Reader’s Forum—Tiani Coleman

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In the book Ratf**ked:  The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, by David Daley, we get behind-the-scenes insights into how we’ve arrived at such a partisan, polarized Congress, where the American People are its victims.  The book is a piece of investigative journalism, wherein we’re able to witness how the Republicans were able to more than counteract the Democratic wave of 2008; when Obama was elected in 2008, Republicans were afraid that demographic trends, combined with Democratic control of the White House and both chambers of Congress would leave Republicans in the dust.  But Republicans hatched a plan, called REDMAP, that changed everything for at least a decade, if not more.   While all eyes were on Washington, Republicans (through the Republican State Leadership Committee – RSLC) were raising a lot of big money and putting it into relatively inexpensive, targeted state house, senate and governor races, knowing that the Census of 2010 would bring on new redistricting, and if they could get control – at the state level — of redistricting (the reapportionment and drawing of boundaries for U.S. House Districts), they could regain control of Congress.  It worked beyond their wildest dreams, even with unintended consequences.

The book provides example after example, of how this was done.   In PA, for example, in 2008, their U.S. House seats were 12-7 for Democrats.  In 2010, it flipped 12-7 for Republicans, and the Republican majority grew to 13-5 in 2012.  But in 2012, “Obama won 52% of the vote [in PA]; Democratic house candidates won 51 percent of the vote[,but only] . . . 28% of the seats.”  In NC, Democrats entered the 2012 election with 7/13 seats, and even though they won 50.6% of the votes, the Republicans took 9/13 seats, which became 10/13 in 2014.  This was done across the country by using the Voting Rights Act as a reason to pack minorities into the same district.  Some people think that’s just the way it is, with minorities and Democrats in higher population centers, but when you look at the extremely crazy district lines, you recognize that it’s a very deliberate attempt at getting certain political outcomes by compacting the Democrats and spreading Republicans out among many low-Democrat districts.  It gave Democrats some ultra-safe Districts where they wouldn’t have to pay any attention to anyone other than their base, and it usually resulted in some Republican safe Districts, as well as Republican-leaning districts.  No wonder why so many people feel like their vote doesn’t count.  It doesn’t!  If you’re part of a supermajority in a safe district, your vote is being wasted on voting for someone who will win anyway; you can’t use it to try to help someone win in a close race; and if you’re in the minority in a supermajority safe district, your vote will never change the outcome.

Daley shows how redistricting has caused the American “middle” to collapse.  The districts are so lopsided that the middle doesn’t matter.  Of all 435 seats in Congress, only a few dozen are competitive.  This means that the only real challenge candidates face happens in the primaries, where ideological partisans fight to convince rancorous partisans that they are the most liberal, in the case of the Democrats, or the most conservative in the case of the Republicans.  So the members of the House have become extremely polarized, only responding to its extremes.  They go in with their minds made up and will only be punished for cooperating amongst competing interests.  The Republican leadership at the time REDMAP was formed seemed to have helped create an uncontrollable monster that ultimately toppled many of them, too.  Moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats are an endangered species now.

Redistricting is currently before the Supreme Court.  In North Carolina, gerrymandered districts were recently struck down for being race-based.  The Supreme Court will soon hear a Wisconsin case to determine if the Court can find a standard to strike down gerrymandered districts for being partisan-based.  With the technology we have at our disposal, it looks like it may be possible to enact a standard, according to an efficiency gap, or deviations between the vote totals and the districts created, as well as showing that the districts created are against all odds that they aren’t a deliberate attempt at getting political, pre-determined results.  If not, we’ve really got to change things so that redistricting can’t continue to destroy our Democracy.  But even if the Court finds a standard, it will help, but won’t completely solve the problem.  While the book showed that moves towards a more independent process, such as independent redistricting commissions, help a little, they still have a lot of partisan interference behind the scenes, and even when they’re caught, the solutions are less than fair.

