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“Every Candidate Should Have A Plan”: Structural Racism Needs To Be A Presidential Campaign Issue

This year, as with every other year, nearly every presidential candidate is white, with the only exceptions being long shots in the mushrooming Republican field. Most candidates are making at least rhetorical efforts to present themselves as allies in the increasingly amplified struggle for black liberation. Hillary Clinton has spoken forcefully of a universal voter registration plan, and her husband told the NAACP this week that the 1994 crime law he signed in his first term as president “made the problem worse,” jailing too many for too long. Rand Paul, an advocate of prison sentencing reform, has embraced Martin Luther King, Jr.’s frame of “two Americas.” Last month, Ben Carson, the only black candidate, published an op-ed after the Charleston church murders, writing, “Not everything is about race in this country. But when it is about race, then it just is.” On July 2, Rick Perry made a speech that is as close to an apology to black voters for ignoring them as a Republican may deliver this entire election season.

Republicans aren’t stopping there. They announced a “Committed to Community” initiative earlier this week, a partnership with black broadcasting giant Radio One to make a direct appeal to African American voters, who turned out at a higher percentage than white voters in 2012. They may very well be doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, but you’ll forgive me if I have my doubts that they suddenly realize, after generations of the “Southern Strategy,” that black voters matter.

I suspect it isn’t the party’s sudden rediscovery of a conscience that’s behind this. I think it’s this past year. Friday marks one year since NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner on a Staten Island sidewalk. The death of the 43-year-old father of six from a supposedly prohibited chokehold was captured on oft-played video, and his pleading— “I can’t breathe!” over and over, until he suffocated—became a mantra that energized a movement. #BlackLivesMatter dates back to the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012, but Garner’s death last July began a year in which Americans unaware of how fragile and frightening living a black life can be could no longer ignore reality. And it set a template for how we would come to digest all of the violence and injustices done in silent service of structural racism, which continues to survive as the deaths mount.

Sandra Bland took a road trip to Texas last week to take a job, and instead became a hashtag. It happened over the course of a weekend. This is a process we’re terribly familiar with: A black person finds her or himself in an encounter with police that proves injurious, harassing, or, all too often, fatal—and if we’re lucky, someone has a camera on it. It has become formulaic.

A bystander took video of the 28-year-old Chicago native’s Friday arrest for allegedly not signaling before making a lane change. Bland, who reportedly had just landed a new job as a college outreach officer at her alma mater, is heard questioning their rough treatment, which went unreported by the arresting officers. “You just slammed my head into the ground,” she tells an officer. “Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear!”

Police found Bland dead in her jail cell on Monday morning, allegedly suffocated by a garbage bag. There are a lot of practical reasons to question the law enforcement narrative on this, but a year of seeing what we’ve seen is more than enough to make anyone suspicious not only of what the cops say, but about whether any of them will ever suffer any consequences for it.

We’ve become familiar with this pattern because abuse and death resonates, first across social media and then ricocheting through traditional media with an urgency that can feel discombobulating to those unaccustomed to seeing black lives mattering to people who aren’t living them. Increased media attention means people remember names. Before they would have forgotten them or not even bothered to learn. Justice is sought where shoulders once simply shrugged. Media organizations like the Guardian and the Washington Post count those killed by police, doing the job a government should.

We haven’t gotten the candidate statements on Bland’s case yet, but they’ll come. The remarks will be taciturn and consoling, and will call vaguely for change. But we need to demand more from each and every presidential candidate, and they will need to offer more than rhetoric. The violence has not slowed. The inequity has not lessened. It’s just lain bare with each new death, with every numbing video. We’ll never end racism and racial discrimination. But we can make policies to end the ways racism infects the very structure of American life. Those policies need to be on the platform of every presidential candidate.

If you look at a typical presidential campaign site under a heading like “Issues,” you’ll see that there isn’t a bullet point that lists a candidate’s plans to attack the complicated issue of structural racism with specific steps. This should change. And in this, candidates can take a lesson from President Obama.

His administration, even as it nears its end, recently offered an example of how a politician can chalk up wins against structural racism. Two weeks ago, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced that previously unenforced Fair Housing Act rules would now become requirements. As the Los Angeles Times reported, HUD will now require towns and cities to study patterns of segregation and how they are linked to access to jobs, high-quality schools, and public transportation—then submit specific goals for improving fair access to these resources. This is a policy, not a speech.

