Navy: ‘Active shooter incident’ at Fort Detrick

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REDERICK, Md. — Police in Maryland responded to an active shooter on Tuesday and said there were at least two victims, and the U.S. Navy reported an “active shooter incident” at Fort Detrick involving sailors. Police said the suspect was “down.”

According to police, a shooting happened at an address where a concrete business is located and about 4 miles (6 kilometers) from Fort Detrick. The Navy did not release further details.

Jeremy Mutschler, director of marketing for Nicolock Paving Stones, said that his understanding is that the shooting was near the company’s Frederick location but not at the business itself.

“One of the victims who was wounded entered our facility looking for help and we were able to assist and call the authorities,” said Mutschler, who is based in New York.

Citing police, The Baltimore Sun reported that both of the victims sustained life-threatening injuries in the shooting and were flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

Israeli president picks Netanyahu to try and form government

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s president on Tuesday handed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the difficult task of trying to form a government from the country’s splintered parliament, giving the embattled leader a chance to prolong his lengthy term in office while on trial for corruption charges.

In his announcement, President Reuven Rivlin acknowledged that no party leader had the necessary support to form a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset. He also noted that many believe Netanyahu is unfit to serve in light of his legal problems.

Nonetheless, Rivlin said that there was nothing in the law preventing Netanyahu from serving as prime minister. After consulting with the 13 parties in the newly elected parliament, Rivlin said that Netanyahu had the best chance of any candidate of forming a new government.

“No candidate has a realistic chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the Knesset,” Rivlin said. But, he added, Netanyahu has a “slightly higher chance” of being able to.

“I have decided to entrust him with the task,” Rivlin said from Jerusalem. Netanyahu now has up to six weeks to try to cobble together a coalition during his trial.

The decision nudged forward the twin dramas over the country’s future and Netanyahu’s fate, giving Israel’s longest-serving premier a fresh chance to try to salvage his career.

A court ruling could be months or even years away. The proceedings are expected to take place up to three days a week, an embarrassing and time-consuming distraction that will shadow Netanyahu’s appeals to his rivals.

Netanyahu holds the most support — 52 seats — in Israel’s Knesset. But that is still short of a 61-seat majority. He is likely to use his powers of persuasion to try to lure a number of opponents, including a number of former close aides who have vowed never to serve under him again, with generous offers of powerful government ministries or legislative committees.

Parties representing 45 members supported Yair Lapid, while Yamina, with seven seats, nominated its own leader, Naftali Bennett. Three parties holding a total of 16 seats made no recommendation.

Rivlin’s decision merges questions of Netanyahu’s legal and political future in what’s perhaps the starkest political challenge of his career.

In court, he faces fraud, breach of trust and bribery charges in three separate cases. Proceedings resumed Tuesday, though the premier was not expected to appear in court.

A key witness on Monday cast Netanyahu as an image-obsessed leader who forced a prominent news site to help his family and smear his opponents.

Netanyahu denies all charges and in an nationally televised address accused prosecutors of persecuting him in an effort to drive him out of office.

“This is what a coup attempt looks like,” he said.

Monday’s court session focused on the most serious case against Netanyahu — in which he is accused of promoting regulations that delivered hundreds of millions of dollars of profits to the Bezeq telecom company in exchange for positive coverage on the firm’s popular news site, Walla.

Ilan Yeshua, Walla’s former chief editor, described a system in which Bezeq’s owners, Shaul and Iris Elovitch, repeatedly pressured him to publish favorable things about Netanyahu and smear the prime minister’s rivals.

The explanation he was given by the couple? “That’s what the prime minister wanted,” he said.

Baseball's All-Star Game reportedly moving to Denver

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DENVER — Major League Baseball plans to relocate the All-Star Game to Coors Field in Denver after pulling this year’s Midsummer Classic from Atlanta over objections to sweeping changes to Georgia’s voting laws, according to a person familiar with the decision.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday night because MLB hadn’t announced the move yet. The commissioner’s office was expected to declare Tuesday that the Colorado Rockies will host the game.

ESPN was first to report the decision.

MLB pulled the July 13 game from Truist Park in Cobb County, Ga., in response to Georgia voting rules that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp quickly signed into law March 25. Critics, including the CEOs of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, have condemned the changes as being too restrictive.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made the decision to move the All-Star events and the amateur draft from Atlanta after discussions with individual players and the Players Alliance, an organization of Black players formed after the death of George Floyd last year, the commissioner said in a statement.

Kemp has vowed to defend the measure, and other Republicans have criticized MLB’s move. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott backed out of throwing the first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ home opener on Monday and said the state would not seek to host the All-Star Game or any other special MLB events.

Coors Field last hosted the All-Star Game in 1998, the fourth season for the stadium and sixth for the Rockies franchise.

Republicans want to make 'woke' corporations pay — literally

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Livid at what they see as corporate America’s progressive posturing on cultural issues, top Republicans are pushing for swift retribution and targeting those companies’ bottom lines.

In recent days, GOP leaders have encouraged boycotts against a group of companies that have condemned or pulled business from states that have passed more restrictive voting laws. The appetite for punitive measures hasn’t ended there. Republicans are also encouraging state and federal officials to utilize the tax code as a means of hitting back at, what they deem to be, “woke capitalism.” And they’re targeting some of the most iconic American brands — from Delta and Coca Cola to Major League Baseball — in the process.

“The GOP response … is the successful playbook for how these fights will be won moving forward,” said former Office of Management and Budget director Russ Vought, whose new group, the Center for American Restoration, is largely focused on cultural issues.

“Boycotts may or may not work, but what will work is to identify every unique benefit these woke companies get under the law and remove them and require they operate as all other companies in those states have to,” Vought added.

The increasingly aggressive pushback against politically outspoken companies is the latest, and perhaps purest, illustration of a party at a philosophical crossroads. Republicans spent decades aligning themselves with the business community and its preferences for lower taxes and fewer regulations. During the 2017 GOP tax reform push, the party slashed the corporate rate from 35 to 21 percent. In return, they have been bolstered with industry money and political support. Now, however, they’re betting that they can win on a backlash to the idea that political correctness has entered the boardroom and is irreversibly damaging conservative causes.

For Trump alumni like Vought and other conservatives who have soured on big business, the sudden enthusiasm for their cause has been a welcome development. Still, many conservatives remain skeptical that the newly coordinated campaign portends a seismic shift for Republicans. There is, for example, no appetite to embrace a corporate tax hike as proposed by President Joe Biden to pay for infrastructure spending. But while it may not be the end of the marriage for Republicans and big business, even they see it as the beginning of a volatile patch in the relationship.

“Old habits are hard to break. There are legislators who have served in office for 30 years and this is like learning a new language for them,” said Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. “They still think profit motives drive these companies and it’s not in their interest to punish conservatives. But you’re seeing younger senators and office holders speak out on this and it will shape their politics moving forward.”

The roots of this friction started during Donald Trump’s presidency, when the White House would occasionally launch into cultural slap-fights that advanced the president’s personal, political and business whims, and conservative TV hosts encouraged boycotts of companies that seemed amenable to liberal pressure campaigns.

