Monday, December 10, 2012

Neoliberalism, the Fiscal Cliff, and the Fate of Black People

As was the case in 2008, when I voted for Barack Obama for president in 2012, I did not embrace the fantasy (perhaps, it should be referred to as "the delusion") that many of my liberal and progressive friends had that Obama was secretly a "lefty" and shared our values and that his "middle of the road approach" on the campaign trail was a ruse, a stratagem, subterfuge, a cleaver maneuver on his part designed to hoodwink white people hesitant to support a black man for president.

Once in office, some black people I know invoking a righteously indignant tone preached to me, the president would be the progressive we had all been hoping and praying for after 8 years of George W. Bush.

Reality has set in for most people on the left. The president is not a "lefty." Although I believe he is slightly left of center, he does not share our core leftist values or our leftist economic and political agenda.

But I voted for him two times. Explain yourself, you might ask. To be honest, and hopefully in my defense, I didn't vote "for" Obama as much as I voted "against" John McCain and Mitt Romney and the neoliberal agenda they represented.

The central guiding force behind both McCain and Romney presidential bids was neoliberalism. According to David Harvey in his excellent book, A Brief History of Neoliberalism:

Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional frame appropriate to such practices. The state has to guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up those military, defence, police, and legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets. Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary…

The neoliberal demonian regularly demand deregulation, privatization, and withdrawal of the state from many areas of social provision. Since the 1970s, there has been a dramatic turn toward neoliberalism in political and economic practices. "Neoliberalism has," asserts Harvey, "in short, become hegemonic as a mode of discourse."

Neoliberal ideology has become deeply rooted in the way many Americans think. Its influence is so pervasive, it has been "incorporated into the common-sense way many of us interpret, live in, and understand the world."

Deeply embedded in common sense, the neoliberal frame (for example, austerity, privatization, cuts to the social safety net, and attacks on unions and collective bargaining) is taken for granted by average Americans, the media, and political and economic elites and not subject to much questioning and criticism.

However, the ultimate goal of neoliberalism is not to raise the living standards of all Americans as is often claimed by its adherents. The ultimate goal is capital accumulation and most importantly class power for economic (and a few political) elites. According to Harvey, "The theoretical neoliberal argument has,… primarily worked as a system of justification and legitimation for whatever needed to be done to achieve this goal."

To be sure, the so-called "fiscal cliff" is the latest stratagem being used by corporate and political elites in an effort to steer the nation toward the type of austerity and privatization measures favored by neo-liberals in their decades long effort to revitalize (and stabilize) global capital and restore (and in some instances create) the power of economic elites.

For those of us in the black community, the ongoing negotiations around the so-called fiscal cliff should be a clarion call about this president's so-called lefty credentials, whether they are real or imagined, and the dangers of neoliberal ideology.

What the president does or does not concede to Republicans in these budget and tax negotiations will have potentially grave consequences for communities of color and black people in particular.

The next time you're tempted to join the neoliberal bandwagon and attack public sector workers and the size of "big government," keep in mind: according to Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, "Today, almost 45 percent of all Black women who are employed work in a public-sector job, and more than half of all African Americans professionals are employed by some sector of the state." Her larger point is that, "The bipartisan campaign against "privileged" public-sector workers threatens to erode some of the gains of the civil rights and Black Power movements."

And, according to the report "Austerity for Whom," released by United for a Fair Economy last year: "Blacks are 30 percent more likely than the overall workforce to work in public sector jobs as teachers, social workers, bus drivers, public health inspectors and other valuable roles, and they are 70 percent as likely to work for the federal government. Public-sector jobs have also provided Black and Latino workers better opportunities for professional advancement."

Moreover, blacks depend disproportionately on social safety net programs due to the lingering effects of historical racism and the contemporary impact of structural racism. We black folks better remind the president as he negotiates the "best" austerity strategy (not what we really need, which is an alternative to austerity) with Republicans about all our elderly parents and other relatives that depend solely on Social Security checks and food stamps to keep food on the table, Medicare and Medicaid to keep them alive, and Section 8 to keep a roof over their heads.

