Reader’s Forum–Dave Franklin and Call Tonight

This is our last Reader’s Forum before we go live tonight at 7 pm EST in conversation with David Daley, the author of RATF**KED: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy.  All the call in details are below.

9A6C9600-2757-4F7E-8800-0EA98B904327

My introduction to independent politics began in 1992 with Dr. Lenora Fulani’s independent Presidential campaign. I worked on the campaign and was asked to run for Congress here in California.  I ran on the “Peace and Freedom” party ticket. This party was basically an old style left party that didn’t do much. They were pretty upset with me for running.  The only thing they liked about me was the fact I was a union members and shop steward. Otherwise, I was persona non grata. Before this, I was a democrat who realized that the party didn’t really respond to  working people’s issues.

Dr. Fulani’s campaign raised the lack of fairness in our elections. Throughout the years I have continued to support independent politics and Independent Voting’s various initiatives.  Here is CA, I have been active with Independent Voice, an association of independent voters focused on moving control of our elections from the political parties to the voters.  We were part of the coalitions that worked to pass nonpartisan elections in 2010 and nonpartisan redistricting reform. There twin reforms have been critical in giving all of CA’s 4.7 million independent voters the opportunity to vote in the primaries, creating more competitive elections and a far more functional state legislature.   It is not sufficient to have fair redistricting unless we have fair elections where all voters can participate.

I found the story of RATF**KED very insightful, but perhaps with too many statistics.

The current use of computer software to create new districts is interesting. The Republican Party’s plan to use redistricting to take over is amazing in that it worked and was successful.Redistricting as a strategy has been around for a long time. Both parties used it to their advantage.It’s only with the invention of new software that has created an easier path for the strategy. It only makes stealing elections and stealing democracy a click or two away. If you can’t win an election outright, then redistrict your way to a win. Corruption still looks like corruption, in both parties.

Our current strategy at Independent Voting looks promising. Organizing independents who are ignored by both parties and the media and working for truly nonpartisan reforms that focus on empowering all voters.

Speaking of strategy, I highly recommend reading the new book, Refinery Town: Big Oil,  Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City, by Steve Early. This is the story of my town where I have lived for almost 40 years. The Green Party came to Richmond California in the early 2000’s. They organized the old fashioned way. Door-to door. Person-by person. The city of 100,000 is one the poorest in the bay area. Also the most diverse. Chevron, on the biggest oil companies has run the town for almost 100 years. The local politicians,mostly democrat’s have been paid off by Chevron for almost the same amount of time.

After 2-3 years of serious grass-roots organizing the Green Party ran a slate for mayor and city council that was elected. The new mayor, Gayle McLaughlin cleaned house and brought new and progressive leadership to our city. It was a deeply entrenched, deeply corrupted city. Bought and paid for by Chevron. Gayle brought in a new police chief from Fargo North Dakota , who also cleaned house. With the city near bankruptcy, she hired an new city manager. Now, 10 years later, Richmond has a experienced a turn-around. Poverty is still here, as is crime. But, now there are serious programs addressing these issues. Chevron is now ponying up it’s fair share to maintain these programs and the city of Richmond. For years they were able to find tax loopholes in the local taxes and exploit them

I am looking forward to our conversation with David Daley tonight.

Dave Franklin lives in CA and is a long time independent activist.

 

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

TONIGHT

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

 

Ratfucked book image

An Independent Reviews RATF**KED

The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy

By Dr. Jessie Fields 

Jessie Fields

Dr. Jessie Fields at the 2107 National Conference of Independents

 

David Daley does a fine job of exploring the politics of redistricting and the current escalation of gerrymandering, a very old corrupt standard practice of elected officials determining the electoral districts from which they are elected, drawing the lines of state legislative and congressional districts. The author examines in detail the resulting high level of voter disenfranchisement at the state and national level, the effective takeover of our political process by party operatives who determine the outcome of elections by packing Democratic leaning minority voters into dense urban districts and spreading so called Republican leaning voters over more districts which Republican legislators can be assured to win though by smaller margins. Throughout the book Daley touches on the racial and economic divisions this practice perpetuates.

The book pivots through the years of the Obama presidency and examines the 2010 Republican Party escalation of partisan gerrymandering that targeted districts in key states to successfully control the state redistricting process which resulted in unprecedented victories for the Republican Party and their domination of a majority of state legislatures and of Congress.  The author also points out the complacency of the Democratic Party, its focus on presidential elections and the Democratic Party’s reliance on demographics to win elections.

A solution to gerrymandering is unlikely to come from either of the two parties. The Republicans may have perfected it in 2010, but both sides have had a long, successful history of manipulating redistricting for their own advantage. A political party is built to win elections, after all – as well as to raise money and employ consultants and operatives. Their leaders always believe they can win the next one, and that reformers will stop howling once their side regains power. Too often, sadly, that’s true.”

