Hajj, The Journey of a Lifetime- Fri August 9-11th

From Wikipedia

The Hajj (/hæ/;[1] Arabic: حَجّḤaǧǧpilgrimage“) is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia,[2] the holiest city for Muslims, and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence.[3][4][5]

THE HAJJ

The literal meaning of the word Hajj is heading to a place for the sake of visiting. In Islamic terminology, Hajj is a pilgrimage made to Kaaba, the “House of God”, in the sacred city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The rites of Hajj are performed over five or six days, beginning on the eighth and ending on the thirteenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar.[6] It is one of the five pillars of Islam, alongside Shahadah, Salah, Zakat and Sawm. The Hajj is the second largest annual gathering of Muslims in the world, after the Arba’een Pilgrimage in Karbala, Iraq.[7] The state of being physically and financially capable of performing the Hajj is called istita’ah, and a Muslim who fulfils this condition is called a mustati. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God (Allah).[8][9] The word Hajj means “to attend a journey”, which connotes both the outward act of a journey and the inward act of intentions.[10]

The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th (or in some cases 13th[11]) of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar and the Islamic year is about eleven days shorter than the Gregorian year, the Gregorian date of Hajj changes from year to year. Ihram is the name given to the special spiritual state in which pilgrims wear two white sheets of seamless cloth and abstain from certain actions.[8][12][13]

The Hajj (sometimes spelt Hadj, Hadji or Haj also in English) is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Abraham. During Hajj, pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba (the cube-shaped building and the direction of prayer for the Muslims), runs back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, spends a night in the plain of Muzdalifa, and performs symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing stones at three pillars. After the sacrifice of their animal, the Pilgrims then are required to shave their head. Then they celebrate the three-day global festival of Eid al-Adha.[14][15][16][17]

Pilgrims can also go to Mecca to perform the rituals at other times of the year. This is sometimes called the “lesser pilgrimage”, or Umrah (Arabic: عُمرَة‎).[18] However, even if they choose to perform the Umrah, they are still obligated to perform the Hajj at some other point in their lifetime if they have the means to do so, because Umrah is not a substitute for Hajj.[19]

In 2017, the number of pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj was officially reported as 1,752,014 and 600,108 Saudi Arabian residents bringing the total number of pilgrims to 2,352,122.[20]

Etymology

The word in Arabic: حج[ħædʒ, ħæɡ] comes from the Hebrew: חגḥag [χaɡ], which means “holiday“, from the triliteral Semitic root ח-ג-ג. The meaning of the verb is “to circle, to go around”.[21][22] Judaism uses circumambulation in the Hakafot ritual during Hoshanah Rabbah at the end of the Festival of Sukkot and on Simchat Torah; traditionally, Jewish brides circumambulate their grooms during the wedding ceremony under the chuppah. From this custom, the root was borrowed for the familiar meaning of holiday, celebration and festivity. In the Temple, every festival would bring a sacrificial feast. Similarly in Islam, the person who commits the Hajj to Mecca has to turn around the Kaaba and to offer sacrifices.[23]

History

The present pattern of Hajj was established by Muhammad.[24] However, according to the Quran, elements of Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham. According to Islamic tradition, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife Hajara and his son Ishmael alone in the desert of ancient Mecca. In search of water, Hajara desperately ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah but found none. Returning in despair to Ishmael, she saw the baby scratching the ground with his leg and a water fountain sprang forth underneath his foot.[25] Later, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba (which he did with the help of Ishmael) and to invite people to perform pilgrimage there.[26] The Quran refers to these incidents in verses 2:124–127 and 22:27–30.[n 1] It is said that the archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from Heaven to be attached to the Kaaba.[26]

In pre-Islamic Arabia, a time known as jahiliyyah, the Kaaba became surrounded by pagan idols.[27] In 630 CE, Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca, cleansed the Kaaba by destroying all the pagan idols, and then reconsecrated the building to Allah.[28] In 632 CE, Muhammad performed his only and last pilgrimage with a large number of followers, and instructed them on the rites of Hajj.[29] It was from this point that Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam.

During the medieval times, pilgrims would gather in big cities of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq to go to Mecca in groups and caravans comprising tens of thousands of pilgrims,[30] often under state patronage.[31] Hajj caravans, particularly with the advent of the Mamluk Sultanate and its successor, the Ottoman Empire, were escorted by a military force accompanied by physicians under the command of an amir al-hajj.[32][33] This was done in order to protect the caravan from Bedouin robbers or natural hazards,[n 2][32][33] and to ensure that the pilgrims were supplied with the necessary provisions.[32] Muslim travelers like Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Battuta have recorded detailed accounts of Hajj-travels of medieval time.[34] The caravans followed well-established routes called in Arabic darb al-hajj, lit. “pilgrimage road”, which usually followed ancient routes such as the King’s Highway.

