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North Carolina Republicans Are Trying to Keep Residents From Suing Hog Farms

Mother Jones

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Modern hog farms make pungent neighbors. In North Carolina’s hog-wild Duplin county, an average-sized operation holds more than 7,000 pigs, each generating about 10 times the fecal waste of a person. This massive manure gusher falls through slats and is shunted into open cesspools, known, rather delicately, as “lagoons.” When the pits reach capacity, the untreated fecal slurry is sprayed onto nearby farmland as fertilizer.

A recent analysis of satellite data by Environmental Working Group found that around 160,000 North Carolinians, representing more than 60,000 households, live within a half mile of a CAFO or a manure pit. In Duplin County alone, more than 12,000 people—about a fifth of the county’s population—live within sniffing distance of one of these fragrant facilities, EWG found. A growing body of research, summarized here, shows that these operations “pollute local ground and surface water,” and “routinely emit air pollutants that negatively impact the quality of life and health of nearby residents.” High levels of the air-borne toxins hydrogen sulfide and ammonia can trigger eye irritation, difficulty breathing, and feelings of stress and anxiety, research shows.

The NC legislature is working to stick it to the very people who live under these conditions. Bills are pending in the state House and Senate that would severely limit the amount money that can be awarded in lawsuits by property owners who live near “agricultural or forestry operations.” If the bills pass, people who live near CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) will be barred from suing hog growers for making it deeply unpleasant and even dangerous to hang out outside, open their windows, hand their clothes out to dry, etc.

The legislation amounts to a move to protect the state’s powerful hog interests and maintain a classic example of environmental injustice, says Naeema Muhammad, organizing co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. She calls the push to limit these nuisance lawsuits a “direct attack on people’s Constitutional rights.” She points to a 2014 paper by University of North Carolina researchers finding that North Carolina’s hog CAFOs “disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents.”

As the late University of North Carolina researcher Steve Wing has demonstrated, the operations are tightly clustered in a few counties on the coastal plain—the very part of the state that housed the most enslaved people prior to the Civil War. In the decades since, the region has retained the state’s densest population of rural African-American residents—and starting in the early 1980s, experienced a massive CAFO boom. In Duplin County alone, hog CAFOs now churn out 2.3 million million hogs annually—more than 30 for every one of the county’s 60,000 residents, and more than were raised in the entire state as recently as 1982.

The bills’ sponsors openly seek to protect a company called Murphy-Brown from about two dozen pending lawsuits by filed by people who live near hig facilities. Murphy-Brown is the hog-raising subsidiary of pork-processing giant Smithfield, now owned by the Chinese state-owned firm WH Holdings, which calls Smithfield the “largest port company in the world.” As originally written, House Bill 467 would have applied even to those pending suits. Republican state Rep. Jimmy Dixon, the retired hog farmer who sponsored the House bill, called complaints about the operations “at best exaggerations and at worst outright lies,” and accused plaintiffs of “being prostituted for money” by opportunistic lawyers, The Raleigh News and Observer reports.

According to an analysis of campaign-finance records by the Durham-based weekly IndyWeek, “over the course of his career Dixon has received more than $115,000 from Big Pork,” including $36,250 from “donors associated with Murphy-Brown, the company facing more than two dozen federal lawsuits that this legislation would effectively negate.”

In a 2014 Mother Jones piece on the origin of those suits, Bridget Huber reported from the ground:

“It’s like being held prisoner,” says Elsie Herring, a Middleton and Speer client from Wallace, North Carolina in Duplin County, who has been dealing with hog stench for years. The odor means her family can no longer enjoy sitting on the porch, having cookouts, or even hanging laundry on the line. “We were here before the pork industry even came in here, so what about our rights?” she asks. “It’s as if we have none.”

Earlier this month, Dixon’s bill passed the NC House—but with an amendment exempting pending lawsuits from the restrictions on damages. Its companion bill, SB 460, remains under consideration by the NC Senate, and it still contains the provision that would essentially nullify existing lawsuits. North Carolina Environmental Justice Network’s Muhammad says it’s anyone’s guess whether the legislation will make into law. After all, this is a state that recently repealed one odious “bathroom bill” under pressure, only to replace it with “new legislation that LGBT rights advocates say is just as bad,” as Mother Jones’ Ashley Dejean recently reported. “We’re in a fix here in North Carolina,” Muhammad told me. “It’s just one bad thing coming from the legislature after another.”