Neoliberalism's talk about the need for greater privatization and ending so-called "Big Government" is a direct attack on lower-and middle-class black people's social and economic well-being.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Racial Attitudes of Non-Hispanic Whites May Make Election Day a Nail-biter

Last month, I was invited to participate on a panel discussion about the 2012 presidential election. The panel, Four More Years?: The Historical, Philosophical, and Political Implications of President Obama's Reelection, was organized by African-American Studies, and the Departments of Philosophy and Political Science at Central Connecticut State University.

As the panel started to wrap up after nearly an hour-and-a-half of spirited discussion, the moderator and chair of African American Studies, Dr. Felton Best, asked people to raise their hand if they believed that President Obama would be reelected. The vast majority of the students in the room and all of my fellow panelists, including Dr. Best, raised their hand. He then asked people to raise their hand if they believed the president would not be reelected. A very small number of students raised their hand. Looking to his right and noticing that I had not raised my hand to either question, he then queried, "well, how many people aren't sure?" I was one of only several people in the room to raise their hand.

Over the last several weeks, I've been asked by a number of people whether I think Obama will be reelected. My answer has consistently been, "I don't know." The only prediction I've made thus far is that for both the Obama and Romney camps and their supporters, "Election Day is going to be a nail-biter."

The biggest reason for my uncertainty about the outcome of the election is because I don't believe that all the non-Hispanic white voters who say they intend to vote for Obama will actually vote for the president. Political scientists have labeled my doubt, the Bradley Effect. The theory is that some voters will tell pollsters that they are undecided or intend to vote for a black candidate, while on Election Day they support the white candidate. This phenomenon is named after the former mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley, who lost the California governor's race even though he was significantly ahead in the polls leading up to Election Day.

A recent poll conducted by the Associated Press (AP) confirms a long-held suspicion of mine that many non-Hispanic white voters are masking their true intentions on Election Day so that they do not appear to pollsters to be biased against the president because of his race.

According to the AP poll, whether they recognize it or not, Americans are more prejudice than they were four years ago when the nation elected its first black president. The survey shows that 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared to 48 percent in a 2008 survey using similar questions. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test – measuring sentiments about race without asking questions about the topic directly – the number of Americans expressing anti-black attitudes jumped from 49 percent in 2008 to 56 percent today.

According to an AP poll from 2011, a majority (52 percent in the explicit test and 57 percent in the implicit test) of non-Hispanic whites also expressed anti-Hispanic prejudices.

The poll results show that while the negative effects of prejudice toward blacks is somewhat mitigated by the effects of some people's more favorable views toward blacks, the net impact appears to work against the president's bid for reelection. The AP writers contend:

Overall, the survey found that by virtue of racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the popular vote in his Nov. 6 contest against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But Obama also stands to benefit from a 3 percentage point gain due to pro-black sentiment, researchers said. Overall, that means an estimated net loss of 2 percentage points due to anti-black attitudes.

With nearly 4 out of 10 Republicans believing Obama was born in Kenya and nearly half thinking he is a Muslim, and many Tea Party activists depicting the president at their rallies as an ape, a Nazi, or worse, it may come as no surprise that Republicans (79 percent) were far more likely to hold "explicitly" racist attitudes toward blacks than Democrats (32 percent). However, the implicit test showed that a majority of Republicans (64 percent) and Democrats (55 percent) and nearly half of political independents (49 percent) held anti-black attitudes.

According to several national polls, Mitt Romney has a slight lead over the president. Obama and Romney are running neck-to-neck in a number of battle-ground states, but the president seems to have an advantage in several key states and is projected to win in the Electoral College. President Obama's chance for reelection may depend on whether some non-Hispanic whites act on their true racial feelings or not in those states.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

From The Party Of Lincoln To The Party Of The Ku Klux Klan

More and more, the GOP looks increasingly like the Party of the Ku Klux Klan than the Party of Lincoln. Faced with a Faustian choice to either embrace the growing racial and ethnic diversity that is sweeping the nation or cling to a dying white supremacist ideology, the Republican Party appears to have embraced the old racial order to achieve power and success in the American political system.

