Here it’s important to recognize that the gap is mostly about white Christians — Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelicals, Greek Orthodox and Mormons. Among non-Christians, only Orthodox Jews go Republican. Among people of color the only group that doesn’t vote strongly Democratic are Latino evangelicals, who divide equally between Democrats and Republicans.

The gap is also more about frequently attending men than frequently attending women. The former vote strongly Republican; the latter have tended to be closely divided between Republicans and Democrats.

And then there are the nones, who since 1990 have risen from under 10% to a quarter of the U.S. population. They make up a large portion of what can be called the godless gap — the portion of the electorate that says it goes to worship infrequently if at all, and that votes strongly Democratic.

I suspect that one of the reasons we’re not hearing much from Democratic operatives about dealing with the God gap in this election cycle is because they think it matters less and less. Sure, frequent attenders continue to vote Republican, but there are fewer and fewer of them — and more and more nones.

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departing on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Aug. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Consider what’s happened to the prime antagonists in the culture wars, white evangelicals and nones, in the crucial swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. According to PRRI’s American Values Atlas, as of 2014 white evangelicals in Pennsylvania were at 18% and nones were at 19%. In 2018 white evangelicals had dropped to 17% and nones had risen to 23% — for a 6-point swing. Comparable swings took place in the other states as well: 7 points in Ohio, 5 points in Michigan, 5 points in Wisconsin and 6 points in Minnesota.

So why bother with religious outreach?

For one thing, white evangelicals punch above their weight when it comes to voting, and nones punch below theirs. For another, there’s a real opportunity to pick up votes among women who are frequent churchgoers.

The gender gap — women’s proclivity to vote Democratic — tied its high-water mark of 11 percentage points in the last presidential election, and in last year’s congressional races reached an all-time high of 19 points. At the moment, while men are disapproving of President Donald Trump’s job performance by a few percentage points, women are disapproving by close to 20.

If I were advising the Democrats on how to deal with the God gap, I’d say attack the hard-line anti-abortion laws being passed around the country while embracing the old Clintonian “safe, legal and rare” mantra. I’d emphasize the Trump administration’s assault on the Affordable Care Act, up to and including its facilitation of exemptions from the contraception mandate.

And I’d say do something else: Make the climate crisis the pro-life issue of our era. It’s about our children’s lives, and the lives of their children, and all the children who will ever live on Earth. With time running out and a president who has set his face against even acknowledging its existence, it is the political imperative of the moment.

It is also the spiritual challenge of our time. If the Democrats can’t manage to take it up, they really do have a religion problem.

Mississippi: Black voters sue over election law rooted in the state’s racist past

Mississippi: Black voters sue over election law rooted in the state’s racist past

Video Courtesy of Roland S. Martin

A lawsuit over a Mississippi election law, if successful, will change the way that state elects its governor.

Four African Americans filed the federal civil rights lawsuit in May 2019, charging that the way their state elects its statewide officials violates the Voting Rights Act, the 14th Amendment and the principle of “one-person, one-vote.”

To win election, a candidate for governor of Mississippi has to win an outright majority of the popular vote – and win a majority of the state’s 122 House districts.

If no candidate does both, the state House gets to select the next governor, regardless of who got the most votes. No African American has been elected statewide since 1890.

Republican legislators in Mississippi defended the law by arguing that the plaintiffs provide “nothing more than conjecture” that they would be harmed by this election method.

Media coverage of the lawsuit has emphasized that “no Mississippi candidate who won the most votes for a statewide office has been prevented from taking office because of the other requirements.”

As a historian of 19th-century voting rights in the U.S., I believe this analysis ignores the history of anti-democratic gubernatorial election laws.

Today, Mississippi is one of only two states where the winner of the popular vote does not automatically become governor. Vermont is the other. In the 19th century, however, many states had such laws.

The damage that these laws did to democratic legitimacy and political stability in the 1870s, ‘80s and ’90s was not conjecture. These laws were intended to entrench the rule of the party in power.