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North Carolina Republicans Are Trying to Keep Residents From Suing Hog Farms

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LAPD Adopts New Policy: De-Escalate First, Shoot Later

Mother Jones

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This is from the LA Times yesterday:

The Los Angeles Police Commission voted Tuesday to require officers to try, whenever possible, to defuse tense encounters before firing their guns — a policy shift that marks a significant milestone in the board’s attempts to curb shootings by police.

Wait. This is new? This hasn’t always been LAPD policy? Apparently not, and apparently not much of anywhere else, either:

As criticism of policing flared across the country, particularly after deadly shootings by officers, law enforcement agencies looked to de-escalation as a way to help restore public trust. Like the LAPD, other departments have emphasized the approach in training and policies.

The Seattle Police Department requires officers to attempt de-escalation strategies, such as trying to calm someone down verbally or calling a mental health unit to the scene. Santa Monica police have similar rules in place, telling officers to try to “slow down, reduce the intensity or stabilize the situation” to minimize the need to use force.

….The focus on de-escalation represents a broader shift in law enforcement, said Samuel Walker, a retired criminal justice professor and expert in police accountability. Now, he said, there’s an understanding that officers can shape how an encounter plays out. “This is absolutely the right thing to do,” he added.

This is especially important in Los Angeles:

African Americans continue to represent a disproportionate number of the people shot at by officers. Nearly a third of the people shot at last year were black — a 7% increase from 2015. Black people make up about 9% of the city’s population but 40% of homicide victims and 43% of violent crime suspects, the report noted.

The LAPD also topped a list of big-city agencies with the highest number of deadly shootings by officers. Police in Los Angeles fatally shot more people than officers in Chicago, New York, Houston and Philadelphia did, the report said. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department came in second, with 15 deadly shootings.

Go ahead and call me naive, but I would have figured that de-escalation was standard protocol everywhere. Not always followed in practice, of course, but at least theoretically what cops are supposed to do. But apparently not. It sounds like it started to catch on after Ferguson, and is only now being adopted as official policy in a few places.

Better late than never, I suppose, but I wonder what’s stopping this from being universally adopted? What’s the downside?

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LAPD Adopts New Policy: De-Escalate First, Shoot Later

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Trump Has Okayed a Pesticide That Terrifies These Families

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A white cloud of pesticides had drifted into Fidelia Morales’s back yard, coating her children’s swing set.

The 40-year-old mother of five gestured toward the citrus groves that surround her house in California’s Central Valley as she recounted when an air blast sprayer sent chemicals floating onto her property last year – landing on her family’s red and blue jungle gym.

“We know this is dangerous for the kids, but what are we supposed to do?” she said on a recent afternoon, speaking in Spanish through a translator. Morales said she fears that these kinds of drifts, as well as long-term exposure to a variety of chemicals in the air, have hurt her children, ages 9 to 20, who have struggled to focus in school and have suffered from bronchitis, asthma and other chronic illnesses.

Under Barack Obama, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed an agricultural ban on chlorpyrifos, one pesticide widely used in her region, based on the growing body of research documenting the risks for farm workers and communities, including links to brain damage in children.

Donald Trump’s administration, however, has rejected the science, announcing a reversal of the ban. That means that despite recent victories for families and environmentalists who have fought for more than a decade for protections from the insecticide, widespread use will continue in California, where a majority of the fruits and nuts in the US are grown.

“There’s a sense of helplessness,” said Luis Medellin, a 30-year-old dairy worker, sitting with his three younger sisters at his family’s home in the small agricultural town of Lindsay. “I’m being poisoned and I can’t do anything about it. It’s like a slow death.”

More than a dozen Latino residents in Tulare County, a rural farming community three hours north of Los Angeles, shared stories with the Guardian of direct pesticide poisonings from drifts and the long-term health challenges that they believe are linked to chronic exposure. They described children vomiting, suffering painful skin irritations, debilitating headaches and dizziness, as well as developing autism, learning problems, attention deficit disorders and respiratory ailments.