Independent voters have been and remain committed to nonpartisan political reform including redistricting reform. The source for reform has come primarily from voter ballot initiatives and the book highlights the fights to maintain such initiatives in states like Arizona, where the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme court and the voter initiative was upheld by a 5-4 vote of the court.

Other examples of the passage of redistricting reforms by popular vote are Florida’s “nonpartisan Fair Districts Now coalition” which in 2010 passed two reform initiatives with 62 percent support. In 2015 Ohio voters by 71% passed a ballot initiative that, though limited, established a less partisan plan for drawing state legislative districts.

However California, in my estimate the state that has led the country in electoral reform victories with its redistricting commission and nonpartisan top two elections initiatives, passed by the voters in 2010, is not mentioned except in a quote in the chapter, “Democrats” from Martin Frost, a former Texas Congressman who was gerrymandered out of office.  

“When Democrats controlled the House for the four decades before the 1994 Gingrich revolution, redistricting worked with a wink, he said; it was an incumbent protection racket on both sides. .. “That’s why prior to the referendum in California – prior to the commission – everyone got reelected.” “The numbers back that up.”

The overarching theme of the book is in the subtitle, “The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy”.  It expresses the stealth aspect of the reality of what is happening to American democracy. A centerpiece of the theft and destruction of democracy is partisan gerrymandering in conjunction with closed partisan primaries. If the primaries locally and nationally were open and every voter, no matter party affiliation or non-affiliation, including independent voters could vote the threat of being “primaried” by a far right wing Republican would not exist.

The relationship of opening the primaries to all voters along with redistricting reform is underestimated, both are needed. Partisan gerrymandering hinges on the district being dominated by identification with one political party, so that whoever wins that party primary wins the general election. If the primary is open to all voters the candidates who are successful are more likely those that appeal to a cross section of voters. This phenomenon has been demonstrated in states with nonpartisan open primaries. A massive continuous infusion of systemic democracy reforms and initiatives that take power from the parties and put it in the hands of the voters are needed to save our democracy. I could not agree more with Daley that “.., it will require creative state and local solutions, inventive uses of the referendum and initiative process, and new alliances of frustrated citizens which defy party boundaries, rooted in the belief that fair elections which reflect an honest majority are as important as which side wins. It will take people to stand up and say that our democratic values matter too deeply to ratfuck.”

The book was completed before the end of the 2016 presidential election, and in it Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, postulates alternative scenarios if the election was won by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or “a Republican” given that gerrymandering has given the Republican Party a congressional majority for the rest of this decade. Donald Trump is now president. He was elected because large segments of the American people are in revolt against the establishment and are looking for ways to change politics. This popular revolt was also expressed in the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders.

The gerrymander is yet another example of a political barrier that must be overcome. Voters are becoming more independent and less easily sorted by party identification. Independents say strongly “do not put me in that box”, 43% of Americans now identify as independents, they are the hoped for bridge to a new and more inclusive American democracy.

~Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practising in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.

***

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

Gerrymandering heads to the Supreme Court

As we begin our reading of RATF**KED: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy,  you will also want to read the The New York Times  piece on April 21st outlining the current status of the legal fights around gerrymandering.

 The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. A panel of judges agreed that the State Assembly’s electoral districts had been gerrymandered before the 2012 election, favoring Republicans.CreditMichael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal, via Associated Press

The hand-to-hand political combat in House elections on Tuesday in Georgia and last week in Kansas had the feel of the first rounds of an epic battle next year for control of the House of Representatives and the direction of national politics as the Trump presidency unfolds.

But for all the zeal on the ground, none of it may matter as much as a case heading to the Supreme Court, one that could transform political maps from City Hall to Congress — often to Democrats’ benefit.

A bipartisan group of voting rights advocates says the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature, the State Assembly, was gerrymandered by its Republican majority before the 2012 election — so artfully, in fact, that Democrats won a third fewer Assembly seats than Republicans despite prevailing in the popular vote. In November, in a 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of federal judges agreed.

Now the Wisconsin case is headed to a Supreme Court that has repeatedly said that extreme partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional, but has never found a way to decide which ones cross the line.

Some legal scholars believe this could be the year that changes that. If that happens, they say, an emphatic ruling against partisan gerrymanders would rank with another redistricting decision: Baker v. Carr, the historic 1962 case that led to the principle of one person, one vote.

 “My feeling is that there is increasing concern within the court about the extent of partisan gerrymandering over the last 10 or 15 years,” said Richard H. Pildes, a constitutional law professor at the New York University School of Law. “I do think this is a pivotal moment — a big, big moment.”

Gerrymandering has always been contentious. But the extraordinary success of a Republican strategy to control redistricting by capturing majorities in state legislatures in the 2010 elections has lent urgency to the debate.