But it has accelerated during Trump’s post-presidency, with Republicans making use of the law to punish corporate entities that they feel have crossed them. The most prominent case came a week ago when Delta publicly condemned Georgia’s new, GOP-authored voting law that civil rights groups say will impose difficult new requirements for absentee and mail-in voting and disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color. Soon after Delta CEO Ed Bastian decried the legislation as “unacceptable,” Georgia House Republicans voted to rescind a lucrative fuel tax break for the company. The measure failed when state senators declined to take it up on the last day of their legislative session.

On Friday, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick lambasted American Airlines over the company’s opposition to a GOP proposal to adjust voting hours and grant state leaders more authority over local elections, among other changes. The measure, which has yet to advance out of the state legislature, was also condemned by Dell Technologies.

“Texans are fed up with corporations that don’t share our values trying to dictate public policy,” Patrick wrote in a lengthy statement.

Then came the Major League Baseball association’s announcement that it was yanking its annual All-Star Game from Atlanta’s stadium to protest the Georgia voting overhaul. Trump urged his MAGA followers to boycott America’s favorite pastime, as well as a host of other companies that had criticized the voting law, “until they relent,” while Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp accused MLB of succumbing to “cancel culture.” Other Republicans accused MLB and Delta of engaging in a faux outrage campaign, noting that both companies maintain business ties with China despite its well-documented history of human rights abuses.

“Will Major League Baseball now end its engagement with nations that do not hold elections at all like China and Cuba?” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the Senate’s leading China hawks, wrote in a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday.

But, once again, it wasn’t just charges of hypocrisy or boycotts on the menu. Within hours, prominent GOP voices — from Donald Trump Jr. to Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) — had proposed terminating the baseball league’s century-old antitrust exemption, which classifies MLB as a sport and not a business. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell followed up on Monday morning with a warning of his own. There would, he said, be “serious consequences” if corporate America continues acting like “a woke parallel government.”

A spokesperson for McConnell declined to clarify what the Kentucky Republican meant by “serious consequences.” The Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business lobbying organization that has mostly supported Republican candidates and legislation in the past, though increasingly backed Democrats, did not respond to a request for comment.

The aggressive public pressure campaign by conservatives aimed at influencing corporate behavior is putting corporations in the uncomfortable position of having to straddle both the left’s calls for social justice and the right’s unexpected threats to their bottom line. Some Republicans say they are simply taking a page from the Democrats’ playbook — just as progressives called for a boycott on Equinox gyms after its CEO donated to Trump or a ban on the In-N-Out burger chain after its founder donated to the California Republican Party.

“After two decades of the left being on offense, normal people are starting to fight back and say if these are the rules of the game, we are going to play, too,” said former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “I think that’s [Republicans] saying, ‘Oh, you want to pick a fight with me? This is what a fight is going to be like.’”

But there are also concerns Republicans will get stuck in a never-ending tit-for-tat that will damage long-standing ties to the business community. GOP lawmakers have, so far, only targeted companies on individual bases and not industries as a whole. Rubio, for example, said he would support a unionization effort at an Amazon factory in Alabama, not because he viewed it as critical for labor rights but because it would expose the e-commerce giant’s hypocrisy as a supposedly high-minded company.

“I wish companies would take the Michael Jordan approach to politics and recognize that Republicans and Democrats both buy shoes, we all fly on the same airplanes,” said former Republican congressman and Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz.

“I think Republicans as a whole would be better to point to [Opportunity Zones] as a better long-term solution for everyone as opposed to trying to fight Coke and Delta one battle at a time. It’s just silly at some point,” Chaffetz said.

Texas governor rejects first-pitch invite over MLB's All-Star snub

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott turned down an invitation to throw the first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ home opener on Monday, citing Major League Baseball’s decision to move its All-Star Game out of Atlanta as the reason for his last-minute rejection.

In a letter to Neil Leibman, president of business operations and chief operating officer for the Texas Rangers, Abbott wrote that he had been “looking forward” to the experience Monday afternoon — “until Major League Baseball adopted what has turned out to be a false narrative about the election law reforms in Georgia, and, based on that false narrative, moved the MLB All-Star game from Atlanta.”

Abbott is just one of numerous Republican governors and members of Congress who have expressed outrage over the MLB’s relocation of its All-Star Game, a move made to signal opposition to voting restrictions Georgia’s Legislature approved earlier this month.

The new voting law, signed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, has been roundly criticized by national Democrats and many corporate leaders, including Atlanta-based companies Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines.

President Joe Biden said he supported moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta, but Georgia Democrats have been more reluctant to embrace the decision — which they have cast as the unfortunate outcome of state Republicans’ partisan election reforms.

The Texas governor went on to write that the state “will not seek to host the All-Star Game or any other MLB special events.” Major League Baseball has made a habit in recent years of awarding All-Star games to teams with new or recently renovated stadiums, a trend that could put the Rangers, who recently began their second season at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, on a short list to host an upcoming Midsummer Classic. Texas last hosed baseball’s All-Star Game in 2004 at the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park. The Rangers last hosted an All-Star Game in 1995.

The Rangers, entering their 50th season in Texas, are scheduled to host the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday.

Andrew Yang’s Asian American Superpower

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When I met Andrew Yang for lunch in front of Shanghai 21, a popular restaurant in the crook of Mott Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown, he seemed visibly nervous under his “Yang for New York” mask. As he delivered terse answers to the professional photographer asking him whether he preferred the Mets or the Yankees, I saw curious onlookers and fans snapping photos from afar, from millennials to immigrant grannies. He kept glancing at them, as if he wanted to bolt from the photo shoot, go back to the Yang Gang and avoid our scheduled interview.

Which was not the best mood for the purposes of our lunch. This was supposed to be the moment when Yang finally opened up about his experiences as an Asian American man — a topic he’d sidestepped, as far as I could tell, his entire life. But now he could sidestep the issue no longer.

Asian grandparents and elders were being accosted and in some cases beaten on the streets of Manhattan, and Yang had agreed to talk about it. Then, a week before our proposed lunch, a man in Georgia massacred eight people, six of them Asian women. A story struggling to break out of the back pages had suddenly become urgent, national news, and the Asian American community — long a fragmented, disempowered collection of subcultures and nationalities — was at once enraged and terrified.

Our dim sum appointment also happened to coincide with an astrologically impossible moment, where an Asian American man was the frontrunner to be mayor of New York City — at a moment when the city he wants to lead has become the nation’s epicenter of anti-Asian violence, with hate crimes against AAPI residents up by 833 percent from 2019.

All this was forcing Yang to address his heritage in a way he never really had before.

During his presidential run, Yang had exhibited an awkward relationship to his Asianness at times. He joked about knowing lots of doctors because he was Asian; he slapped “MATH” (“Make Americans Think Harder”) onto campaign swag; in his campaign biography, he referred to being “self-conscious” when a childhood bully asked if “Chinese guys have small dicks.” At the beginning of the pandemic, he wrote an op-ed urging Asian Americans to fight back against a swell of xenophobia by, among other things, wearing “red, white and blue.”

Now, during the heat of a Democratic primary with the New York press pack hanging on his every word, Yang’s relationship with his heritage was now the topic of endless news articles, cable shows and City Hall chatter. A topic that Yang had avoided was now unavoidable, not just for politics, but for himself.

Two days after the Atlanta shooting, when he spoke at a presser with his fellow candidates hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the pain in his voice was raw, and real. “I’ve been Asian all my life, and I remember vividly growing up with this constant sense of invisibility, mockery and disdain,” Yang said, his voice cracking. “A sense that you cannot be American if you have an Asian face. But this has metastasized into something new and deadly and virulent and hateful.”