Timing of Hajj

The date of Hajj is determined by the Islamic calendar (known as Hijri calendar or AH), which is based on the lunar year.[35][36] Every year, the events of Hajj take place in a ten day period, starting on 1 and ending on 10 Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth and last month of the Islamic calendar. Among these ten days, the 9th Dhul-Hijjah is known as Day of Arafah, and this day is called the day of Hajj. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar and the Islamic year is about eleven days shorter than the Gregorian year, the Gregorian date for Hajj changes from year to year. Thus, each year in the Gregorian calendar, the pilgrimage starts eleven days (sometimes ten days) .[36][37] This makes it possible for the Hajj season to fall twice in one Gregorian year, and it does so every 33 years. The last time this phenomenon occurred was 2006.[38]

Rites

Artwork showing locations and rites of Hajj

Fiqh literature describes in detail the manners of carrying out the rites of Hajj, and pilgrims generally follow handbooks and expert guides to successfully fulfill the requirements of Hajj.[48] In performing the rites of Hajj, the pilgrims not only follow the model of Muhammad, but also commemorate the events associated with Abraham.[49]

Ihram

When the pilgrims reach the appropriate Miqat (depending on where they’re coming from), they enter into a state of holiness – known as Ihram – that consists of wearing two white seamless cloths for the male, with the one wrapped around the waist reaching below the knee and the other draped over the left shoulder and tied at the right side; wearing ordinary dress for the female that fulfills the Islamic condition of public dress with hands and face uncovered;[50][page needed] taking ablution; declaring the intention (niyah) to perform pilgrimage and to refraining from certain activities such as clipping the nails, shaving any part of the body, having sexual relations; using perfumes, damaging plants, killing animals, covering head (for men) or the face and hands (for women); getting married; or carrying weapons.[8][12] The ihram is meant to show equality of all pilgrims in front of God: there is no difference between the rich and the poor.[49]

Donning such unsewn white garments entirely distances man from material ostentation and engrosses him in a world of purity and spirituality. Clothes show individuality and distinction. They create superficial barriers that separate man from man. The garments of Ihram, however, are the antithesis of that individualism. You join a mass and become nothing but a drop of water in an ocean that has no special identity of its own. Ihram clothing is also a reminder of shrouds which every human has to wear after death. This helps you assume your original shape as a man, just one of the “descendants of Adam” who will die one day.[51]

First day of Hajj: 8th Dhu al-Hijjah

On the 8th Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims are reminded of their duties. They again don the ihram garments and confirm their intention to make the pilgrimage. The prohibitions of ihram start now.

Tarwiyah Day

The 8th day of Dhu al-Hijjah coincides with the Tarwiyah Day. The name of Tarwiyah refers to a narration of Ja’far al-Sadiq. He described the reason that there was any water at Mount Arafat in the 8th day of Dhu al-Hijjah. If pilgrims wanted to stay at Arafat, he would have prepared water from Mecca and carried it by themselves to there. So they told each other drink enough. Finally, this day called Tarwiyah [52] that means to quench thirst in the Arabic language.[53] The Tarwiyah Day is the first day of Hajj ritual. Also at this day, Husayn ibn Ali began to go to Karbala from Mecca.[54] Muhammad prophet nominated to Tarwiyah Day as one of the four chosen days.[53]

Tawaf and sa’ay

Direction of the Tawaf around the Kaaba

The ritual of Tawaf involves walking seven times counterclockwise around the Kaaba.[55] Upon arriving at Al-Masjid Al-Ḥarām (Arabic: المَسجِد الحَرَام‎, The Sacred Mosque), pilgrims perform an arrival tawaf either as part of Umrah or as a welcome tawaf.[56] During tawaf, pilgrims also include Hateem – an area at the north side of the Kaaba – inside their path. Each circuit starts with the kissing or touching of the Black Stone (Hajar al- Aswad).[57] If kissing the stone is not possible because of the crowds, they may simply point towards the stone with their hand on each circuit. Eating is not permitted but the drinking of water is allowed, because of the risk of dehydration. Men are encouraged to perform the first three circuits at a hurried pace, known as Ramal, and the following four at a more leisurely pace.[50][page needed][57]

The completion of Tawaf is followed by two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqam Ibrahim), a site near the Kaaba inside the mosque.[57][58] However, again because of large crowds during the days of Hajj, they may instead pray anywhere in the mosque. After prayer, pilgrims also drink water from the Zamzam well, which is made available in coolers throughout the Mosque.[59]

Although the circuits around the Kaaba are traditionally done on the ground level, Tawaf is now also performed on the first floor and roof of the mosque because of the large crowds.

This rite is actually the manifestation of Tawhid, the Oneness of God. The heart and soul of the pilgrim should move around Kaaba, the symbol of the House of Allah, in a way that no worldly attraction distracts him from this path. Only Tawhid should attract him. Tawaf also represents Muslims’ unity. During Tawaf, everyone encircles Kaaba collectively.[51]

Tawaf is followed by sa’ay, running or walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, located near the Kaaba.[55][58] Previously in open air, the place is now entirely enclosed by the Sacred Mosque, and can be accessed via air-conditioned tunnels.[60] Pilgrims are advised to walk the circuit, though two green pillars mark a short section of the path where they run. There is also an internal “express lane” for the disabled. After sayee, the male pilgrims shave their heads and women generally clip a portion of their hair, which completes the Umrah.

Mina

Pilgrims wearing ihram on the plains of Arafat on the day of Hajj

Mount Arafat during Hajj

After the morning prayer on the 8th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims proceed to Mina where they spend the whole day and offer noon, afternoon, evening, and night prayers.[61] The next morning after morning prayer, they leave Mina to go to Arafat.

