Whitewashing Election Fraud

By Greg Moses

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Racism is best

known among white folks for the overt
ways that bigotry chooses to abuse. This is what
allows

white liberals to excuse themselves from
charges that they are racist, because (God bless ’em)

they don’t set out to hurt anybody. But Ralph Ellison
titled his classic novel Invisible Man,

because racism
is a grim problem also of what white folks do not see.
And this problem persists

insufferably, right down to
this morning’s news.

On this day after the election-fraud

hearings led by
John Conyers and his Democratic colleagues at the
Judiciary Committee, I am

beginning to feel the
effects of racism’s one-two punch. On the overt side,
we have the written

testimony of Judith A. Browne,
acting co-director of the Advancement Project in
Washington,

D.C.

For Browne, whose testimony to the Conyers committee
is posted online, “voters

of color” have been targets
of Republican-led disenfranchisement in the elections
of 2000 and

2004.

http://www.house.gov/judiciary_democrats/brownevotestmt12804.pdf

“In

2004,” writes Browne, “it became clear that there
were efforts underway to dust off Reconstruction

Era
statutes in order to disenfranchise voters,
particularly minority voters.”

“There were clear warnings that challenges would be
used to disenfranchise voters,”

says Browne. “Prior
to Election Day in Nevada and Ohio, 17,000 and 35,000
challenges were

filed, respectively,
disproportionately in urban areas. (Over 17,000 of
the Ohio challenges were

filed in Cuyahoga County.)
In addition, poll observers registered in
unprecedented numbers in

Florida and Ohio, with the
intent to engage in massive challenges inside

polling
places.”

Browne is referring to laws that allow pollwatchers to
act as

self-deputized vigilantes at voting precincts,
thrusting their bodies between ballot boxes

and
voters, demanding proofs of identification and
registration.

If you have never

seen this process at work, then you
might not feel the nausea. But I have seen them, the
close

shaven, starched-pants Republicans who show up
on election day to a black community center and

lean
over old women with their dirty questions. Makes you
want to spank them on their freshly

cut heads. Didn’t
their mothers teach them no manners?

“The targets,” Browne

reports, “were new voters in
urban areas.” Or to put it more plainly, new Black
voters, the

“Vote or Die” crowd that P-Diddy was
trying to mobilize.

Add to this the “felon

purge” technique, in which
Republican Party officials, knowing that they are
working with

“felon” lists “tainted by racial
discrimination”, set out to challenge thousands of
voters by

the batch.

“This,” says Browne, “is voter suppression in 2004.”
And this is what

we may call racism of the overt
bigotry kind. Racism type one. On this form of
racism,

Browne’s statement continues for several more
pages at the Conyers hearing

website.

Which brings us to racism type two, the invisibility
maneuver. For this type

of racism, it’s best to begin
with liberal columnists. Scan their morning-after
reports for

words like “minority”, “black”, “civil
rights.” Or try this Google test. First do a

news
search for Conyers hearings. Very good, lots of fresh
hits. Now try a news search for

Judith Browne
Advancement Project under “News.” See there. Your
search did not match any

documents (at 9:25 am CST).

Overt racism by right-wing Republicans is the core
dynamic

at work here, but it is aided and abetted by
invisibility racism found in left commentators

and
media reports, who fail to center the civil rights
struggle. An issue that is clearly about

racism and
civil rights has been whitewashed into “voter fraud”
generica. Type one racism

answered with type two.
Browne’s careful citation of race-based discrimination
followed by

Browne’s invisibility in the press. The
one-two punch continues.

There may not be

much that can happen to change the
results of the presidential election, so the
whitewashing of

“election fraud” may not have an
immediate consequence for those who are focused on the
Bush

machine today. But here in Texas, Republicans
are taking three newly elected Democrats into a

costly
process of hearings before a Republican-controlled
chamber. “Election fraud” is the

allegation that
Republicans are bringing against the Democrats.

In Texas, therefore,

the generic cry of “election
fraud” will very likely make invisible the crucial
civil rights

component that ties together the fates of
three would-be state legislators with racist powers

in
Ohio and Florida.

In particular, take the case of Hubert Vo, a
Vietnamese

immigrant who beat a Republican powerhouse
by about 30 votes. If the Vo election is

overturned
by a Republican-led Legislature on whitewashed charges
of “election fraud”, then the

losers will be a
coalition of urban voters who worked hard on this
grassroots coup. And the

winners will be white
suburban voters, again.

Yet, if the pattern of injustice in

“voter fraud” is a
pattern that seeks to favor white suburban voters over
struggling urban

voters, wherever they are, then
making this pattern visible, for once, could tip this
30 vote

scale in Vo’s favor, and reverse for the first
time in more than 30 years a steady trend

toward
Republican domination of Texas politics.

The white left is meaningless without

a civil rights
coalition. The sooner the white left embraces this,
in deed and word, the sooner

we’ll be able to see a
real future in front of us. The sooner, also, that a
national movement of

progressives can make a real
difference in the

South.