And so, Yang finally opened up over lunch, the two of us chatting fluently to each other in the shorthand of Asian immigrant kids — me, the Vietnamese American smartass from Boston’s South Shore, and him, the sunny child of Taiwanese academics who settled in Westchester County. We talked about Asian American bloggers, John Cho, classic anime and Korean martial arts; we griped over people automatically assuming we were from California.

No matter how much we had in common, though, there were enormous chasms between our views on how America worked. But it’s always been like that inside the census demographic known as “Asian American” — a broad, loose confederation of 21 million people from dozens of countries who might share the same types of eyes or other facial features, but not the same circumstances. And at a time when Asian Americans are finding their political voices amid fear and loss, Yang, whose own experience as an Asian American man turned him into a man who happens to be Asian American, is wrestling with it, too.

***

I’d now fully absorbed Yang’s anxious energy and fretted that the interview would suck, fiddling with a Diet Coke can as he fulfilled roughly a dozen selfie requests outside the restaurant. Then an aide mentioned that Yang’s wedding reception had been held at Peking Duck House — a Chinatown institution with, of course, a world-famous Peking duck.

Wait, what? I’d been there before, and the thought of their moist duck breast with crispy, fatty skin and a glossy shellac of hoisin sauce made me salivate. And if Yang liked it, too … Why didn’t you tell me this? I asked. I love that place. We could have gone there! It’s literally across the street.

When I told Yang this, he perked up, a bubble of nerves bursting into effervescence. Oh my God! Do you want to go there? Should we get a Peking duck? Let’s go!

We had no choice but to roll with the irrepressible Yang, who bounded out the door, happily posed for more selfies as he crossed the street, waved to several others who hollered “Yang Gang!” at him, faster than I could pay the disappointed-looking owners of Shanghai 21 for my Diet Coke. In less than five minutes, we were settled in the corner of Peking Duck House, ordering an entire roasted duck for lunch ($60 for four people). “Obviously, when you come to Peking Duck House, you just order Peking duck,” Yang laughed, clearly more relaxed in a place associated with the day he got married.

This would have been just another zany, peak Andrew Yang moment — his seeming M.O. being anything is possible if you just go for it — if it weren’t for the fact that the dining room had been completely emptied of furniture, with three set tables lining the wall and a handful of tables on the sidewalk outside, and if it weren’t for the anxiety humming in the air. We were two Asian Americans in New York City, eating in a restaurant run by Asian immigrants in a once-bustling neighborhood decimated by a year of Covid and “Wuhan Flu” slurs, all of us quietly worrying that at any unexpected moment, we’d be punched in the face for having the wrong eye shape.

The night I’d arrived in New York City, the radio in my hotel aired a report that three women of Asian descent had been assaulted in Manhattan — where I’d once roamed freely for eight years prior to the pandemic — in the past 24 hours. Yang, on the other hand, had been smothered with love as he wandered around Chinatown in his “Yang for New York” mask. In the colder months, he’d draped an orange and blue-striped Mets scarf over an overcoat during his campaign appearances, creating a look so identifiable to New Yorkers that it could be a last-minute Halloween costume.

So what was it like, I asked, when he took off the scarf and put on a plain mask, and looked like just another Asian dude?

“I’ve been on the streets in New York and on the subways any number of times when I didn’t have a ‘Yang For New York’ mask on and the rest of it,” he said after a pause. “And the first time someone shrinks away from you on the subway, or looks at you a little bit too long, you think, ‘well, maybe that was in my head.’ But then if it happens repeatedly, then you start thinking, ‘this is not in my head.’ And you can sense a degree of both visibility and hostility or awareness of your presence, but not in a welcome way. It’s like: ‘I’m aware of your presence and I’m not thrilled about it.’ And that’s a very different feeling, and a very different energy.”

But on that sunny street in Chinatown, everyone knew that the guy wearing a “Yang for New York” mask and being followed by a professional photographer was the Andrew Yang: the Universal Basic Income guy, the former presidential candidate, the could-be mayor — a guy who also happened to be the most prominent Asian American political figure in the country. It was as if Yang had willed his own post-racial celebrity into existence, simply by believing in himself as hard as he could.

“I frankly have been accustomed to being able to blend into the woodwork for most of my life. Because I think that’s something of an Asian American superpower, where, like, prior to the last 14 months, you could become quite inconspicuous,” he said. “When I’m very obviously Andrew Yang — the scarf, the mask — then I get a lot of love and warmth and support. But if I’m not as readily identifiable, then there is a different energy.”

***

The term “model minority” entered the mainstream in a 1966 New York Times Magazine article, when sociology professor William Petersen drew an indelible line between Japanese Americans and “problem minorities” who’d suffered various — and, he believed, equal — types of setbacks.

“When whites defined Negroes as inherently less intelligent, for example, and therefore furnished them with inferior schools, the products of these schools often validated the original stereotype,” Peterson wrote. “Once the cumulative degradation has gone far enough, it is notoriously difficult to reverse the trend.”

And yet, he marveled, Japanese Americans had done so, less than 20 years after the internment camps of World War II. “By any criterion of good citizenship, the Japanese Americans are better than any other group in our society, including native-born whites. They have established this remarkable record, moreover, by their own almost totally unaided effort. Every attempt to hamper their progress resulted only in enhancing their determination to succeed.”

With that backhanded praise, Japanese Americans, and the millions of other Asians who followed them as America’s immigration laws changed, were squeezed into a box nearly impossible to break out of: How could they prove that they face discrimination if everyone thought they were the embodiment of the “Horatio Alger hero,” as Peterson put it? How could they find allies to achieve equality — cultural, political, societal — if everyone thought they were successful by some sort of ethnic disposition? And if they weren’t successful, well, weren’t they just bad at being Asian?

There are endless books, essays, films and shows that try to shatter that idea. But there are also plenty of Asian Americans who meet every criteria of this myth, and even more Asian parents who push their kids to embody it. Andrew Yang grew up as one of these kids.

With two parents with Berkeley postgrad degrees, an upbringing in the quaint upstate New York town of Somers, and an education from Phillips Exeter, Brown University, and Columbia Law — a pedigree that Mayflower descendants would stab each other to obtain — Yang occupies an elite demographic slot, as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen (no relation), who has interviewed Yang, told me: “Ivy League, East Coast, model minority Asian American, whether he calls himself that or not.”

“I feel some sympathy for him, because he’s caught up in a dynamic of race that he doesn’t want to be caught up in and no one should have to be caught up in,” Nguyen said. “But that’s just the nature of race in the country. If [he] can be a good politician, he has to figure out a response to that. Not because he may care, but because other people care.”

I had wondered if, in his journey to get ahead in America, Yang had distanced himself from the AAPI community or any characteristic of being a Taiwanese immigrant kid, especially after talking to Peter Kiang, the director of Asian American studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Back in the ’80s, Kiang told me, he had worked as a consultant for New England prep schools, including Exeter — the alma mater of billionaires, diplomats, and the Anglo-Saxon power elite — on how to diversify their campuses to be more inclusive to Asian Americans, particularly the children of immigrants, after a string of stories exposing racism on these schools’ cloistered campuses.