Second day: 9th Dhu al-Hijjah

The 9th Dhul-Hijjah is known as Day of Arafah, and this day is called the Day of Hajj.[45]

Arafat

On 9th Dhu al-Hijjah before noon, pilgrims arrive at Arafat, a barren and plain land some 20 kilometers east of Mecca,[62] where they stand in contemplative vigil: they offer supplications, repent on and atone for their past sins, and seek mercy of God, and listen to sermon from the Islamic scholars who deliver it from near Jabal al-Rahmah (The Mount of Mercy)[61] from where Muhammad is said to have delivered his last sermon. Lasting from noon through sunset,[62] this is known as ‘standing before God’ (wuquf), one of the most significant rites of Hajj.[8] At Masjid al-Namirah, pilgrims offer noon and afternoon prayers together at noon time.[61] A pilgrim’s Hajj is considered invalid if they do not spend the afternoon on Arafat.[15][62]

Muzdalifah

A scenery of Muzdalifa

Pilgrims must leave Arafat for Muzdalifah after sunset without praying maghrib (sunset) prayer at Arafat.[63] Muzdalifah is an area between Arafat and Mina. Upon reaching there, pilgrims perform Maghrib and Isha prayer jointly, spend the night praying and sleeping on the ground with open sky, and gather pebbles for the next day’s ritual of the stoning of the Devil (Shaitan).[64]

Third day: 10th Dhu al-Hijjah

After returning from Muzdalifah, the Pilgrims spend the night at Mina.

Ramy al-Jamarat

Pilgrims performing Stoning of the devil ceremony at 2006 Hajj

Back at Mina, the pilgrims perform symbolic stoning of the devil (Ramy al-Jamarat) by throwing seven stones from sunrise to sunset at only the largest of the three pillars, known as Jamrat al-Aqabah.[15][65] The remaining two pillars (jamarah) are not stoned on this day.[66] These pillars are said to represent Satan.[67] Pilgrims climb ramps to the multi-levelled Jamaraat Bridge, from which they can throw their pebbles at the jamarat. Because of safety reasons, in 2004 the pillars were replaced by long walls, with catch basins below to collect the pebbles.[68][69]

Animal sacrifice

After the casting of stones, animals are slaughtered to commemorate the story of Ibrahim and Ismael. Traditionally the pilgrims slaughtered the animal themselves, or oversaw the slaughtering. Today many pilgrims buy a sacrifice voucher in Mecca before the greater Hajj begins, which allows an animal to be slaughtered in the name of God (Allah) on the 10th, without the pilgrim being physically present. Modern abattoirs complete the processing of the meat, which is then sent as charity to poor people around the world.[15][60] At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Mecca, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a three-day global festival called Eid al-Adha.[16]

Hair removal

After sacrificing an animal, another important rite of Hajj is shaving head or trimming hair (known as Halak). All male pilgrims shave their head or trim their hair on the day of Eid al Adha and women pilgrims cut the tips of their hair.[70][71][72]

Tawaf Ziyarat

Pilgrims performing Tawaf around the Kaaba

On the same or the following day, the pilgrims re-visit the Sacred Mosque in Mecca for another tawaf, known as Tawaf al-Ifadah, an essential part of Hajj.[71] It symbolizes being in a hurry to respond to God and show love for Him, an obligatory part of the Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent back at Mina.

Fourth day: 11th Dhu al-Hijjah

Starting from noon to sunset on the 11 Dhu al-Hijjah (and again the following day), the pilgrims again throw seven pebbles at each of the three pillars in Mina. This is commonly known as the “Stoning of the Devil”.[65]

Fifth day: 12th Dhu al-Hijjah

On 12 Dhu al-Hijjah, the same process of stoning of the pillars as of 11 Dhu al-Hijjah takes place.[65] Pilgrims may leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th.

Last day at Mina: 13th Dhu al-Hijjah

If unable to leave on the 12th before sunset or opt to stay at free will, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.[65]

Tawaf al-Wadaa

Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims perform a farewell tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wadaa. ‘Wadaa’ means ‘to bid farewell’. The pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times counter-clockwise, and if they can, attempt to touch or kiss the Kaaba.[15]

Join Us on The Journey to Freedom…Help us feed the Needy

The Masjid Bilal Food Bank has operated for more than 20 years under the direction of Dr. James H. Rasheed . Residents from all over the Richmond Churchill community receive grocery items including produce, meats, baked goods and canned goods. Feeding more than 1000 people monthly, the program has been the recipient of numerous community awards. The Masjid Bilal Food Bank, one of the principal ministries of the Muslim American Community RVA , works in collaboration with the Central Virginia Foodbank.

Future plans include merging this project into a Job Readiness, Financial/Computer Literacy Initiative, Restoration of Voter Rights and Integrated Family Visitation Services.

This initiative has relied upon the volunteer efforts of many Churchill residents working side by side with members of the muslim community. The program receives no grants and relies solely upon individual contributions.

This program which is vital to so many families is in jeopardy of closure due rising cost and a reduction in contributions. We need your help!

This past Ramadan, we launched the FREEDOM 10 Fundraiser for upgrading our refrigeration facilities with a Walk-In Freezer. .Our Goal is to raise 10,000 dollars by June 30, 2019. As of this August 1, we have successfully raised $8285.00. We are still in need of $1714 to reach our target. Please help us reach our goal by giving a generous  gift of $200 or more.

