Why It’s Important the 2017 Oscar Noms Are More Racially Diverse

87thSome may ask, why does these Academy Awards matter? Well I was reminded of a conversation recently I had in my teens.

Oprah Winfrey had produced “The Wedding” a story from the famous Harlem Renaissance writer, Dorothy West.

The story was about 3 generations of black Americans who spent their summers on Martha’s Vineyard. They were educated and successful.

I remember talking to a white classmate about it and I asked of the Sunday night movies (when that was still a thing on network television) was she going to watch. She said she wasn’t sure. I said how excited I was to see the wedding.

She looked at me and very innocently said “I thought it was interesting, but I didn’t think it was realistic”.

I blinked.

And went on to say something informed about how there are actually successful black people in American life pre-Jim Crow.

She was surprised, very innocently so, I remember almost like yesterday.

It’s that conversation I think of when there is an argument about why it’s so important to show a diversity of life in America on the screen.

For better or worse, film and television has always presented a window to the outside world to many societies, particularly America.

Films showcasing African Americans not living in the hood, with single mamas was few and far in between. And while it’s a part of African American life, it’s not the only story.

When even the new President of the United States, thinks and says the only existence black people live in the US is “hell”. You know the importance of stories of black people, all communities of color being told.

So when the annual nominations of the Oscars debuted Monday, I was thrilled.

Because finally, the Oscars bought themselves a clue. #OscarsSoWhite didn’t need to be dragged out again for the 3rd year in a row on Twitter.

These nominations were racially diverse  the most it has ever been in the history of the Academy Awards.

Black cast led films, “Moonlight”, “Hidden Figures”, and “Fences”, nominated for Best Picture!  1/3 out of 10 nominees for Best Picture were movies highlight the lives and stories of African Americans.

This means three black producers also received nominations for making those movies happen: Denzel Washington, Kimberly Steward, & Pharrell Williams

Also African America Director, Barry Jenkins, was nominated for his direction of “Moonlight”. He will be only the 4th ever African American to be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards.

Three black women nominated for Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, Naomie Harris, and Viola Davis.

Viola Davis made history by being the first black actress to be nominated by the Academy THREE times.

Joi Millon is the first black woman to be nominated for best film editing award with Moonlight.

Bradford Young was the first African America ever to be nominated for Best

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Collage of Black Actors in various roles in film. Photograph: via the Guardian

Cinematography for “Arrival”.

Three black documentary filmmakers were nominated for their documentary films: “I am Not Your Negro”, “OJ: Made in America” and “13th” from the celebrated director Ava DuVernay of “Selma” fame.

While there was no woman nominated for “Best Director” even though a movie directed by a woman was nominated for Best Picture (Arrival). This was a much improved year for the Oscar nominations and the changes they instituted last year to diversify the Academy (finally) and make younger actors and creatives member of the Academy, clearly made the difference.

We are wealth, we are middle class, we are poor, we are recent immigrants, we are descendants of slaves, we are woven into every fabric of America.

It’s time stories of black people and other communities of color have their stories told on a large scale on screen and and get the support they deserve.

 

 

 

 

 

The Women’s March & 2016 Election Show No Mandate for Trump & GOP Congress

It’s the day after Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017 the day President-Elect Donald Trump became President Donald Trump.

Then today, Jan 21, millions of women around the globe put on their walking shoes and pussy hats, stashed their chargers and water bottles in their bags, to head to their area’s Women’s March to demonstrate against the Inauguration of  President Trump, the loss of a viable Democratic woman nominee for President, and the anticipated roll back on women’s rights and other policies that benefit women.

The response has been astounding and heart swelling. The numbers are still rolling in, but in Washington DC an estimated 500,000,  by city officials. The DC parade permit was only for 200,000 but the DC

Women’s March DC      Photo credit via Ted Eyatan via Flickr CC
homeland security chief expected more than that. For sure, it was so crowded, the March could not even in some sections actually even March  it’s original route.

It was even bigger, especially in photo comparison, to the Inauguration of Donald Trump as President the day before.