This November, Mississippi is preparing for its first close gubernatorial election since 1999. The election law that is the focus of the lawsuit could decide who wins. Its origins and the track record of similar laws in more competitive states bear investigation.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder supported the filing of the Mississippi lawsuit, saying ‘count all the votes and the person who gets the greatest number of votes wins.’
AP/Seth Wenig

Disenfranchisement by law

The gubernatorial election law dates to 1890, when it was drafted into Mississippi’s constitution by a nearly all-white convention.

The Southern Democrats in charge of the convention were intent on removing African Americans from politics. The constitution they crafted subjected prospective voters to a literacy test and poll tax – effectively disenfranchising nearly all African Americans.

They included the majority vote and state House district provision in the constitution as a backstop to preserve white control of Mississippi. However, voter suppression and a racially polarized electorate have produced few competitive elections in Mississippi, ensuring that the backstop has rarely been necessary.

In the 19th century, many states with similar election laws had much more competitive elections. The bad results these laws produced in close contests demonstrate the worst-case possibilities of Mississippi’s system.

The crowbar governor

These anti-majoritarian laws in governors’ races caused what legal scholar Edward B. Foley termed “a veritable epidemic” of crises during the Gilded Age.

In West Virginia (1888), Rhode Island (1893) and Tennessee (1894), partisan legislatures overruled the voters to install governors in office who had failed to win the most votes.

The 1890 drama in Connecticut provides the worst example of these laws in action.

Democratic candidates running for governor won the most votes in every Connecticut election during the 1880s. But with multiple parties running, they never captured a majority. The legislature, gerrymandered to favor the Republicans, installed their candidates in office 4 out of 5 times, even though they never even won a plurality.

In 1890, the Connecticut legislature was evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. That year’s gubernatorial election was thrown to the legislature. Deadlock ensued. In a three-way race, where the Democrat had won nearly 4,000 more votes than his Republican opponent, Republicans in the state Senate refused to seat him.

Morgan G. Bulkeley, governor of Connecticut, stayed on after his term ended when the legislature was deadlocked on the choice of governor. U.S. Congress

Though the Democrats held the moral high ground, the Republicans had the election law on their side. With the stalemate, the sitting Republican governor, Morgan G. Bulkeley, who had not even run for re-election, simply stayed in office for two more years.

While Bulkeley’s supporters commended him for stepping in to “hold the fort,” his unelected tenure provoked a crisis of legitimacy that ground state government to a halt.

When the legislature refused to appropriate funds for the state budget, Bulkeley borrowed $300,000 ($8.3 million today) from his family’s company – Aetna Life Insurance – to pay for state operations. Neighboring states refused to acknowledge the legality of arrest warrants he issued. At one point, the Democrats changed the locks on the governor’s office and Bulkeley popped them off with a crowbar.

“Nothing short of a revolution,” said the disgusted governor of New York, could end the tyranny of the minority in Connecticut.

But Bulkeley’s methods had damaged the Republican Party’s reputation. In the regularly scheduled 1892 election, the Democrat who had won the most votes in 1890, Luzon B. Morris, won an outright majority and became governor.

The hero of Gettysburg

In Maine in 1879, a similar election law came close to provoking a civil war.

The sitting Democratic governor, Alonzo Garcelon, placed a distant third in the election, behind the Republican and Greenback candidates. Because no one won an outright majority, the new legislature, which Republicans expected to control, would decide the winner.

As the incumbent, however, Garcelon had power over certifying the legislative election results. Using every trick in the book, Garcelon’s cronies overturned enough election results to give his allies control of the new legislature.

The state’s supreme court ruled his actions illegal, but Garcelon ignored them and seated his illegitimate legislature, hoping they would vote to re-elect him governor.

The Portland Daily Press of Dec. 24, 1879, covered a story about the charges that the legislative election was stolen by Garcelon and his allies.
Library of Congress

Bands of armed Mainers from both sides of the dispute began gathering in the capital. Only the intervention of Civil War hero and former Maine Gov. Joshua Chamberlain averted bloodshed. Chamberlain, head of the state’s militia, refused to take sides. When a group of Garcelon’s supporters pushed into Chamberlain’s office, he opened his shirt and dared them to do what the rebels had failed to at Gettysburg.

The supreme court again ruled that the Republicans had the right to organize the legislature and appoint the governor. For two more weeks Garcelon refused to back down, but when Chamberlain publicly accepted the court’s decision and sided with the Republicans, the crisis came to an end.