Become a sustaining supporter of this community program. Please give a generous tax-deductible one time or monthly contribution.

It’s Easy! Just click on the Link below.

http://www.paypal.com/donate/?token=tmcF2vYJqbyldMCyM4wB_OESXHsxUGL4Q8uK2ntO2cYSQWCS6ijTat_Nx6itmpbLWZz9W0&country.x=US&locale.x=US

We invite you to come by and see your dollars in action! The food bank operates the fourth weekend of each month, Fridays 2pm-4pm and Saturdays 9am –12 noon. To find out more about this initiative, contact James Rasheed at jhrasheed@aol.com.

Because of your donation, your elderly neighbors and children won’t have to go to bed hungry again.

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Black Women Create a Force Field of Support Around Ilhan Omar

From Angela Davis to Ayanna Pressley, Black women leaders rallied in DC in defense of Omar—and called on Democrats do the same.

By Rebecca Pierce/The NATION

On April 30, over 100 Black women activists gathered in Washington, DC, to support Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar in the face of Islamophobic incitement from the Trump White House. Rallying under the banner “Black Women In Defense of Ilhan,” organizers included Angela Davis, Barbara Ransby, Black Lives Matter co-founders, and participants from around the country. Together they called for Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats to censure President Trump for tweeting out a video of the 9/11 attacks, complete with flaming images of the Twin Towers, falsely accusing Omar of minimizing the attacks. The tweet was the latest incident in a cycle of incitement against Omar and spurred a spike in death threats targeting her.

Throughout the last few months, Omar has come repeatedly under fire for her comments criticizing America’s pro-Israel policies and the role of AIPAC in pushing US support of the occupation. She has also become a scapegoat for right wing commentators who have sought to turn her into a symbol of left-wing antisemitism, at a time when white nationalist violence against both Jewish and Muslim places of worship is on the rise.

The protest came as a moment of Black women’s unity in the face of Islamophobic misogynoir, with speakers such as Representative Ayanna Pressley contextualizing the attacks on Omar as part of a longstanding pattern of silencing of Black women’s voices. Speaking at the event, Omar described the attacks on herself as part of a broader context of white supremacy, including anti-Jewish violence like the attack on the Poway Synagogue, saying “We collectively must make sure that we are dismantling all systems of oppression.”

Ahead of the rally Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who helped organize the event but was unable to attend, spoke to The Nation about the critical significance of Black women showing up to support Ilhan Omar.

Rebecca Pierce: What are the goals you set out to accomplish with this event, and why were these demands so important?

Patrisse Cullors: I think one of the first things is that people need to understand that part of the mission of the Black Lives Matter Global Network is to protect Black women and girls, and that at the height of BLM we were labeled as terrorists and very few people came to our aid. Rep. Ilhan is an elected official, she was voted in. She has been treated terribly the entire time she has been in office by the right, and I think it is important that Black women stand up for her—and visibly stand up for her.

RP: Why do you think Ilhan is such a target not only for the far-right, but also some Democrats?

PC: It’s simple. She’s Black, she’s Muslim, she’s hijab-wearing. That is literally the image of fear that Trump has invoked in order to win over his base. She is a scapegoat for him and the right wing. I also think the Democratic Party doesn’t know what to do with her. They don’t know how to protect her, and they aren’t being the fierce advocates that we need them to be.

RP: One reason Ilhan has come under attack is her support for Palestinian rights, how does this fit into a larger context of attacks on Black leaders in solidarity with Palestine?

PC: I think there is a long history of Black people being in solidarity with Palestinian people. This isn’t in a vacuum. Rep. Ilhan’s support or my support or Marc Lamont Hill’s support or Angela Davis’s support [is part of] a long legacy of Black people and Palestinian people fighting for each other and being in solidarity with one another. And so, I think that the minute that Ilhan was open and transparent and not afraid to talk on behalf of Palestine, she really became a target of the right.

RP: Why is it so important to defend Palestine solidarity in Black organizing?

aPC: The first time I went to Palestine was in the winter of 2015 right after the Ferguson Uprising, and I was invited by the Dream Defenders delegation. I had studied a lot about Palestinian rights, I was not new to the issue of the Occupation, but nothing prepares you for that level of violence. For that level of, honestly, dissonance. Dissonance from Zionists in America. So, when I sat and had conversations with Palestinian people, especially Palestinian elders, one of the first things they said is “Black people and Palestinian people have a natural alliance.” I think part of that history, whether it was Malcolm X or other Black leaders that were thinking about self-determination, these are some of the themes that are at the intersections of Palestine and Black American people.

RP: Do you think that these kinds of coalitions are a threat to the status quo?

PC: Everybody knew you don’t talk about Palestine, especially in social justice spaces. That if you agreed with that you kind of kept it to yourself. I would say in the last five-to-seven years we have seen a significant shift when it comes to the cultural conversation about Palestine and Israel and that more and more young people, more and more white Jews, more and more folks of color are having a much more honest conversation about the occupation. That we don’t want our tax dollars going to Israel’s Apartheid country. So, we are in a position now, a cultural shift position, and I think Ilhan is in some ways the messenger of that.

RP: What do the attacks on Ilhan say about the fight against white supremacy in this moment where there is a threat not only on Black and brown people but also Jewish communities and other minorities?

