A major step toward political unity is a commitment to reconciling with the truth of the nation’s role in marginalizing people on the basis of race, gender, and socioeconomic status.
A nonpartisan coalition in the US House of Representatives through a Congressional Truth and Reconciliation Caucus can begin to repair trust by reconciling with the complete truth of our nation’s history. So many Americans—myself included—have an incomplete understanding of how our nation’s past traumas continue to perpetuate systemic injustices that disproportionately impact Black and Brown Americans today. Read more on why we should establish a Congressional Truth & Reconciliation Caucus.
Statements on the creation of a Congressional Truth and Reconciliation Caucus from the Bauer for Congress Advisory Board:
Yonathan Moya: The art of dialogue has been completely lost in our nation. What we have experienced lately shows that we need to listen to each other, more than ever. We need to recover our human connection through conversing and listening to one another. As we listen, even with opposite views, we can begin to humanize and empathize with one another. The T&R forum is greatly needed during this divisive time in our nation. This forum will allow us to begin to understand each other and bring to light important conversations that will help heal our divide. Dialoguing will help us understand each other and continue to draw us together rather than keep tearing us apart.
Melissa Miles: The world has changed a lot in the past few years- the “Me Too” movement brought a lot of unacceptable standards to light, and everyone realized what harassment and consent meant. It changed our culture largely for the better. But some companies now view women as a potential lawsuit and have eased up on hiring them entirely. The insanely unjust backlog of rape kits has begun to be addressed, but processing those kits hasn’t lead to an equivalent rise in convictions. We’re still asking questions like “what were you wearing” or “how much did you drink” as though a victim’s actions could justify the crime done to them. The injustice provided by our justice system is enough to discourage a painful majority of assault survivors from even reporting the incident at all. And when a crime isn’t reported, the criminal remains free to harm again. A lot of these issues are still seen as acceptable in a culture that privileges males. Somehow women are just supposed to endure this as a fact of life. As though we are somehow a lower form of citizen. It’s part of a larger trend of dehumanization that also undervalues foreign immigrants, those with limited resources, felons, non-white or differently-abled bodies, the elderly… the list goes on. Justice demands that equal means equal. For everyone.
Researched by: Caleb Paxton and Aida Farah
Continued reading and sourcing …
*Asterisk indicates articles recommended for further reading.
How to form a Congressional Member Organization
COMMITTEE ON HOUSE ADMINISTRATION
Accessed September 1, 2020
In order to further “common legislative objectives,” Members of Congress can form Congressional Member Organizations (CMOs) and register with the Committee on House Administration. Guidelines for CMOs include proper use of funds, methods of communication, and staffing; CMOs must register with the committee each Congress.
*Why now might be the time for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission
August 16, 2020
After George Floyd was killed by police last spring, 10% of the US population participated in protests across the US to voice opposition to racism, and the number of people who have attended protests has potentially made it the largest political movement in US history. The scale of the movement has renewed interest among thought leaders in academia and the US Congress to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the US, similar in purpose to what as many as 46 other countries have undertaken after domestic violence or oppression.
Generations divide over how to address systemic racism, police reform
August 28, 2020
The 57th March on Washington marked a contrast between generations fighting for police reform and an end of systemic racism, as veterans of the movement such as Rev. Al Sharpton argued in favor of action through the legislative process while some younger members of the movement who were in attendance advocated for an overhaul of the system at the top. One such attendee, Zayhna Woodson, made the trip to Washington from Lansing, Michigan, and while she believes that voting at the local level can be effective at making local changes, wants to see a change in how the federal government functions:
“I feel like the system, no matter what we do, how we vote, at the top — it doesn’t matter. It needs to be abolished and made into something new. Because what we have right now is not working. They say, ‘left-wing’, ‘right-wing’, it’s all the same bird.”