In other cities Sister Marches were happening:

Los Angeles had 750,000 attendees to their Women’s March

NYC had 500,00 attendees to their Women’s March

Boston had an estimated 150,000 attendees March
And lest you think it was only on the coasts,  there were marches in Chicago, Iowa City, Denver, St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville, and 673 other sister partner Marches in the US and around the globe.

There were even places you’d think they’d  not even be able to muster up a march like Boise, Idaho; Louisville, KY; Nashville, TN; and Lubbock, Texas; Fargo North Dakota; and Fort Worth, Texas!

The pictures show  between the lackluster attendance to Donald Trump’s Inauguration and the sizeable defiant and determined showing at the Women’s Marches the following day across the country  President Trump and the GOP have no mandate to enact their agenda unilaterally, as they have pretended.

There has been this effort since the end of the 2016 election for the GOP to paint the Democrats as complete and utter losers.  Not like we lost a match in a war loser, but that we lost 40-years-gonna-wander-in-the-woods loser.

Sure we lost the White House, on a technicality, called the electoral college.

However, the pollsters were right, Hillary Clinton was leading Donald Trump, 48 to 46% because that’s where the popular vote ended up.

(And NO, that’s not just because of California, it figures conservatives have to remove a state to make math work ).

If you look at the votes cast  in Wisconsin, Michigan and PA, effectively 77,759 votes in these three states determined the Presidency. 

ALSO

Democrats gained six seats in the US House of Representatives in spite of a gerrymander not in their favor and a historical norm that dictates the the party that loses the White House also loses Congressional seats.

Democrats successfully reelected every Senate incumbent and even gained two seats.
Now I’m not saying the Democrats have work to do. We have plenty.  We have lost Governor’s Mansions and state legislatures.   But let’s be clear, there is a base there, a base that came out for the Women’s March, that refused to show up or even watch Trump’s Inauguration. The base that gave Clinton the largest win in the popular vote out of any candidate running for President before.

Conservatives had to go against party philosophy and align with evangelical conservatives in the 1980s to break the Democratic Party dominance of 40 years, when that wasn’t enough, once they were in control in states they used the gerrymander and when that wasn’t enough used voter suppression tactics like in Wisconsin and North Carolina  (coincidently after crucial sections of the Voting Rights Act laws were gutted by the conservative side of the Supreme Court) and blatant racist and xenophobic rhetoric to energize enough angry folks to get Trump into office. That’s not a win for the long term and many conservatives, behind the scenes, when they are not yelling on cable news will admit it.

The GOP & President Trump have no mandate to govern, certainly not unilaterally. We’ve shown them. Let this guide you when you are down and believe there are more of them than us. Remind your elected officials in Congress of that non-mandate. Let this be the  beginning of work that needs to get done in the four years to mobilize for the elections and policy defense to come.

The Seal is Broken: Hidden Figures, a movie with black women in the lead roles, still at No.1 in week 2

So Taraji P. Henson earned her right to do the dance on the set of filming her TV show “Empire”.

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“Hidden Figures”, a movie about the black women mathematicians who played a crucial role in getting the first men in the United States into space also starring Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer, opened at no 1.

Not only did it open at No. 1 it beat a film in the juggernaut titan film series, Star Wars.’

And to top that, as of Monday morning this week “Hidden Figures” in its second week in a row in nationwide release, it beat all the other movies at the box office, specifically other Oscar bait vehicles out right now.

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Why is that important? Because for a long time, even with the groundbreaking work in film by many actors of color before Taraji, Octavia and Janelle  like Rita Moreno, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Dorothy Dandridge,  filmmakers have struggled to cast major actors of color in major movie roles with regularity because studio execs in Hollywood said films with actors of color in the lead  can’t open films domestically and/or internationally. Washington Post does a great article here on some of the numbers

In other words, actors of color don’t produce the same financial win for studios that studio execs believe white actors have (unless your Will Smith or Denzel Washington or even Halle Berry who all worked hard for their bankability).