PC: Ilhan has become the latest representation around how the right wing is establishing what is white nationalism. And I think for our movement, protecting Ilhan means we are fighting against white supremacy. We actually have to be better at that, at protecting her as a symbol really, at protecting the rights of Jewish people, at protecting the rights of communities of color, of women, of trans folks, of queer folks. This is that moment where we have the opportunity to really fight hard for everybody.

Rebecca PierceRebecca Pierce is a writer, activist, and documentary filmmaker. Her journalism has been featured in +972, Jewish Currents, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Nation, Mondoweiss, and Electronic Intifada.

 

For Democrats, a midterm election that keeps on giving

In the early hours of election night on Tuesday, a consensus began to take hold that the vaunted Democratic blue wave that had been talked about all year was failing to materialize. Now, with a handful of races still to be called, it’s clear that an anti-President Trump force hit the country with considerable, if uneven, strength.

Democrats appear poised to pick up between 35 and 40 seats in the House, once the last races are tallied, according to strategists in both parties. That would represent the biggest Democratic gain in the House since the post-Watergate election of 1974, when the party picked up 49 seats three months after Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency.

Republicans will gain seats in the Senate, but with races in Florida and Arizona still to be called, their pre-election majority of 51 seats will end up as low as 52 or as high as 54. Meanwhile, Democrats gained seven governorships, recouping in part losses sustained in 2010 and 2014, and picked up hundreds of state legislative seats, where they had suffered a virtual wipeout in the previous two midterm elections.

The Democrats’ gains this week are still far short of what Republicans accomplished in their historic victories of 1994 and 2010. But they would eclipse the number of seats Democrats gained in 2006, the last time the party recaptured control of the House, as well as the 26-seat gain in 1982, when the national unemployment rate was at 10 percent. This year, the election took place with the unemployment rate at just 3.7 percent.

Day by day, the outlook for Democrats in the House has improved. At the offices of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, already high spirits have been rising all week as more races fell into the party’s column. One joke that has been making the rounds there goes like this: “This is actually turning out to be more of a Hanukkah than a Christmas election,” meaning day after day of gifts, rather than just one.

This was always an election that would test the strength of the economy, which favored the president’s party, vs. the president’s low approval ratings, which, along with the record of past midterm elections, pointed to Democratic gains. In the end, history and presidential approval combined to give Democrats control of the House by what appears to be a comfortable margin.

The Democratic wave hit hardest in suburban districts, many of them traditional Republican territory, where college-educated voters — particularly women — dissatisfied with the president backed Democratic challengers. Ronald Brownstein of the Atlantic and CNN, who has closely tracked these changes over many elections, noted in a post-election article that, before the election, two-thirds of Republicans represented congressional districts where the percentage of the population with college degrees was below the national average. After the election, he estimated, more than three-quarters of GOP House members now will represent such districts.

Democrats flipped about two-thirds of the competitive districts won by both Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012 or by Clinton in 2016 and Mitt Romney in 2012. They also picked up one-third of districts won by Trump in 2016 and Obama in 2012. In districts where both Trump and Romney had won in the previous two elections, Democrats gained about a quarter of the competitive seats.

Also striking in House races was the number of narrow victory margins — on both sides. About 20 Democrats won or are leading in races where the margin is fewer than five percentage points, while about two dozen Republicans who won or are leading are in races with similarly small margins.

That indicates that the outcome in 2018 could have been substantially better for Democrats or significantly worse, had the political winds been blowing differently. It also foreshadows another fiercely contested election for the House in 2020.

The final outcome in the Senate races this year will also have a bearing on 2020. The difference between a majority of 54 seats or 52 seats would have a sizable impact on the odds of Democrats being able to win control two years from now.

Republicans expect to defend 22 seats up for election, compared with only 12 seats held by Democrats. These include the Colorado seat of Sen. Cory Gardner (R), the Maine seat of Sen. Susan Collins (R) and the Arizona seat now held by Sen. Jon Kyl (R). Senate Republicans Joni Ernst of Iowa and Thom Tillis of North Carolina are likely to face competitive races. Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama, who won a special election last year, also will face a serious challenge to hold his seat.

Beyond the tally of victories and defeats, the 2018 election was notable for the ways in which it deepened many of the divisions and shifts in allegiance that are changing the political landscape across the country. That carries implications for politics in 2020 and beyond.

Democratic strategists have been cheered by exit polls that show the underlying national demographic trends that drove their gains, particularly in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Voters under the age of 29 voted for Democrats over Republicans by 67 percent to 32 percent, a margin which beats the previous record in the 2008 presidential election. Latino voters matched their national 11 percent vote share from the higher-turnout 2016 election, with Democrats winning 69 percent of the Latino vote nationwide, slightly more than the 66 percent share when Trump was elected. Asian voters, who make up about 3 percent of the voting population, sided with Democrats by a margin of 77 percent to 23 percent.

“The emerging electorate, the one which will dominate U.S. politics for the next generation or two, supported Democrats in record numbers,” said Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist. “Democrats not only won the 2018 election handily, but won it in a way which should worry Republicans about 2020.”

Said Republican pollster Whit Ayres: “To me, the big story is that the 2018 midterm election reinforced and accelerated the patterns we saw in 2016. You had smaller, overwhelmingly white, rural counties become more deeply entrenched in the Republican Party, and suburban counties, particularly those with high proportions of well-educated voters, going exactly the opposite direction.”

