Tag Archives: voting rights

The Supreme Court’s Road to Redemption

By Gordon Davis
I have been following my former friend from Holy Cross college (we were undergrads there), Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, since Justice Scalia’s death. Thomas voted on April 4, 2016, with the “liberal” Justices on the Supreme Court without comment. I believe that the individual can be redeemed and that Thomas is on the road to redemption.
On April 4, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that being registered to vote does not make us persons. As you know, the Supreme Court has the legal right under the Constitution to determine who among us are persons. In 1860s it said that freed Black people and their children are persons. Later in the 19th Century it said that corporations are people.

In this most recent case it ruled that people not registered to vote can continue to be persons.

A person is usually a human being. However in the USA it is what the Supreme Court says we are.

The recent case heard by the Supreme Court involved a challenge to the so called One Person One Vote principle found in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  The number of persons has traditionally been determined by the U.S. Census, which takes place every 10 years. The states usually follow the U.S. Census when determining redistricting of state legislatures.

A right wing group, that some consider racist, in Texas challenged the constitutionality of using the U.S. Census to determine the number of persons and the One Person One Vote Principle. This group wanted a separate census in Texas based on voter registration.

As relatively more persons are registered to vote in the rural areas of the United States than in the urban areas the change sought by the right wing group would make the state legislatures more white and more rural.

However, it had other implications as well. It would mean that children would become non-persons as they could not be registered voters. It would mean permanent residents would be non-persons as they could not register to vote. Anyone who could not meet the difficult voter ID laws would be a non-person, too.

Fortunately for humanity, the Supreme Court without Scalia voted down the right wing challenge and took the road away from perdition.

The Supreme Court in a back-handed manner has affirmed that like corporations, children, immigrants and those of us who do not have a birth certificate or can afford a government ID are still persons.

As persons we (all residents of every American town, city and suburb) are entitled to representation by our state legislatures.

There is a message here for Worcester and Massachusetts which hold that only citizens can vote in an election. We should allow adult residents the right to vote. Adult residents could be able to vote in Worcester School Committee and Worcester City Council elections in Worcester – if there was a home rule petition allowing it.

The voting results of our November 2015 elections for Worcester School Committee suggest a need for residents, not just citizens, to vote in Worcester. The Worcester School Committee is entirely White, while the Worcester School District is majority Latino, Black and Asian.

In 2016 Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus, at the urging of a City Councillor, wrote a Home Rule Petition for the eviction of certain lesees. This petition lacked substance. 

The Manager should now write another petition that allows residents of the City of Worcester to vote in City of Worcester elections. I hope he has the moral character to do so. 

Residents, Citizens and the Franchise

By Gordon T. Davis

Until relatively recently, residency was the only requirement for people to vote in state and local elections in some states in America.

There has always been a requirement of citizenship for people to vote in federal elections.

At the turn of last century, 40 states had laws allowing non-citizen residents to vote.  By the early 1920s, no state allowed non-citizen residents to vote. 

The disenfranchisement of non-citizens is thought by some to be a reaction to immigrant workers coming to the USA. To a certain extent it was also a reaction to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia as seen in the so called Palmer Raids and deportations of radicals such as Emma Goldman.

It is time to take another look at the franchise for non-citizen residents of Massachusetts.

There are at least three Massachusetts cities that have sent home rule petitions to the Massachusetts legislature that would have allowed non-citizen residents to vote in City Council and School Committee elections. They are: Newton, Cambridge and Amherst.

The legislature failed to act on these home rule petitions.  These Massachusetts cities did not have a majority “minority” population or majority minority school enrollment.

Cities such as Worcester, Lowell and Southbridge could likely benefit from the allowance of non-citizen residents voting, as they have an increasingly rising percentage of immigrant population.

This implies that their city governments do not reflect in a true manner the population of their respective city.

Worcester, for example, has a large, relatively older population that has fewer children in the school system. For them, the Worcester Public Schools might seem to be a drain on their taxes instead of an essential part of the fabric of our city/society.

Many parents of children in the Worcester Public Schools are immigrant, permanent residents who can’t vote the aspirations of their children.

Although the school committee has not shown any overt biases on this matter, sometimes it seems to me that it struggles understanding the issues facing the immigrant population.

Besides the moral fiber of our city being positively enhanced by non citizen residents voting in local election there are other persuasive arguments in its favor: The first is that the non citizen resident is being taxed without being able to have the same voice as other tax payers. There should be not taxation without representation. The second reason is that the franchise encourages non citizen residents to participate more fully in the community.