It’s difficult to conclusively determine how chlorpyrifos may have contributed to individual children’s conditions, but epidemiological studies have found links between the pesticide and a number of health conditions – research that led EPA officials to recommend the ban in 2015. Manufacturers and growers continue to assert that the chemical is safe and say that the studies are flawed.

Pregnant women who lived near fields and farms that use chlorpyrifos experienced an increased risk of having a child with autism, according to a University of California at Davis study. Low to moderate levels of chlorpyrifos exposure during pregnancy were also linked to lower IQs and memory problems, according to researchers at Columbia and UC Berkeley. Studies have further raised concerns about decreased lung function and reduced fertility.

Chlorpyrifos – a neurotoxic pesticide widely used to kill insects in almond, walnut, orange, grape, broccoli and other crop farming – was banned for residential use in 2000 because of environmental and health concerns.

The EPA’s prior move to prohibit the pesticide in agriculture stemmed from a decade-long legal fight with environmental groups, which are continuing to push for the ban in court. Under the new policy, the EPA won’t have to re-evaluate health risks of the chemical for another five years and its use will continue.

In California, Latino children are 91% more likely than white students to attend schools near heavy pesticide use, according to state data. Tulare County is also located in a region considered to have the highest poverty rate in the state and the worst air pollution in the US.

“We are very sick,” said Irma Medellin, community organizer with El Quinto Sol de America, a Lindsay-based advocacy group that has studied chlorpyrifos exposure and advocated for the ban. “Everyone who lives in this community is affected.”

In Tulare County, growers applied more than 1m pounds of chlorpyrifos in a five-year period, according to state data. A 2014 state report found that in one year, farmers applied more than 750 pounds of the pesticide within one-quarter of a mile of four different public schools.

Zenaida Muñoz, a 32-year-old mother of three, said she used to walk through the orange groves on a daily basis for exercise when she was pregnant with one of her sons, who is now nine years old. After he was born, he struggled to speak for several years and he had behavioral problems at home and in school. He was later diagnosed with autism.

Chlorpyrifos is frequently used on oranges.

“I never realized these chemicals could potentially cause harm,” she said, seated in her house in a small town called Cutler, as she clutched her newborn baby. Her son, now in the third grade, ran up to her with a squirt gun, begging to go play outside.

Muñoz said she now avoids the local orchards, especially when she can smell recently sprayed pesticide – a stench that makes her want to throw up.

Families that live across from the crops should consider moving, she added: “Even if it seems like they’re not impacted, they are.”

Domitila Lemus, 68, recalled an episode when a pesticide spray drifted toward a group of students on a school playground, including her eight-year-old granddaughter.

“They were out of breath. Some were throwing up,” Lemus recalled. “The children had teary eyes … It’s a strong smell that gets into your head and hurts your brain.”

Jannet Rodriguez, whose husband works in citrus, said workers were afraid to speak up: “They feel they’ll lose their jobs.” When she worked in agriculture, she said posted warning signs about the dangers of pesticides were never clear to her and other Mexican immigrants, many of whom don’t speak English. “They never told us what these signs meant.”

When Trump’s EPA head, Scott Pruitt, undid activists’ efforts one month after his confirmation – with a statement praising a return to “using sound science in decision-making” – families in Tulare County were devastated.

“It was pain in my heart,” said Amy Huerta, a 20-year-old college student who grew up in a trailer park in Lindsay where pesticides would often drift into their home. “Now we have to start all over again.”

One study detected chlorpyrifos in three-quarters of air samples in Lindsay – 11% above levels deemed “acceptable” by the EPA for 24-hour exposure by children.

Huerta recalled sharing a bed with her younger sister who would scratch herself bloody. Huerta said it was because of pesticides irritating her skin.

Morales said her nine-year-old son has trouble concentrating in school and staying seated in class—and that she suspects chlorpyrifos is likely to blame given the family’s proximity to citrus fields. Marianna Santos, pesticide supervisor in the Tulare County agricultural commissioner’s office, said the drift incident Morales described was under investigation, but that it did not appear chlorpyrifos was involved in that spray.