“They were confronting this new population and had no idea how to approach it,” he recalled, noting that the schools would either try to integrate them into the student body — incorporating Asian American studies into the curriculum, for instance — or simply stack the incoming class with just enough Asians, leaving this new class to fend for themselves and assuming that they were model minorities who could boost their Ivy League acceptance rates.

Kiang remembered one focus group he conducted with a group of Asian American students at one of these schools, in which he asked them if they had complaints. After prodding, they admitted they weren’t a fan of the quality of rice — but felt like they couldn’t say anything about it, and instead kept rice cookers in their dorm rooms.

“They didn’t know whether, if they made complaints or protests, they’d be kicked out of school and their parents’ dreams would evaporate,” Kiang recalled. They had no language, he said, to call out white people.

Yang had previously discussed growing up as the lone, awkward Asian kid in a town full of white people, frequently picked on for his scrawniness and confused for the other Asian kid in town (his brother).

Being at Exeter, he told me, exacerbated those feelings. “I mean, it was numerically quite diverse, I think — maybe 15 percent Asian American when I was there,” he said. “But it certainly had a very New England prep school feel. There was a constant struggle to fit in, [but] that desire to fit in would be somewhat futile, because, obviously, if you’re one of the only Asian kids in your grade, then people would see you as the Asian kid. It’s fairly natural.”

That’s the Andrew Yang of first impression — the Andrew Yang whose inclination is to downplay how this upbringing shaped him. When he revisited Exeter during his campaign — the first time he’d been back since graduation — he seemed to have internalized it, telling the students that he struggled during his two years in New Hampshire. “Most of that was on me; I was a very angsty kid,” he admitted, then added that Exeter was “the best educational experience I ever had.”

But if you get Yang by himself next to a pile of duck meat and hoisin sauce, with his white aides tactfully getting fried rice at a table further away, and give him an hour to talk about second-gen Asian kid angst, it quickly rises to the surface — as if it had never disappeared, but no one had ever asked him about it (in the media, at least).

He couldn’t wait to see Netflix’s live action adaptation of the classic anime “Cowboy Bebop,” starring John Cho (“Anime’s always been cool in my book”). He was a reader of the blog Angry Asian Man (and described his college self as one, taking out his frustrations through martial arts and weightlifting.) He’d just watched Eddie Huang’s new film, “Boogie” (“It’s very New York”) and asked if I liked his new campaign ad with Chinese American rapper MC Jin. He was, I later saw, better than me at folding pancakes around sauce-soaked duck slices.

And, ironically, he knew the one thing that Asian American voters wanted from him: “When I talk to Asian American groups, I joke with them: ‘I know what you were thinking, the first time you heard about my presidential campaign, and that there was an Asian American running for president: Please let him not be terrible, [please don’t be] an individual who’s going to make us look bad, or reflect poorly on us in some way. Because, I think that is like a natural reaction for Asian Americans when someone does something.”

The odd thing, he noted, was that half of the Asian American publications and blogs he’d reached out to never responded. I sensed it was because they thought the “MATH” hat, and all the Asian jokes that accompanied it, were utterly cringeworthy. (To draw a comparison, it was as if, in 2008, Barack Obama had barely spoken about being Black, made a lot of basketball jokes instead, and sold T-shirts depicting him slam-dunking on John McCain.)

As for the broader swath of voters Yang has tried to woo in his two-year political career — from the town halls of Iowa, to the churches of Michigan, to the presidential debate stage, to the boroughs of New York — he was just trying to get them to listen. And if he didn’t acknowledge being Asian other than through a math or doctor joke, he acknowledged, well, that’s because he’d rather be talking up the need for a universal basic income during the 20 seconds he might generate a viral video clip from the trail.

“One of the things I was acutely aware of was that I needed to continuously try and generate energy around the campaign, including press coverage, and that any interview I had, I frankly should not take it for granted that there’d be tons of other interviews,” he laughed. “And so, if you have a core message to your campaign, then you need to hammer that message, every opportunity you get particularly if you’re not sure that you’re going to have a depth of coverage that will enable you to have multiple interviews with a single outlet.”

But privately, Yang admitted, the thought of being an Asian American man and a presidential contender weighed on his mind. “There were times early on in the campaign that I would say, ‘well, there are different versions of victory that I would be very happy with. And one of the things I did say to people close to me was that, I think it would be tremendous for the Asian American community to have someone who is of our community on the presidential debate stage.’”

There were times, he admitted, that he felt not so tremendous — acutely aware of being the only Asian American candidate anywhere close to that stage. A “disproportionate” number of reporters who reached out to him happened to be Asian American. Too many introductions at town halls identified him from California. And, of course, the time that MSNBC called him “John Yang.”

As we discussed this, the duck soon arrived, borne on a tray by a waiter, and we gasped: It was a magnificent bird, head and neck delicately resting across its body, and fire-blasted to a deep, glossy amber. “You guys need to help us with this,” I admitted to his aides, as Yang urged the photographer to take pictures before the waiter started slicing into it.

As we dug in, Yang came back to the point: After a while, he said, he gave up on trying to correct media outlets mischaracterizing his identity, hoping to stay on message.

“But I will confess to being surprised by it all. I expected a different sort of coverage, I suppose,” he admitted after a long pause. “I thought that there would be some media organizations that were at least somewhat excited at the prospect of there being an Asian American presidential candidate in the modern era. And that almost never occurred.”

***

Yang’s campaign nevertheless catapulted him into a rare status matched only by basketball star Jeremy Lin and “The Walking Dead” actor Steven Yeun: an Asian American male celebrity known for some tangible thing other than being Asian American. He’d become recognized on the street by fans as he went grocery shopping, he’d taken hundreds of photos at campaigns with Asian American children, whose parents would then tell them: “See? You can do anything.” “I was a bit surprised [by] how many Asian Americans said to me, I never thought that someone who looked like me would ever be able to run for president and be taken seriously.”

And then, as Donald Trump and his allies began calling an alarmingly deadly new virus the “kung flu,” characterizing it as a mutation borne out of filthy wet markets in China, Yang wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post that was razed by progressive Asian American activists as being too passive against what they predicted would be uncontrollable xenophobia.

“I obviously think that being racist is not a good thing. But saying ‘Don’t be racist toward Asians’ won’t work,” he wrote, after describing the heightened sense that people hated him more. “I have been thinking about ways to improve that encounter at the grocery store. People are hurting. They look up and see someone who is different from them, whom they wrongly associate with the upheaval of their way of life.”

Quoting Asian American UCLA basketball player Natalie Chou, who observed that people thought she was more American when she wore her college gear, Yang proposed a solution:

We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.

Demonstrate that we are part of the solution. We are not the virus, but we can be part of the cure.

I had to ask him about it — whether his position has changed due to pandemic-fueled hate crimes — and he bristled. “Well, if you read the entire op-ed, what it says is that we are not a virus, and this hostility against us is being increased for a variety of reasons, and that we should do everything in our power to help our country to help accelerate the end of this crisis. And then I had a list of actions, most of which I think most people would agree with.” He ticked them off as he neatly layered sliced duck and scallions into a crepe: volunteering, donating, helping distribute PPE, voting for the presidential candidate who was not inflaming the anti-Asian sentiment.