Today, at a time of hyperpartisan politics and computer technology that can measure political leanings almost house by house, Republicans control legislatures in 33 states, 25 with Republican governors. They have unfettered command over the boundaries of at least 204 congressional districts — amounting to nearly half the 435-seat House.

In contrast, Democrats’ share of state legislature seats has shrunk to a level not seen since Warren G. Harding was president, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And in recent years, their numbers in the House of Representatives have hovered near levels last seen during the Truman administration.

Partly because of the Voting Rights Act, gerrymanders based on race are flatly illegal, but ones based on partisan intent remain in limbo.

The Wisconsin case heads four legal actions on partisan gerrymanders that the Supreme Court could consider and, perhaps, consolidate. In Maryland, another three-judge panel will hear arguments over whether a Democratic legislature gerrymandered House districts in 2011 to oust a 10-term Republican congressman.

In North Carolina, a June hearing is scheduled in a suit over the unabashedly partisan carving of the state into 10 Republican and three Democratic House seats — this in a state with more registered Democrats than Republicans.

The state representative who drew that map said he had engineered 10 safely Republican seats only “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

Experts disagree over how much gerrymandering has hurt Democrats. One prominent 2013 study mostly blamed geography, not partisanship, because Democrats tend to cluster in cities. But the most recent study, by a Princeton professor, Samuel S. H. Wang, concluded that gerrymanders had cost Democrats as many as 22 House seats in the 2012 election — nearly enough to flip the chamber’s control.

Politicians, on the other hand, appear certain of their electoral potency. Former President Barack Obama and his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., are spearheading an initiative to undo Republicans’ redistricting triumphs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and the former governor of California, is leading a movement to outlaw gerrymanders of any political stripe.

Wisconsin Republican leaders say they dominate the Legislature because they have both a better strategy and vision of governing, not because of illegal gerrymandering.

“In a year when people want change, even in a district that favors one party over another, a good candidate with a good message wins,” said Robin Vos, Wisconsin’s Assembly speaker.

But the court said in November that the redistricting clearly aimed to entrench Republican control of the Assembly. The party took 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats in 2012 despite losing the popular vote, and has since added three more.

As in all gerrymanders, Wisconsin’s mapmakers hobbled their opponents in two ways. One was to pack as many Democrats as possible into a few districts, leaving fewer Democrats for potentially competitive ones. In 2012, 21 of the 39 Assembly districts that Democrats won were so lopsided that Republicans did not even field candidates. In two more, Democrats captured at least 94 percent of the vote.

The other method was to fracture unwinnable Democratic districts, salting their Democrats among Republican-majority districts so that races there became closer yet remained out of Democrats’ reach.

“They just busted my district and put it into four or five others,” said Mark Radcliffe, a 45-year-old Democrat and former state representative, whose district encompassed Alma Center, in rural western Wisconsin. Mr. Radcliffe, who wound up in the district of another Democrat, chose to resign rather than run against a popular member of his own party.

John Steinbrink at his home in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. Mr. Steinbrink, a Democrat, had represented a district in far southeastern Wisconsin since 1996, but after redistricting, lost to a Republican who won 55 percent of the vote in 2012. Credit Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

John Steinbrink, another Democrat, had represented southeastern Wisconsin in the Assembly since 1996, supported by a Democratic base in Kenosha, six miles from where he farms corn and soybeans. After redistricting, Kenosha became a safe Democratic district, and Mr. Steinbrink was exiled to an adjoining district populated by rural conservatives. In 2012, his Republican opponent won with 55 percent of the vote.

“I could have moved to Kenosha” and sought re-election there, Mr. Steinbrink said. “But I don’t know how you farm in the city.”

The legal argument against such maps is akin to the one used for decades to outlaw ethnic and racial gerrymanders. Gerrymanders dilute a minority group’s votes, muffling its voice in the political process. The Wisconsin plaintiffs argue that whether the minority group is African-Americans or members of a political party makes no difference.

“When you’re talking about the opportunity to turn your vote into a policy or change, the 14th Amendment says you should have an equal chance, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican,” said Ruth Greenwood, the deputy director for redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center, which is representing plaintiffs in Wisconsin and North Carolina. “But if you’re a Republican in Wisconsin, you get an outsized say with your vote. And if you’re a Democrat in Rhode Island, you get an outsized say.’’

But while racial or ethnic gerrymanders can be statistically measured — a Latino remains a Latino from election to election — judges have struggled to identify overly partisan districts, knowing voter sentiments can quickly change.

In Supreme Court cases in 1986, 2004 and 2006, justices variously called partisan gerrymanders illegitimate, seriously harmful, incompatible with democratic principles and “manipulation of the electorate.” But they have never struck one down. And in 2004, they came within a single vote of ruling them impossible to judge, because nobody could draw the line between unavoidable political influence in redistricting and an unconstitutional rigging of the vote.

