Category: voting rights

Local Volunteers Head for Central Valley to Overturn Republican Control of Congress

 

Volunteer canvassers for Working America go door to door to talk to residents about fundamental issues that affect them and their families.

By Ken Epstein

Volunteers from Oakland, Berkeley and other Bay Area cities, many who consider themselves to be part of The Resistance, are flocking to the AFL-CIO´s Working America and other organizations, ready to put in the grueling door-to-door work necessary to mobilize and empower voters to overturn Republican control of congressional districts in November 2018.

In the Bay Area, Working America began door-to-door outreach efforts in May in Congressional District (CD) 10, a section of northern San Joaquin Valley that includes Modesto, Turlock, Patterson, Tracy and Manteca.

CD 10 is currently represented by Republican Congressman Jeff Denham. However, this is not a district that is solidly in the Republican camp. Hillary Clinton carried it in 2016, and Barack Obama won the district in both 2008 and 2012.
The district is 46.4 percent white, 3.7 percent Black, 7.7 percent Asian and 40.1 percent Latino.  The Modesto area has an 8 percent unemployment rate and a  mean annual wage of $45,230.

Besides Working America, organizations that are working to flip CD 10 are Swing Left, the Democratic Club of Greater Tracy, California Democratic Party, California Away Team, Organizing for California, Our Revolution and Indivisible Berkeley.

Working America, which is pairing volunteers and paid organizers, is conducting a “knock on every door” in-depth canvassing operation.

People who oppose Trump and conservative members of Congress “now need to ‘electoralize’ that energy,” said Matt Morrison, executive director of Working America, based in Wash., D.C.

“You can’t change hearts and minds by sending people 500 pieces of mail or with 30-second campaign ads,” he said. “You have to see them and talk to them face to face, going into 2018 and 2020.”

Working America’s paid staff are mostly working-class people, who are trained and work 40 hours a week as professional canvassers.

These professionals, especially in Modesto, work with volunteers, who are also trained.

“It’s been stunning, the number of people who are willing to invest themselves in this fight,” said Morrison.

Over 200 people already have gone through training, and nearly 150 have gone to canvas door to door, he said. Some have come back to the Central Valley, an over 80-mile trek from the East Bay, for a second or third shift.

The plan at this point is not to talk about upcoming elections and candidates but about the issues that people care about and help them connect with others in their community in networks to build “strength in numbers,” said Morrison.

“Our organizing model has to focus on working class communities around the country,” based on union ideals of “economic justice and dignity,” he said.

“Once you get people talking,” he said, “they don’t want to stop.” They are worried bout increased rates of poverty and are losing faith in government’s willingness to improve their communities.

“We think it is essential to have folks advocate for themselves,” he said.  “What we’re seeing are a lot of constituents who are pretty animated, willing to show where they stand.”

About 4,700 people already have joined Working America since the canvassing began.

“We project that later this year we will organize about 25,000 people in this district, based on the issues,” said Morrison.

Cindy Reed, a Working America District 10 field director, is based in Modesto where she is involved in discussions every day about what is important to people in the Central Valley.

“We focus on economic issues that are important for working families: jobs, corporate accountability, access to education and retirement,” said Reed.

“Politicians are not really addressing these issues,” she said. “The solution is to keep them accountable. The strategy is strength in numbers: a call of to action, writing a letter or signing a petition.”

“There are a lot of jobs in Modesto and the Central Valley, but they are not high paying jobs,” she continued. “(Workers) have to commute for construction – even engineers have to commute to Silicon Valley because they can’t afford to live there.”

“They don’t the have resources for their public schools, and they can’t afford to send their kids to college.”

One of the crew of recent volunteers was Carla, a member of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club in the East Bay.

“We knocked on 25 doors and had conversations at 13 of them.” she said, describing her experience in a Wellstone newsletter.

“Ten people joined Working America, and all 10 signed the action item petition against  (Congressman) Jeff Denham,” she said. “(We) were uplifted, and the people were warm and welcoming.”

For information and to sign up for Working America’s Central Valley Project training and canvassing, go to http://www.workingamerica.org/centralvalley/volunteer

Published September 8, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Youth at MLK Freedom Center Join Struggle to Empower Voters

Sophia Quintana of Berkeley and active member of the MLK Freedom Center registers voters at July 4 naturalization ceremony in Seattle, WA.

Sophia Quintana of Berkeley and active member of the MLK Freedom Center registers voters at July 4 naturalization ceremony in Seattle, WA.

By Ken Epstein

Young people who participated in an intensive six-week voter registration and community engagement project this summer recently attended a labor breakfast celebration in their honor, where they talked about their efforts to register new voters and reflected on what they learned and how it transformed them.

The “Civic Engagement Pilgrimage,” organized by the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center, which is based at Merritt College in Oakland took a diverse group of 65 young people, mostly high school students from Oakland and Washington state, on a journey from Washington to Portland to Bakersfield and Fresno in California, where they registered voters and had in-depth discussions with elected officials, community and tribal leaders in urban and rural areas and Indian nations.