And money matters for studios, as much money goes into making a film, they like to usually see either a break even or a profit back. And yes arguably there are films, that lose money all the time with actors, if the actors/directors have a history of making more money on average with their films for the studio, they can be forgiven a flop.

Unfortunately this ends up putting actors & filmmakers of color between a rock and hard place. If an actor of color gets the big break and stars in ONE major film that was a flop, that’s it, it proves the theory of actors of color not being able to open films with a financial bang domestically and internationally. If a director of color or producer of color  tries to get a great story with a cast of color in the lead made, and it doesn’t do well especially abroad, where Hollywood wants to continue expanding, Hollywood is wary of making those type of films or investing heavily in those directors or producers again. So it puts the onus on the communities of color in film to find a way to build a body of work that proves their bankable as much or more than films with that traditionally have white casts.

Examples of films where this happened: “Selma”,  where Ava DuVernay was the 5th or 6th director picked after shopping the script around for a while for money and a director. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler ” had similar problems, even though Daniels had won praise and awards for films “Precious” and “Monster’s Ball” he still had trouble finding financing for it. Both films were box office successes both domestically and abroad.

Hollywood execs have had these attitudes in spite of a changing audience.  According to the Motion Picture Association of America, people of color movie goers make up 44 percent of the nation’s most avid theatergoers, so it’s time for a change.

So yes: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, owe themselves a huge pat on the back, and a huge bottle of good champagne, because they broke the seal for actors of color and films with actors of color in the main roles.

And yes, go see “Hidden Figures”, it IS a FANTASTIC movie. It had a little bit of something for everyone, especially in these times, romance, comedy, history, and people striving to be better people to make history together.

And it’s a lot about sisterhood.

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Why Trump Coming for  John Lewis with “All Talk, No Action or Results” is Laughable

Y’know in the era of a pending Trump Presidency you really can’t be prepared for all manner of foolishness that he says on Twitter.

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John Lewis getting beaten by Alabama State Troopers in 1965 on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma while marching for voting rights for disenfranchised black Southerners. (Image via Library of Congress

In an interview with Meet the Press, Congressman & Civil Rights activist John Lewis (man pictured to your right in his 20s getting beaten by Alabama state troopers during a civil rights march) said he did not believe that President Elect Donald Trump was a legitimate President. For the record, Lewis who has served for over 30 years in Congress under many Presidential administrations, didn’t say Donald Trump wasn’t a legitimate President because he was a Republican. Lewis believes a hostile foreign power interfered in our elections to help Donald Trump get elected.  This is an opinion backed up by the US intelligence community, that foreign actors hacked the DNC, the Clinton campaign, and other political entities to undermine and influence the election process in getting Donald Trump elected.

Point being, John Lewis didn’t pull this out of thin air.

President Elect Donald Trump who has zero self restraint fired back on Twitter.

1st Tweet: Donald Trump: “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to..”

2nd Tweet: “mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk–no action or results. Sad!”
(Notice he fires back on twitter to like anyone BUT Vladimir Putin? I digress though).

1) Someone needs to tell Trump what bad OPTICS politically it is to go after of ALL people, John Lewis on the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend.

2) All Talk and No Results?  Rep John Lewis?  Rephrase, Civil Rights ICON and Congressman John Lewis?

 

Let me count the ways of John Lewis’ “ACTION & RESULTS”:

A) John Lewis at 23  was the youngest speaker and one of the co-organizers of the 1963 March on Washington

B)  At 23, John Lewis was the President of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The national organization that was organizing young people to do sit-ins at segregated lunch counters.  During his tenure SNCC

-opened Freedom Schools,

-launched Mississippi Freedom Summer, (the infamous voter registration summer where 3 three civil rights workers were killed for registering black voters)

-and organized some of the voter registration efforts that led to the Selma to Montgomery march

C) John Lewis participated in much of the organizing work he led. He participated in Nashville city luncheon counter sit-ins…..

D) At age 19/20, John Lewis participated in the original Freedom Rides, organized bus trips that were integrated, and made stops through the segregated South. The goal was to desegregate public transportation. At a stop in Montgomery, Alabama, John Lewis was PULLED from the bus, and beaten unconscious with a wooden crate.