The effort by Republican-controlled legislatures to suppress the voting rights of people of color through a range of tactics, including voter ID laws, proof of citizenship laws, and the shortening of early voting, has been well-documented. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York School of Law, "Overall, 25 laws and 2 executive actions passed in 19 states since the beginning of 2011."

While Republican lawmakers claim the changes are needed to protect the integrity of the ballot box, every once in a while, they slip up and their true intentions are exposed, such as when Pennsylvania House Republican leader Mike Turzai proudly announced that the state's voter ID law would give Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney the state's votes in November. "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done," he said at a Republican State Committee meeting.

More recently, a secretly recorded video shows Republican officials training poll challengers in New Mexico on how to object to the use of Spanish translators at the polling place and on the ins and outs of how to use photo ID laws to harass and intimidate voters.

Two more recent examples of GOP brand white supremacy run amok come from an Arkansas state representative and an Arkansas state House candidate. In a 2009 self-published book, Letters To The Editor: Confession Of A Frustrated Conservative, Rep. Jon Hubbard, asserted that "the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise." He also claimed that Blacks are better off in America than what they would be in Africa had it not been for slavery.

In his 2012 book, God's Law, GOP state House candidate Charlie Fuqua writes that he wants to deport all Muslims. He argues that there is "no solution to the Muslim problem short of expelling all followers of the religion from the United States." Fuqua, who served in the Arkansas House from 1996 to 1998, is surprised by all the hoopla about what he wrote. "I think my views are fairly well-accepted by most people," he claims.

As is always the case, Republican Party leaders condemn the words and verbally distance themselves from their racist brethren. This kind of stuff would be laughable if the thinking behind it was not so essential to the kind of identity the GOP is forging for itself in a nation quickly headed toward becoming majority-minority.

Republicans have decided that appealing to white's racial anxieties and the racism-fueled animosity many whites have toward people of color is a good electoral strategy – former President, Richard M. Nixon, used this strategy to woo Southern whites away from the Democratic Party in 1968. While this approach may pay dividends for the GOP in the short-term (e.g., Republican Party control of a majority of state legislatures and the governor's office), staking the future of the Party solely on an aging and shrinking white population is a stupid long-term strategy for a political party with national ambitions.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

“So Rich, So Poor:” A Book Review

Edelman, Peter. 2012. So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America. The New Press: New York, NY.

The Associated Press recently surveyed a diverse group of economists, think thanks, and academics – nonpartisan, liberal and conservative – and found a broad consensus. America's poverty rate is growing and is now as high as it was during the mid-1960s when President Lyndon Johnson declared his War on Poverty.

According to Peter Edelman, in his new book, So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America, poverty is not only high and growing, but, it is touching the lives of many groups of Americans, from the chronically underemployed to once economically secure families living in the suburbs. And, millions more can expect to fall into poverty as government assistance from unemployment insurance, Medicaid, welfare and food stamps continues to dry up.

Peter Edelman, Professor of Law at the Georgetown Law Center, is the Faculty Director, Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, and was a Legislative Assistant to Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He is also the husband of Marian Wright Edelman, President and founder of the Children's Defense Fund.

Edelman famously resigned from his job as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services, when President Bill Clinton signed the 1996 welfare reform legislation. I decided to read his new book after seeing him interviewed by Bill Moyers.

Edelman's book should be read by anyone who wants to know why it has been so difficult to end poverty in the richest country in the history of the world, and what steps should be taken if there is ever a serious attempt to close the growing gap between the rich and the poor. This, of course, is no small task in a nation where attitudes about race and gender continue to shape attitudes about the poor, where few people empathize with the plight of the persistently poor, where most politicians are primarily concerned with the needs, interests, and desires of the middle class, and where few political leaders even utter the "p" word, which includes President Barack Obama.