The breakfast was held Aug. 4 at the offices of the Alameda Labor Council in Oakland, attended by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris and Peralta Community Colleges Chancellor Dr. Jowel C. Laguerre, who are strong supporters of the work of the freedom center.

The young people said they heard the same words over and over from people in different communities: “Our voices don´t matter; nothing you do will change the system,” according to Laelah Jackson, a junior at Berkeley High.

“It is important to educate and be educated,” she said.  “What we´re doing is bigger than each of us. “It’s the ‘we’” that makes the difference.

“We learned that we live in very trying times night now,” said Angela Drake, a student at Castlemont High School. “We have to give hope to each other. No one is going to do it for us, but us.”

The young people said that in the course of their discussions with people and the classes and trainings among themselves they learned critical thinking, experienced growing self confidence and a sense of “love and solidarity” with each other and the people.

The Martin Luther King Freedom Center, which was created by Oakland’s MLK Day March and Rally Committee, began its work in 2001.  Executive Director Dr. Roy Wilson has led the organization for the past 10 years.

Based on the lessons of summer´s listening sessions and discussions in communities, the center plans to launch intensive voter education and registration efforts this year, including work in congressional districts in California´s Central Valley.
For more information on the Freedom Center, go to www.mlkfreedomcenter.org

Published August 17, 2017, courtesy of the Post News Group

Nurses Back Bernie Sanders for President

Candidate calls for an end to racism and mass incarceration and for jobs and free education

Senator Bernie Sanders spoke Monday, Aug. 10 at a rally at the headquarters of National Nurses United (NNU), where he received the union's endorsement for the Democratic presidential nomination. Standing next to Sanders is Deborah Burger, RN, NNU co-president. Photo by Ken Epstien.

Senator Bernie Sanders spoke Monday, Aug. 10 at a rally in Oakland at the headquarters of National Nurses United (NNU), where he received the union’s endorsement for the Democratic presidential nomination. Standing next to Sanders is Deborah Burger, RN, NNU co-president. Photo by Ken Epstien.

 By Ken Epstein

Senator Bernie Sanders was in Oakland this week, where he won the endorsement of the 185,000-member National Nurses Union (NNU), adding serious momentum to his low-budget, grassroots campaign to win the Democratic presidential nomination that is becoming an ever more serious challenge to frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Sanders spoke Monday to a wildly enthusiastic crowd at the downtown Oakland national headquarters of the NNU.

“I have spent my career fighting for something that I consider to be a human right. That human right is health care. And let me say loudly and clearly – health care is a right of all people, not a privilege,” said Sanders.

“The time has come for us to end the international embarrassment of the United States of America, our great country, being the only major country on earth that does not guarantee healthcare to all people as a right,” he said. “And together – with your help – we are going to end that embarrassment.”

He called for raising taxes on bankers, financiers and corporations.

“Not only would a tax on Wall Street speculation provide us with the revenue that we need to make a college education tuition free, it would also reduce speculation and encourage Wall Street to invest in the job-creating productive economy,” said Sanders.

As hundreds listened to and cheered his remarks in Oakland, groups of nurses around the country watched him live on television monitors and asked the candidate questions.

The union is composed mostly of women, registered nurses. Over the years, the organization has gained a reputation for tough and politically savvy organizing and has captured national attention in battles over the future of corporate healthcare and the inadequate medical industry response to the Ebola threat.

Sanders also denounced racism and mass incarceration and called for good paying jobs and free education at all public universities to allow people to enter the middle class – to end economic disparities.

Black Lives Matter and other activists have criticized Sanders for his lack of a program to end racial injustice, and he elaborated his position at the nurses’ rally.

“When we talk about creating a new America, it is to end racism,” he said, adding that Sandra Bland would not have been dragged out of her car and arrested in Texas if she had been white.

“Shamefully, the U.S. has more people in jail than any other country on earth,” he said, and the rate of incarceration “is disproportionately higher for African Americans and Hispanics.”

“We need a criminal justice justice system (in which) police departments do not look like military occupiers,” he said. “We need police officers to wear cameras. When a police officer commits a crime, that officer must be held accountable.”

“We need to end (mandatory) minimum sentencing for nonviolent crimes,” he continued.

“When people go to jail, we need to provide a path back into society,” said Sanders. “You’re not going to have that when people leave jail without jobs, without education and in some cases, without the mental health counseling they need.”

“If you check my record, there is no candidate running for president of the United States who will be stronger fighting institutional racism and in reforming a broken criminal justice system – period,” he said.

Last Saturday, 15,000 people turned out to hear Sanders speak in Seattle. About 28,000 attended a rally Sunday in Portland, and 27,500 stood in a line that stretched for blocks to hear him speak Monday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of NNU, explained why her union decided to endorse Sanders and throw the weight of thousands of the NNU’s grassroots activists into his campaign.

“He says what he means, and that is reflected in his work,” she said. “Nurses know Senator Sanders is a warrior.”

