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CSD Newsletter – June, 2013

June 13, 2013 Comments off

CSD logo mediumThis month brought some interesting headlines from the government, and ones that we will be keeping an eye on. The actions of the IRS and NSA this past month reinforce the fact that the government is not beyond reproach. One way to begin creating lasting change is by having conversations with people. Let them know how you feel, and why you feel that way. Then they could be compelled to go and talk to others. It’s an amazingly simple process but one that has proven successful throughout history.

As such, it is also incredibly important that we mention the National Dialogue on Mental Health. Some great organizations have gotten involved (including AmericaSpeaks and Everyday Democracy, which are both represented on the Campaign’s leadership board), and the conversations they began last week will continue throughout the summer. This conversation is an incredibly important one to be having, as it is all too frequently brushed under the rug.

Stay tuned for some big news from the campaign in the coming weeks. Thank you for reading, as always.

Peter
Executive Director
phardie@strongerdemocracy.org

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Restoring ex-felon voting rights: Virginia and beyond

May 30, 2013 1 comment

cantvoteWe herald the news from Virginia: restoration of voting rights for non-violent felons who have served their time. This is a step forward for the nation. Virginia adds itself to the column of states that recognize that a prison sentence should not be for life, and, that participation in all aspects of society (work, family, civic life) actually improves long-term outcomes for a challenged and stigmatized group.

Do a little thought experiment: replace the words “criminal”, “convict”, “felon”, “prisoner” in the text of whatever you hear or read next with the word “citizen” (or “human being” if the incarcerated is not a citizen) and you will start to understand the slippery slope we slide down as a nation. We certainly do have two classes of citizens, as long as certain citizens have the right to vote and others do not.

Virginia’s move is a step in the right direction in two ways: it is another crack in the set of laws nationwide that dehumanize and delegitimize people who have been convicted of crimes, and it adds another group of folks to the rolls of voting citizens. The possibilities only grow: more states, all released citizens, all citizens even in prison. Fancy that!

Kudos to the organizers in Virginia: Virginia New Majority, Advancement Project, the NAACP, SOBER, and others (as well as their counterparts in other states)–your work is vital, and making a difference!

Let’s take the “ex-” and “formerly” out of our lexicon as well. While it serves a certain moral perspective to have “lifetime” sentences, it does not serve society. We can do better at rehabilitation and we should. More importantly, we should not hand our government, civil infrastructure, and our democracy over to our baseless fears. Wardens and local governments with an ounce of wisdom are challenging overly long sentences, solitary confinement, the effectiveness (cost-benefit ration) of prisons generally, and the warehousing of men and women into their senior years for distant and often first time offences. There is a great deal of productive talent and wisdom being squandered for no good.

Witch hunts in recent years for “illegal voters” have targeted the formerly incarcerated in quite a few states, disenfranchising potential and valid voters. The miserable outcome has been pushing our nation into shameful fellowship with an ugly set of global peers whose elections we know cannot be trusted, and in the process embarrassing a nation proud of its democratic history and credentials in world opinion.

We can do better.

Campaign for Stronger Democracy newsletter – May 2013

May 10, 2013 Comments off
CSD logo mediumWelcome to the Campaign for Stronger Democracy’s latest newsletter.
Over the last month we here at the Campaign, like much of the nation, closely watched the immigration debate in Congress, and were pleased by the voices of advocates. Regardless of the solution, the voices of the people, citizens and non-citizens alike are the core of a functioning democracy: lively debate and the voices of all affected.

As well, the Boston Marathon bombings occupied our hearts and minds. There are certainly both lessons and quandaries to study here, as well as dangerous quicksand to avoid.  While some tried to make a moment of national tragedy into political theater, mostly the conversation was thoughtful: immigration reform debaters mostly shunned the knee-jerk flailing about non-citizen threats (unlike the fate of the Dream Act in the wake of 9/11), and the conversation about balancing security with personal privacy and freedom has been balanced in spite of the tragedy. Consider the  thoughtful response of the Police Chief in Boston: “I do not endorse actions which move Boston and our nation into a police state mentality, with surveillance cameras attached to every light pole in the city.”  We should hope our values can withstand singular events, no matter how tragic.

As well, our nation has begun to distinguish between members of the Islamic faith, and perpetrators of violence. This might have been an easy moment to paint in broad strokes; with a few exceptions, we as a nation have not. A good sign.