According to Edelman, between 2007 and 2010, 9 million people slid into poverty when the total number of impoverished Americas reached 46.2 million people (a national poverty rate of 15.1 percent). Family homelessness grew by 20 percent. But, the Great Recession only tells part of the story; between 2000 and 2007, 6 million people joined the ranks of the poor. A total of 15 million Americans slid into poverty during the first decade of the new millennium.

Four major points are made in the book. First, Edelman discusses three reasons why despite the achievements of the New Deal and the Great Society, poverty is still with us and growing worse. The most important of the three reasons he identifies is the fundamental transformation of the American economy – which started shortly after World War II, but accelerated during the early 1970s – from a goods producing economy to a service-oriented economy. According to Edelman, "Good-paying low-skill jobs went overseas and gave way to automation, and low-wage work became ubiquitous."

A second factor is the growth of the number of single-parented households, disproportionately headed by a woman. Between 1970 and 2009, the percentage of single-parented households headed by women with children under 18 nearly doubled – from 12.7 to 25.4 percent. The percentage of black families headed by a single black woman increased from 37.1 percent in 1971 (the first year the statistics were broken down by race) to 52.7 percent in 2009. Most of the surge in single-parented households occurred during the 1970, just when the economy was undergoing its transformation. Today, it is near impossible for single parents to rely on low-wage work to make ends meet.

The third factor is how years after the dramatic achievements made during the Civil Rights and Women's Movements, toxic attitudes about race and gender continue to shape popular and political discourse about poverty and inequality. Women of color with children tend to be disproportionately represented among those on welfare. For decades white politicians have tried to aim white racial animus at single women of color dependent on welfare to advance their presidential ambitions – examples include the story candidate Ronald Reagan frequently told on the campaign trail in 1976 about a nameless so-called "welfare queen" from Chicago's west side who was arrested for welfare fraud, candidate Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign pledge to "end welfare as we have come to know it," candidate Newt Gingrich's 2012 claim that President Obama is the "food stamp president" and current Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's blatantly false contention that the President has gutted work requirements for welfare recipients.

Edelman's second major point is that "the topic is not just poverty." Since the start of the millennium, there has been a dramatic rise in both extreme poverty (people living below half the poverty line; or less than $9,000 for a family of three) and the number of people who technically are not poor, but nonetheless struggle to make ends meet, the near-poor (those with incomes below twice the poverty line; or $44,000 for a family of four). In 2010, roughly 20.5 million people lived in extreme poverty (6.7 percent of the population and 44 percent of the poor), and 2 million families (6 million people) had no other source of income but food stamps. Amazingly, during the first decade of the century, nearly 8 million people joined the ranks of the extremely poor. The poor and near-poor combined are approximately 103 million people.

It is hard to imagine, but it could be worse. More people would be in poverty if it were not for antipoverty programs such as the earned income tax credit, food stamps, and the Section 8 housing voucher, programs that are constantly under attack from Republicans and other conservatives. As an example, because there is a legal right to receive food stamps (in contrast, there is no legal right to receive welfare since President Bill Clinton signed TANF into law in 1996), 46 million Americans (one in seven people, and one in four children) were receiving food stamps in 2011, which is up from 17.2 million in 2000.

The third major point is that the wages and incomes of those who occupy the bottom half of the income ladder have been mostly flat since 1970, but the American economy did not stagnate; it grew, and most of the fruits of that growth have been concentrated in the hands of those who sit on the top of the income ladder. The gap between the rich and the rest of us is enormous and growing. The top 1 percent's share of all personal income grew from 9 percent to 23.5 percent between 1979 and 2007. During this 28-year period, the income of the top 1 percent shot up 275 percent, while the income of the bottom 20 percent grew by only 18 percent (the incomes of those in the middle barely grew also). The wealth gap is even more stunning. By 2007, the top 1 percent held a larger share of national income than at any time since the eve of the Great Depression.