It has been made clear by many to me that they don’t want non citizens to vote in local elections. Some of these anti-resident franchise people are part of a movement to remove the franchise from citizens by means of voter ID laws, voter suppression and voter intimidation. This has especially adverse impacts in some of the minority communities in which people with a  CORI have been permanently disenfranchised, even though they are citizens.

If a home rule petition to allow non citizen residents to vote in local elections is to have a chance of passage in the Massachusetts legislature there will have to be collaboration by people in the Massachusetts cities with a relatively high immigrant population: Worcester, Chelsea and more.

Ironically, the collaborators would have to resort to rallies, marches, sit-ins – tactics similar to those used by women suffragettes. This battle will more than likely be won in the streets instead of the State House.

Even if the respective home rule petition fails, the collaboration will likely have a positive effect and improve Massachusetts’ image world-wide. Our state will be seen as a global place, not restricted by what seems at times to be the unreasonable restrictions of nationalism and reaction.

In light of tonight’s city council meeting …

… a YES vote will guarantee EVERYONE in Wusta has the chance to vote … . Kudos to Worcester City Councilors Ric Rushton and Joe O’Brien for pushing to bring voting into the 21’st century. Here is the brilliant New York Times on the topic. Every city, ‘burb, town in America needs to do what hopefully Worcester will do tonight. VOTE YES! – R. Tirella

From The New York Times

EDITORIAL Voting Should Be Easy: Modernize Registration
Published: February 12, 2013

President Obama has a long agenda for his State of the Union address, but it is important that he not forget the most fundamental democratic reform of all: repairing a broken election system that caused hundreds of thousands of people to stand in line for hours to vote last year. It is time to make good on his election-night promise.

Those seeking political power by making voting more inconvenient will resist reforms, but a better system would actually be good for both parties and, more important, the country.

Long lines are not the inevitable result of big turnouts in elections. They are the result of neglect, often deliberate, of an antiquated patchwork of registration systems that make it far too hard to get on the rolls. They are the result of states that won’t spend enough money for an adequate supply of voting machines, particularly in crowded cities and minority precincts. And they are the result of refusals to expand early voting programs, one of the best and easiest ways to increase participation.

The disparate effects of these policies were clear last fall. Blacks and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long to vote as whites, according to a study conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lines were longer in cities than in rural and suburban areas and tended to be longer in the South than in the North. The longest lines were in Florida, where Republicans strategically cut back on early voting in hopes of reducing the Democratic turnout. More than 200,000 people in the state were forced to give up without voting. …

to read more, click on the link below …


War on Women

By Mary Bennett

There are only a few places in the world where women have some semblance of equality. The U.S. is one of them, thanks to the brave work of feminist scholars and researchers who helped bring about this seismic shift in our cultural understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman. Moving toward more egalitarian relationships hasn’t been an easy transformation, but the gains made have greatly enhanced the well being of American families and institutions and it has also given hope to others in the world struggling for equality.

The so-called “war on women” playing out in the media has served to heighten awareness of potential threats to women’s rights. Powerful coalitions between religious conservative groups, including Catholics, with the blessing of the Vatican, are working together over issues relating to sexuality in particular. Adding to the concern is the recent attacks on women religious in the U.S. who have been ordered to reform their statutes, programs and affiliations and conform to “the teachings and discipline of the Church.” However, before you dismiss this matter as a Catholic problem with little consequence for the rest of us, please consider that the Catholic Church has worldwide influence over the lives of women throughout the world and many of them are depending on that influence to hopefully bring some semblance of equality into their lives too!

And, what are these statutes, programs and affiliations these women religious have engaged in that have given rise to so much criticism? They are programs supporting impoverished Americans, antiwar efforts, social justice issues including abolishing the death penalty, health care for all people, etc., and, according to the Vatican, not enough on abortion, contraception and gay marriage. And, heaven forbid, some of their affiliations were in support of the ordination of women! Now that will get you in trouble with Rome!

What women religious have done is really quite extraordinary for they moved way beyond outdated patriarchal constraints, and transformed themselves into models of egalitarian non-hierarchal communities. And unlike their brothers in Rome they have applied what Vatican II encouraged 50 years ago, more collegiality and a decentralization of power.

Perhaps Rome has demonstrated something here that is worth noting, because the way in which they stepped in without regard for the sensibilities or accomplishments of these women, with such remarkable disregard for their feelings and needs, serves as a chilling example of patriarchal thinking and entitlement and how it leads to abuse.