Bob Blakely, vice-president of California Citrus Mutual, a Tulare County industry group that supports chlorpyrifos, said growers were dependent on the chemical and claimed that its application is highly controlled in the state. “We’re very heavily regulated. I’d be more concerned about children not eating fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Dow AgroSciences, which manufactures the pesticide under the name Lorsban, has consistently argued that studies raising concerns are flawed and that Carol Burns, a Dow epidemiology consultant, criticized the UC and Columbia studies in an email, claiming that other research suggests there are “no significant associations between possible exposure to chlorpyrifos and any health effects in the children”.

The EPA did not respond to requests for comment.

Angel Garcia, El Quinto Sol community organizer and founder of the Coalition for Advocating for Pesticide Safety, said organizing against powerful agricultural interests was difficult in California and particularly in Tulare County.

“Money is the law here,” the Lindsay native said as he drove past a row of citrus groves. He and other activists are pushing California to be a leader in the resistance to Trump and ban chlorpyrifos in the absence of EPA’s inaction.

But it’s unclear if the state will take on that role. Asked about the calls for state prohibition, Charlotte Fadipe, a spokeswoman for the California department of pesticide regulation (DPR), said the agency was “looking at how this pesticide is used and if further restrictions on its use are warranted”.

“But,” she added, “that is not the same as an all-out ban.”

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Trump Has Okayed a Pesticide That Terrifies These Families

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Slaughter of the Osage, Betrayal of the Sioux

Mother Jones

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Jason Holley

One cold November day last year, Chris Turley, a 28-year-old member of the Osage Nation, set out from the tribe’s northeast Oklahoma reservation upon a quest. He had a wool hat pulled down over his crisply cut black hair and wore military fatigues, just as he had done when he served in Afghanistan as a Scout in the US Army. He carried a rucksack filled with MREs—Meals, Ready-to-Eat—and bottled water, a tent, and a sleeping bag. Tucked away was also an emergency medical kit.

Departing on foot, he headed north through the tall prairie grass. He went past scattering herds of cattle and grinding oil pumps. Thirty miles later, around midnight, he stopped near the Kansas border and made camp in the darkness. He slept in his tent, curled in the cold. In the abruptness of dawn he woke, poured water into a container with premade eggs and quickly ate, and then set out again. The rucksack weighed 80 pounds and his right leg especially burned. In Afghanistan, shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade had shivved through his knee. (He received a Purple Heart and a Commendation with Valor, which said his “actions under intense enemy fire when wounded, and courage when facing the enemy in close proximity, not only eliminated and disrupted the enemy but saved the lives of his fellow Scouts.”) Doctors had predicted he’d never walk again without help, but after months of rehabilitation, he did.

Now he marched forward, day after day. He entered Kansas, passing through Greenwood County and Brown County—where members of the Kickapoo Tribe invited him to attend a round dance—and continued into Nebraska, until, after hiking for nearly three weeks, he hitched a ride to his final destination: the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. There, on the North Dakota plains, he joined forces with the Sioux who’d been protesting the proposed construction of an oil pipeline near the border of their reservation, fearing it would destroy their sacred burial sites and contaminate their water supply. “Anyone who knows me knows I am a warrior of this country, I love it with all my heart,” Turley wrote on his Facebook page. “I am also a Native of this country and I’m showing my support for Standing Rock.”

For Turley and many other Osage, the fight had a deep resonance, evoking memories of the tribe’s own struggle over oil and land rights during the early 20th century—a struggle that culminated in one of the most sinister crimes in American history. In 2012, when I first visited the Osage Nation Museum, its then-director, Kathryn Red Corn, told me about this mysterious and deadly plot. I was shocked that I had never learned about it in school or read about it in books, and over the next several years I began to try to uncover the depths of the wrongdoing.

Turley told me that when he was young he had heard about the killings from elder members of the tribe. “Every Osage knows about the murders,” he said. He learned that the Osage once laid claim to much of the Midwest (Thomas Jefferson described them as a “great nation”), but like so many American Indians, they were gradually forced off their ancestral lands. They were driven into Kansas in 1825 and were relocated during the 1870s to the reservation in northeast Oklahoma. By then, their population had dwindled to a few thousand because of massacres and disease and starvation. Although the new reservation was bigger than the state of Delaware, the land was rocky and presumed worthless.