The discussion of the history of antipoverty programs – what worked and what did not work – is one of the strengths of the book. So many of the attacks directed at social welfare programs is based on the false argument that the Great Society and War on Poverty were failures, and that government efforts to eradicate poverty do more harm than good. Nonetheless, despite the War on Poverty, as the subtitle of the book suggests, poverty is still with us. What would make a difference? Edelman's final point is that in the absence of a strong economy:

…if we want to make greater progress on poverty, bold action will be required on many fronts: public policy and private action, national and local initiatives, and steps across many fields of endeavor – income from work, work supports like child care, safety-net measures, health, housing, criminal justice reform, human services of all kinds, and investments in education and child development.

Without a serious and holistic approach that expands and improves educational and employment opportunities, and addresses community and family needs, what is already a dire situation will only get worse.

Friday, March 23, 2012

There Is An Epidemic Of Violence; We Can’t Afford To Be Silent Any Longer

I include myself among the millions of people all around the world who are outraged at the failure of the police in Sanford, Florida, to arrest and charge with murder, neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, for accosting, assaulting, and then murdering an unarmed 17 year-old, Trayvon Martin, as he walked home from a store.

There have been marches and demonstration all over the country demanding justice. In many places, the protestors wear like Trayvon, hoodies, and hold up what he purchased that night, a can of Arizona ice tea and a bag of Skittles.

Responding to calls to end his silence, President Barack Obama finally spoke out, calling Trayvon's death a tragedy.

"I can only imagine what these parents are going through," the president said, adding that he couldn't help but think about his daughters. "I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this. "My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin," he added. "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."

I've lost track of the number of Facebook friends who have posted articles about Trayvon's murder. A comment in response to my comment about an article from the Guardian, by Gary Younge, that I posted on my Facebook page by a FB friend, Christopher J. Doucot, captures the essence of the rage many people feel about this senseless death:

"It's a damn nightmare. Never mind trying to achieve the American Dream[;] we just hoping and helping our kids survive the American nightmare. Zimmerman lynched Trayvon Martin. Genteel white folk might not have shown up with a picnic basket and their Sunday best clothes like we did before, but make no mistake- this young man was lynched because he was black. That his murderer said he was "suspicious" and that his murderer has not been arrested are the inevitable products of a society at large which tolerates the routine frisking of the black and brown kids in my neighborhood, and similar neighborhood across the country, by cops who assume everyone here is a criminal.

I was reminded by my brother Larry in a conversation they we had about Trayvon's murder the other day, that black youth are dying violent deaths – mostly by guns – all the time where he lives in my hometown, Detroit, Michigan. This epidemic of violence in black and brown communities adds up to a large number of young people dying prematurely and unnaturally on a daily basis across the country.

Unlike Trayvon, however, their tragic deaths do not garner the same level of media attention, invoke the same level of disgust and outrage from the public, or generate the same sense of urgency to do something. Instead, their deaths tend to be ignored by everyone but the immediate family.

In his commentary, Gary Younge makes a similar point, "It is not at all uncommon for young black men to leave the world in a shower of bullets followed by deafening silence.... Eight kids under the age of 19 are killed by guns in America every day."

Both my brother and Gary Younge are correct. I recently read an article from the March 14th, Detroit Free Press, about a grisly and growing number of children who were shot in the city over the last several weeks:

  • "12-year-old Michael Green II, 12, was working on his homework before he headed outside to play basketball with a friend in his neighborhood and was shot… A bullet pierced the boy's right arm breaking it and severed an artery that had to be repaired with a vein from his groin."
  • "A two year old was shot outside his home when police said two men were arguing."
  • "A 6-year-old was injured after being shot in an attempted carjacking on the city's east side Feb. 26."
  • "Nine-month-old Delric Miller IV was killed Feb. 20 when bullets pierced his home as he slept on the couch, and Kade'jah Davis, 12, died from gunfire following an apparent argument over a cell phone with the victim's mother at the end of January."

This kind of bloodshed occurs every day in communities across the country. For the most part, there is silence from both the media and the public, including the vast majority of the people who are seeking justice for Trayvon.

My point is very simple. There are too few marches or demonstrations by people demanding justice for the victims of the daily carnage going on in many of our nation's major cities.