Larry Lessig is quoted as saying, “political corruption denies a basic equality:  the equality of the citizens.  Once you see equality as the flaw, then it’s obvious what the bugs are.”  I feel like I’m an independent because I finally saw equality – or inequality – as the flaw.  In my opinion, as long as we allow parties to control our elections, and the majority winners to get the spoils of chairmanships, committees, redistricting privileges, multitudes of appointments, fundraising advantages, etc., our government will always be about which party is in power.  The book pointed how the Democrats plan to try to replicate what the Republicans have done, instead of working to change the system!  If we really want to give equality to the citizens, we need to give all voters an equal say in the election process, even when they don’t belong to a party.  This not only means creating districts that are as competitive as possible, but it means having preliminary elections where voters and candidates who are not part of the two major parties aren’t shut out, but have an equal voice and role.  The role of polarization and partisanship could change quite a bit with nonpartisan primaries.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.

Tiani recently had an oped published n the Concord Monitor entitled, “Voters shouldn’t ignore what the parties are doing–we need reform”.

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

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

 

Ratfucked book image

Tiani and Kira-mother and daughter-write two poems for you

Today we have two poems–one from Tiani Coleman, the President of New Hampshire Independent Voters and one written by her daughter, Kira about the experience of growing up with a mother who is a political activist.

Kiraandme2011

Tiani and Kira Coleman, 2011

 

****

 “I wrote this poem as an expression of my political and life journey.”  –Tiani Coleman

Voyage to Independence

 

Born, with dreams.  Smiling.

The inner voice guiding – no worries

Do good . . . and it returns tenfold

Hope.  Joy.

 

The path is clear, progress constant

Foes exist to thwart – in theory

But there’s nothing to fear

In this black and white world if you choose the right

Always . . . Answers, safety, certainty.  Purpose.

 

Don’t risk, or veer.  It’s all laid out

For the fortunate few who know

The Truth.

Live it.  Hold it.  Defend and promote it.

Follow those who went before.  It works.

 

And so it was.  ‘Til the seasons changed.

Hope may spring eternal, but Spring doesn’t stay.  There’s Summer

Fall and Winter, too.  And all are needed for life to

Continue.  For new things to evolve.

 

Trusting.  Serving.  Blind, unawares.

Used, used and betrayed.

Confidence shaken.  It’s dark – cold.

In the void . . . carry on.  It’s

All you can do.

 

Cultivate the grey, intricate shadows.  They’re rich

With possibility.  And when the Light

Bursts down, life rises up in a

Beautiful embrace as never before.  Authenticity.

 

Not a beam of certitude . . . Rays of

Understanding.  Perspective:  gratitude, humility.

Empathy.

Not – us and them.  Harmonious contrasts.

Each and All valued.  Liberty and Equality.

Hope.  Joy.  Love.

Tiani Coleman

 

****

My Mother is an Activist

Kira Coleman

At nine o’clock I’m falling asleep

Under an armchair

at the headquarters.

My hair: spread across the floor

My fingers: about to be stepped on

My mother: still in a meeting.

 

She used to push me on long walks in a stroller:

just the two of us.

We must have walked every neighborhood in the county

given every house at least one flyer

 

At eleven I pushed that same stroller

full of my little brother and a Costco bag of candy.

We were in an awful lot of parades under that

summer sun.

 

We distributed an awful lot of little signs.  My grandpa,

I remember, at eighty-four years old pounding signs into the

desert clay

 

They lost the race, of course.

None of us had any other expectations

from their hodgepodge volunteer campaign

We understood even as children: they didn’t have

the money to buy the election.

They didn’t even have the money to pay my mother.

 

At seventeen I went to another convention

on my birthday.  I’d imagined a big

building — like the buildings we went to when I was three

but this was an independent convention.

This was a tent convention.

 

Still, it was the same conventional story

watching my little sister

 

Her little blond ponytail

pressed against the hard plastic seat

Her little pink coat standing out against

all the actual politicians in the room

she wondered just like I did —

 

Mommy, when can we go home?