Several years later, an Osage Indian pointed out to a white trader a rainbow sheen on the surface of a creek. It was oil. The reservation, it turned out, was sitting above some of the largest deposits of petroleum then known in America, and to extract that oil, prospectors had to pay the Osage for leases and royalties. In 1906, the tribe granted each of its 2,000 or so registered members a headright, essentially a share in the mineral trust. In 1923 alone, the tribe collected what would today amount to more than $400 million—the New York Times deemed them the wealthiest people per capita in the world. Belying long-standing stereotypes, they lived in mansions and had white servants and rode in chauffeured cars. “Lo and behold!” exclaimed the Outlook, a New York City magazine. “The Indian, instead of starving to death…enjoys a steady income that turns bankers green with envy.”

Then, one by one, the Osage with headrights began to be murdered off. During what became known as the Osage Reign of Terror, there were poisonings, shootings, and even a bombing. Several of those who tried to catch the killers were themselves killed, including one attorney who was thrown from a speeding train. As the death toll reached more than two dozen, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation—later renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation—took up the case. It became one of the FBI’s first major homicide investigations. But for two years, the bureau bungled the case, failing to make any arrests.

Fearing a scandal, the bureau’s new director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to an old frontier lawman named Tom White, who assembled a team of undercover operatives, including an American Indian agent. In 1926, they captured one of the criminal masterminds—a prominent white settler who had orchestrated an intricate plot to steal the Osage’s headrights and fortune. But, as I discovered from my research, the extent of the killings was far greater than the bureau ever exposed, and there were scores, perhaps hundreds, of murders that went unsolved. The perpetrators absconded with much of the Osage’s fortune, which was further diminished by the Great Depression and the depletion of oil reserves.

Turley thought about the Osage murders during the demonstrations at Standing Rock. The Sioux weren’t looking to make money; they were just trying to protect the environment. And yet the struggles came down to the same fundamental issue: the right of American Indians to control their lands and resources. Which is why the Standing Rock demonstrations seemed to galvanize so many nations of American Indians, each with its own bloodstained history, its own saga of incursions upon its sovereignty. Native Americans made pilgrimages to Standing Rock from across the country—from the Round Valley Indian Tribes in California and the Blackfeet Nation in Montana to the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska and the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico. Jim Gray, a former Osage chief, wrote on Facebook, “The principle of any tribe’s sovereign right to protect what’s important to them is why hundreds of tribes have sent food, supplies and money to their aid.”

Turley helped provide security for the protesters—or “water protectors”—including by guarding convoys headed off the reservation to resupply them. “It was kind of like a covert op,” he said. When the word came down, on December 4, that the Department of the Army had refused to allow the oil company to build the pipeline, “we all sang and danced,” Turley recalled.

Yet President Donald Trump—who until recently had an investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline—reversed the decision upon taking office. The Sioux are contesting Trump’s action in court, but their legal options are quickly dwindling, and it may become harder for demonstrators to gather in the future: A state legislator introduced a bill making it legal for a person to “unintentionally” run over protesters.

Many American Indian leaders fear that the pipeline is only the beginning of the Trump administration’s attempt to erode tribal sovereignty. Reuters reported that some of the president’s advisers even hope to “privatize” American Indian reservations, fulfilling the old dream of white settlers to open these lands to unfettered development.

Jim Gray says the Trump administration will confront an American Indian movement galvanized and united by Standing Rock. “In the old days, our people didn’t have much of a voice,” he told a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last fall. “Now we do…The world is watching.” As for Chris Turley, he’s back at his home in Osage territory. But if summoned by the leaders of any tribe in need, he says he’s prepared to pack up his rucksack: “I can walk across America.”

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Slaughter of the Osage, Betrayal of the Sioux

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Jon Ossoff’s Race Is the First Real Battle Between Millennials and Trump

Mother Jones

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Jon Ossoff doesn’t like to talk about his age. His reticence is understandable. Since the media and liberal voters foisted the 30-year-old political neophyte from the Atlanta suburbs into the national spotlight, he’s been celebrated by Democrats as a wunderkind who might lead the resistance against Trump and simultaneously ridiculed by Republicans, who fear the same thing, as a “spoiled frat boy.” As the front-runner in the heated special election race to replace Tom Price, whom Trump elevated to be his secretary of health and human services, in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District—a seat not held by a Democrat since the 1970s—he has endured numerous attacks targeting his relative youth. One ad spliced authentic clips of Ossoff costumed as Han Solo from a college spoof video with stock footage of frat boys doing keg stands. “I don’t want to marginalize youth,” recently mused Bruce LeVell, 53, former head of Trump’s national diversity coalition and one of 11 Republican, five Democratic, and two independent candidates who will face off against Ossoff on April 18. “But I think that a wealth of life experiences can be a tremendous asset for a congressional seat.”