We can no longer afford to remain silent. Social media has played a significant role in spreading the word about Trayvon's death. As a tribute to Trayvon and in solidarity with the other victims of senseless violence, if there are young men and women – regardless of the circumstances – dying in a "shower of bullets" where you live, blog about it, tweet about it, and post it on Facebook and encourage your friends to share that information with their FB friends.

We have to stop being silent and indifferent. I lost childhood friends to senseless violence. We cannot allow this madness to continue!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Hidden Hues of Humanism | The Humanist

This is a very interesting article about secular humanism and communities of color that was published in The Humanist.

"There is already a robust freethought tradition in the black community, for example. We can go back at least as far as abolitionist Frederick Douglass. NAACP cofounder W. E. B. Du Bois is another prominent example. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1940s through the ’60s the leader of its well-established secular wing was journalist and union organizer Asa Philip Randolph. He organized the 1963 March on Washington at which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Randolph was later recognized in 1970 by the American Humanist Association with its Humanist of the Year Award. Another such activist was Freedom Ride organizer James L. Farmer Jr., founder of the Congress of Racial Equality and the 1976 AHA Humanist Pioneer. Beyond social justice advocacy, we find the arts overflowing with prominent black freethinkers. During the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s through the ’40s, writers such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larson, and Richard Wright could be counted among them. Emerging later were jazz saxophonist and composer Charlie “Bird” Parker, author James Baldwin, and novelist Alice Walker, who was named the 1997 Humanist of the Year."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

“If it looks like a duck; walks like a duck; and quacks, it’s a duck:” The Party of Lincoln’s Race Problem

Its official, Herman Cain has "enthusiastically" endorsed Newt Gingrich for president of the United States.

"There are many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that I know that Speaker Gingrich is a patriot. Speaker Gingrich is not afraid of bold ideas, and I also know that Speaker Gingrich is running for president and going through this sausage grinder," said Cain. "I know what this sausage grinder is all about. I know that he is going through this sausage grinder because he cares about the future of the United States of America."

Cain, the former head of Godfather Pizza and a former frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination who suspended his campaign in December under a cloud of allegations of sexual and marital deviance is black, and to some, this is the kind of prima facie evidence that supports Newt's claim that he is not a racist.

I concede that there are times when my eyes and ears seem to lie to me about certain things, but in the case of Newt Gingrich, I like the old saying, "if it looks like a duck; walks like a duck; and quacks, it's a duck."

Based on his actions and words during much of his public life, in my mind, Newt Gingrich is an unapologetic and quite dangerous racist.

In an effort to win the Republican nomination for president, he has decided to use to his advantage the fear, anger, resentment, and anxieties of many white voters who make up the base of the Republican Party.

New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, opines about why Gingrich's campaign is so appealing to many white Republican voters: "he connects with a silent slice of their core convictions – their deep-seated, long-simmering issues with an 'elite' media bias, minority 'privilege' and Obama's 'otherness.'"

Speaker Gingrich is not alone. All the Republican nominees vying for President Obama's job – some more overtly than others – during this presidential nomination cycle have played the race card to gain the support of their Party's white voters.

Nonetheless, as a good social scientist, I'm open to the possibility that my mind can be changed if presented with countervailing evidence.

The Republican Party can put to rest the notion that its nominees are tapping into white racial animus to advance their presidential ambitions. The remaining Republican candidates can agree to participate in several debates that are dedicated solely to issues concerning people of color - for example, racial and economic inequality, educational opportunity, mass incarceration, welfare dependency, immigration, single-parented households, and so on.

Several nights devoted to Republican perspectives on the nature of the racial and ethnic divide and their solutions would be eye opening. They should have a racially and ethnically diverse panel of reporters ask the questions to assuage any concerns people may have about the people asking the questions.

The Republicans running for president could silence all of their critics (like me) who say they are nothing but a bunch of racists (albeit some worse and more dangerous than others) and show the country that they are truly, as they say, "the Party of Lincoln!"