*Montpelier: Fugitive Slave Clause made slavery legal in US by default
Accessed September 3, 2020
The Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Clause had the effect of making slavery “the default scenario” in the US, and made abolition the “outlier,” according to James Madison’s Montpelier. Additionally, the three-fifths compromise gave the South more power in Congress to determine policy, and therefore protected slavery even longer, although it may have been necessary to create the United States. After the Civil War, the 15th Amendment didn’t “provide any protection for voters,” and the 13th Amendment opened the door to “a deeply entrenched system of African American incarceration” despite abolishing slavery. Finally, the concept of “separate but equal” ultimately meant “separate and unequal.”
*How US history, other nations can inform debate on reparations for slavery
July 10, 2020
If the US were to pursue reparations for slavery, our own history and the histories of other countries who have confronted racism and oppression can offer guidance on how to go about it. The US, Germany, South Africa, Great Britain, Iraq, and Colombia have all worked to make amends for past oppression on their own soil or in other countries, and in the US in 2019, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced HR 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. The legislation was originally introduced by John Conyers (D-Michigan) every Congress for more than twenty years.
Brookings: US should give reparations to Black Americans to build wealth
April 15, 2020
The US should give reparations to Black Americans in order to eliminate the wealth gap created by slavery and racist policies against them, argue Rashawn Ray and Andre M. Perry, noting that the Lincoln Administration offered Black Americans “40 acres and a mule,” but that the policy was reversed by his successor, Andrew Johnson. Today reparations should specifically target “wealth-building opportunities that address racial disparities in education, housing, and business ownership,” they write.
Derek Minor: Black ownership can improve economy, overcome wealth gap
Accessed September 2, 2020
The US economy will improve and the wealth gap between the black community and everyone else can be eliminated through ownership of homes, businesses, and stock, argues Christian Hip Hop artist Derek Minor on his website, Ownership is the New Black. Over the past 150 years, black ownership of wealth has only grown from 0.5% to 1.5%, he says.
*How nonviolence can create “The Beloved Community”
Accessed September 1, 2020
The end objective of nonviolence as articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the creation of “The Beloved Community” in which “racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.” While it’s inevitable that humans will experience conflict, we can find reconciliation and peace “through a mutual, determined commitment to nonviolence,” according to King’s philosophy.
CRS: Rwanda has achieved stability, but questions about human rights remain
May 14, 2019
In the aftermath of its 1994 civil war, Rwanda has reached some level of stability economically and politically, CRS reports, but some international observers remain concerned about human rights violations: “Others argue that restrictions on political and civil rights may ultimately undermine Rwanda’s hard-won stability, and that limits on civil liberties may mask ethnic, political, and social tensions.” Going forward Congress could consider whether to tie aid to improvements in civil liberties, considering that restrictions on aid in the past may have contributed to Rwanda lessening its support for rebel fighters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
How reparations, “transitional justice” contribute to peace
June 24, 2014
Efforts to pursue truth and reconciliation can be guided by the successes and failures of other countries such as South Africa, Rwanda, Spain, Bosnia, Chile, Colombia, and Cambodia, write a panel of contributors for The Guardian. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) heard publicly televised “confessions from more than 7,000 perpetrators and took about 20,000 statements from victims,” and while that contributed to national healing, critics argue that the work was never finished because the government didn’t fully implement the recommendations made by the commission.
Canada marks five years since TRC released calls to action
June 2, 2020
Canada has marked five years since its Truth and Reconciliation Commission released 94 calls to action, and while some steps have been taken to address them, the government recognizes that the work remains unfinished. Canada’s TRC “was established to find the truth in the dark and painful residential schools” that existed in the past.
1619 Project “aims to reframe” US history
Accessed September 2, 2020
The 1619 Project “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative,” according to the project’s website. Its originators derived the name from the year 1619, when slaves were first brought to North America, and argue that “nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional” is rooted in slavery, and that we should “reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year.”
Critics: 1619 Project lacks nuance, misinterprets facts
February 11, 2020
The 1619 Project misinterprets historical facts and lacks a holistic picture of our nation’s history, writes Krystina Skurk of Hillsdale College, citing letters from historians to the New York Times concerned about its historical accounts. Instead of using its content in classrooms, a better alternative is Hillsdale’s online class, “The Great American Story: A Land of Hope,” and the college is positioned well to lead on the subject because it “opened its doors to women and African Americans long before doing so was fashionable,” she writes.