This month our attention turns to the states, particularly North Carolina. While much of the country has stood aghast at the attacks on voting rights, North Carolina has been diligently on the attack. Stay tuned here as the Campaign hopes to bring you a more in-depth look at the happenings in the state.

Thank you for reading, as always. This month’s links are below the fold.
Peter
Executive Director
phardie@strongerdemocracy.org

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Thoughts on Boston and democracy

April 17, 2013 Comments off
Image via LeStudio1 on Flickr

Image via LeStudio1 on Flickr

Boston, a big, intriguing and fun city to those who know, and a landmark in history books for the rest, will be in the news likely until the perpetrators of the murder and mayhem of Monday are brought to justice. There is a great poem by Bob Hicok about how little there is to say in the aftermath of something like the bombing in Boston. Not everyone agrees, and in our customary fashion, the media was a barrage of recycled news, bad attempts to say more than could be said, and, today, conflicting reports on the arrest a suspect. Readers of the New York Post were treated to probably the most inaccurate information, including the untruth that a Saudi national was a suspect in custody, and exaggerated numbers of dead. It would be easy to scapegoat the Post, but two conversations I had yesterday with people who had decided that the culprits were Muslim suggest that truth is the slow bus, and misunderstanding and prejudice (pre-judgment) often arrive first.

There is plenty of caution circulating, in my circles at least: Let’s not rush to judgment. Don’t stereotype any group. One criminal should not taint a whole community. All sound and appropriate counsel to a nation long divided by race and ethnicity, and still grappling with pluralism and cultural and ethnic diversity. Racism, jingoism, xenophobia offer slogans and take us to war; they never take us to peace, nor to understanding. If we are a nation looking for domestic security and prosperity, we will have to confront the demons of our past and present. In the grand scheme of things, when we crack that nut we are nearly there. But there are other important elements to this news.

Patton Oswalt, the actor-comedian had one of the best commentaries, and most fitting, in view of the selfless acts of many ordinary people on the site in Boston:

“I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem, but here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet.

“When you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye.

“Think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’”

I was raised on a healthy diet of “good vs. evil” growing up, (through cartoons, the Catholic Church) which is hard programming to debug as an adult. The “bug” is that once we have “determined” that evil exists, like good scientists, we go looking for it, and bless us if we don’t find it. Wherever we look: “Them!” “There!” and the more we look, the more we find.

Except it was actually nowhere on display in Boston until we started looking for it. A mysterious catastrophe, death and injury, tragedy, horror, and hundreds of people figuring out how to help people in need. That doesn’t include the people in uniform, who were doing their jobs. No one sat back and simply watched police and EMT’s, paid public servants, do their job. No one waited for the mayor to commandeer hotels to put people up. The people stepped up, as one, literally.

Democracy, the centrality of ordinary individuals in their own governance and public life, requires lots of integrity. That is particularly true of the media, which should afford us good, accurate (especially today), timely information, but also maybe not saying anything when there is nothing to be said. The media does not serve democracy well when it is more interested in headlines than the truth, or in saying anything to keep our attention.

Most importantly, democracy also relies on those same ordinary individuals to step up, speak up, and roll up their sleeves, in the interest of all. Boston on Monday was a great lesson in democracy at the street level. Good government should figure out how to tap into that – maybe we will have to “encourage” more good government.

Instead of “Them!”, “There!” , let’s follow Boston’s lead: “We!” “Now!”

Check out our April newsletter and sign up for the next Democracy Exchange on 4/15

April 9, 2013 Comments off

CSD logo mediumImmigration reform will be taking center stage this month, with Senators inching closer to an agreement (we might even see a bill drafted soon). Any proposal would garner a significant number of questions — How will different communities be impacted? How will our current immigration system change? Will families be left out? What opportunities will the public have to weigh in on the bill? What will immigration reform mean for racial justice? What will it mean for our democracy?

Join us on Monday, April 15 at 2:00pm ET as we explore these questions, and others, on our next Democracy Exchange. We have an amazing group of guests, including Oscar Chacon of NALACC, Opal Tometi of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Erin Oshiro of the Asian American Justice Center, and Susan Downs-Karkos of Welcoming America, with whom we will be discussing immigration reform, civic engagement, and its impact on diverse communities.