Kira Coleman

Kira Coleman

 

Afterward:  Kira Coleman, 17, is a junior in high school and the daughter of Tiani ColemanTiani Coleman was elected Vice Chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party in 2001 and Chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party in 2003.  In 2010, she agreed to be the campaign manager for Hyer for Congress, running on the Democratic ticket, challenging Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) in the most conservative district in the country.  In 2012, Tiani officially declared as an independent voter and began advocating for systemic electoral reform.  She moved to NH with her family in 2013, and is now President of New Hampshire Independent Voters.  Says Kira, “My mom asked me to write her a poem for the blog; when I told her that I don’t have enough political passion to write political poetry, she said I could write a child’s perspective.  It perhaps did not come out how she had expected… The perspective of a child on long meetings and lots of adults arguing about stuff is not bound to be particularly positive.  I would, however, like to note that I do have a lot of respect for what my mom does and for her motivation and integrity in the political world.  That being said, I have no intention of future political involvement.”

___________________________________

Our celebration of National Poetry month continues throughout April with poems chosen or written by P4P members.  

Reader’s Forum–June Hirsh, Rick Robol and Tiani Coleman

As part of our viewing and savoring The Notion of Family Together, several Politics for the People members are selecting a favorite photo and sharing their thoughts about that image.  Today we hear from June Hirsh, Rick Robol and Tiani Coleman.

JUNE HIRSH

 

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 45 Mom Holding Mr. Art, 2005

When I first saw the photograph “Mom Holding Mr. Art” I saw sadness, stoicism, hopelessness – defeat. I saw a loss that was palpable to me. Yet I also saw resoluteness and strength. In The Notion Of Family Mr. Art appears more than once. He is part of the fabric of Latoya Ruby Frazier’s life, her mother’s and her family’s life.

Each time I re-visit the photograph, each time I see it, new feelings and thoughts emerge. I see intimacy and love – a strong bond between Mr. Art and Frazier’s mother. Yet this is not an embrace. How “Mom” is holding Mr. Art says to me – I care for you. Somehow I will protect you. We are in this together. There is sustenance here. Frazier’s mother’s expression is sad, it’s resigned; yet it also says to me – we will make it through.

Frazier’s family had migrated from the South and lived in Braddock for 4 generations. They “escaped” along with 6 milion other blacks from the early 1900’s to the early 1960’s  from the brutally racist Jim Crow south. They re-settled in Braddock, PA to build a new life. But with the close of the steel mills, life as they knew it – the life that they had built –was ripped away from them.

To quote Frazier,

“Some people remember, Braddock was the place that had all the theaters, had all the bars, had all the shopping centers. That’s why people came here. They came to shop and for entertainment in that period.

The steel mill was the center of the town, and most of its residents worked there and lived in Carnegie-built row homes. That area, the way I see it historically, was the right of passage for black and white steelworkers. At one point we all lived there. But as the steel industry declined in the 1960s and 1970s, the area lost much of its vitality. White residents moved away from Braddock, leaving behind communities of color who were frequently barred from getting loans to buy homes elsewhere.

Through discrimination and racial and systemic oppression, you see how black people were entrapped in that area — through redlining, and not being able to get loans from banks to move to the suburbs, how they were left behind.”

When I see Mr. Art in the photo I chose and in others he is depicted in, I also realize that the look in his eyes and his demeanor bring to my mind and heart my Father, Irving Hirsh.  He was a loving man, angry, depressed, sad. He saw himself as a failure because he couldn’t provide more for his family. He had a hidden shame that he shared with me when I was grown about the abuse he experienced from his father, a seemingly pious man, who brutalized him, his mother and his sisters.

Mr. Art and my Father come from very different histories, cultures, races. Yet there are threads – a commonality of

Irving and June Hirsh

Irving and June Hirsh

exclusion and persecution and a humanness too – that bind them. My father was a working class Jew, first generation of a family that emigrated from Romania in the early 1900’s to escape the murderous pogroms against Jews. We lived in New York – in Brooklyn. He worked his whole life in the garment district in Manhattan, which produced women’s and men’s blouses and shirts. Long hours – backbreaking work, bending over the massive cutting and pattern making tables in a unionized sweat shop – freezing in the winder – and broiling hot it the summer.  One day he brought me to work with him in the factory. We always called it the Place – “Daddy’s at the Place.”  He was introducing me to the other workers –some dong similar work, some hauling in fabrics – and women  – many women working at the sewing machines. I remember how proud my Father was to introduce all of us to each other. Suddenly his boss plowed into the space and began berating and yelling at him. I have no memory of why or what was said but I knew that my dear Father was so humiliated – devastated. I was frightened and ashamed.  We never spoke about it after that.  My Father never took me back to the factory.