The Maryland lawsuit proposes a solution that some justices have pondered: an argument that gerrymanders violate the First Amendment, not the 14th, by retaliating against opponents who express contrary views. Under that standard, any partisanship-inspired district would be unconstitutional if it hobbled a minority party.

The Wisconsin plaintiffs’ attempt to break the logjam is a new standard, the efficiency gap. It is a numerical rating of parties’ “wasted” votes: those above the 50-percent-plus-1 needed to win a seat, and all votes cast in a loss. When the gap between the parties’ ratings exceeds a limit based on ratings from hundreds of past elections, the plaintiffs argue, the majority party should have to justify the boundaries it drew. Even then, plaintiffs would have to prove the party aimed to weaken the opposition.

 Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law professor and lawyer for the plaintiffs, said four of the five most partisan state legislature maps in the last 45 years were drawn after 2010. CreditTaylor Glascock for The New York Times

The Wisconsin case underscores how modern gerrymanders, using computers and political and behavioral data, have become increasingly effective. Measured by the efficiency gap, four of the five most partisan state legislature maps in the last 45 years were drawn after 2010, said Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law professor and lawyer for the plaintiffs.

In the House of Representatives, eight of the 10 most partisan maps were created after 2010, including Wisconsin’s and two in North Carolina.

One participant in the 2004 decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, may prove the fulcrum in the court’s deliberations. In that case, he held out hope that the court could find a solution to extreme gerrymanders that political leaders were unable or unwilling to address.

“The ordered working of our Republic, and of the democratic process, depends on a sense of decorum and restraint in all branches of government, and in the citizenry itself,” he wrote then.

At a time of soaring concern over hyperpartisanship, those words could resonate. That sentence “is the most important line” in the court’s decision, said Edward B. Foley, director of the Election Law Project at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

If the Wisconsin statistical standards do not persuade the justices, other proposals are waiting in the wings. But some worry that the debate may be close to hitting the brick wall it avoided in 2004.

“If the court doesn’t endorse some version of what the three-judge panel decided” in Wisconsin, said Ellen D. Katz, a University of Michigan scholar of election law, “then it may be they’re never going to find a standard they’re comfortable applying.”

***

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

 

A Poem and A Song

Today we wrap our celebration of National Poetry Month with two selections: a poem chosen by Alice Rydel and an original song by Joe Pickering, Jr.

Alice-pic-Florida

In selecting Before the Scales, Tomorrow, Alice shares:

Here’s to memories, friendships, audaciousness, love, activism, prickliness, differences, agreements, forward-thinkingness, organizing, fighting for a world of humanity in such an inhumane time.”


Before the Scales, Tomorrow

By: Otto Rene Castillo

And when the enthusiastic
story of our time
is told,
who are yet to be born
but announce themselves
with more generous face,
we will come out ahead
–those who have suffered most from it.

And that
being ahead of your time
means much suffering from it.
But it’s beautiful to love the world
with eyes
that have not yet
been born.

And splendid
to know yourself victorious
when all around you
it’s all still so cold,
so dark.

Alice Rydel is a builder of the All Stars Project’s Castillo Theatre and long-time activist with the independent political community.

***

Joe Pickering, Jr. shares his original Song, More American Then Plymouth Rock.

Give a listen, and the full lyrics are below.

MORE AMERICAN  THAN  PLYMOUTH ROCK

CHORUS

MORE AMERICAN  THAN  PLYMOUTH ROCK
THE STATUE OF LIBERTY CRIES  FOR NEW YORK
MILLIONS FIRST CAME ASHORE TO BE FREE
NOW NEW YORK’S JAILED IN A CLOSED PRIMARY 

VOTERS MUST CHOSE FROM THE PARTY SELECTION 
PARTY CANDIDATES FOR THE PARTYS PROTECTION
SAVE AMERICA SENATOR SCHUMER ONCE WROTE
SAVE NEW YORK FIRST ! LET INDEPENDENTS VOTE !

REPEAT CHORUS

END THE PARTISAN PRMARY SCHUMER PROPOSED
YEARS LATER, THEIR PRIMARY REMAINS CLOSED
POLITICIANS HEED THE STATUE OF LIBERTY
ALL YEARN TO BE FREE ! HELP VOTERS VOTE FREE

REPEAT CHORUS

INDEPENDENT VOTERS  STAND AND FIGHT 
HOUND THE LEGISLATURE ‘TIL THEY VOTE RIGHT
NEW YORKERS THE STATUE CRIES FOR THEE
DRY HER TEARS DEMAND THE OPEN PRIMARY

(repeat last line in last verse several times and fade.)

Joe Pickering Jr.. Songwriter  Harry King artist and producer  King of the Road Music BMI  C 2017

 Joe Pickering, Jr is the President of Mainers for Open Elections.