Although the Catholic Church has never been a democratic institution, the recommendations of Vatican II for greater collegiality and shared decision-making were an invitation to at least “open the window” in that direction. It is not surprising that Rome would have problems with the idea of shared decision-making and shut the window. Believing in their own superiority, most men in the world have done the same. One of the problems with power is that it is so hard to let go of. This is the same type of resistance that occurred in so many families throughout the U.S.

Growing up in Worcester in an Italian American family, I recall my father struggling with this shift in thinking that questioned his authority as head of the family as he insisted that he had to be in charge because he reasoned someone has to make the final decision. To his credit when his three daughters questioned this logic with hands on hips insisting on shared decision making between he and our mother, he changed.

Whether you are for or against abortion, contraception or gay marriage – we need to ask why conservative religious groups place so much emphasis on matters of sexuality? Abortion and gay marriage in particular have rallied so many conservatives. Yes, these issues are part of what they believe to be true. The question is, why isn’t there the same fervor and concern for issues related to nonviolence? Jesus was all about nonviolence. Love of neighbor. Sell all you have and give it to the poor. You would think war making, economic injustice, corporate greed, climate change and its catastrophic consequences, to name a few, would get the attention of conservative religious institutions. Perhaps the focus on sexuality and “traditional family values” may have more to do with a longing to return to the past, where male dominance was the rule?

Nonviolence and equality go hand in hand. What happens to women when cultural, familial and religious values do not promote equality? Women suffer. Some of the horrors include acid in her face, beatings, coercion, and female circumcision. She can’t drive, she can’t go out, and she can’t speak. You know this list.

Inequality also harms women’s psyche. As a young woman coming out of the Worcester public school system in 66 career options were very limited for women and there were constant reminders of my inferior status. A few examples include my guidance counselor who said, “You don’t need math because you are a girl.” Getting a job meant I had to endure the humiliation of being asked if I intended to get married and if I did would I use the pill. At home it was clear that my father was in charge (it was a slow transformation for all of us) and at church a male hierarchy would not allow women to come near the altar. In so many ways, like so many women I put myself last and believed I was less. It is shocking to remember how much I believed these cultural messages. 46 years later, it is shocking to note that most women in the world probably still do.

However, the real problem IS NOT MEN! The real problem is power. Women are just as likely to abuse power and act with aggression if they have the power to do so.

We have been studying women’s anger in Worcester at UMass Medical Center. There is ample research on interpersonal violence showing that if there is aggression in a relationship it is bilateral –unfortunately, women are “manning up,” and acting tough as men has done. This is bad news for women, because men are generally more physically powerful, which means women are still suffering and dying due to male aggression. The bilateral nature of the aggression suggests that women feel more empowered in their relationships and they are also using aggression just as men have done to try and get their needs met. In other words, it seems that equality has given women an equal opportunity to be aggressive. We certainly do not want this to be the end product of women’s rights!

There is also evidence that the perpetrator suffers as much as the victim. Acting out with verbal or physical aggression will generally cause an increase in cortisol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, stomach acid, etc. We are in fight or flight mode and this causes stress to our vital organs and we suffer psychologically. Did you know that almost 60% of men and women coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? That’s moderate to severe PTSD! We are just beginning to catch on to the fact that the human species may not be designed to do harm!

Equality is a fundamental human need – women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, Palestinian and Israeli, Bahraini, Egyptian, Libyan, environmental justice, animal rights, etc. All beings have an intrinsic value and they have their own needs, which also means there will be conflicting needs. Power struggles are inevitable and using aggression to try and win the argument, to make others comply by force is ultimately self-defeating. Conflict resolution skills / nonviolent communication / anger management – these skills are giving men and women the tools they need to navigate conflict safely.

We can’t afford to wait for Rome, Wall Street, Corporations or the Dictator, to change. The church belongs to the people of God – that was also recognized by the Second Vatican Counsel. We the people are the 99% who own the government, not the other way around – The Occupy Wall Street Movement showed us how to remind those in power of that fact with their awe inspiring, radically egalitarian, non-hierarchal and nonviolent methods.

We have other examples in Worcester that are also showing and teaching us how. The Center for Nonviolent Solutions in Worcester is an amazing resource and Professor Michael True, who helped found it, has been one of Worcester’s most preeminent teachers of nonviolence. The Goods for Guns program founded by Dr. Michael Hirsh is another. The Quakers at Worcester Friends Meeting House, with their emphasis on the peace testimony, The SS. Francis & Therese Catholic Worker House, along with Scott and Claire Schaeffer-Duffy and Annette Rafferty who started Abby’s House in Worcester and Rose Tirella who had the guts to start this newspaper and keeps those in power locally accountable. That’s just a few. Worcester is an awesome place to work for peace.