In response to those who might have expected a union with a large number of women leaders to back Hillary Clinton for president, DeMoro said, “I’d love to break the glass ceiling, but we ‘d love more to break the stranglehold of the billionaire class.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Voting Rights Restored to Thousands of Californians

By withdrawing a challenge to the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated and some prisoners that was taken up by his predecessor, Secretary of State Alex Padilla  has sent the nation a message that California will not stand for discrimination in voting and that he will fight to protect the right to vote for all eligible Californians.Michael Scott

“We have always recognized that our voting rights are larger than the right to cast a vote – it’s about the struggle for formerly and in some cases currently incarcerated people to be respected as citizens,” said Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a taxpayer plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“Our votes belong not just to us, but to our communities and families,” he said.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children filed a lawsuit on behalf of three individuals who had lost their right to vote, as well as the League of Women Voters of California and All of Us or None, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of formerly and currently incarcerated people and their families.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla

Secretary of State Alex Padilla

“Secretary of State Padilla is bucking a national trend in which voting rights are under attack,” said Lori Shellenberger, Director of the ACLU of California’s Voting Rights Project. “We are thrilled that this administration has effectively said ‘no’ to Jim Crow in California, and instead is fighting for the voting rights of California’s most vulnerable communities.”

The lawsuit charged then-Secretary of State Debora Bowen with violating state law when she issued a directive to local elections officials in December 2011 stating that otherwise-eligible Californians are ineligible to vote if they are on post-release community supervision or mandatory supervision, two new and innovative local supervision programs for people sentenced for low-level, non-violent felonies.

The plaintiff in the case was Michael Scott.

The California Constitution and state election laws state that only people imprisoned or on parole for conviction of a felony are ineligible to vote; it has long been clear that people on other forms of supervision – such as felony probation or drug-diversion – have the right to vote.

Dorsey Nunn

Dorsey Nunn

Last spring, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled that Bowen’s directive illegally stripped nearly 60,000 of people of their voting rights. In spite of the judge’s determination, Bowen appealed and continued the fight to disenfranchise the formerly incarcerated, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color.

“Formerly incarcerated people should not be disenfranchised and have to fight for their voting rights. Restoration of these voting rights is long overdue and the League is pleased that California is leading the way to protect voting rights for all,” said Helen Hutchinson, President of the League of Women Voters of California.

Earlier this summer, Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would have restored voting rights to about 40,000 citizens on probation or parole. In stark contrast, Secretary of State Padilla is sending a message to the rest of the nation that California will fight and eliminate the remnants of Jim Crow policies and will work to ensure that every eligible Californian has full and equal access to our democracy.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, August 8, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Post Publisher Calls for New Voting Rights Movement

 Fifty years ago, Post Publisher Paul Cobb went South to join the fight for voter registration and engage in Civil Rights activity, taking a stand on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

 He became director of the Southern Elections Fund (SEF), now headed by Ben Jealous, which has helped register Black voters and support candidates to run for office throughout the South.

Reflecting on his experiences, Cobb called for a national mobilizing effort to defend and expand voting rights.

“The Post is going to establish a national computer-based voter registration monitoring system to help mobilize volunteers and financial and organizational support for indigenous on-the-ground movements that are operating now, such as Moral Monday in North Carolina,” said Cobb.

“We will soon launch a technology-based registration, legal and election strategy center that will work to overcome the restrictive obstacles that many conservatives are implementing in the 11 southern states, as well as others such as Michigan and Ohio,” he continued.

“We will seek accountability and support from political leaders, especially those running for president in both parties, to end voting restrictions for Blacks and Latinos.”

“This is an ideal issue that Democratic candidates for office could and should be raising. I plan to talk directly to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and members of the congressional Black Caucus,” he said.

“And Republicans, like Mitt Romney who opposed the Confederate flag, can take a stand and join the historic stand his father took when he supported King’s marches in Michigan. Presidential candidates must also now help bring down the Confederate-style voting booth curtains in the same manner as the flag removal if they wish to be relevant to the issues that affect millions of Americans.”

pcobb

Post Publisher Paul Cobb

Cobb said The Post and El Mundo will be publishing national special editions that will be distributed to more than 40,000 Black churches and businesses to serve as a communications update on voting rights legal struggles and the strategies that communities are using to overcome voting barriers.

“We will help raise money to transport people to polling places and for organizations that can help people register to vote,” he said.

“If just 50 percent of the unregistered minorities in the 11 southern states of the old Confederacy were registered and voting, we would have a new Congress,” said Cobb. “And the health, environmental, educational and economic justice issues we care about would be acted upon,” he said.

“For example, with more than 600,000 unregistered Blacks in Georgia, all we would need to raise is about $4 million. Combined with a wave of volunteers, Georgia’s political script could be flipped on Election Day.

“Ask Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson about the value of registration and funds for voting . SEF Chairman Julian Bond and I helped raise money for him to get elected as Mayor of Bolton, MS., He rose from there to become chair of the Homeland Security Committee. Now, we must secure our homeland by registering, voting and raising funds to support organizations working for change.”

Those who are interested in working on this project should contact Paul Cobb at postnewsgroup.com or call the Post at (510) 287-8200.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 7, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)