You can listen to More American Than Plymouth Rock here.
https://youtu.be/fCSQma7xz5c

 

***

OUR NEXT SELECTION:

 RATF**KED:

The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy 

By David Daley

Will kick off on Monday.

Our conference call with the author will be on Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST.

Beijing by Jan Wootten

 

 

 

I wrote this poem in Feb. 2008, after the NY Philharmonic’s historic concert at the newly opened Performing Arts Center in Beijing. The musician’s bus travelled through Tiananmen Square, past Mao’s tomb.

Tour bus hums through the empty square
shrouded in shadows
Mao’s crypt sits forlornly in the night.
Motionless among the delirious eruptions of Capital that criss-cross the skyline
he silently bears witness to a surreal mix of the forbidden city and equity markets.

(A sadness grips me knowing he lies alone.
I wonder if he turns over, shakes off his red cover,
if his rouged cheeks blush harder with the confusion and absurdity of the moment.)

By day, peasants from across the land wrap round and round his resting place
a simple people, hard working and humble
toiling for little, investing everything for a better future
they mingle in the mall with tourists from Omaha and Waco.

Tonight the people crowd into the tiny concert hall
a titanium space ship landed on Tiananmen
a beautiful, alien cultural machine settling in, beckoning with free tickets for all

Quiet men in sweaters and zippered jackets clap politely, then warming to the music, smile broadly;
small children wave at the stage,
the timpani’s energetic wands signal back a western hello.

later, bundled onto their tour bus, oboists, strings and percussion wind through cavernous, empty streets;
a young thin man in uniform presses against his epaulets, standing watch under a red star

And Mr. Mao, I imagine,
strains to the sounds of Ravel and Brahms
tapping out the syncopated rhythms of this strange leap forward.

Photo on 11-19-16 at 2.39 PM
Janet Wootten, a proud independent since 1972 — and a Fulani foot soldier since 1988, helping to advance the independent cause.

National Poetry Month At P4P

Our celebration of National Poetry Month kicks off April 1st.

We will be sharing poems submitted by P4P members across the country.

Do you have a favorite political poem or poet? Do you have an original political poem that you have written that you would like to share?  Send me a note at Cathy.stewart5@gmail.com to have your selection considered.

This is the official poster for National Poetry Month. This year’s artist is Maira Kalman.

Image result for high resolution image of national poetry month poster

 

Click here to visit the poster where each image links to a poem.

***

OUR NEXT SELECTION:

 RATF**KED:

The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy 

By David Daley

We will be kicking off this selection toward the end of the month.

Our conference call with the author will be on Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST.

 

 

 

Readers’ Forum—Lou Hinman

unnamed

 

We all know things that we can’t “prove”.  I know, for example, that the killings and beatings of unarmed black men by the police and prison guards are not “the appearance” of racism, nor are they exceptions, mistakes, or isolated incidents.  They are part of a racist culture, and they terrorize entire communities.  Furthermore, they are meant to do this, and the bi-partisan political establishment — the ultimate enablers of the police — want us to be afraid.

I was part way through Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond when I came across the op-ed “Why Don’t You Just Call the Cops?” that Desmond co-wrote with Andrew Papachristos in the New York Times.

They showed, by a statistical analysis of 911 calls, that there was a drastic reduction of such calls to the police from the black community in Milwaukee in the period following a front-page story covering the savage and unprovoked beating of a black man by on- and off-duty Milwaukee policemen in 2004.  The police chief of Milwaukee, Edward Flynn, dismissed their findings — attributing the decline to a glitch in the 911 system.  But Desmond and Papachristos showed that it was not all 911 calls that declined — only 911 calls to the police!

Desmond and Papachristos are in the tradition of courageous activist intellectuals and writers like Franz Fanon and Jean-Paul Sartre (The Wretched of the Earth), Rosa Luxemburg (The Accumulation of Capital), Otto René Castillo (Apolitical Intellectuals), Émile Zola (J’Accuse), and Fred Newman (philosopher and independent political activist), who have used their scientific training, their analytic skills, and their literary gifts (always at some personal risk) to expose the fallacies, obfuscations, and outright lies of the political establishment and their official apologists and “explainers”.

As for Evicted, it exposes how slum housing (whose value should have long since been depreciated to zero in any reasonable system of accounting) is a source of large profits for the banks that hold the mortgages, and how the poorest Americans are kept in a state of poverty, dependence, and insecurity by paying most of whatever income they have to keep a decaying roof over their heads.

It also shows how some of the more  privileged and enterprising members of poor communities are coopted into this exploitative system, becoming small-time landlords themselves, while they fulfill a larger purpose as enforcers for the banks.

Evicted also suggests how, in lieu of decent affordable housing and jobs at living wages, government subsidies for the poor (the “safety net”) keep the poor marginal and powerless, and simultaneously subsidize the landlords and banks that profit from their misery.  (If you want to learn more about this in horrifying detail, be sure to see Daniel Hatcher’s important new study, The Poverty Industry.) 