New returns have been raising Republican concerns in western states. Chuck Coughlin, a Republican adviser to former Arizona governor Jan Brewer (R), said it was clear that Trump’s approach to immigration in the final weeks of the campaign did not have the nuance required for a state like Arizona, where immigrants play a central role in the economy.

“One thing is for certain, that the caravan rhetoric doesn’t resonate in this state as well as it resonates in the Midwest,” Coughlin said. “We have done a lot of research, and we have consistently shown that border security is a big issue, but the immigration reform side of that question is integral to the future of the state.”

Republicans in the state, however, have been hemmed in by Trump’s support among Republican primary voters, which forced Rep. Martha McSally, the Republican nominee for Senate, to tack to the right, particularly on immigration. “She didn’t ever modulate,” said Coughlin. “She didn’t create any separation.” Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic Senate nominee, now has a narrow lead in that race.

In neighboring Colorado, Democrats won every statewide race, picked up a House seat, took control of the state Senate, and swept most down-ballot races as well. “We are not Ohio, Michigan or the Midwest. The college-educated suburban voter — they don’t like Trump because of his behavior,” said Dick Wadhams, the former chairman of the state GOP.

In Nevada, Democrats picked up a Senate seat and the governorship and held on to two competitive House districts, in a sign of a continued shift left in what has been a closely contested state in most recent elections.

Democrats fell short in two other evolving Sun Belt states. In Texas, Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rouke lost the Senate race to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz but managed to win 48 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Democrats picked up two suburban congressional districts.

In Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams trails Republican Brian Kemp in the gubernatorial race, but the changing dynamics of voting patterns there worry some Republicans for future elections.

“When you have someone like Stacey Abrams carrying a major Atlanta suburban county like Gwinnett, like Hillary Clinton did, then the formula for Republican victories in Georgia has been completely upended,” Ayres said.

Other results point in a different direction, however, which offers some encouragement to Republicans beyond adding to their narrow Senate majority.

Ohio appears to be moving steadily away from the Democrats, largely because of cultural issues. Since 1994, Republicans have won nearly nine of every 10 statewide contests. The GOP’s victory in the open gubernatorial race on Tuesday was the latest blow for the Democrats, though Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown held his seat.

Democrats also failed to pick up the governorship in Iowa, though they gained two House seats. They struggled to make inroads in House races in Republican strongholds such as Kentucky, North Carolina and Nebraska.

Florida remains a top concern heading into the 2020 elections, when the state will probably play a crucial role in any path for Trump to win a second term. Contrary to the Latino vote elsewhere in the country, the Cuban, Puerto Rican and Central American populations in the Sunshine State split more evenly, as Gov. Rick Scott (R) mounted an aggressive outreach effort.

“The Democrats underestimated just how much Hispanic support Republicans were able to capitalize on in Florida,” said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster in Miami. “It’s about the margins.”

Of the 15 percent of voters in the state who were Latino, Scott was able to win 45 percent, according to exit polls, including a slight majority of Latino men. The Republican gubernatorial candidate, former congressman Ron DeSantis, was able to win 44 percent of Latino voters.

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Lebron James Launches “I Promise School” for at Risk Youth

Brian Windhorst/ESPN Senior Writer

The path of LeBron James‘ foundation has, in some ways, mirrored the path of his career.

Always a potential powerhouse because of James’ wealth and influence, the operation was somewhat unfocused early on. For example, for several years its major annual event — a city-wide bike-a-thon for kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio — ended up losing money and straining the city’s budget.

But as James was finding his footing as a superstar and a leader during his time in Miami, his foundation was doing the same back in Ohio, as it became focused specifically on at-risk children and their education. They’ve both been on a roll ever since.

Many times over the past decade, James has said, “I’m just a kid from Akron” and “I’m not supposed to be here, I’m supposed to be a statistic.” It can sound like a slogan, but to him, it isn’t. As is well known, he faced poverty, lack of stability and periods of homelessness when he was a child. His small family was directly impacted by drugs and violent crime, and things crashed down on him to the point that he’d stopped attending school regularly by the time he was in fourth grade.

The circumstances pointed toward James’ life not having a good outcome, on the verge of being lost before he knew where basketball could take him. These are the statistics he’s trying to fight with his money and ability to rally huge corporations and schools to a cause.

Over the past four years, as he played again for the Cleveland Cavaliers, James’ career became fully mature. It culminated in both the 2016 NBA championship, and this past season, when he played in every game and had one of the best playoff performances in NBA history as he pulled his underdog team to one more Finals appearance.

The same could be said for his foundation, which reaches a milestone more than a decade in the making on Monday when it launches its own school in coordination with the Akron Public Schools. It will eventually draw hundreds of at-risk children, kids who are walking in the same shoes James was in at elementary school age. The new school has a longer school day and a longer school year, and its educators will be tasked with trying to overcome historic disadvantages the attendees face.

If the children follow the program the foundation has worked to mold, James has arranged for them to have free college tuition at the University of Akron. Along the way, the foundation has set up a program to also help the parents earn their high school diplomas and other continuing education.

It’s a brave experiment. Instead of disadvantaged children being mainstreamed, James’ school will group the at-risk students from across his hometown together to try to streamline the support system. If it works, James and his foundation’s leaders dream, it could change the way cities and school systems view these challenges. It could spread to other cities in Ohio that need help. And then, who knows?