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John Lewis Arrest Photos at Nashville Police Department after one of his sit-ins at luncheon counter (Image: via Nashville Police Department

E) At 25 while participating in the nonviolent march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights for disenfranchised black southerners, John Lewis was gassed and beaten by a billy club.

F) He’s been arrested more than 40 times as a young Civil Rights activist, getting voting rights for disenfranchised Americans.

John Lewis after his service in the Civil Rights Movement continued to be a community leader leading up to his election as  an Atlanta City Councilman. After that, Lewis elected to Congress where he has served honorably ever since.

John Lewis was working to Make America Great, since he was a teenager, President Elect Donald Trump just makes it a campaign slogan.

AND ANOTHER THING:

During his tenure as Congressman, Atlanta has risen to be a powerhouse of a Southern city. It  is even called a “Black Mecca” wear black artists, musicians, and businessman have re-located because Atlanta is an amazing place of opportunity.

Atlanta’s rise to national acclaim as an international and national city is not entirely due to him of course, but John Lewis played a role.

Heck do you know how many TV shows are now shot in Atlanta, because Atlanta?! Ironically this tweet is  day after the President Elect and Steve Harvey have a meeting  about working on an “inner city initiative”. Oh really?

How about y’all call Atlanta for some tips?!

And again, just don’t come for John Lewis.

What Conservatives Get Wrong About Meryl Streep’s speech 

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Meryl Streep, at the 4th International Rome Film Festival/Vincent Luigi Molino 2009

If you watched the Golden Globes on Sunday, or didn’t, you likely heard about Meryl Streep receiving the Cecil B DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is given to actors, directors, etc who’ve made great achievements in their career and in the world through their art. Meryl Streep won of the most award nominated actors in history and also one of the most popular greatly deserved her award.  The fact she received the award wasn’t in and of itself significant, it was what she said in her “thank you” speech afterwards.

Meryl Streep used her “thank you” speech time to talk about the election of Donald Trump. She never said his name, but it was clear to everyone, to whom she was referring, especially when she said: “It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege and power and the capacity to fight back.”

Streep also discussed  contribution to film by immigrants and everyday Americans. She discussed the importance of empathy, a free and accountable media, and the privilege of the work the actors have to promote art and the stories of others. It was a well done speech and I think relevant tie in to being an actor and having a large platform.  Streep said: ” An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like.”

Well not surprisingly soon to be President, Donald Trump clapped back at Meryl Streep on twitter calling her “over-rated”, various other conservatives gave the standard response of “who cares” what Hollywood says, at the National Review a conservative magazine, writer Katherine Timpf penned an opinion piece entitled: “The Golden Globes Are Why Donald Trump Is Not Going Anywhere“.

And over at Fox News, host Meghan McCain (yes Senator John McCain’s daughter) reiterated similar sentiment:

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But conservatives are missing somethings by a mile here.  1) They assume that the majority of voting Americans voted for Trump, thereby granting Trump some cover to say the things he has, they didn’t. 2) They also assume they (conservatives and/or Trump supporters) are the only people being in their words “talked down to” or “lectured”.  3) They act like they don’t care what Hollywood thinks, when in reality yknow they do.

While conservatives like McCain and Timpf didn’t support Donald Trump in the Primary (and I believe the general), they claim in spite of what he said, Trump still got elected. True, but let’s be clear conservatives speak in terms as if he was elected by a massive mandate. Trump wasn’t

Yes Trump won the electoral vote and will be sworn in as President on January 20.  However, if you look at the voter break down   Trump’s was elected by only 26% of eligible American voters, 26% of other votes to Hillary Clinton and 46% of eligible voting Americans chose to not vote for either one for various reasons.  That’s 72% of America’s eligible voters who didn’t cast a vote for Donald Trump. So we can at least ascertain most voters didn’t subscribe fully to Trump’s views enough to be motivated to vote for  Donald Trump President. Indeed what made Trump so polarizing as a candidate to many voters (many who considered themselves conservative) where the offensive things he said about Mexicans, women, and yes mocking a person with a disability.