“So the essential message was for people to step up and help and do more — which I think, you know, like most people would agree, that’s like a positive message. And I think the criticism was born of the fact that even though in the op-ed, I said, ‘We are American, we’re as American as everyone else,’ that I actually took our Americanness as a given. And so then these actions were just for us to be able to help our fellow Americans. And then some people took it as like, oh, that we had to do all these things to prove our Americanness, which was not the point. I actually took our Americanness as a given and was like, ‘We should do everything we can to help.’ But I understand folks who took it in a way that did not take our Americanness for granted, though. That was not the intention.”

Yang then recalled an observation he’d made during his presidential run, one that he’d turned into a clever stump speech talking point: that apart from New York and California, the populations of Asian Americans in other states were, electorally speaking, negligible. But if every Asian person packed up and moved to New Hampshire, there would be hundreds of millions of dollars poured into Asian-targeted advertising. His point, I gathered, was that Asians’ relative lack of political power was purely a function of numbers and geographic concentration — not necessarily due to racism.

But Asian Americans do carry demographic weight in Yang’s current contest, and that has required a change in approach: campaigning not as a regular American who just happened to have Taiwanese parents, but as someone whose identity suddenly conveyed electoral advantages.

New York City is the home to a million Asian Americans, largely migrants, and, according to a 2019 New York City Government Poverty Measure report, has the highest level of poverty: 23.8 percent, higher than white, Black, and Hispanic residents alike. Not to mention that they had been uniquely slammed by the pandemic. According to the Asian American Federation, a social services nonprofit, Asian American unemployment skyrocketed from 3.4 percent to 25.6 percent in the initial months of the pandemic — the highest jump among all ethnic groups in the city.

A huge percentage of the city failed to meet the neat parameters of the “model minority” myth — the one, it seemed, that could make his op-ed’s suggestions even feasible — and I asked whether his thinking had changed in any way as he campaigned through this new community.

He bristled again at that one.

“The thesis wasn’t that we should prove we are Americans, it’s just, ‘We should do more.’ And so if that’s the message, we should do more,” he insisted, not waiting for me to finish my question. “Now, it’s true that some people are in situations where doing more might be more difficult or even unrealistic. And certainly I agree with you that we’re a very diverse community, and that we’re going to have very different experiences.”

And then he pivoted: “One thing I do say, though, to folks is that, like, Look, I’m now something of a political figure. My parents also did not talk about politics at all in the house when I was growing up. It’s not like my parents were somehow really unusual for first-generation parents where they were like, you’re going to grow up and like, run for office someday.”

This was Yang’s way of saying to his fellow Asian Americans: See, if somebody like me can get involved in politics, so can you.

He went on: “I don’t begrudge people who are somewhat disengaged politically. But I do see it as part of my mission to activate people in the Asian American community to regard politics as something that we should care about.”

Yang’s an optimistic person by nature, and it’s a politician’s job to sell hope. And he’s made being a “normal person” integral to his political brand.

Still, I found myself wondering at the paradox that Yang, by trying to transcend his identity, had somehow become the most prominent Asian politician in American history. Could this multimillionaire guy from Westchester County, Exeter and the Ivy League really have a sense of the vastness of the Asian American experience?

Then again, it’s a self-contradicting idea, that anyone could truly represent all of it. Rich or impoverished, educated or illiterate, hypercosmopolitan or barely speaking English, millions of Asians moved to the U.S. from dozens of countries for infinite reasons — leaving postwar Taiwan when your professor father snagged a sabbatical at U.C. Berkeley (like Yang’s mother), or losing everything and becoming a refugee (like mine), or just hoping for a better life, maneuvering through the various laws that barred them (as in 1924) or let them in (as in 1965). In that sense, Yang’s life choices are not inauthentic. They’re just what they are.

But after nearly six decades of building a presence in America, from tiny suburban enclaves, to the massive Chinatowns, Koreatowns and Little Saigons in major cities, whether trying hard to assimilate or trying hard not to, Asian Americans are now reckoning with the monumental task of creating a shared political identity. And Yang, whether he’s ready or not, now shoulders this problem.

Earlier in our interview, I asked Yang why he’d never really discussed the issue of Asian American identity in depth before.

“Mostly,” he said, “because no one asked.”

Jordan says it foiled 'malicious plot' by former crown prince

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JERUSALEM — A senior Jordanian official on Sunday accused the country’s former crown prince of conspiring with foreign elements in a “malicious plot” that threatened national security.

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters that the plot had been foiled at the “zero hour.”

“Then it was clear they moved from design and planning into action,” Safadi said. He says some 14-16 people are under arrest.

Safadi spoke a day after Prince Hamzah, a half brother of King Abdullah II, was placed under house arrest, in a rare public clash between top members of the long-ruling family.

The unprecedented incident has raised concerns about stability in a country seen as a key Western ally in a volatile region and drawn an outpouring of support for Abdullah.

In a videotaped statement from house arrest, Hamzah accused the country’s leadership of corruption and incompetence.

Safadi, who also holds the title of deputy prime minister, said intelligence agents had been observing the plotters for some time and raised their concerns with the king.

He said Hamzah was asked to “stop all these activities and movements that threaten Jordan and its stability,” but he refused.

Safadi did not identify the foreign countries allegedly involved in the plot. But he said a longtime senior official who has business ties in several Gulf Arab states, Bassem Awadallah, was involved and had been planning on leaving the country. He also said Awadallah had been trying to secure a place for Hamzah’s wife to flee.

The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Arab countries across the Middle East issued strong statements in favor of Abdullah.

The swift show of support underscored Jordan’s strategic importance as an island of relative stability in the turbulent region. While the harsh criticism from a popular member of the ruling family could lend support to growing complaints about the kingdom’s poor governance, the king’s tough reaction also illustrated the limits to which he will accept public dissent.

Labib Kamhawi, a Jordanian analyst, said Hamzah had crossed a red line by indicating he might be an alternative to the long-ruling king.

“This is something the king does not accept or tolerate,” he said. “This is why we are now witnessing what has happened. This file is now more or less closed.”

Early on Sunday, Hamzah’s mother, Queen Noor, expressed sympathy for “innocent victims.”

“Praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander. God bless and keep them safe,” she tweeted.

In his video, Hamzah said he was visited early Saturday by the kingdom’s military chief and told he could not go out, communicate with people or meet with them. He said his phone and internet service were cut and his satellite internet, used to record the message, was being cut off as well.

He said he was told he was being punished for taking part in meetings in which the king had been criticized, though he said he was not accused of joining in the criticism.

Hamzah then lashed out at the “ruling system” without mentioning the king by name, saying it had decided “that its personal interests, that its financial interests, that its corruption is more important than the lives and dignity and futures of the 10 million people that live here.”

“I’m not part of any conspiracy or nefarious organization or foreign-backed group, as is always the claim here for anyone who speaks out,” he said. “There are members of this family who still love this country, who care for (its people) and will put them above all else.”

“Apparently, that is a crime worthy of isolation, threats and now being cut off,” he added.

Hamzah is a former crown prince who was stripped of that title by Abdullah in 2004, five years after becoming king following the death of their father, the late King Hussein.

Patchwork: Atlanta Braves cover All-Star logo on jerseys, shift hats

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PHILADELPHIA — The Atlanta Braves looked a little patchwork in their second game of the season.

The All-Star Game patch that appeared on the right sleeve of the Braves’ jerseys during opening day was sewn over Saturday against Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park. The same logo was gone from their hats, too.

