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Blinded By the Right

The Other Side of the Tracks: A Socially Speaking commentaryMarch 5, 2013

By Perry Redd

The weekly socio-political commentary from activist, Perry Redd

The weekly socio-political commentary from activist, Perry Redd

Some of you may know by now, but for those that don’t, I am a candidate for DC’s City Council.  I’m running to represent the entire city as opposed to a single ward.  I am considered a long shot in this Special Election.  I’m considered a longshot for a variety of reasons—even among the people who need me most.

There were 21 candidates in the race at one time…seven remain.  Of the seven remaining candidates, there’s one who touts the virtues of ethics that our city council lacks and espouses her “integrity.”  That wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that she’s practicing highly unethical tactics to win this race. I never want it said that I’m a snitch, but you know what our government has been pushing lately: “see something, say something.”  Well, I see something…

The one candidate that posits “ethics” sought to—and successfully—disenfranchise voters, in particular, Black voters.  We are familiar with the history of voting rights in America.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 struck down Jim Crow segregation laws and other measures designed to impede or otherwise disenfranchise black voters. It has been renewed four times, most recently in 2006 when it passed Congress near-unanimously.  That debate is upon us again, because right-wing conservatives won’t fade into the sunset.

Speaking of sunset, the Act established extensive federal oversight of elections administration, providing that states with a history of discriminatory voting practices (so-called “covered jurisdictions”) could not implement any change affecting voting without first obtaining the approval of the Department of Justice, a process known as preclearance. That was—and is—needed because racists in America keep working to impede the vote of minorities, rather than espouse equality in the legislative initiatives that benefit the whole of communities.

The Voting Rights Act was meant to police states in the south that, as a part of their legacy, disenfranchised Black voters, but we need it right here in cosmopolitan Washington, DC.  You see, as a part of competing in our Special Election, the candidates had to obtain 3,000 signatures from DC registered voters.  Some of which happen to “temporarily” live in homeless shelters.

Rather than trust true democracy, this is where the racists step in.  One of the candidates in the race attempted to lessen her competition by silently and complicitly allowing her lawyer supporters to challenge the validity of the addresses of some of the registered voters who signed petitions for two of the competitor in the race, John Settles and Paul Zuckerberg.  Settles is Black, Zuckerberg is white.

Challenging a Black candidate and a white candidate tacticly ensures that the challenge appears race-neutral (see Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”).  The response to the challenge took two weeks out of the campaign of both candidates, and Zuckerberg survived the challenge.  Settles, on the other hand, didn’t…and then there were seven.

You could attribute this action to “good ol’ hardball politics,” except for the fact that it involved voting rights.  You see, every adult-aged American has the right to vote and participate in the political process—even if they’re homeless.

According to the United States Conference of Mayors, in 2008 the three most commonly cited causes of homelessness for persons in families were lack of affordable housing, cited by 72 percent of cities, poverty (52 percent), and unemployment (44 percent).  The language of the 15th Amendment says that the Voting Rights Act prohibits states from imposing any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure…to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”  States are also not supposed to condone any of those practices either.  When I used to preach, I would advise my congregation that, “Sin by omission is just as bad a sin by commission.”  DC is just as guilty as the person who got Settles struck from race.

One of the candidates, Paul Zuckerberg, asked the question, “Should the Homeless be Allowed to Vote?”  I came across a link where he says our opponent, Elissa Silverman, said No.  This is substantiated by her challenge to Paul Zukerburg and John Settles’ petitions during that phase in the DC electoral process.  I am angered that anyone would disenfranchise a DC resident—in particular, a Black voter.  Just because one is displaced doesn’t eviscerate their citizenship. This is a tactic of racist Republicans on the political right  in the same vein as the 2010-2012 election cycles fueled by ALEC-led legislation…take note.  This is what Elissa Silverman allowed to go forth.

To further make my point, I refer to a study from July of 2012 which found that support for voter ID laws, especially among those who lean Democratic, is linked to one’s feelings toward African Americans. In the study, conducted by the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication, respondents were asked several questions, and their answers were used to create a spectrum of “racial resentment.” The more resentment a person conveyed, the more likely they were to support voter ID laws.

One could argue that I am making this a “race issue” as opposed to an issue of the political process.  I would contend that race is the political issue.  DC is currently being aggresively gentrified.  Race is all in the mix. If you walk down to our city’s main homeless shelter at 2nd & D Streets, NW, as I have countless times, you see over 95% Black faces.  When I walk into the city’s offices for TANF and food stamp recipients—Income Maintenance—the place is packed with black and brown faces.  You may see a white face sprinkled among the droves, but it’s a rarity.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

To strike petition-signer’s signatures from the rolls simply because their address is mismatched is akin to “imposing any ‘voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure… to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the U.S. to vote on account of race or color.” When one is homeless, what can you “match” your address to?  A “permanent” address is an impossibility—for the moment. Thousands in our city are homeless, in transitional housing or reduced to “couch-surfing.”  They’re still citizens.  The key for a conservative is to quash their vote; a “win-at-any-cost” proposition. If you don’t see this, it’s only because you’ve chosen to darken in the lenses on your rose-colored glasses.

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