When my Father was older he studied a lot. He became proud, stronger – less beaten down. He urged me to stand up for what I believe in – to not turn away from injustices. There were times that he talked to me about how blacks and Jews were oppressed people and how both fought back against the terror of oppression.  He learned about the great migration of blacks out of the South, how courageously blacks fought and died to abolish slavery – he likened the anti-black murderous acts in the south to pogroms. He showed me how Jews were not cowards who walked meekly into the gas ovens – they were fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and in the face of death fought back in so many other valiant ways  – and that blacks and Jews walked and organized side by side during the Civil Rights movement.

I have been an independent political activist, a progressive Jew, for close to 45 years now. I do my best to stand up for what I believe in. Organizing with Cathy Stewart and with many, many others, my commitment is to building community, to creating a more fair and decent world, so that all peoples can live in dignity and to do all that we can to bring an end to poverty. I thank and have  a lot of respect for Latoya Ruby Frazier for what she has co-created with her Mother and by using her “camera as a weapon” against injustice. I share a kinship with her, with her family, with her community – with all poor and working people, white and of color who were left behind in Braddock – for people of color, of all nationalities, races, and religions, Jews, Muslims, people who were and are at this very moment being destroyed or left behind in all the Braddock’s in the US and around the world.

junehirsch soloJune Hirsh is an organizer with IndependentVoting.org

She lives in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

 

 

RICK ROBOL

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 113: Grandma Ruby on her Bed, 2007

“Grandma Ruby On Her Bed” (gelatin print, 20” X 24”), 2007, is a striking image of a magnificent woman, Grandma Ruby, in her golden years. The brass bed frames the stunning beauty of this strong, wise, courageous woman who has seen many decades of joy, pain, humor and love. The play of light on her face and body bathes the goodness of her entire being. Pillows, soft sheets and a velveteen pleated bed skirt enthrone Grandma Ruby with regal warmth and comfort. Through it all, she has endured– and is symbol of the strength and hope of her family, of her people and of humanity.

Rick Robol is an attorney and activists for the Independents movement. 

Rick Robol at a Voting Rights are Primary informational picket outside the Ohio Secretary of State's offices, 2014.

Rick Robol at a Voting Rights are Primary informational picket outside the Ohio Secretary of State’s offices, 2014.

He currently serves on the National Electoral Reform Committee of independentvoting.org, as well as Vice President of Independent Ohio.

TIANI COLEMAN

The Notion of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 36-37: The Bottom (Talbot Towers, Alleghany County Housing Projects), 2009

The Notion of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 36-37: The Bottom (Talbot Towers, Alleghany County Housing Projects), 2009

Feeling profoundly transformed in a short period of time, I honor LaToya Ruby Frazier’s ability to capture through photography and only a few words, a vivid story that paints a compelling declaration – personal, familial, historical, sociocultural and political!

With a book entitled The Notion of Family, I was caught a little off guard as I opened the pages, and the family I was beholding had very little in common with my own.  I’m number eight of nine children, where faith, family and community were always interwoven, and we never felt alone or alienated.  Though my family’s gender roles were traditional, my father and mother had a genuine, loving, respectful relationship, and my father was fully engaged in our lives.  My childhood memories are only positive, bright and joyful.  I spent some of my childhood in sheltered, predominantly white communities in Utah, and some of my childhood in Mexico and Colombia.  I went to high school in Texas’ lower Rio Grande Valley, where at least 80% of my graduating class was Hispanic.  So while I had interactions with poverty and some minority cultures, my home was always a haven from the storm outside.  Though I was accepting of everyone, my young innocence internalized very little of the difficulties that people outside of my home were experiencing.