This leads me to my second point, conservatives are complaining about the “lecturing” and saying Americans are tired of it. Well again,  saying that “Americans are tired of it” assumes the majority of Americans voted for Trump. They didn’t. And what makes you think many Americans aren’t tired of hearing their concerns dismissed about Trump  and his administration?

Thousands around the country in major cities took to the streets to protest Trump’s Inauguration, not because he ran as a Republican but of the problematic statements he made during the 2016 Primary and General Election. He said Mexicans were rapists. He said he would consider a Muslim registry and at one point ban Muslims from immigrating to the US.   Trump had 11 women come forward and accuse him of sexual assault. There was a tape of Presidential elect Donald Trump talking on a hot mic about grabbing women by the “pussy”.  He mocked a reporter with a disability.

Trump supporters have tried to dismiss his remarks, or say we shouldn’t take Trump seriously  in some cases Trump supporters just deny it happened like his former campaign manager soon to be White House Counselor, Kellyanne Conway.

These are all attempts by many conservatives,  to yes, gaslight the majority of American citizens. To say condescendingly with a pat on the head, “there is nothing to worry about”.  Well many Americans are tired about that condescension, and flat out denial, especially when we see campaign rhetoric take shape already in proposed policy and Cabinet members.  Trump’s rhetoric and the policies suggested from it affect many Americans lives. And just because a great actress like Meryl Streep with an amazing platform gives words to many Americans frustration and concern in a speech doesn’t mean just because she got a few dollars in the bank her opinion is any less relevant, or that she is not entitled to said opinion ( because Freedom of Speech) which leads me to my final point.

Conservatives need to stop acting like they don’t care what celebrity say about politics, because they clearly do.

Why?

1) The fact the Republican Party in the last 35 years has nominated two candidates for President who were celebrities, one being the GOP adored former movie actor Ronald Reagan, and the other? A TV reality star businessman née Donald Trump. (Yes clearly conservatives all can’t stand celebrities so much you saw fit to nominate two of them to the highest seat in the land). Democrats nominating movie starts or reality show folks for President? Zero

2) Republicans always are happy to have celebrities at GOP conventions and Inaugurations like Democrats. And they should be, celebrities, particularly movie or music celebs have a huge platform and can often add some glitz to otherwise dry events for non political junkies, which is most Americans. In 2001  George W. Bush had Ricky Martin and Jessica Simpson perform at his Inauguration at the apex of their musical careers as well as the boy band 98 degrees . Barbra Streisand actually sang at Bush I’s inauguration in the late 80s. Other celebrity actors and musicians who either spoke  and/or performed at the GOP conventions in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 include  but are not certainly limited to: Bo Derek, Bruce Willis, Ben Stein, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ron Silver (West Wing Fame),  Angie Harmon (Law & Order; Rizzoli & Isles), Jon Voight, Gretchen Wilson, John Rich, Kid Rock, Trace Adkins, Janine Turner, Jeff Bridges and who can forget Clinton Eastwood and the chair?

2016 GOP Convention could have and should have boasted many celebrities who support the GOP. Most of the aforementioned folks are a good place to start and there are others like Vince Vaughan, Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger who are all big name respected celebs who are conservatives. Well the best the GOP could do this year for the 2016 convention was Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato Jr. to celebs who saw their hey days in the 1990s and nothing really since.  And the 2017 Inaugural is even more abysmal with nearly nonexistent celebrity attendance either as performers or attendees.

And conservatives say “who cares?” And Trump defiantly says he’ll have “the people” at his inauguration and that’s what’s important. But let’s be real,  you couldn’t even get conservative Hollywood and most musicians to come out to celebrate the Inauguration of Trump. This is looks even stranger when the GOP has Donald Trump as an incoming President who built his brand as a celebrity, guest starring as himself in TV shows, movies, and soaps, including building a reality show around celebrities.  The majority of conservative celebratory silence IS their statement and many conservatives know it hence the much shrugging of shoulders about”Hollywood elites” who don’t support them. Rather than call attention to that fact, it’s much easier to demonize all celebrities.