Maine quickly amended its constitution to permit governors to be elected with only a plurality of the vote.

Bad track record

If the civil rights lawsuit against the gubernatorial election process succeeds, it will mark a repudiation of Mississippi’s legacy of racial disfranchisement.

If it does not succeed, then Mississippi’s legislature and governor might want to consider the examples of Connecticut in 1890 and Maine in 1879.

Laws that place anti-democratic restrictions on the popular vote have a bad track record in competitive elections. At best they add unnecessary complexity and instability to what should be a simple system.

At worst they undermine the principle of popular rule, damage voters’ faith in democracy and provoke crises of legitimacy.

Gideon Cohn-Postar, Graduate Student in History, Northwestern University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sen. Kamala Harris says the powerful seek to divide America

Sen. Kamala Harris says the powerful seek to divide America

Video Courtesy of TIME

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, standing outside of Oakland’s city hall, formally kicked off her campaign for the White House on Sunday, presenting herself as the leader who can best unite an America that is at an “inflection point” and facing a critical question.

“We are here because the American Dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before,” Harris said. “And we are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question: Who are we? Who are we as Americans? So, let’s answer that question to the world and each other right here and right now. America, we are better than this.”

Harris, a first-term U.S. senator from California who announced her candidacy last Monday, rallied thousands of supporters at the Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, her hometown and where she served as a prosecutor before becoming the state attorney general.

Harris invoked the speech that Robert F. Kennedy gave in 1968 when he announced that he would challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson, noting that Kennedy said “at stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country, it is our right to moral leadership of this planet.”

Harris added, “So today I say to you, my friends: These are not ordinary times, and this will not be an ordinary election, but this is our America.”

Harris’ campaign is filled with historic possibility. If she ultimately wins the White House she would be the first African-American woman and first person of Asian descent to be president.

Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, said that as she and her sister, Maya Harris, grew up in the East Bay they were “raised by a community with a deep belief in the promise of our country, and a deep understanding of the parts of that promise that still remain unfulfilled.”

She has attributed her decision to become a lawyer and a prosecutor to her upbringing, and said Sunday that she and her sister were “raised to believe that public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is everyone’s responsibility.”

She said she is running “with faith in God, with fidelity to country, and with the fighting spirit I got from my mother.”

Harris’s launch has drawn heavily on symbolism. She officially entered the race on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Campaign aides say she has drawn inspiration from Shirley Chisholm, a New York congresswoman who in 1972 became the first black woman to run for president from a major party.

Harris’ first news conference as a candidate was on the campus of Howard University, the historically black college in the nation’s capital that she attended as an undergraduate. On Friday, she was in South Carolina to speak to members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, of which she is a member. Other members of the group, wearing traditional pink and green, were on hand at Sunday’s rally.

Her choice of Oakland for her campaign launch was both biographical and symbolic. The state of California has played a leading role in resistance to the presidency of Donald Trump. And Oakland itself, where she was born and spent her formative years, has a history of activism. The plaza outside City Hall where Harris spoke once housed Occupy Oakland’s encampment. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he picked the site for his first Bay Area campaign event.

Michael Ahrens, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, called it “fitting” that Harris chose “the most liberal district in deep-blue California to launch her campaign.”

Harris’ campaign is expected to highlight her career as a prosecutor as part of her rationale for seeking the presidency. Harris was the first black woman elected district attorney in California, as well as the first woman, first African-American and first Asian-American to hold that job.

On Sunday, she said she has long known the criminal justice system to be “deeply flawed” but that she also knew the “profound impact law enforcement has on people’s lives and its responsibility to give them safety and dignity.”

Harris said throughout her life she has “only had one client: the people,” echoing the words she has used in courtrooms and has adopted as her campaign’s slogan.

Harris also did not shy away from taking on Trump directly, saying the U.S. welcomes refugees and calling the wall that Trump wants to build at the southern border a “medieval vanity project” that would not actually stop transnational gangs, which she noted she battled as state attorney general. She also said that, as president, she would “always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect. I will lead with integrity. And I will tell the truth.”