The uniform change came a day after Major League Baseball announced that this summer’s All-Star Game was being moved out of Atlanta over the sport’s objections to sweeping changes to Georgia voting laws.

It was easy to spot the change on the jersey, with the outline of the All-Star patch hastily covered over. The Braves still have a patch on their left sleeves marking the 150th anniversary of the franchise.

The summer event had been scheduled for July 13 at Truist Park in Atlanta.

“I’m disappointed that it’s not going to being there,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said before a 4-0 loss to Philadelphia. “But I’m focused on playing baseball and what we’ve got going on this season. Other than being disappointed, that’s all I have to say on it.”

Said Atlanta pitcher Charlie Morton, in his 14th season big league season: “It’s about more than just the guys in the clubhouse. It’s about the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia, the Braves organization, people coming in from all over the country and the businesses in the area seeing a boost.”

“I’m disappointed for the Braves organization and those who are local who would have benefitted seeing the influx of business and excitement in the area. It’s a bad situation. Some of the guys who are likely to be on the team, it would have been nice to represent the team in their home park. People would have been able to see what was done in the ballpark,” he said.

“Other than that, I don’t know what to say about it. It just stinks,” he said.

A new site for the game hasn’t been announced.

MLB said the All-Star Game festivities will still feature a planned tribute to late Braves Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, a civil rights hero. Houston manager Dusty Baker, who played with Aaron in Atlanta, and several others have suggested the event be held in Milwaukee — Aaron began his career with the Milwaukee Braves and finished with the Milwaukee Brewers.

“I think Major League Baseball made a good decision,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who added he’d like to see the game held in Milwaukee.

“Absolutely. I think it would be a thrill for the city, for sure,” he said. “It’s not a good thing for the city of Atlanta and some people who have lost some economic opportunities, but if it’s going to be somewhere else, it would be a thrill for the city to have it here.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred made the decision to move the All-Star Game and events, along with the amateur draft, from Atlanta after discussions with individual big leaguers and the Players Alliance, an organization of Black players formed after the death of George Floyd last year.

“This all came together rather quickly,” said Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, who is Black. “We had, I think, a day left in spring training. The Players Alliance, we gathered and got as many people as we could on a call. It was probably less than 50 guys on there out of the 100 or whatever. We had our conversation.

“We knew how we felt about it. We wanted to make sure, I think, that regardless of what happened, the decision was made, that we were there to do what we could in Atlanta,” he said.

Heyward, who grew up in the Atlanta area and was the Braves’ first-round draft pick in 2007, said “it was nice to see someone make a move pretty quickly and try to do it in a positive light, knowing it’s still a tough decision.”

“I think you’re not going to be able to please everybody. I know there’s a lot of people in Atlanta that love baseball and were looking forward to see an All-Star Game there. A Midsummer Classic, I think that’s special, as somebody growing up there and watching a lot of baseball,” he said. “But at the same time, I think when you talk about a message, the people are still out here pushing for equality.”

California teachers’ latest demand: Free childcare

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SACRAMENTO — California teachers are ready to go back to the classroom. But the state’s largest union has a new ask: free childcare for their own kids.

The demand is salt in the wound for parents who struggled with distance learning at home amid intense reopening negotiations that have dragged on for a year.

As part of school reopening agreements in San Diego, Sacramento and San Jose, unions successfully fought for policies that allow employees to bring their children to the classroom as in-person instruction resumes.

Now, the United Teachers of Los Angeles is asking for more than that. The union is calling on Los Angeles Unified to allow educators with young children to continue working from home until the district can provide them subsidized child care and a proper childcare program for teachers by the fall.

Parent groups worry the childcare ask could bubble up in other districts, complicating hard-fought reopening plans and limiting how much in-person instruction schools can offer.

“I support a lot of the things they’re fighting for, but there’s a fine line because the moment that it prevents our kids from going back to school, then that’s not okay,” said Moema Leblanc, who has helped supervise her San Jose kindergartner’s online learning for the past year while also working from home and caring for an 18-month-old. “These have been chronic issues teachers have fought for for years and unfortunately the pandemic became the platform they needed. They know they can use it.”

Unions asking for childcare accommodations have found themselves playing defense, as critics are quick to point out that essential workers like healthcare and grocery store employees who never stopped working in-person are also parents of children who were shut out of schools longer than families in most other states, without the guarantee of childcare.

“Yes, we know healthcare and essential workers have faced these challenges all year. However, a competition to the bottom is not in any of our best interests,” Maya Daniels, a Los Angeles Unified teacher, states in an online petition calling on the school board to offer support to educator parents. “We do not want anything we don’t believe everyone is entitled to: employer support for children and families.”

Daniels said LAUSD’s reopening plan asks teachers to choose between “our children or our job.”

Unions across California say the need for educator childcare was a problem before the pandemic, reflective of broader policy gaps that support women and working families.

The petition has more than 2,000 signatures and suggests that waivers be given to teachers with young children so that they can continue working remotely in distance learning for now, and that childcare be provided by the fall. While Los Angeles Unified offers some childcare options, the program does not have the capacity to support kids under five years old or those enrolled in other districts, according to UTLA.

UTLA, which represents the second largest school district in the country, has not made childcare a condition of reopening. Los Angeles Unified plans to return some of its youngest students to classrooms starting April 12, with half-day shifts.

But the union is calling on the district to provide options to educators, and for the state legislature and congress to “proactively work to provide better childcare support for all working families in California,” pointing out that women make up about 70 percent of the profession.

“As millions of working families — including frontline workers in hospitals, grocery stores, food processing plants, sanitation, transportation and other professions — have been forced to leave home for work and scramble to find childcare throughout the pandemic, it’s become more clear than ever that we as a society must do more to provide affordable childcare options for families with children too young for school,” UTLA said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Los Angeles Unified said in an e-mail Tuesday the district had no updates on the childcare ask.

While most of California’s 1,000-plus school districts have reopened or have a plan to by this month, tensions continue to boil as parents fight for more in-person instruction. Most California districts have adopted hybrid plans that still incorporate distance learning, and unions have spent the past year fighting for increased safety protocols that include vaccine access for educators and lower community case rates before resuming in-person instruction.

Teachers unions have been trying to avoid an “us vs. them” mentality with parents since the pandemic hit in March and say that narrative is unfair, especially for teachers who are also parents. Nearly half of all public school teachers have children living at home, according to a report by Chalkbeat.

“Teachers have been doing their best and many have had the same experiences as parents during the pandemic. They’ve been teaching from home while also attending to their children, and they know exactly what parents are going through,” said Patrick Bernhardt, president of the San Jose Teachers Association.

But the emotional debate surrounding reopening schools in California hasn’t made it easy for some teachers and parents to agree.

California teachers concerned for their safety fought back against pressure to return to classrooms when Covid-19 was in full force, arguing that they aren’t childcare providers. In February, Bay Area school board members resigned after a hot mic caught officials lamenting parent complaints about distance learning, with Oakley Union Elementary School Board President Lisa Brizendine recorded saying that parents “want their babysitters back.”

While SJTA’s contract includes a policy that allows teachers to bring their dependent children to Childcare has long been an issue for California educators, who often do not meet the income threshold for subsidized care but still struggle financially in big cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed.

“We’ve been working for our districts and the state to find a way to potentially make seats available for employees, but have been unable to pull that off,” Bernhardt said. “It’s been a concern for a long time.”