The 2020 Census at Risk and What’s at Stake

By Jim Tankersley & Emily Baumgaertner    New York Times

WASHINGTON — The United States census is so much more than just a head count. It is a snapshot of America that determines how congressional seats are apportioned, how state and federal dollars are distributed, where businesses choose to ship products and where they build new stores. To do all that properly, the count needs to be accurate.

The Commerce Department’s decision to restore a citizenship question to the census beginning in 2020 is prompting concerns about curtailing participation and possibly undercounting people living in the United States, particularly immigrants and minority groups who are expressing discomfort with answering questions from census workers.

Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, acknowledged concerns about decreased response rates in a memorandum released on Monday night. But he said asking about citizenship would enhance the results by helping calculate the percentage of the population eligible to vote.

An undercount of the population would have far-reaching implications. It could skew the data that are used to determine how many congressional representatives each state gets and their representation in state legislatures and local government bodies. It would shape how billions of dollars a year are allocated, including for schools and hospitals. It would undermine the integrity of a wide variety of economic data and other statistics that businesses, researchers and policymakers depend on to make decisions, including the numbers that underpin the forecasts for Social Security beneficiaries.

Here are several of the commercial, political and research efforts that depend on accurate
census data:

Divvying up seats in Congress, state legislatures and more

The Constitution requires the government to enumerate the number of people living in the United States every 10 years, and to use that data to apportion the seats in Congress among the states. The calculation is based on total resident population — which means citizens and noncitizens alike — and it generally shifts power between the states once a decade, in line with population and migration trends.

States including Texas, Florida, Colorado and Oregon are projected to gain seats after the 2020 numbers are in. Illinois, Ohio, New York and West Virginia are among the states expected to lose seats. An undercount could shift those projections.

Lawmakers also use census data to draw congressional district boundaries within states, an often-controversial process that can help decide partisan control of the House. Census data also underpin state legislative districts and local boundaries like City Councils and school boards.

Handing out federal and state dollars

The federal government bases a large amount of its spending decisions on census data. Researchers concluded last year that in the 2015 fiscal year, 132 government programs used information from the census to determine how to allocate more than $675 billion, much of it for programs that serve lower-income families, including Head Start, Medicare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Pell grants for college and reduced-price school lunch programs. Highway spending is also apportioned according to census data.

Influencing business decisions

To sell products and services, companies large and small need good information on the location of potential customers and how much money they might have to spend. The census provides the highest-quality and most consistent information on such items, and businesses have come to depend on it to make critical choices.

Census data help companies decide where to locate distribution centers to best serve their customers, where to expand or locate new stores and where they have the best chance of seeing a high return on investment. That is why business groups have been particularly concerned about the integrity of that data.

“The 2020 census is used to help construct many other data products produced by the federal government,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute who writes frequently on the importance of census data for policymakers and the private sector.

“Some of those products are heavily used by businesses when determining where to open new stores and expand operations, or even what items to put on their shelves. This affects retail businesses, for sure, but businesses in many other sectors as well,” he added.

Planning for various health and wellness programs

Low response rates from any one demographic group would undermine the validity of various population-wide statistics and program planning.

Scientists use census data to understand the distribution of diseases and health concerns such as cancer and obesity across the United States population, including drilling down to race and ethnicity to identify health patterns across demographics. Public health officials then use the data to target their interventions in at-risk communities. Inaccurate census data could lead public health officials to invest in solving a problem that does not exist — or worse, to overlook one that does.

“It’s getting harder to conduct the census, due to a variety of factors, including increasing cultural & linguistic diversity, and distrust of the government,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an economist who directs the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “The addition of the citizenship question will make the enumerators’ jobs even harder by heightening privacy concerns and reducing participation among immigrants, who may fear the information will be used to harm them or their families.”

Gaming out Social Security

An undercount in the census could also impact forecasts about Social Security payouts, which are already increasing as a share of the federal government’s revenue.

When Congress plans for the costs of the country’s Social Security needs, lawmakers rely upon demographic projection about the population’s future: the number of children expected to be born, the number of people expected to die, and the number of people expected to immigrate. If baseline data regarding the current population are inaccurate, future projections could be skewed, causing financial challenges down the line.

‘People Who Are Different Are Not the Problem in America’

By James Lankford & Tim Scott/Politics-THE ATLANTIC
JAN 12, 2018

Two members of the U.S. Senate urge Americans to honor the legacy
of the Martin Luther King Jr. by engaging with others of different backgrounds.
This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day carries additional significance, as it marks the 50th anniversary of his tragic death. In April of 1968, King was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, at the hands of a ruthless murderer who was filled with hate and racism.One of the reasons we, as Americans and citizens around the world, remember King’s legacy is his call to freedom and racial unity through love and engagement for all people—a message he still shares with the world a half-century later. Love is the consistent theme throughout many of his writings and remarks: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend,” or “I have decided to stick with love … Hate is too great a burden to bear,” or “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.