Speaking last week in Alpharetta, Georgia, at a mansion overlooking a lake, Ossoff had attracted so many supporters that the property’s owner nervously joked his deck might not be able to support the crowd. In the previous three hours, we’d visited four separate rallies where hordes of Democrats lined roads with signs reading “Vote Your Ossoff.” “I’m trying to make the case to voters across the political spectrum,” Ossoff told the assembly, “that someone who brings a younger perspective”—then he corrected himself—”a fresher perspective… can change the culture in Washington more effectively than someone who has run for office nine or ten times.”

With his campaign promise to “Make Trump Furious,” Ossoff is riding a wave of disaffection among all Democrats, but millennials are an especially important part of his coalition. Consistently polling in the mid-to-low-40s, Ossoff needs only a handful more percentage points to break the 50% threshold on April 18 and claim outright victory. If he fails to obtain a majority he’ll face a much tougher runoff vote on June 20 versus the second-place finisher, in support of whom a critical mass of Republican voters might unite. The Sixth District is deeply Republican, with a white, elderly, and affluent voter base, which may be hard to sway from their traditional voting habits. But the district includes 146,000 people aged 18 to 34—about 27% of all eligible voters in the district—and Ossoff is relying, in part, on these young voters to turn out in unprecedented numbers and nudge him to victory. The race is so close that one of the only ways for Ossoff to win, in other words, is for large numbers of millennials to do for him what they didn’t do for Hillary Clinton: vote.

“My generation has gotten complacent about our rights,” Alison Curnie, 31, said on the deck overlooking the lake, as she endorsed Ossoff to the cheering crowd. “We thought they would be there in perpetuity. But if anything good has come out of this last election, it’s that we’re no longer complacent.”

During the two days I spent on the campaign trail, young people were an inescapable presence. Most staffers and volunteers I encountered were of the millennial generation, though there were plenty of older people as well. Ossoff’s supporters believe his youth is a positive quality, a way to bring a new mindset to Washington. As Matt Tompkins, 26, told me, “Ossoff is the first time we’ve had someone who represents our socially conscious values. Someone who’s 60 doesn’t have the worldview of being raised in modern reality with technology, the internet, diversity, and everything else.”

So far, millennials have been a dormant power in politics. As John Della Volpe, the Director of Polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, told me: “There are more millennials than any other generation on earth, but they don’t vote in the same proportion that other generations do. The main reason they don’t vote is they don’t see a tangible impact from it, so the degree to which Ossoff can convince them that this election matters is going to be key.”

And so while a flurry of punditry in recent days has interpreted Ossoff’s campaign as a predictor of whether or not anti-Trump sentiment will be enough to buoy Dems to congressional victories over the next two years, his race also raises another and perhaps more pressing question: Can this 30-year-old, and the anti-Trump resistance of which he’s been anointed figurehead and bellwether, re-energize young voters’ enthusiasm for democracy in general and Democrats in particular?

“Previously, I’d been a registered Republican, even Libertarian leaning,” Curnie told me on the deck. “I used to have the luxury of being a Republican because I didn’t think anyone was coming for my birth control and civil rights. But this election has made me realize we’ve got to stick up for our civil rights before we worry about tax brackets.”

Ossoff’s success owes a great deal to his becoming an internet phenomenon. When he launched his campaign in early January with an email telling voters to “Make Trump Furious,” it caught the attention of liberal bloggers anxiously following the third Congressional contest of the Trump era. Daily Kos, the left-leaning website, began promoting him. Donations poured in, with each fundraising success spurring more coverage. Today he has amassed more than $8.3 million in about three months, much of it from out-of-state voters—a record for a candidate who is not self-financed. His campaign says he has received nearly 200,000 separate donations from all over the nation, at an average size of $43.