But probably the most important thing to say about Evicted is that for those of us who have never been without a place to sleep at night, it paints a vivid picture of what such a life is like for the human beings who live it.

Lou Hinman is an independent activist living in New York City.

***

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

EVICTED–an overview

desmond_2015_hi-res-download_3

Matthew Desmond in his office in Cambridge, MA. Sept. 10, 2015. 

 

EVICTED

Poverty and Profit in the American City

By Matthew Desmond

 Below is an overview of the book, prepared by the publisher that I thought would be of interest as you are reading the book, or reviewing the book as you think about our conversation with Matthew Desmond on October 23rd.

From Harvard sociologist and 2015 MacArthur “Genius” award winner Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America.

Today, poor families are facing one of the worst affordable housing crises in generations. Many are spending almost all they have to live in decrepit housing in our cities’ worst neighborhoods. What it means to be poor in America today is to be crushed by the high cost of housing and evicted when you inevitably fall behind.

In this groundbreaking book, Harvard sociologist and 2015 MacArthur “Genius” award winner Matthew Desmond takes us into Milwaukee to introduce us to eight families on the edge of eviction. 

  • Arleen is a single mother trying to raise two boys on $628 a month. After falling behind on rent, Arleen receives eviction papers and sets off into the coldest Milwaukee winter on record to find her family a new home. Eighty-nine calls later, she’s still looking.
  • Crystal, eighteen and fresh out of foster care, lets Arleen and her children stay with her even though she doesn’t “know them from Adam and Eve.” After repeatedly calling the police on behalf of a neighbor being abused by a boyfriend, Crystal and Arleen are both evicted. Crystal turns to prostitution to survive before turning back to her church family.
  • Vanetta, a devoted mother of three with no criminal record, participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut, sending her children into homelessness and Vanetta to prison.
  • A gregarious single father who serves as taskmaster and confidant to adolescent neighborhood boys, Lamar tries to work off his rent by performing odd jobs for his landlord.  A wheelchair bound double-amputee, he crawls through empty apartments, painting cracked walls and praying for strength. His story ends in tragedy.
  • Doreen Hinkston and her desperately poor but tight-knit family prepare to welcome a new baby into a home so rundown and dirty they refer to it as the “rat hole.”
  • Scott, a gentle night-shift nurse turned heroin addict, loses his license and middle-class lifestyle.  He moves into one of Milwaukee’s worst trailer park, where getting drugs is as easy as asking for a cup of sugar. Scott hits rock bottom before trying to get clean.
  • A grandmother who falls behind in rent after paying her gas bill because she wanted to take a hot shower, Larraine is evicted by sheriff deputies and her things confiscated by movers.
  • Pam and Ned are evicted from their trailer when Ned is on the run from the law and Pam is eight months pregnant.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords.

  • Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, evangelizes to her fellow landlords about the money that can be made on Milwaukee’s decaying North Side, saying “the ’hood is good.” She shows occasional kindnesses to her tenants, but says, “Love don’t pay the bills.”
  • In his twelve years at College Mobile Home Park, Tobin Charney has learned how to pull profit out of 131 dilapidated trailers. He takes home more than $400,000 a year running one of the poorest trailer parks in Milwaukee.

As Desmond lived alongside Arleen, Scott, and Lamar, he was also conducting a groundbreaking study that collected and analyzed years of novel statistical data about poverty, housing, and displacement. And what he found is that for the poorest families in America, eviction has become routine, and its effects are devastating.

  • Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, millions of Americans are evicted every year because they can’t make rent. In 2013, 1 in 8 poor renting families nationwide was unable to pay all of their rent, and a similar number thought it was likely they would be evicted soon.
  • Poor people’s incomes have slumped, housing costs have risen, and federal policy has failed to bridge the gap. As a result, today the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and at least one in four dedicates more than 70 percent to paying the rent and keeping the lights on. Housing assistance does not come close to meeting the need. Three in four families who qualify for assistance receive nothing.
  • Eviction affects the old and the young, the sick and able-bodied. But for poor women of color and their children, it has become ordinary. Among Milwaukee renters, more than 1 in 5 black women report having been evicted in their adult life, compared to 1 in 12 Hispanic women and 1 in 15 white women.  In poor black neighborhoods, what incarceration is to men, eviction is to women: a common yet consequential event that pushes families deeper into poverty.  Poor black men are locked up; poor black women are locked out.
  • Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.  It can cause workers to lose their jobs, prevent tenants from benefitting from public housing, and push families into substandard housing in undesirable parts of the city. It can also drive people to depression—even two years after the event, evicted mothers experience significantly higher rates of depression than their peers—and, in extreme cases, even suicide.
  • Many landlords won’t rent to families with children, and children themselves can provoke eviction.
  • The poor risk eviction if they report housing problems to the city or even if they call 911, especially when reporting domestic violence.
  • Eviction affects the communities that displaced families leave behind. For example, Milwaukee neighborhoods with high eviction rates have higher violent crime rates the following year, even after controlling for past crime rates and other relevant factors. 