Perhaps the words King wrote to fellow ministers while he was in the Birmingham Jail in 1963 are the most impactful: “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

King’s words still ring, but his work is not complete. Americans have come a long way since the 1960s, but the dream is not yet fully realized.After the 2016 police shootings in Dallas, Minnesota, and Louisiana, we challenged our constituents and people everywhere we went with a simple question, “Have you or your family ever invited a person or a family of another race to your home for dinner?”  We called it “Solution Sundays.”Sunday is a slower, yet significant day, for most Americans. So, we challenged each family to give one Sunday lunch or dinner for building relationships across race and ethnicity, to literally be part of the solution in America. Any other day of the week would work as well; the goal is for people to engage on a personal level in their own homes, to break down walls, to listen, and to build trust across communities. It is harder to stereotype people that you know.

When is the last time you or your family had dinner in your home with a person or family of another race?

We are convinced that we will never get all the issues about race on the table, until we get our feet under the same table and talk like friends. At its core, racial divisions are a heart issue, not a skin-color issue. Our children need to see their parents developing friendships around the dinner table with people who look different, so that the next generation can be different.

The same goes for civil discourse in America. The love and respect that King spoke about do not require absolute uniformity or watered-down viewpoints. They require respect for cultures and views that are different, and an understanding that people who are different are not the problem in America; they are our brothers and sisters in humanity.

Sadly, our cultural discourse often looks like hate trying to drive out hate, rather than allowing light and love to drive out hate.

Our national leaders should model this truth rather than just reflect the culture. Just take a glance at social media and cable news, and you’ll see disrespectful shouting and shaming that descends on our country and our children like a cold rain. In fact, you can test that theory by posting this op-ed to your social media account, and you will probably see what we’re talking about within minutes. This sort of rhetoric threatens our ability to weave together multiple communities together to form a single nation; it loses sight of the fact that all people are made in the image of God and have worth and human dignity.

After two centuries, we are making progress on race, but we seem to be rapidly losing our “melting pot” of ideas, respect, and acceptance. A trend has emerged that encourages people to listen only to people who are the same or share their values, philosophy, and ideas, then dismiss or belittle anyone who is different or disagrees, even if they only disagree on a few issues. A good burn is the new goal, rather than a good word. We still need the reminder that “love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

Let this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day be a time where we, as Americans, honor his memory and legacy by engaging neighbors who are different. If the national pendulum is ever going to swing, it will require role models in every community who don’t just call out for respectful engagement, but live it.

Worried about Russian Collusion? Gerrymandering & Voter Suppression are worst threats

From Electoralgeographies.web

 Gerrymandering / Congressional Redistricting

Manipulating congressional districts through gerrymandering  has become a pervasive problem in the United States since its utilization by Elbridge Gerry in 1812. The point of gerrymandering is to cram “all of [your opponents’] supporters into a small number of districts. This method allows the legislature to spread its own supporters over a larger number of districts” (Ingraham, 2014b).

The graph above shows data on 8 states’ gerrymander index scores. It is clear that these data, in general, indicate that states are becoming more gerrymandered over time.

North Carolina and Maryland are regarded as the most gerrymandered states in the United States.  North Carolina’s 12th district is one of the worst in the nation, stretching over 77 miles from Winston-Salem to Charlotte in a snake-like pattern. (below)

NorthCarolinas12thcongressionaldistrict

There are certainly regional and demographic factors at play in the more recent gerrymandering efforts, such as those that we saw in 2010. Republicans gained a majority of House seats and state legislatures that year, and as a result were in charge of districting after the 2010 census. Redistricting’s original intent (after the census every 10 years) was to provide fair representation for people in different states as their populations increased or decreased, but it has largely become a political tool dominated by  whomever controls the state’s legislature.

From the graph below, you can see that the South, and the East Coast in general, is becoming more gerrymandered than the rest of the United States. The darker reds represent states that are more gerrymandered on the index score, and the lighter colored states represent those that are less gerrymandered.Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 7.51.11 PM

Gerrymandering the Electoral College?

Republican victories and the subsequent Congressional districts established by Republicans in 2010  gave the party momentum to propose legislation regarding alterations to the electoral college. Their goal is to set up a congressional district system in their respective states, which would ultimately determine the outcome of the Presidential election through dividing electors amongst state districts.

over-timegerrymander

Nebraska and Maine already have a congressional district system in place, and Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia are all considering legislation (Henderson & Haines, 2013). Systems such as this in Ohio and Virginia, key swing states during the 2012 Presidential election, would have indicated a victory for Mitt Romney (Berman, 2012). But such law, if implemented, would also change presidential campaign strategies, and would generate and eliminate different battle-grounds.

Voter Suppression Laws 2014

Similar to gerrymandering, voter suppression laws are a way for political parties to gain an advantage through manipulation.  The 2014 midterms witnessed minority populations in the South, and other parts of the country being targeted by such legislation. A major issue at hand were voter ID laws. Many states introduced newly established ones this cycle. 11 states had new voter ID laws, which excludes states where these laws will be implemented in future elections-such as NC.imrsimrs

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 1.17.56 PM

21 states featured new voting laws more generally which included elimination of same day registration, elimination of out-of-precinct voting, limitation of early voting days, and longer wait times for criminals to regain their voting rights.

Research indicates that affected states “tend to have large black and Hispanic voter populations” (The Economist 2014). As an example, 1/3 of North Carolina’s African American voters utilized same day registration in 2012, a privilege which was eliminated in the state this cycle.  The portion of the Voting Rights Act which was struck down by the Supreme Court in a 2013 decision may be to blame for some of the problems in the South. Southern states are largely dominated by Republicans, and are no longer required to receive federal approval before changing legislation.

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