Just as Ossoff has seized national attention in a particularly social media-savvy way, his life before the race shows how a generation of millennials may be preparing for politics. Raised in the suburb of Northlake, Ossoff always dreamt of becoming a politician. He planted yard placards with his parents in support of local Democrats as a boy. By 2003, his childhood friend Karl Langberg, 30, remembers that he was running a blog devoted to politics and debating online with older readers, who didn’t know they were arguing with a teenager behind the screen. At Paideia, a pricy private high school, he started an alternative publication to the school newspaper, which he named the Great Speckled Pi in homage to a liberal underground Atlanta newspaper of the sixties and seventies. By then, his friends knew he wanted to one day run for office. “There was an understanding among our group,” says Dustin Chambers, another childhood friend, “that he wanted to run someday and he was equipping himself to do so.”

Ossoff’s focus on government continued while studying at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, during which he also worked part-time for Representative Hank Johnson. Facebook went global when he was a freshmen, forever transforming politics by recording every embarrassing moment of one’s youth. “But,” Chambers said, “Jon immediately became aware of how that altered the political landscape. It made clear to him that he needed to be a squeaky-clean guy.” After graduating, he managed Johnson’s 2010 reelection campaign and then worked for him fulltime on the Hill, specializing in national security issues.

Ossoff’s work for Johnson has been the substance of the one attack that has dinged his reputation. He carefully claims: “I’ve got five years of experience as a national security staffer in the U.S. Congress. I held top secret security clearance.” All of which is true—though two of those years he was working part-time and he only held top-level clearance for five months at the end of his time on the Hill. “Technically, Ossoff walks a very careful line,” a Washington Post fact-checker wrote. “But the overall impression is misleading.”

In 2013, he earned a master’s degree at the London School of Economics, and then became CEO of Insight TWI, a VICE-like new media company, whose films have documented corruption among judges in Africa and the front-line battle against ISIS. As he traversed the globe with a camera, he still thought about seeking office, but assumed it would be far in the future.

On the night of November 8, he was filming a right-wing militia in rural Georgia as men sat around a campfire and watched the election results roll in on their cellphones. Distraught, he drove an hour-and-a-half to Manuel’s, a famous Atlanta watering hole for politicos, where he met his childhood friend Chambers and watched Trump claim victory. “I had never seen him so scared, so unsure,” Chambers, who is now a volunteer on Ossoff’s campaign, recalls. “He is one of those people who always has the answers. That night, I could see him calculating a lot of different disturbing outcomes for the next four years.”

The day after his appearance at the lake house, Ossoff sat onstage in the Dunwoody High School auditorium along with 17 other candidates—the full spectrum of American political opinion, from the Tea Party to moderate Republicans, including Karen Handel, his nearest competitor, with 15% of the vote in polls. The majority of voters were white-haired or bald, and paged through programs as each candidate spoke, making notes. But most millennials in attendance already had their minds made up: they wore Ossoff blue and loudly cheered him.

While he waited for his turn to speak, Ossoff kept his gaze fixed on each speechifying opponent, as a Republican tracker in jean shorts and hiking boots aimed a mini-cam at his face. A tracker has been video-taping Ossoff’s every move for about two months, sometimes shouting questions at him, trying to force a reaction that can be turned into an attack ad or negative news story.

When Ossoff took the microphone, he said, “I worked on Capitol Hill for five years, and I saw how things work and how they do not. I saw the partisanship, the gridlock, the pettiness, and the corruption. I think it’s time for fresh leadership in Washington.” Speaking, he kept his hands clasped in front of him, his fingers carefully interlaced, never flourishing his arms or stabbing a finger to emphasize a point. The rest of his speech sketched plans to grow the district’s burgeoning technology sector and to fight government corruption, though it presented few details and lacked the shots at Trump that initially fired up the base. If there’s one signature issue that Ossoff has promised to tackle in Congress, it’s bringing his investigative documentary chops to bear on Washington—but the specifics of what muck he’d rake are hazy.

Ultimately, this is probably part of his strategy. Acknowledging the Republican tilt of the district, Ossoff has kept his recent statements just a few inches left of the center and vague. He has appealed to progressive Berniecrats primarily by positioning himself against Trump, but without pushing their core platform positions like single-payer healthcare, free tuition, or steep taxes on the rich.