Fixing this problem won’t be easy, but it is well within our nation’s capacity. 

Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The ability to work, get an education, provide for one’s children, stay sober and healthy: it all requires stable shelter. We’ve affirmed provision in old age, twelve years of an education, and basic nutrition to be the right of every citizen. Housing should also be seen as a fundamental human need because without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.

Low-income families on the edge of eviction have no right to counsel. But when tenants have lawyers, their chances of keeping their home increase dramatically. Establishing publicly funded legal services for low-income families in housing court would be a cost-effective measure that would prevent homelessness, decrease evictions, and give poor families a fair shake.

Extending the right to counsel in housing court would not address the underlying source of America’s eviction epidemic: the rapidly shrinking supply of affordable housing. A universal housing voucher program would carve a middle path between the landlord’s desire to make a living and the tenant’s desire, simply, to live. Every family below a certain income level would be eligible for a housing voucher.

A universal voucher program would change the face of poverty in this country. Evictions would plummet and become rare occurrences. Homelessness would almost disappear. We have the money to fund such a program; we just choose not to. Each year, we spend three times what a universal housing voucher program would cost on homeowner tax breaks, which mainly benefit families with six-figure incomes.

Eviction encapsulates in a single, hard moment the depths of our nation’s poverty, the brokenness of our housing policy, and the human costs of a crisis caused by low incomes and high rents. This moment, when the ramifications of the crisis are felt most acutely, also offers a window into extreme poverty, economic exploitation, and human perseverance. Look at eviction and you arrive at a bigger truth: the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

Matthew Desmond is the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Co-Director of the Justice and Poverty Project. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, he is the author of the award-winning book, On the Fireline, coauthor of two books on race, and editor of a collection of studies on severe deprivation in America. His work has been supported by the Ford, Russell Sage, and National Science Foundations, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. In 2015, Desmond was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant.

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Mary Fridley talks EVICTED

 

mf-picture

In a conversation with Fred Newman some years ago, I asked him how he decided what books to read. He basically said, “If you enjoy the conversation, read it; if you don’t, don’t.” After reading Evicted, I immediately recommended it to Cathy Stewart because I believed that she and other independents would appreciate the conversational journey the book and its author Matthew Desmond take us on. While it is not an easy journey, I found it to be an extraordinarily compassionate and thought-provoking one. Since Desmond is perhaps the quintessential “outsider” – a white, Harvard-trained academic – I appreciate that he took the time to build relationships with people who we get to know, not as “subjects,” but as a delightfully human group of Black and white women and men (whose stories remain with me) trying to fight/manipulate a system that refuses to relate to them, regardless of color, with any humanity at all.

I have spent much of my adult life doing all I can to end poverty, but reading Evicted showed me how easy it still is to relate to it as an abstraction rather than as an endlessly complex and interconnected industry out of which it is becoming more and more impossible to escape. Thus, I appreciate that, while Desmond does not shy away from sharing the foibles and failings of Scott, Patrice, Arleen and the others we meet in Evicted, he does so without blaming or shaming them.  As he says in a Huffington Post article I recently read, “Eviction is fundamentally changing the face of poverty. One way we can interpret eviction is like, ‘Oh, it’s a result of irresponsibility, it’s bad spending habits.’ But if you’re spending 80 percent of your income on rent, eviction is much more of an inevitability than an irresponsibility.”

He is also sensitive to the fact that the housing/eviction crisis is not impacting everyone the same way. I was touched/haunted by his observation that, “If incarceration has come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, evictionwas shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.” As a woman and an independent determined to transform a political system that is locking out growing numbers of Americans regardless of race, class or gender, I am glad we have an ally in Matthew Desmond and look forward to continuing – and growing – this much needed conversation.

Mary Fridley is the Director of Special Projects at the East Side Institute and a longtime independent activist from Brooklyn, NY.

***

Politics for the People Conference Call

 With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

***

 

Can the States Save American Democracy?

In yesterday’s New York Times, Hedrick Smith writes about the growing state based reform movement.  Hedrick, the author of Who Stole The American Dream, was a guest on Politics for the People in June.

In his opinion piece, which you can read below, Hedrick comments…

Groups like Independentvoting.org, which has grass-roots organizations in 40 states, are mobilizing against the de facto disenfranchisement of independent voters (who now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans) through the gerrymandering of nearly 90 percent of the nation’s congressional districts into one-party monopolies. In states with closed primaries, this denies independents any vote in the primaries, which makes them favorable turf for extremist candidates in the only seriously contested voting.”