The demand is especially tricky as California grapples with a growing child care crisis. Even before the pandemic, the state struggled to provide enough spots to young children who qualify for subsidized care.

The coronavirus made things worse. Operating costs to keep up with safety protocols increased, while providers lost income as families unenrolled. According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, 77 percent of programs in California experienced loss of income from families in 2020.

Thousands of providers in the state have been forced to close and say they cannot reopen without financial assistance from the government. President Joe Biden has pledged billions to stabilize the childcare industry.

Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents classified school employees including cafeteria workers and custodians, plans to propose this week that Los Angeles Unified offer all employees, including teachers, a child care stipend, according to Blanca Gallegos, a spokesperson for the union.

Gallegos said calls for more state and federal funding for childcare will continue, as California starts to reopen.

“Childcare is critical and essential for people to go back to work and for the state to recover,” Gallegos said. “Childcare is necessary.”

All eyes are on Georgia. Again.

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ATLANTA — When Joe Biden launched his presidential campaign, he dubbed it the “battle for the soul of the nation.” Locals argue that battle is being waged in Georgia as the rest of the country looks on.

Democrats now control all of Washington, after Biden won Georgia and both Senate seats here flipped in January. But Republicans still run all the levers of state government here, and they’re rallying behind a sweeping new election law that could tilt the political pendulum back in their column in 2022, when nine statewide executive offices and a high-profile Senate race will be on the ballot.

SB 202, signed into law by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp in late March, is either the epitome of voter suppression or the embodiment of election integrity — depending on whom you ask. Biden decried the law as “Jim Crow in the 21st century,” though the final product didn’t restrict voting as much as some of the headline-grabbing early legislative proposals.

The clash over SB 202 is thrusting Georgia back into the national spotlight after a tumultuous year: Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was killed by white vigilantes. Rayshard Brooks, another Black man, was shot to death by police. Former President Donald Trump pressured local election officials to overturn his loss here. Then there was the March massacre targeting Asian Americans, and, less than two weeks ago, the arrest of a Black state legislator protesting the new law under the gold dome of Georgia’s state capitol.

The fight over the future of elections in Georgia — and, some say, the soul of the nation — is playing out on multiple fronts, materializing as not only a political battle but also a legal battle, a legislative battle and a moral battle. And now, as businesses from Coke to Delta condemn the law, and Republicans threaten to retaliate by zapping their tax breaks, it’s become a corporate battle, too.

On Friday, the sports world got involved, when Major League Baseball pulled its All-Star game and the draft out of the state. But not everyone, including Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, agrees that boycotts are the answer.

What’s happening here is being duplicated across the country — Georgia is among the 47 states where legislators have introduced more than 360 restrictive voting bills, according to a tally by the Brennan Center for Justice — and elected officials and voters across the country are paying attention.

“We are the test once again for what happens and where this leads us down the road,” said Khadijah Abdur-Rahman, a Democratic Fulton County commissioner.

‘Mad, angry as hell’

Abdur-Rahman represents the largest district, land-wise, in the county. Her constituents run the gamut from working class, single-parent households and people who need affordable housing assistance, to upper-middle-class Black families. It’s a heavily Democratic district, but Republicans comprise about 15 percent of it, including a sprinkling of Black Republicans who the commissioner says believe the law is unnecessary.

On a Sunday afternoon, Abdur-Rahman sat in her downtown Atlanta office, talking to a reporter. On the coat rack hung a pair of purple boxing gloves, a reminder to Abdur-Rahman to never stop fighting for her constituents.

The day before, she was putting that principle to work, rallying outside City Hall, where the top row of steps was barricaded by the Atlanta Police.

Dozens of people were in attendance, wearing face masks and carrying signs that read “Jim Crow 2.0” and “Stop voter suppression,” a mix of white, Black and brown protesters. There were young adults and those with silver hair, including an elderly white woman in a wheelchair holding a lengthy sign highlighting the number of Republican state senators (34) and representatives (100) who “voted for white supremacy & fascism.”

A DJ set up shop while a seemingly endless roster of speakers let loose for more than two hours.

It was a rally, yes, but it also felt like a combination of church, a protest and a concert. Protesters chanted, “You about to lose yo’ job,” a pointed message to Kemp, who is up for reelection next year.

Abdur-Rahman took to the stage in the opening minutes of the rally.

“I can go to the ATM machine and use my card after hours, but I gotta vote between banker hours?” she shouted into the microphone. “It doesn’t make any sense. So what I say to you is, ‘I’m mad, I’m angry as hell, and we are coming together!’”

‘It’s just trying to make Republicans look bad’

At a barbecue joint in northeast Atlanta, two older white men sat at a table talking about Covid-19, China and congressional Democrats’ sweeping election reform bill. People would illegally vote 20 times if voter ID requirements weren’t in place, one of the men said, as his companion nodded in agreement.

But when approached by a reporter, their conversation ended abruptly, and they high-tailed it out of the restaurant.

Across the country, Republicans’ views on voting have shifted dramatically. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 48 percent of Republicans said everything possible should be done to make it easy to vote. But a new Pew Research Center survey published last week found that just 28 percent of Republicans felt that way. And more than 6 in 10 Republicans also said changing election rules to make it easier to register and vote would make elections less secure.

Republicans here say election integrity is a top concern for their constituents in Georgia.

“My constituents wanted it. They did. I hope that helps. Thank you,” sputtered state Rep. Mike Cheokas, a Republican, before hanging up the phone.

Others argue Democrats are stirring the pot to rally their own voters and score political points.

“Nobody’s stopping any Blacks [from voting]. Nobody’s stopping Black churches [from doing Souls to the Polls events],” Kathleen Thorman, chair of the Gordon County Republican Party, told POLITICO.

“Everybody wants everyone to vote that’s a registered voter, that’s a legal voter,” she said. “This attack has no merit. It’s ludicrous. It’s just trying to make Republicans look bad.”

We didn’t get everything that we wanted’

Democrats who weren’t in the trenches here wrote off Georgia a long time ago. They didn’t see the state as being anywhere within striking distance for them. But after Democrats swept the presidential election and two Senate runoffs, the state has become the center of the political universe in the U.S.

“This is who Georgia is, and we’re gonna continue to push forward and bring the rest of the country along with us,” said Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), who represents the late John Lewis’ district in Congress and became the first Black woman elected to lead the state Democratic Party in 2019.

But now, Georgia Democrats’ biggest crusade is against SB 202, which will, among other things, reduce the time frame in which voters can request absentee ballots, requires an ID number or photocopy of an ID to request and return ballots, shortens the runoff period (which subsequently shortens the early voting window) — and prohibits anyone but poll workers from distributing water to voters waiting in line. The law, dubbed the “Election Integrity Act of 2021,” would also give the Republican-controlled state legislature more authority over the State Election Board.

Kemp quickly signed the bill into law on March 25 behind closed doors, flanked by six white men posed next to a portrait of a slave plantation. That image did not go unnoticed.

“It’s certainly symbolic of what he did, trying to take us back to those times on the plantation by signing that legislation,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said in an interview. “That’s representational of the Old South. The New South was represented on Nov. 3 and Jan. 5, when we elected President Biden in Georgia and when we elected two United States senators. … The New South will not be defeated.”

Tensions were further inflamed when Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon, a Black woman, was arrested by white law enforcement officers after knocking on Kemp’s door during the signing.