It is not an empty appeal to voters. It is not telling them, as Perry did, that the poor, brutalized, and marginalized amongst us are that way because they had faulty political leadership. That is avoidance, perpetrated by people who would have us mistake political courage for actual courage.

Structural racism needs to be a campaign issue. It needs to be something every 2016 candidate is asked about on the trail, in debates, in town halls, and hell, even at the local ice cream shop. Even if they can’t offer firm plans this summer, someone running to be the de facto leader of her or his party should at lease seize the opportunity to shape the Democratic or Republican agenda on this issue.

If ending structural racism is a priority for either party, there is no need to dance around the issue. Because right now, the most a lot of families can hope for their loved ones is that they manage to navigate a country that clearly doesn’t care much for their bodies or their lives. If they can’t, the only kind of justice they’ll see is financial. (On Monday, Garner’s family reached a settlement with New York City for $5.9 million.)

A year after Eric Garner’s death and mere days after Sandra Bland’s, our presidential candidates cannot deny America’s racial realities. If you’re running for president, you can no longer plead ignorance. You’ll have to confront it.

 

By: Jamil Smith, Senior Editor, The New Republic, July 17, 2015

July 19, 2015 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Election 2016, Racism | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hillary Clinton Has Already Crushed Republicans On Immigration”: It’s Heads She Wins And Tails They Lose, Regardless Of What They Do

You can question Hillary Clinton’s political scruples. But don’t doubt her political smarts.

There is no better proof of either quality than her U-turn decision last week to go all out in embracing amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Clinton’s gambit is a major flip-flop — one that will put Republicans in a bind that they’ll have a hard time extricating themselves from. It’s heads she wins and tails they lose, regardless of what they do.

Clinton stunned everyone — even Latino activists — when she boldly called for a “path to full and equal citizenship” for all of the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants in the country. Speaking at a gathering of handpicked young immigrants in a high school in Nevada, a Latino-heavy swing state, she rejected the notion of a mere path to legalization — like the sort Jeb Bush and some of the more immigrant-friendly Republicans have skittishly backed. “That’s code for second-class status,” Clinton declared. She promised to go much further than even President Obama’s recent executive action and “defer” deportation proceedings not only against some illegal immigrants, but virtually all of them, while working toward comprehensive immigration reform that included citizenship.

This was a remarkable shift for someone who has not only maintained a studious silence for months about Obama’s executive action, but also previously opposed drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. Indeed, her flip is so dramatic that instead of raising questions about her credibility, it has changed the conversation so much that we’re immediately asking what Republicans need to do to catch up.

No doubt her proposal, which she offered no realistic plan for pushing through an unfriendly Congress, is designed to deflect attention from “Emailgate” and any number of other scandals that might yet derail her candidacy. But that’s not all its aimed at doing.

Its chief purpose is to compound what pollster Whit Ayres calls the GOP’s “daunting demographic challenge” in 2016.

Ayers points out that Mitt Romney got 59 percent of the white vote in 2012, the highest percentage of any Republican challenging an incumbent president, and still lost because he got only 18 percent of the overall minority vote and 27 percent of the Latino vote. However, the white share of the national electorate is on track to drop by three percentage points (from 72 percent in 2012 to 69 percent in 2016) — and the minority share, likewise, to rise by the same amount.

This means that the GOP candidate has to do one of two things to win against Clinton: Improve his or her performance with whites to about 65 percent, a feat only Ronald Reagan has accomplished in the last 50 years, or boost his or her minority vote to 30 percent, which would require drawing about 45 percent of the Latino vote — as George W. Bush did.

But here’s the thing: While Democrats’ white and minority supporters are united on the issue of immigration (or at least not hopelessly divided), the GOP’s are not. This means that the more Republicans question and condemn Clinton’s support for “amnesty,” the more they’ll dig themselves in a hole with Latinos and make her more popular. On the other hand, it they stay mute — which is what most of them have done (with the exception of Lindsey Graham) — they’ll risk alienating the anti-amnesty white base that they have spent the last decade riling up.