Going through the book, I focused on the art of the photography, appreciating the exposure I was getting to something different.  Grandma Ruby was intriguing, and I was feeling sympathy for LaToya and her family – but I wasn’t really personally connecting or empathizing . . . until everything changed at page 36.  When I read the words at the end of page 37, “Day and night, BOC Gases emits an industrial hissing sound that reverberates throughout the borough,” my mind returned to a conversation I recently had with a member of my community.

I’ve spent most of the last year fighting a proposal by Kinder Morgan, the largest energy infrastructure company in North America, to construct a huge, high pressure natural gas pipeline from the fracking fields of PA to Dracut, MA (most likely for overseas export).  We found out last December that it was slated to cut right through my neighborhood, with our home in the “incineration zone” if there were to be an accident.  It will permanently clear-cut many forested areas; cross numerous rivers, streams, conservation lands and residential properties; and bring in compressor stations and other unsightly noise and pollution-producing facilities that will destroy the beauty, cohesiveness and way of life of numerous communities along its path.  It’s been a living nightmare of sorts for all of us impacted; we’ve had to spend all of our excess time researching, writing reports, attending meetings, waving signs, writing letters to the Editor and to public officials, informing other members of the community — doing anything and everything to fight a system that rubber stamps the agenda of the big corporations and gives them the benefit of eminent domain for their profit-making ventures.  We can feel so helpless as common citizens against the collusion of big money and elected officials.  My street has doctors, lawyers, respected businessmen, renowned scientists and involved members of the community.  We got the attention of our Board of Selectmen, and they formed a pipeline task force comprised of many of us, including a member of our conservation commission.  We raised such a stink, and understood where the most effective ways to put our energy were, that we were able to make a small change for the better.  If we had not gotten involved, the pipeline would have surely torn across our neighborhood and the river behind us and other town conservation land.  We haven’t been able to stop the pipeline yet, but we’ve influenced them to move the route enough that it won’t come through our neighborhood or the conservation land, and will be far enough away that we won’t be so deeply and personally impacted by its negative effects.

Yet, back to the conversation with the member of my community.  A retiree, she and her husband’s property was directly in the line of fire.  The new map now has their property out of the direct route, but they will still be in the “incineration zone,” may likely have a new gas-fired power plant erected by their home, and will be close enough to feel many of the negative effects of the pipeline.  Our taskforce had lobbied the company to move the route further away from them as well, but to no avail.  My friend said to me, paraphrasing, “We live closer to the industrial area, on the other side of the tracks; we’re not as affluent as your side of town; nobody cares about what happens to us.  Now the rest of town will go about their life and let our neighborhood and lives be completely destroyed.”  I felt for her, but I had already lost so much of my time, fighting.  We did what we could, and it could be worse . . . most of the other towns didn’t even accomplish that much.  But when I saw that picture on page 36, and read that line on page 37, “an industrial hissing sound that reverberates throughout the borough,” the whole book took on a personal meaning, and I knew clearly that I have a moral obligation to keep fighting on her behalf, and on behalf of all of the others in neighboring communities.

To me, BOC Gases on page 36 is a symbol of the nature of political change . . . when enough political pressure builds up, change happens, but because it’s done due to pressure and not out of a deeply rooted inner change and moral desire to altruistically improve human lives and create greater equality, the change is really a façade.  It may put out a temporary fire, but it doesn’t address the root of the problem, and creates new problems or even greater problems for others, usually those without a voice.  We must use our power to bring about real, systemic change that gives everyone a meaningful voice.  I thank LaToya Ruby Frazier for what she’s doing, and for influencing me to keep fighting, too.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.

Dr. Lenora Fulani (l) with Tiani Coleman, recipient of a 2015 Anti-Corruption Award by the New York City Independence Clubs

Dr. Lenora Fulani (l) with Tiani Coleman, recipient of a 2015 Anti-Corruption Award by the New York City Independence Clubs

 

Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 C ALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

Code 767775#

 

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