Please sign up for the call hereWe’re really excited about this conversation and hope you can join us.

The rest of this month’s democracy updates are below the fold.

Thank you for reading, as always.
Peter
Executive Director
phardie@strongerdemocracy.org

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Immigration: A Democracy Issue

April 5, 2013 1 comment

may day march“This is what democracy looks like!”

So spoke one of the hosts of a gathering of African Diasporan immigrants on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. last week. Participants gathered from near and far to raise their voices and be heard. Representatives from the halls of Congress came too, heard, and, of course, spoke. Not surprisingly, they encouraged the gathering to continue to raise their voices and remind legislators of their identity and their issues.

Two lessons about democracy arise. First, government does not do well without good and constant communication with its citizenry. That communication comes in many shapes and sizes, and while ideally it should be two-way, it often is not. This is somewhat problematic: One-way communication falls far short of guaranteeing understanding, and even farther short of producing agreement or consensus.

Worse, it often does not feel successful as communication, and many organizations spend lots of time trying to figure out how to be heard. In a nation of 300 million, getting heard is no easy task. I felt a sense of pride that hundreds of folks got themselves organized to make a loud statement outside, and then head indoors for more communication. As we Americans like to say, this is indeed what democracy looks like.

The second lesson is that many of those gathered a week ago are not, in fact, citizens. They may have visas or not. They may have work permits or not. They may not even want to be citizens, for a variety of good and fine reasons. In spite of all that, they felt compelled and privileged to communicate with the government about their issues and concerns. One does not have to look far to find many citizens discouraged about government and reluctant to put some travelling boots on and head to Washington to speak their minds. So, kudos to the immigrant community for lifting their voices, and kudos to our society for creating and safeguarding the space for their voices.

Legislative immigration reform is a complicated set of democracy issues, including the courts, prisons, police, and laws, and an array of social and cultural attitudes and ideas about citizenship and nationhood, not all friendly and fuzzy as the inscription on Miss Liberty in New York harbor. But if voice is not something that we deny any inside our borders, then fixing immigration should ensure that voice, free from intimidation, free from fear of deportation, free from repercussion. We need the voices of all people in the formulation of law and the management of our nation’s assets. Police chiefs around the country have made this case: people who fear deportation are unlikely to report crime or to cooperate with the police. Immigrants living in the shadows are likely to become victims of economic exploitation and theft of their wages. Law and order breaks down without their voices, while human and social service systems don’t function well without.

Our decennial census counts everyone, citizens and residents, for good cause. To the extent that government sees the well-being of the nation, knowing who we are is important and vital. Immigration reform is not just the interest of immigrants, past and future. It is the interest of democracy. All have voice. And we like it that way.

 

**This particular group comprised Africans and Caribbean immigrants, making the case that not all immigrants came into the country illegally

*** Image via Wikimedia Commons

Voting rights in the balance — Our March, 2013 newsletter

March 6, 2013 Comments off

CSD logo mediumAlthough February has the fewest days of any month, it remained chock- full of happenings in the world of democracy.

The future of a key component in the Voting Rights Act lies in the balance as the Supreme Court once again takes up Section 5 of the act, which has helped prevent racially motivated voter suppression tactics since the law first passed in 1965. Although one Supreme Court justice (more on Scalia later!)  believes that Section 5 bleeds “racial entitlement,” it is clear to most that the VRA continues to be one of the most definitive legal tools to fighting discriminatory voting and election laws at the state level.

As well, Common Cause, one of the Campaign’s partners is challenging the White House’s efforts to raise money for through the successor to its campaign apparatus, Organizing for Action. While the Campaign supports grassroots organizing, we share the concerns of advocates that large donations to an organization so closely connected to the White House is not ideal. On the heels of the most expensive presidential campaign in history, and growing power of corporate money in politics, we need a de-escalation of money wars in our democracy. You can find Common Cause Director Bob Edgar’s commentary below.

In other news, Common Cause and OpenTheGovernment.org will be hosting a couple of great events next week in Washington, D.C., while this Friday we’ll be listening in on a Center for Media Justice tele-clinic with Rashad Robinson.

Take care, and stay tuned. The rest of the newsletter is below the fold.

Peter
Executive Director
phardie@strongerdemocracy.org

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