In other words, if Republicans fight Hillary’s call for amnesty, they’ll lose Latinos, which will benefit Hillary. But if they don’t, they’ll lose whites, which will also benefit Hillary.

The dilemma is particularly acute for Jeb Bush, whose broad support for immigration (along with his Mexican-American wife and Spanish fluency) has made him perhaps the best-placed Republican to do well among Latinos. Yet even he doesn’t come anywhere close to the 45 percent mark yet. He has been rather equivocal in his support for a path to citizenship and has been assuring GOP voters that whatever course he charts for the undocumented, it will require them to jump through all kinds of hoops, such as paying fines and passing English tests and possibly “touching back” to their home country. Still, a recent Bloomberg poll found that 41 percent of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire, far from the most restrictionist state in the country, considered his immigration views a “deal-killer.”

By positioning herself as even more pro-immigration than the most pro-immigration GOP candidate — and potentially picking as her running mate Julian Castro, secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the former mayor of San Antonio who is wildly popular with Latinos — she will basically lock up the Latino vote. This will mean that the Republican nominee, even Jeb Bush, would have to go whole-hog for the white vote by hardening his or her opposition to amnesty and immigration, further cementing the GOP’s reputation as the anti-minority, white man’s party.

Some pundits pooh-pooh this problem, noting that like all voters, Latinos list jobs and the economy as their top concerns, not immigration. That’s true. But, also like all voters, Latinos won’t put their economic faith in someone they don’t trust politically. They will have much more confidence in Clinton solving those problems, not because they necessarily buy into her liberal tax-and-spend plans, but because they have more confidence in her personally, thanks to her appeal for them on immigration issues.

What’s more, life will get only more miserable for Republicans once Clinton enters the White House and makes comprehensive immigration reform her signature issue. That’s because if Republicans go along with her plans to extend full-fledged amnesty, they will basically be handing her a whole new block of Democratic voters. But if they don’t, Democrats will be able to milk this issue in subsequent elections, when the electorate is even more Latino.

Regardless of where one stands on the merits of the issue, the political reality is this: Republicans’ harsh anti-immigration rhetoric has left them no good options. They have created their own vulnerability. And Hillary Clinton has just zeroed in on it.

 

By: Shikha Dalmia, The Week, May 22, 2015

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Amnesty, Hillary Clinton, Immigration | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Michelle For The Win”: A Common American Experience

Michelle Obama’s singular mission last night was to convince Americans that she and the president deeply understand the real challenges facing Americans today, and she aced it. With a relaxed grace that wowed the convention hall, she spoke in personal terms of a common American experience and voiced a deep belief that a shared connection allows her husband to fight for all of us, but especially the women. Against a backdrop of the GOP assault on women’s rights and an economic recession disproportionately affecting women, her words offered a handhold for the slipping hope that ran rampant just four years ago.

While she never mentioned either Romney by name, the obvious juxtaposition of the couples’ lives and core beliefs was woven silently into anecdotes and stated principles throughout the speech. The emotion in her voice was audible as Michelle recounted watching her father struggle to dress himself every morning for his physically demanding job at the water plant. The family needed the money despite his progressive multiple sclerosis. The painted image automatically conjured up a comparison with Ann Romney’s idyllic upbringing as the privileged daughter of a small town mayor.

When Michelle relayed the constant worry of her parents as they scraped and sacrified to afford the small portion of college tuition not covered by federal grants and loans, we were remided of Ann Romney’s description of how tough it was to live off of Mitt’s stock portfolio while they were newleyweds in college. Working moms around the country chuckled with camaraderie when Michelle said date night for her and Barack as parents was dinner or a movie because “as an exhausted mom, I couldn’t stay awake for both.” Ann Romney’s full-time mothering was no doubt exhausting, they must have been silently musing, but since she didn’t have to juggle a job as well, she might have gotten both dinner and a movie. And in a final blow, Michelle deftly but gently cut the heart out of of the GOP narrative and Mitt Romney’s top selling point when she said softly that for Barack “success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”

While Michelle was the main event, the entire evening was a veritable paean to the women voters this campaign needs to win. If the convention stage was the floor of the House, what are commonly referred to as “women’s issues” would be front and center in a Democratic offensive to rebuild the middle class and own the principles of equality and justice.

