Mar 14, 2013 - Issue 508

Blinded By the Right

Some of you may know by now, but for those who don’t, I am a candidate for DC’s City Council. I’m running to represent the entire city, rather than a single ward. I am considered a long shot in this Special Election. I’m considered a long shot for a variety of reasons - even among the people who need me most but that’s another story, as the clich´┐Ż goes.

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 she 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 federal government has been pushing lately: “see something, say something.” Well, I see something, so I’m going to say something…

The one candidate that posits “ethics” sought to - and successfully - disenfranchised voters, in particular, Black voters…more about that in a minute. 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 with a nearly unanimous vote. 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 who happened to “temporarily” live in homeless shelters.

Rather than trust true democracy, this is where the racists step in. That candidate I mentioned before attempted to decrease her competition by allowing her proxy lawyer-supporters to challenge the validity of some of the addresses of registered voters who signed petitions for two of our competitors, John Settles and Paul Zuckerberg. Settles is Black; Zuckerberg is white.

Challenging a Black candidate and a white candidate appears race-neutral and consequently deflects accusations of racism (see Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow). Responses to the challenge took two weeks out of both candidates’ campaign. Zuckerberg survived the challenge; Settles did not…and then there were seven [candidates].

You could attribute this action to “good ol’ hardball politics,” except for the fact that it involved voting rights. You see, every adult 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 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. When I used to preach, I would advise my congregation that, “Sin by omission is just as bad a sin by commission.” DC - my city - and the candidate are just as guilty as the person who succeeded in eliminating Settles from the campaign.

Candidate Paul Zuckerberg asked the question, “Should the homeless be allowed to vote?” Well, I discovered a source in which candidate Elissa Silverman is quoted as saying no. That opinion would substantiate her challenge to Paul Zukerburg’s and John Settles’ petitions during the early phase of this DC Special Election process. I am angered that anyone would disenfranchise a DC resident - in particular, a Black voter. Just because people are displaced doesn’t eviscerate their citizenship. That’s 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 is doing, if her actions are allowed to go unchallenged.

To further make my point, I refer to a study from July 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 undergoing aggressive gentrification. Race is all in the mix. If you walk by 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 certification, that place is packed with black and brown faces. You may see a white face sprinkled among the droves, but that’s a rarity. Do you see where I’m going with this?

To strike signatures from a candidate’s petition simply because signers’ addresses on the voter rolls don’t “match” the address of the homeless shelter 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, and likely doesn’t plan on making the homeless shelter a permanent address, how do you get an address “match,” needed to participate in the electoral process? A “permanent” address is an impossibility - for the moment.

Thousands in our city are homeless, in transitional housing or reduced to “couch-surfing.” They are, nonetheless, still citizens. The key for Conservatives is to quash that vote; a “win-at-any-cost” proposition. If you don’t see this, it’s only because you’ve chosen to darken the lenses on your already rose-colored glasses. Columnist, Perry Redd, is the former Executive Director of the workers rights advocacy, Sincere Seven, and author of the on-line commentary, “The Other Side of the Tracks.” He is the host of the internet-based talk radio show, Socially Speaking in Washington, DC. Click here to contact Mr. Redd.