Miho Watabe

Miho Watabe is an editorial intern at The American Prospect

Recent Articles

Tree of Life Vigils Assert Unity in the Face of Hate

(Miho Watabe)

On Tuesday, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, a nationwide movement of progressive Jews, led a vigil in front of the White House in the wake of the October 27 massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 dead. The action, along with similar vigils coordinated across the country, mourned the shooting’s victims while also protesting President Donald Trump’s silence on the rising wave of white supremacy.

In an open letter, Bend the Arc leaders in Pittsburgh declared that Trump was not welcome in the city until he publicly condemned white nationalism and ceased attacks on vulnerable communities. Trump ignored their statement, visiting Tuesday amid mass protest.

“Solidarity is important,” Cari Shane, a D.C. resident, told me as we stood in front of the White House. “We have more power and more strength as people who do not believe in hate.” Ahead of us, families attempted to capture the president’s residence in selfies, seemingly unaware of the intimate gathering taking shape only a few feet away.

Totaling about 50 people, what the service lacked in numbers it made up for in diversity. Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, the Washington director of Bend the Arc, was the first to address the crowd, speaking on the importance of togetherness before reading out the names of the victims of the Tree of Life shooting.

Among the organizations that came out to show support were United We Dream, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Arab American Institute, and Jews United for Justice. In a show of multicultural and interfaith unity, spokespersons from each organization spoke of uniting communities and building solidarity to fight the rise of hate.

Omar Baddar, who attended the vigil with the Arab American Institute, told The American Prospect that coalition-building across communities was important now, more than ever. “This is a common fight for everybody who cares about the diversity of this country,” said Baddar. “It’s crucial to the soul of the country.”

Kelsey Herbert decided to come out after an organization she belongs to, Faith in Public Life, promoted the vigil. “It’s critical as a Christian that I stand with Jewish people and immigrant students,” Herbert told the Prospect.

“I don’t think it’s so political or radical to say, ‘Don’t promote white nationalism,’” Rabbi Kimelman-Block told The American Prospect, after pointing out how Republicans continued to air ads that played up anti-Semitism over the weekend.

This vigil was only the latest, as similar multicultural and interfaith actions take place across the country. Shane told the Prospect that she attended a vigil in the D.C. neighborhood of Cleveland Park that was so packed they had to hold a second vigil outside. “It was all about hate,” said Shane, “and how hate needs to stop.”

(Miho Watabe)

Diversity Triumphs as Women Candidates Gain Ground in 2018

Not only are record numbers of women running for office across the country, the 2018 list of candidates is markedly more diverse than in previous elections.

According a new report released by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, an offshoot project of the nonprofit Women Donors Network, it’s the closest that the party has gotten to genuinely reflecting the country’s demographics. For first time since 2012, less than half of Democratic candidates are white men.

Since 2012, the number of women of color have shown a remarkable 75 percent increase in both state and federal races. The group analyzed the demographics for state and federal elections from 2012 through 2018.

Reflective Democracy Campaign

This development is nothing to brush off: The Democratic Party made serious strides in getting women and minorities on the ticket. The numbers of women candidates increased across party lines, but Democratic women candidates had the largest increase, 46 percent.

White women candidates saw the second largest gains, with a 36 percent increase in their numbers for federal contests and 14 percent in state legislative races. Minority men candidates also increased their ranks by 13 percent in state legislative races and 8 percent in races for Congress. White male candidates, on the other hand, declined by 12 percent in state legislative and 13 percent in congressional races.

Reflective Democracy Campaign

While these trends are exciting, they also underline the enduring legacy of white male domination of American political institutions. A 75 percent increase in women candidates of color sounds like a game-changer, but the lack of women of color to begin with makes this shift much less impressive than it would otherwise be. Compared to other groups in the study, women of color are still underrepresented, making up only 7 percent of candidates in both federal and state races. 

Meanwhile, white men are still overrepresented. Despite being the only group to experience a decrease, white men make up well over half of all candidates in the midterm elections. 

This data point is underscored in gubernatorial races. White male Republican candidates predominate those contests and there has been little change in candidate diversity. 

It’s also important to remember that getting on the ballot isn’t the same thing as winning a seat. From 2012 to 2016, white men won about two-thirds of all elected offices year after year, despite comprising only one-third of the population. 

In the wake of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and the chaos unleashed by President Trump, the report sounds an encouraging note for women and progressives. Getting more diverse candidates on the ballot is the first step toward opening up the decision-making ranks in our democracy. 

Post Office Workers to Trump: ‘U.S. Mail: Not for Sale’

All four postal service worker unions (the National Association of Letter Carriers, the American Postal Workers Union, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union) plan to keep up their fight against the Trump administration’s push to privatize the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). 

On Columbus Day, October 8, postal workers across the county will converge on congressional offices in their districts with a critical message: “U.S. Mail: Not for Sale.” These rallies are only the latest in a series of ongoing actions taken by unions and members of Congress to halt the administration's privatization plans. 

One goal of the campaign is to alert the public. “We all get the same rights and the same service,” Mark Dimondstein, president of American Postal Workers Union (APWU), told The American Prospect. “That would all disappear if the U.S. postal office was sold.”

The administration first confirmed plans for USPS privatization in a reorganization report released in June. The report argued that the institution is unable to stay afloat financially and confirmed that a task force was investigating pathways for privatization. But critics argue that the postal service could be profitable if it hadn’t been subjected to a “manufactured” financial crisis via the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, a 2006 congressional measure that requires USPS to pre-fund workers’ retirement benefits 75 years into the future over the span of ten years. 

The unpopular privatization plan is already creating difficulties for the administration. In July, the House of Representatives introduced a resolution condemning privatization. Postal workers held a massive August rally against privatization in Pittsburgh during APWU’s biennial national convention. Then in September, two days before the unions announced their upcoming day of action, the Senate introduced its own resolution rejecting privatization. 

Both the Senate and the House resolutions boast bipartisan support. But Dimondstein doesn’t find it surprising that the resolution appeals to both sides of the aisle. “There's a very real understanding [by] many elected representatives from rural states of how important the post office is to their communities,” Dimondstein said, “and people want to protect it.” 

It’s true that Americans love their post offices—more than any other government agency, in fact—and they rely on services that will likely disappear if USPS is privatized. Monday-to-Saturday mail delivery, affordable postage costs, and the ability to access postal services no matter where you live in the country are just a few examples of services that the USPS ensures. 

Most of these services fall under the USPS’s “United Service Obligation.” The USO requires the postal service to make its services accessible to all residents and is linked to the Constitution’s grant of authority to Congress to establish post offices. Historically, the USO has shaped official USPS policy, which prioritizes access for all and quality services over profits. 

But USO is likely to be scrapped under a for-profit business model. Case in point: Trump’s task force committed itself to redefining the USO, suggesting a drastic change in the level of service Americans should expect from their universal service operator,” which would mean a complete restructuring of one of the oldest institutions in the United States. Privatization could establish surcharges for hard-to-reach addresses or the elimination of unprofitable routes. Dimondstein summed up the everyday consequences for Americans: “Service will be down, costs will go up.” 

The task force’s pathway-to-privatization report was reportedly submitted to Trump in August. But, not surprisingly, it will not be made public until after the midterm elections. While it’s unclear if the congressional backlash has convinced the Trump administration to reconsider USPS privatization, these recent actions by politicians and workers alike reaffirm the post office’s enduring popularity.