*Mark Gerzon: Protecting democracy requires each of us to look inward
June 21, 2018
In order to heal divides in America and protect our democracy, we should not only fix the structures that make it work outwardly but also look inward inside ourselves, because “healing our precious democracy” is “an inside job,” Mark Gerzon writes. We need both “a spirit of humility” and “the courage of curiosity” so that we can also have a “commitment to integrity.”
“Although telling the truth is in itself of tremendous value, ‘integrity’ here means an inner awareness that makes us seek to understand the whole picture. A major part of disagreement on controversial public issues stems from a failure to look systematically at a problem.”
*How to defend your brain from political emotion
April 25, 2017
When politicians use emotion to trigger “our flight-fight-freeze reaction,” it affects our ability to make sound decisions, and makes us ideological thinkers instead of independent thinkers, writes Mark Gerzon. In order to thoughtfully deliberate issues, he has organized retreats for Members of Congress and their staff and set a framework for how to elevate the legislative process:
“At these retreats, we don’t create fear; we build safety. We don’t polarize through debate; we analyze through dialogue. Instead of manipulating raw, conflicting emotions, we raise emotional intelligence…. When all the miraculous faculties of the human being are engaged, and multiple perspectives can confront each in an environment of mutual respect, we have the capacity to face any crisis and meet any challenge.”
Richard Rohr: Admitting wrong-doing is about liberation, not punishment
August 29, 2017
When humans admit wrongdoing to each other it can lead to deeper humanization and both sides feeling liberated, writes Richard Rohr. South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” led by Desmond Tutu created a platform that “exemplified the economy of grace after the fall of apartheid,” he writes, although such a response is “revolutionary and almost unheard of in human history.”
“All had to take proper and public responsibility for their mistakes, not for the sake of any punishment, but for the sake of truth and healing.”
Scott, Gowdy: Friendship offers path to overcome partisan divides
April 6, 2018
Friendship can offer us new perspectives and help us overcome partisan divides, argue Senator Tim Scott and former Congressman Trey Gowdy. Speaking at First Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, the authors of the book Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country shared how their mutual friendship and input from those who don’t see politics the same way has enriched their lives.
*Henrietta Lacks: the Black woman whose cancer cells have been exploited since the 50s
March 18, 2011
The story of Henrietta Lacks shows how systemic racism has plagued so many aspects of the United States and how achieving reparations might be more difficult than we think. Henrietta Lacks was a cervical cancer patient whose cells were snipped from her without her consent, which led to her cells carrying the medical industry’s achievements from the last hundred years onwards. Her family did not know about this until twenty years later, after her cells have made cures and vaccines for the following: influenza, Parkisons disease, Leukemia, herpes, IVF, and have even been sent to outer space to see what would happen to human cells in zero- gravity.
CAP: Black farmers have been eradicated because of racism
April 3, 2019
A report from the Center for American Progress found that from 1920-2007, Black farmers lost 80% of their land compared to white farmers, who only lost 2% of land during the same time period. Part of this is due to the unequal opportunities presented to Black farmers, such as banks refusing loans to Black farmers. Policy ideas for protecting Black farmers include:
- Protecting inherited family farms
- Expanding research and technical assistance for farmers of color
- Regular oversight and audits of the USDA by the Government Accountability Office
- Expanding access to land for black farmers
- Expanding financial assistance opportunities to Black farmers
Reparations for Black farmers from the US Agriculture Department
February 18, 2010
Black farmers were awarded $1.25 billion in a settlement with the US Department of Agriculture after years of the USDA ignoring complaints of racial discrimination in 2010. This comes after more than 13,500 Black farmers were able to prove their claims of racism from the USDA and banks. However, the settlement was in 2010 and Black farmers are still experiencing the aftermath of discrimination. The story of the struggle of Black farmers provides insight into the process of reparations and the realities of monetary reparations.