That’s  fine you can save face by dismissing celebrity attendance at your Inauguration or your Convention. But don’t try and play like you don’t care, because history dictates that’s not entirely the truth.

This is why conservatives get it wrong about Meryl Streep. Not only are they hypocritical in their vigorous attempts to convince us they don’t care about celebrity support, but that they don’t realize, Meryl gave voice to good plurality of Americans (and yes that even includes some conservatives) who agree that a Presidency built on openly othering so many Americans is a long term recipe to eventually legislate yourself into the minority.

 

Back For the Fight 

I’m back on the blog after a long hiatus.

If you were a progressive person that cared about ending war, comprehensive immigration reform, black lives matter, women’s rights, economic justice, and taking on climate change. Chances are you were in fetal ball several times throughout 2016 and definitely on Election night 2016.

How could you not be? The unthinkable happened: Donald Trump was elected President of the United States

Seriously,  even GOP pollsters didn’t see that coming, unless you were paid by Donald Trump, and even they weren’t sure.

Jeb “slow and steady wins the race” Bush said: “you can’t just insult your way to the Presidency”.

Well he was wrong. Donald Trump insulted almost every single one of the 16 GOP hopefuls he ran against for President in the GOP Primary. He insulted chunks of the electorate.  And then he spent the entire General election continuing to build on his populist campaign that was fueled by racism.

Mexicans? They were still “rapists” and criminals and darn it Trump was going to build the wall and make Mexico pay for it.

People with disabilities? Worth mocking on stage

Black Lives Matter movement= a “threat”

And then just when nothing seemed to stop his candidacy, Donald Trump insulted women, specifically white women.

In the now infamous Access Hollywood tape that ended the career of one brotastically awful news anchor Billy Bush  (also of THAT family Bush), Donald Trump admitted to grabbing a woman by the vagina, more accurately by the’pussy”.  This was followed by 11 women coming forward who claimed varied sexual assaults in the past from  the now GOP nominated candidate for President.

There were pulled endorsements from GOP elected officials.

There was pearl clutching.

GOP Rep Jason Chaffetz even seemed to be a person with integrity for once by saying he couldn’t even look at his daughter and tell her he supported Donald Trump. (He changed his mind on that later)

Simultaneously, friends messaged me asking me what kind of dress I wore to the 2009 Obama inauguration (they were online shopping for Inauguration).

One colleague said he’d booked his hotel for the Inauguration in DC. Many more I knew had booked flights to DC for the weekend of the Inauguration.

But y’know, hindsight being 20/20 outside of that week of the Access Hollywood Tape, (October) it was never a race Hillary Clinton was running away with, it got tighter and tighter as we got closer.  (The hacked emails, Benghazi, and then Comey…TWICE)

And there were still so many undecideds in the final weeks.

Well the  unthinkable happened on Election Day and Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

All through this time, I couldn’t write. It was impossible for me. At first, I was just too busy knocking on the doors of voters, phone banking, fundraising, organizing events for the election.

And then, I realized, I was just too stunned to write. I was stunned by the times, in which I realized I truly lived. So stunned I had writer’s block like a year long bulk of bile clogging up a toilet.

Sure racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc existed. As a black woman, I knew that.

But I didn’t believe (and many others didn’t) people would look past Trump’s purposefully hateful rhetoric and his lack of experience to vote for him for President.I couldn’t believe that women thought that Trump discussing grabbing women by the “pussy”  was just really locker room talk to be excused.

Correction: I didn’t believe there was enough of them to give Trump the electoral votes (not the popular vote) needed for victory. But there were.

And so now, it’s 2017, it’s a new America, or perhaps the America that always was.

In 17 days,  America’s first black President, a Democrat, whose election had meant so much, (not because racism was dead but that we had come so far as a country), will leave office and hand over the keys to the White House to Trump and company.

And this week, the new Congress was sworn in, dominated in both chambers by Republicans.

The gloves are off. Progressives: there is work to do.

The Resistance has started and I’m back for the fight.