12710918_10153893746657290_1289370713155256536_o

Jackie Salit, President of IndependentVoting.org and Hedrick Smith, NH, February 2016

The Opinion Pages | OPINION

Can the States Save American Democracy?

WASHINGTON — In this tumultuous election year, little attention has focused on the groundswell of support for political reform across grass-roots America. Beyond Bernie Sanders’s call for a political revolution, a broad array of state-level citizen movements are pressing for reforms against Citizens United, gerrymandering and campaign megadonors to give average voters more voice, make elections more competitive, and ease gridlock in Congress.

This populist backlash is in reaction to two monumental developments in 2010: the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling authorizing unlimited corporate campaign donations, and a Republican strategy to rig congressional districts. Together, they have changed the dynamics of American politics.

That January, Justice John Paul Stevens warned in his dissent that Citizens United would “unleash the floodgates” of corporate money into political campaigns, and so it has. The overall funding flood this year is expected to surpass the record of $7 billion spent in 2012.

Later in 2010, the Republican Party’s “Redmap” strategy won the party control of enough state governments to gerrymander congressional districts across the nation the following year. One result: In the 2014 elections, Republicans won 50.7 percent of the popular vote and reaped a 59-seat majority.

Now, with Congress often gridlocked by Republicans from those safe districts, the initiative on reform has shifted to the states. Insurgency has spread beyond California and New York to unlikely Republican bastions like Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska and South Dakota.

At this point, 17 states have become reform battlegrounds. In six, lawsuits are challenging racial or partisan gerrymandering, and in five more, that goal is being pursued by popular movements, state governors or legislative bodies. This summer, federal courts have ruled in favor of suits seeking to strike down strict photo-identification requirements in Texas, North Carolina and North Dakota. The courts found that the requirements discriminated against minorities, and often seniors and students. Other citizen lawsuits have won restoration of early voting days in Ohio and straight-ticket voting for Michigan.

South Dakota and Washington State are holding referendums on proposals for more transparent elections; similar petition drives fell just short of success in Arizona and Idaho. This year, reformers in California, New York and Washington State have been mustering votes to press Congress to control campaign funding and ban corporate campaign contributions.

In the pushback against Citizens United, 17 states and more than 680 local governments have appealed to Congress for a constitutional amendment, either through a letter to Congress, referendums, legislative resolutions, city council votes or collective letters from state lawmakers. In the most prominent case, California’s 18 million registered voters get to vote in November on whether to instruct their 55-member congressional delegation to “use all of their constitutional authority” to overturn Citizens United. Washington State is holding a similar referendum.

In 2014, a Democratic amendment proposal to allow regulation and limits on electoral spending won a 54-42 majority in the Senate, strictly along party lines, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster. Now bills calling for a 6-to-1 match of public funds for small campaign donations up to $150, or requiring disclosure of funders for campaign ads, have wide Democratic support, but are blocked by Republican opposition.

Yet out in the country, even in some reliably red states, reform movements have sprouted. South Dakota is one, thanks to three petition drives. One seeks to make primaries nonpartisan and another calls for an independent redistricting commission. A third is for a ballot measure, similar to one in Washington State, that would create a $50 tax credit for each voter to donate to a political candidate; ban campaign contributions exceeding $100 from lobbyists and state contractors; and mandate that independent groups speedily disclose the top five contributors to political ads and electioneering communications made within 60 days of an election.

In April, Nebraska’s Republican-dominated Legislature voted 29-15 to set up an independent redistricting commission. Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, vetoed the bill, but reformist legislators promise a revised proposal in the next session.

Groups like Independentvoting.org, which has grass-roots organizations in 40 states, are mobilizing against the de facto disenfranchisement of independent voters (who now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans) through the gerrymandering of nearly 90 percent of the nation’s congressional districts into one-party monopolies. In states with closed primaries, this denies independents any vote in the primaries, which makes them favorable turf for extremist candidates in the only seriously contested voting.

In addition, nonpartisan local-election primaries, in which all voters can choose any candidate without regard for party, are being pushed by a citizens movement in South Dakota. Louisiana, California and Washington State already use them.

Two dozen states have attacked gerrymandering head-on. Eleven have set up independent redistricting commissions or other politically neutral mechanisms. Legal challenges have been mounted in half a dozen others. In seven more, including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, popular movements, state legislatures and even the Republican governors Larry Hogan of Maryland, John Kasich of Ohio and Mike Pence of Indiana, who is now Donald J. Trump’s running mate, have said it’s time to outlaw gerrymandering.

In April, Governor Kasich won resounding applause from the Ohio Legislature when he called for an end to gerrymandering: “When pure politics is what drives these kinds of decisions, the result is polarization and division. I think we’ve had enough of that.”

  • Independent Lens

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 335 other followers

  • Featured Links

  • Categories

  • Facebook

  • Links