The entire episode is further galvanizing Black women across the state who have played key roles for years as organizers. In interviews, Black women here argue Republicans backed SB 202 because the state’s younger, increasingly diverse demographic makeup is threatening their hold on power. But rather than change the Republican Party’s policies to attract a diverse coalition of voters, they said, Republicans simply changed the rules under the guise of election integrity.

At the rally outside City Hall, Karli Swift, a Black woman with braids, glasses and a gray shirt emblazoned with Stacey Abrams’ face held aloft a poster with a message printed in big, bold, black letters: “F*ck around & find out — GA Black women,” it read in all-caps. A photo of her poster later went viral.

A couple days later, at a table inside a Black-owned, members-only club called The Gathering Spot, Swift, a corporate lawyer who has worked for Democratic campaigns in the past, talked about what prompted her to show up that day.

“I was mad, tired,” Swift recalled. “It’s a sentiment that I think a lot of Georgians feel. Not even just Georgians.”

Georgia Republicans, she said, “passed a law that’s terrible. At the end of the day, it’s not going to help them get more voters, either, and then they have lit a fire under Democrats in Georgia. It’s like a lose-lose situation. I don’t know what they were thinking.”

You’re not capable of getting out to vote’

Republicans, for their part, insist the previous system was ripe for fraud and lament that the new law doesn’t go far enough. (Election officials have said there is no evidence that fraud occurred in the presidential race or Senate runoffs.)

“We didn’t get everything that we wanted, but it’s a really good start,” Jason Thompson, a Republican national committeeman from Georgia, said in an interview. “The trust in our elections system in Georgia was really at an all-time low.”

Kerry Luedke, the chair of the Cherokee County Republican Party, wrote in an email that her party was planning on sending thank-you notes to legislators who supported the bill, along with having a rally and social media campaign “to explain the facts of the legislation.”

“If I was somebody living in the Black community, I would be so insulted that people are basically telling me that I’m not capable of getting out to vote, and I’m not capable of getting an ID to vote. I would be so insulted,” said Thorman, the Gordon County GOP chair.

“[Democrats are] saying: ‘You’re not smart enough, you’re not sharp enough, you’re not capable of getting out to vote,’” Thorman added.

Voting laws have animated voters on both sides of the aisle, albeit for very different reasons. Democrats commend Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, for standing up to Trump’s attempts to overturn his election loss — but say he’s since caved to members of his party. On the other hand, he’s fallen deeply out of favor with conservatives.

“There’s no way in hell I’d ever vote for him again,” said Pamela Reardon, the co-founder and vice president of Metro Atlanta Republicans. Of Republican Geoff Duncan, she added: “I like to say, ‘Duncan is done.’ He is the lieutenant governor. He’s done.”

Democracy is good for business’

It’s unclear what, if any, legal action the Biden administration will take. Biden has said that protecting voting rights was something the Justice Department was examining.

When pressed for more information, the White House referred questions to the DOJ. “We are aware of the law, but [have] no further comment,” a DOJ spokesperson told POLITICO.

Meanwhile, Democrats and voting-rights groups have filed at least three separate lawsuits in federal court, and congressional Democrats are vowing to continue pushing for passage of legislation to expand voting access and address hate crimes. But it’s not clear how the litigation will play out in court. And Congress is unlikely to pass sweeping voting rights legislation without Senate Democrats first nuking the filibuster to allow bills to pass with a simple majority.

Voting rights advocates say they will educate voters on the new law and help them obtain valid ID in case they’re forced to play by Republicans’ new rules in the 2022 midterms — when Kemp, Duncan, Raffensperger and Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock will all be on the ballot. And at the same time, activists are pressuring businesses headquartered in the state to come out against SB 202.

Cliff Albright, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, had a pointed message for the business community: “Democracy is good for business. Voter suppression is not.”

Republicans are threatening to pull the tax credits of corporations that speak out against the new law. But some major corporations are doing just that. In a memo to employees last week, Delta CEO Ed Bastian wrote that “the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.” Alfredo River, president of Coca-Cola’s North America operating unit, in a statement issued by the company, vowed to “continue to work to advance voting rights and access in Georgia and across the country” and acknowledged the company’s “responsibility to protect” and “promote” the right to vote.

Some activists are pushing for a boycott of the state, which has been transformed by the entertainment industry in recent years. But others, from Ossoff to film mogul Tyler Perry, are insisting that a boycott will only hurt Georgians. On Wednesday, Abrams, the former state House minority leader and 2018 gubernatorial candidate who’s almost certain to seek a rematch with Kemp next year, released a video, asking outsiders not to boycott the state.

“Black, Latino, AAPI and Native American voters whose votes are the most suppressed under SB 202, are also the most likely the most to be hurt by potential boycotts in Georgia,” she said in the video. “For our friends across the country, please do not boycott us.”

And on Friday, after news broke that the baseball commissioner was pulling the All-Star Game out of Georgia, Abrams tweeted, “Disappointed @MLB will move the All-Star Game, but proud of their stance on voting rights.”

‘We are incredibly exhausted’

State Sen. Sheikh Rahman, a Democrat and an immigrant from Bangladesh, represents the most diverse district in the state Senate. His tenure represents many firsts, including the first Asian American state senator, first immigrant state senator and first Muslim legislator in the state.

Rahman said Republicans are scared of people like him. SB 202, he predicted, would “backfire” because Asian American and Pacific Islander voters are “not gonna stay on the sideline.”

Over the final weekend in March, on a cool, gloomy day, local and federal lawmakers — Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Al Green (D-Texas) and Andy Kim (D-N.J.) from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and local Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.) and Williams — took a bus trip mirroring the 27-mile path the alleged shooter, a white man, took to attack three Asian American spas. The suspect killed eight people, including six Asian women. Local law enforcement has not called the killing spree a hate crime.

Elected officials laid fresh flowers outside Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa, which sit across the street from each other in Atlanta. The entrance to Gold Spa was overwhelmed with withered flowers. Soggy signs read “Hate is a virus,” and “Stop Asian Hate.”

“For those of us living in Georgia, we’ve been in the spotlight the last year, and we are incredibly exhausted,” state Rep. Bee Nguyen, a Democrat, told POLITICO.

“But all the things that are happening — the voter suppression bill, this shooting and the way that there were attempts to censor the perpetrator and dehumanize the victims, the arrest of Rep. Park Cannon,” Nguyen said, “we are going to remember those things.”

“We are going to use our power to make change,” she continued. “And that change includes going to the ballot box.”

Last Sunday, a similar message seeped into Warnock’s virtual sermon. The freshman senator, who still holds his position as the senior pastor of the famed Ebenezer Baptist Church, stood in the empty sanctuary, preaching about a “governor” in the Bible who was confronted with a decision but failed to listen to a woman about which choice to make.

He never mentioned Kemp’s name, but as he spoke, a photo of the governor signing SB 202 and a video of Cannon’s arrest flashed across the screen.

Warnock told congregants he was talking about politics on a Sunday morning “because your vote is your voice,” and “democracy is the political enactment of a spiritual idea that all of us are children of the living God.”

Voter suppression “is not just a political issue,” Warnock said. “That’s a spiritual issue. That’s a moral issue.”

Zach Montellaro reported from Washington. Josh Gerstein and Sam Mintz contributed to this report.