Harris is among the first major Democrats to jump into what is expected to be a crowded 2020 presidential contest.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have announced exploratory committees. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Julian Castro, federal housing chief under President Barack Obama and a former San Antonio mayor, already are in the race.

Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont may also run.

After the rally, Harris planned to her first trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate. In the weeks before last November’s elections, she traveled to the leadoff caucus state to campaign on behalf of Democrats, and also visited other early-voting states.

Harris’s campaign will be based in Baltimore and led by Juan Rodriguez, who managed her 2016 Senate campaign. Aides say the campaign will have a second office in Oakland.

The lessons after threats drive a black legislator to quit

The lessons after threats drive a black legislator to quit

Video Courtesy of Associated Press

BENNINGTON, Vt. — Voters in this very liberal, very white state made Kiah Morris a pioneer when in 2014 they elected her as its first black female legislator. Two years later, another Vermont surfaced: racist threats that eventually forced her to leave office in fear and frustration.

After she won the Democratic primary for re-election to the state legislature in 2016, someone tweeted a cartoon caricature of a black person at her, along with a vulgar phrase rendered in ebonics. The tweeter threatened to come to rallies and stalk her, Morris said. She won a protective order against him but once that expired, the harassment continued, she said.

The harassment escalated into a break-in while the family was home, vandalism and death threats seen by her young son. Even after she announced she wouldn’t seek re-election, despite running unopposed, a group of youths pounded on her windows and doors at night, forcing her and her husband, convalescing after heart surgery, to leave town.

Finally, in late September, she resigned.

“There’s obviously online harassment that can happen, and that’s a part of our social media world right now, but then when things started happening in everyday life, that’s when it becomes really worrisome and terrifying,” she said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Amid the racial and ideological polarization consuming the country, the Morris case highlights the dangers politicians of color face. And it reinforces that even liberal bubbles like Vermont shouldn’t get too confident or comfortable in their cloaks of inclusivity.

No one should have to endure what Morris did, said Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, a white Democrat.

“This is deep racism coming out, and there are Vermonters hunting down other Vermonters here. This is awful for our state,” she said. “Rather than shake our heads and say, ‘Oh, what a shame,’ we all need to buckle down and figure out what steps we can take, what steps each of us can take, however large or small, to erode some of the system that allow racism to continue.”

The sheriff of New Jersey’s most populous county resigned last month after a recording surfaced in which he made derogatory remarks about blacks and the state’s first Sikh attorney general. In August, a Georgia man was sentenced to prison for racist threats against two U.S. senators, including black South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott.

“Racism and racial animus is a chronic illness of this country. It’s not something that just comes in waves in certain places. It’s always there simmering,” said Gloria Browne-Marshall, a professor of constitutional law at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and author of the book “Race, Law and American Society: 1607 to Present.”

Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery and in 2000 became the first to legally recognize same-sex civil unions, a precursor to gay marriage. It has elected Green Party and Socialist candidates. Even its Republican governor would be considered left of center in a conservative state.

But Vermont is also 94.4 percent white, according to census statistics. The black population is just 1.4 percent, or about 8,700 people.

In recent years, like elsewhere in the country, racism has bubbled up, including white supremacist flyers posted this year on college campuses.

“In a state that wants to promote itself as this liberal bastion, the majority of people outraged should have been there protecting” Morris, Browne-Marshall said.

Morris said she was dissatisfied with the response by Bennington police when she reported the acts against her and her family; the police chief has defended his department’s handling of the complaints.

She’s grateful that the attorney general’s office and Vermont State Police are now investigating.

When independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who despite a liberal pedigree has struggled to connect with black voters, learned that Morris was not seeking re-election because of the threats, he called the situation outrageous and, in a statement to The Burlington Free Press, said it is “not what Vermont is about.”

“In the state of Vermont, no elected official, candidate or person should be fearful of their safety because of the color of their skin or their point of view,” he wrote. “This corrosion of political discourse is destructive to our democracy, and we cannot let it take hold.”

Morris said that she has received other support from Vermonters, but said the hard part is learning the system is not set up to protect her.

“I cannot be the legislator that I want to be. I cannot speak my truth in the way that needs to have been said,” she said. “I cannot do those things and be secure and be assured of the safety for myself and my family. And that is really unfortunate.”