Opinon: Perfect Backlash

The November feud between the Texas A&M University administration and the Young Conservatives of Texas over the impropriety of an “affirmative action bake sale” reveals that the concept of “diversity” need not entail a commitment to civil rights. Soon after the president of the university appealed to the YCTs for civility and diversity, he suspended civil rights in admissions.

Whether one opposes civil rights loudly and uncivilly, as with the bake sale, or loudly and civilly, as with the suspension of affirmative action, the common bond is opposition to civil rights as we know them in the 21st Century….

The administration’s emphasis on a strategy of “diversity” without civil rights serves to frame the process of admissions as something the University confers solely by its own good graces. This construction of the matter evades recognition that some applicants, as members of protected classes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, hold civil rights that the University is bound to respect.

The Texas Civil Rights Review documents the essential history of how Texas pledged to undertake affirmative action as a way to meet its responsibilities under civil rights law. The decision to suspend affirmative action breaks that promise and declares that Texas A&M will serve as its own authority in matters of civil rights enforcement.

(I don’t know where these recent developments leave the athletic department, which has been quite vocal in its opposition to the YCT bake sale antics. Now the coaches and recruiters work under a president who is telling the state’s elected leaders of color that he’s not going to respect their demands for civil rights at Texas A&M.)

Adding all this up, it is tempting to conclude that the administration is mostly irritated by the YCT lack of tack, presenting the Aggie attitude in ways that make the administration’s policies much more naked than they otherwise might have seemed. The YCTs also serve as a more scary alternative to leadership that at least recognizes the importance of diversity.

The YCT’s opposition to “diversity” policy as such reveals that attitudes of racist supremacy still thrive. They could not even tolerate the administration’s appointment of a “diversity officer.” In this context, the administration’s promise to provide “diversity” without civil rights may be viewed as a way of pandering to a climate of racist opinions.

The dramatized tensions displayed between the YCTs and the president over the question of holding an “affirmative action bake sale” served to keep the focus of the community mired in reactionary alternatives to the status quo.

Thanks to the YCT flap, the president is able to swoop in to “defend” his new diversity chief, announce a “bold new program” of pure salesmanship, and never mention that he is deliberately breaking commitments made by the state of Texas to federal offices of civil rights.

140 years after the emancipation proclamation the party of Lincoln returns triumphant to the South, so Southern that Lincoln is surely wincing at the meaning of it all. Whether we consider the “affirmative action bak sale” by the YCTs or the unilateral suspension of affirmative action by the administration, Texas A&M provides evidence that it is still a pre-eminent incubator of racist leadership. Keep an eye on those YCTs as their careers blossom before your eyes.

(Gates taught the YCTs a lesson all right: Looks kids, stop pushing cookies. Watch a real pro at work.)

In the end, the showcase dispute over the value of “diversity” does not mask the fact that there is no disagreement between the YCTs and the administration about the substance of civil rights. And without any clear commitment to civil rights there can be no “excellence in leadership.”

If we sum together Texas A&M’s suspension of its civil rights commitments and the Republican-driven redistricting plan that is now under judicial review, then we come up with an image of perfect backlash in Texas.

gm–last revised Dec. 12, 2003

Caravan for Peace from Mexico Visits the Rio Grande Valley Town of Alamo

By Nick Braune…

I was pleased to see an article in The Monitor — and it was front page in the Sunday Mid-Valley Town Crier — about the Caravan for Peace which stopped in the Valley for a rally last Thursday. The Caravan was founded by a Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia, whose son was murdered by one of the outlaw cartels in Mexico.

Composed of two large busses and a contingent of cars, the caravan crossed the border into California and has been traveling east, holding local rallies and planning for a major rally in Washington, D.C. upcoming. I attended the rally in Alamo, which was spirited and drew about 100 people. (ARISE and other concerned groups in the Valley got out the word and organized a reception for the travelers.

One part of the event was sharing stories of lives lost due to the violence of the cartels and particularly the drug trafficking. Sicilia himself spoke. But another part of the event was an expression of hope: If enough people reach out on both sides of the border and reach out for other solutions, this may inspire change, particularly since current policies have failed so noticeably.

A woman traveling with the caravan explained to me that she represents an inter-religious group in Mexico City, although she made sure to clarify that the caravan had many non-religious participants too. She said that obviously the caravan has goals in mind: for instance, stiffening America’s commitment to stopping gun trafficking into Mexico but also rethinking the total “prohibition” of drugs approach. (The “militarization” approach to the problem, the current Mexico/U.S. “war on drugs” approach, has simply failed.) But the articulate woman was also eager to explain that the goal of the caravan was not a blanket “decriminalization of marijuana” or any other panacea. The caravan simply intends to open dialogue on these issues.

I definitely agree it is time for dialogue on new approaches, and in fact the July Mexican elections were unusual in that all three candidates were for re-conceptualizing the “war on drugs” mentality, which many see as one-dimensional and originating in U.S. military circles.