Ossoff also has to appeal to the nearly 317,000 minorities in the district, especially in DeKalb County, where many are concentrated. However, the worst early voting turnout has been in the heavily Democratic DeKalb County, though this may partially be due to the fact that it has the worst voting access in the district.

It’s in regard to Ossoff’s fuzzy policies that this race circles back to larger questions about the fight against Trump. Can a classic liberal, whose positions seem more in line with the pre-Trump-era Democratic party establishment, spark millennials to vote in significant numbers? If Ossoff ducks leading youthful progressives, is anti-Trump fervor and the implicit promise of shared life-experience going to be enough for them to identity with him?

It’s a question the party is wrestling with on a national scale. Many liberals are angered that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t invest in the race for the seat vacated when Trump picked Mike Pompeo to become Director of the CIA, believing they didn’t have a shot to win in the deeply red Wichita, Kansas, district—only to find that the Republican candidate barely triumphed. Ossoff’s surprise front-runner status is a testament to the power of the anti-Trump movement, but the flaws in his coalition also speak to fractures in the larger Democratic party alliance that may sabotage his chances of electoral success.

Ossoff’s reticence to deeply engage with policy questions, and his statuesque self-control on the campaign trail, has led some observers to criticize him as stiff and lacking depth, including a recent New York magazine profiler. When I asked Ossoff for his response to the article, he said: “I’m trying to win a congressional race, not give spellbinding magazine interviews.”

But many of his millennial fans interpret his self-possession differently: as the result of growing up in an era when every stray bit of speech can end up broadcast across the world. “He knows that he’s being recorded every second,” Alexandra Brosovich, 24, whom I met at a rally, later told me on the phone. “Someone who grew up in the 1960s before cellphone videos and social media just doesn’t understand how careful you’ve got to be when everything’s recorded. He made an instant connection with me and my friends.”

Political reporters often want to call the same back-slapping, Big Mac-chomping extroversion authenticity. But maybe at heart Ossoff is simply an even-tempered, conscientious, and deliberate man. He’s the kind of guy who used the word “duplicative” in casual conversation, and at rallies tried to substitute ten-dollar words for ones like “folks.” According to his childhood friend Chambers, Ossoff even studied Barack Obama as a public persona to emulate. Ossoff summed up his own character to me by saying, “I think, for me, it’s important never to get too high and never to get too low. I just try to remain in a grounded, balanced place.”

One day, we visited a baseball field just a few minutes walk from the redbrick house where Ossoff grew up (which still had a fallen Clinton-Kaine yard sign lying by its driveway).

As Ossoff and I slung a grass-stained baseball back and forth, even after he shucked his suit jacket, his speech remained precise. When I asked about his strongest memory of that field, he answered: “Just playing catch with my dad, man, in the crisp autumn air, just as the leaves are starting to turn, when you can taste the first bite of winter, coming down here for that last time before it gets too dark, before it gets too cold.”

Those close to Ossoff acknowledge he is meticulous, but also point out that his exactingness is subordinate to his adventurousness—whether running for Congress or producing documentaries about a female battalion in Iraq. Ossoff has had a pilot license since he was a teenager. Today, in rare interludes of free time, he will gather a small group of friends before dawn, rent a Cessna, and then fly them to remote airstrips in the Appalachian Mountains, where they will hike all day before returning to Atlanta by dusk. “I love the challenge of mountains,” he told me, “the accomplishment of the summit, the vantage point, and the solitude.”

Photo by Doug Bock Clark

Despite Ossoff’s discipline, spend enough time with him and you’ll find his intensity palpable. The unspooling way he pitched the baseball at me looked effortless—he didn’t even break a sweat despite his button-up and tie—but as he pounded my palm with pinpoint accuracy, my hand numbed. Walking off the field, I asked, “What’s the event that made you who you are today?”

He looked around at the backstop and the basketball courts of the nearby elementary school. Twenty-four seconds slid by. He was new enough to this that he didn’t have an answer immediately at hand.

Then he said, with a bit of a snarl curling his voice for the first time, “I remember kids getting bullied on the playground. It really pissed me off. And right now, there are a lot of people being bullied in this country.”

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Jon Ossoff’s Race Is the First Real Battle Between Millennials and Trump

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