Finally, I think black Republicans would also benefit from a candid discussion about race and ethnicity and should lead the call for such a debate – it would reveal all the good ideas they always say Republican have, and, as they argue, show why black people like me need to "get off the liberal plantation."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Preserving Voting Rights and Expanding Access to Voter Registration in Connecticut

In commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in my role as Chair of the Board of Directors for Common Cause in Connecticut, I participated in a press conference – along with Connecticut's Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill – to call for preserving voting rights and expanding access to voter registration.

At the press conference, the Governor and Secretary of the State proposed the following legislation: Election Day Registration, online voter registration, and amending the state's constitution to allow "no excuse" absentee voting.

My sense is that these can be really important election reforms for Connecticut. For example:

Election Day Registration can be an important tool for boosting voter turnout.

  • Voter turnout rates are typically 10 – 12 percent higher in states that offer Election Day registration, higher than in states without EDR.
  • EDR allows voters who may have been mistakenly purged from voting rolls to cast a meaningful ballot.
  • EDR assists young voters and college students, who tend to move frequently, making it harder for them to keep their voter registration current.
  • Voter turnout in 2010 was ten points higher in the states with Election Day Registration.

A growing number of states allow citizens to register to vote over the Internet. According to a report by the PEW Center for Research, online registration is very popular, especially among young people.

  • PEW found that in Arizona and Washington, registrants tend to be much younger, and despite their youth, young people who registered to vote over the internet turned out to vote at higher rates in 2008 than those who registered by traditional methods.
  • In Arizona, 25 percent of voter registration occurred online the first year it was implemented in 2003. By 2007, nearly 3 out of 4 registrations occurred over the Internet.
  • Among those residents who have used the Internet registration systems, more than 9 in 10 found it easy to use, and would recommend online registration to others in the state.

The National Conference of State Legislators reports that 27 states and Washington, D.C. offer "no-excuse" absentee voting:

  • According to a report by NonprofitVote, early voting (in person or by mail) accounted for nearly one-third of votes cast in 2008, and reached 27 percent to 29 percent in 2010.

I really believe that this is going to be a good year for election reform. Below are my brief comments from the press conference.

Comments from the Press Conference

Good morning, my name is Bilal Dabir Sekou. I am an Associate Professor of Political Science in Hillyer College at the University of Hartford. I am also the Chair of the Board of Directors for Common Cause in Connecticut.

I want to thank Governor Malloy, Lieutenant-Governor Wyman, and Secretary of State Merrill for the opportunity to speak at this press conference today.

On August 18, 1970, John Gardner, founded Common Cause. Laying out a core objective of the organization, Mr Gardner wrote: "We want public officials to have literally millions of American citizens looking over their shoulders at every move they make."

The right to vote is the bedrock that our democracy is built on; an important tool the people can use to influence every move that the people's government makes.

Since 2008, in a number of states across the country, there has been a comprehensive and coordinated assault on the right to vote.

According to a new report by the NAACP, 14 states have passed 25 various measures designed to restrict or limit the ballot access of voters, threatening to disenfranchise more than 5 million people, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color, the young, and the elderly.

The people who pass these measures say that their aim is to prevent voter fraud. They are telling a lie. What they are really attempting to do is legislate voter suppression.

The Governor and Secretary of State are to be applauded for promoting measures that expand the opportunity for citizens to become involved in the political system.

As we all know, every national election, millions of people do not cast a ballot because of a registration problem or they are unable to make it to the polls for a variety of reasons.

Election Day Registration, online voter registration, and amending the state's constitution to allow "no excuse" absentee voting are election reform measures that promote democratic citizenship and can be important tools for boosting voter turnout.

Let me finish by saying that it is quite appropriate that we are holding this press conference today, on Martin Luther King Day, a day that draws our attention to the seminal achievements of the Civil Rights Movement.

In a 1957 speech titled "Give Us The Ballot," Dr. King spoke clearly about the link between the right to vote and democratic citizenship:

"So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others."

Nearly 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. The President framed that landmark moment in U.S. history this way:

"Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right."

I take from Dr. King and President Johnson's words a simple standard that should guide the administration of our state's election system: 1) everyone who wants to be registered is registered; 2) everyone who wants to vote can vote; and 3) every vote that is cast is a vote that is counted.