Military music has never been good music; and military solutions have never been good solutions. Despite its thousands of officers, myriad bases, sophisticated technology, military colleges and massive Pentagon (with its connections to think tanks, big industries and academia), the military mucks things up, repeatedly.

A small example: A young woman just back after serving in Iraq was one of my students three years ago. She was upset about the war, saw no real reason for it, and had seen things she didn’t want to see. When she returned to the Valley, she was still a reservist and the military told her to take “anger management” classes. She told me that she thought that was OK until she learned that the classes were in San Antonio. She got so angry on the regular four hour drive up there that she stewed angrily during the classes, and she was even angrier driving the four hours back.

A larger example: The war in Afghanistan has now seen 2,000 Americans killed. Others have been physically and emotionally injured — news reports say military suicides are up — and the ten-year war is going poorly. Newspapers this last week expressed concern that Afghan soldiers paid by NATO are sometimes targeting NATO soldiers.

More news this week: Blimps, used “successfully” in Afghanistan to monitor large swaths of land, are now being tested for use on the Tex-Mex border to help keep illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants from entering the country. (Glance upward, watch for ballooning military solutions.)

(Update, the Caravan for Peace is arriving this week at Fort Benning Georgia, where it is planning a rally and meeting with leaders of SOA Watch. This organization exposed the School of the Americas, an inter-American military training operation, which was probably lurking in the background when the current Mexican cartels were gaining strength.)

[First appeared in “Reflection and Change,” Mid-Valley Town Crier, 8-26-12]

Some History of Solitary Confinement in America

By Nick Braune…

In the 1790s in the Philadelphia home of Dr. Benjamin Rush, an important discussion took place. This was during that period when Americans were trying to formulate what it would be like to have a democratic republic which could tap the best qualities in everyone. This particular meeting was held to discuss what would be proper punishment (effective punishment, but not vengeful, cruel or inhumane) for those who broke the laws. What sort of penal system should develop in a thoughtful new democratic republic?

A number of Quakers were at the meeting, and also the great statesman and nation-founder Benjamin Franklin. (If I could travel back in history, I would surely visit Franklin.) At the meeting Franklin probably made several comments about the ineffectiveness of locking criminals up with criminals. He probably reminded the group that the purpose should be to reform people who have gone wrong, not to put them in situations that would make them worse.

Perhaps stimulated by Franklin’s practical thinking and also by some insights from Quakers (famous for quiet meditation), the reformers decided that solitary confinement would be a good idea. Their plan sprang from good intentions: Build an institution where criminals could be all alone, could reconsider their attitudes, and could become “penitent,” asking God for forgiveness and turning around their lives. This first “penitentiary” was for solitary penitents. But the plan didn’t work. Solitary confinement did not lead to reformed lives but rather to terrible nervous breakdowns and to worse forms of behavior. The Quakers soon recognized the folly and admitted their error.

I recently learned about that early Philadelphia meeting from a new documentary, “Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard,” produced by an interreligious coalition which gathers data and tries to bring “light and transparency” to America’s immense prison system. The coalition agrees with international standards which consider solitary confinement a form of torture. For the DVD, google the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. (nrcat.org/backyard)

In the 1890s, a century after the Philadelphia meeting, solitary confinement was almost outlawed in America. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Miller, who was also a physician, pointed to the terrible psychological consequences of the practice: “Numbers of prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still committed suicide.” Miller’s 1890 description of victims falling into those three conditions — catatonic, raging or suicidal — also confirms research done today. (My source: Washington Post editorial, July 1, 2012. This editorial condemning solitary confinement is part of an immense sea-change on this question over the last few years.)

The Washington Post reports on a “human rights issue we cannot ignore”: the U.S. has a higher number of prisoners in this torturous confinement than any democracy in the world. Right this second there are probably 80,000 people being held in solitary confinement in this country, some for months, years. Interestingly, when the state of Maine began re-conceptualizing its policies recently, it found out that it had more people in solitary confinement than did all of England…even though England has 40 times more people than Maine!

America’s solitary confinement practices, symbolized by the “supermax” prisons heralded during the Clinton years, are too expensive, don’t fix bad behavior, and are increasingly out of sync with the practices of many other countries. More importantly, these cruel practices are immoral, as the National Religious Campaign against Torture rightly insists.

Quick Note: Curious about Texas? According to a Houston Chronicle article by Diane Schiller last year, there are 5,205 in long term isolation, “administrative segregation,” and another 4,000 serving short term stints in isolation in Texas. Also the Texas Observer in 2010 ran an article about children in Texas held in pre-trial solitary (for their own protection, it is said) sometimes for weeks or months.

Another Quick Note: The 20-minute DVD mentioned earlier, http://www.nrcat.org/backyard, is easily available for under ten dollars. It was shown last week during the regular Sunday service at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship in San Juan, and the discussion afterward was said to be lively and thoughtful.

[This piece also appears in “Reflection and Change,” Mid-Valley Town Crier, 8-21-12]