With female leaders of labor, government and health advocacy speaking all night long, the crowd was primed as the evening wore on. The men also paid homage to the women who got them to the stage, and pledged to fight for a better future for everyone’s daughters. Julian Castro, the young mayor from San Antonio, delivered a standout performance based largely on his life story of being raised by his mother and grandmother. It was a moving nod to the immigrant experience being made possible by strong women.

By the time Lilly Ledbetter took the stage, the crowd erupted in a frenzy something like teenage fans at a Jonas Brothers concert. The notorious blond grandmother from Alabama sued all the way to the Supreme Court after discovering male counterparts at her tire factory earned more than she did. Smart and sassy, Ledbetter summed up the real-life impact of a twenty-three cent pay gap: the ability to take the family to the occasional movie and still have pennies left over for the college savings account. Ledbetter scored one of the best responses of the night when she mused: “Maybe twenty-three cents doesn’t sound like much for someone with a Swiss Bank account….”

Women across the board say that economic concerns are top of list to get their vote, but nine out of ten say it is critical a candidate understand women. “Understanding women,” I heard consistently as I wandered the hall, means not making abortion and jobs separate issues. With two income households a necessity and reproductive health central to economic security, convention promises will remain just those until—in the words of one older male delegate from New Hampshire—“we stop talking about these as women’s issues. They are economic issues and family issues.”

The women at the convention are fiercely defensive of their president. One Virginia delegate told me with an evangelical zeal that “people forget the patient was bleeding. Our country was on the ER table and losing life fast. Now, the bleeding has stopped and the healing can begin.” Women effortlessly list Obama’s accomplishments on healthcare, on choice, on financial reform. They sing his praises as a father and a husband. And they organize like people with the threat of a Romney/Ryan presidency hanging over their heads.

But even on this night of homage to women, the wage gap wasn’t the only one on display. The women’s Congressional delegation lined up behind Nancy Peolsi as she spoke from the stage appeared appallingly sparse. Though not every member was meant to be accounted for, the image is a graphic reminder that women still only make up 17 percent of federal elected positions. Those numbers qualifies the United States for a spot at seventy-third place in the world for female representation in government, tied with Turkmenistan. A delegate from Colorado told me conspiratorially that there’s always a fight with local party leaders to get money to women candidates in enough time to make a difference in viability.

While the Ledbetter Act has become the president’s signature legislation with women, there is widespread frustration that the Paycheck Fairness Act still languishes in Congress, even if most of that rancor is reserved for the GOP. And one African-American delegate from Nevada fervently wished aloud that the president and Democrats would just speak up about the fact that the wage gap is far higher for women of color than white women. “Painting over the race part of inequality doesn’t help,” she said of her work to get other women of color involved in the campaign.

Kathleen Sebelius’s concise summation of the real time impact on women’s lives from Obamacare was impressive in content and delivery. But no speech provided a genuine analysis of why we are losing substantial ground on reproductive choice, most of them instead settling for the easy win against the GOP villain. Governor Deval Patrick’s rousing line about Democrats’ much-needed pivot to offense requiring more spine met with genuine, if surprised, appreciation. But with no stated solutions on how to stop the war on women other than to re-elect Obama, that offensive still looks daunting. Women haven’t forgotten that the Stupak amendment restricting federal funds from going towards abortion happened on the Democrats’ watch. “It’s not a matter of blame,” one woman from Illinois explained, “it’s a matter of strategy.”

But none of that was top of mind tonight as Michelle took the stage. She connected beautifully with almost every woman in the room while she spoke of her daughters, her concern for their future and her primary role as Mom-in-Chief. The distance yet to travel was most evident in what she didn’t say. Her own success as a lawyer, a dean at the University of Chicago and a hospital administrator was notable in its absence. Her impressive professional biography would have to wait another cycle for the political culture to catch up with reality. Meanwhile, she more than fulfilled her core job as first lady, which is to remind us of her husband’s humanity, his dedication and her abiding belief in his ability to continue to lead this country forward. And we believe her. Because while Ann Romney shouted out last week in Tampa, “I love you women,” Michelle Obama is one of us women.

By: Ilyse Hogue, The Nation, September 5, 2012

September 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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