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The Long, Vicious Assault on Voting Rights in America

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(NNPA) The attack on voting rights for people of color in the United States of America is as old as the Republic itself.

While Thomas Jefferson penned egalitarian words around the world against the tyranny of the oppressed, he ruled over forced labor and the enslaved at his home in Virginia. Under “Jefferson Democracy” only White men who owned land had the legal right to vote. By denying poor Whites the exercise of their vote and denying White women and all African Americans (men and women) citizenship the so-called “Founding Fathers” set the foundation for today’s attack on voting rights.

The United States Constitution had to be amended to permit people of color and women to vote under the 15th and 19th Amendments (1870 and 1920, respectively) amidst massive resistance from those who agreed with the founder’s view of voter suppression.

After 95 years of dirty tricks at polling places the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to outlaw all practices and procedures that affected a citizen’s right to exercise their vote based on race, gender or other protected classes (Section 2). The Act also included a provision for areas that had a bad record of racially discriminating against people of color to pre-clear their voting plans with the United States Department of Justice. Both Section 2 and Section 5 have been under attack since the 1960’s. Go figure!

The Black robes of bigoted judges in 2011 have replaced the White robes of domestic terrorists in the Ku Klux Klan, of the 1800’s.

Today’s policy debate over voting rights can be broken down into two camps. In one camp are those who believe that states have the right under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to control voting laws for state and federal elections, however restrictive the laws. In the other camp are those of us who believe in federal enforced voting laws where every citizen has an individual and equal right to vote enshrined in the Constitution. I fight for the latter.

Thus, 13 states have approved new obstacles to voting:

Kansas and Alabama – would-be voters must provide proof of citizenship
Florida and Texas – New obstacles for non-profit groups to register voters
Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia – Reduced early voting period
Iowa – Barred all ex-felons form voting
Maine – Repealed Election Day voter registration
Hawaii, Idaho,, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, South Carolina – Require photo identification at polling places

The effect of onerous voter suppression laws is real. Most American voters remember the presidential election of 2000 where state officials in Florida used suppression schemes to steal a federal election (ex-felon roll purging, absentee ballot tampering, voter intimidation, and outright vote theft). Likewise, in the presidential election of 2004 Ohio schemes such as private tabulators on public voting machines and voting machines designed and operated by political partisans again decided the federal election for George W. Bush. The same un-American activities may well occur in 2012, but if so many more states rather than one.

We must put an end to state-control of federal elections by calling on the White House and Congress to pass and enact a Constitutional Amendment for an individual right to vote protected by the U.S. Constitution. For those who believe such would take too long it is worth noting that of the 27 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution 7 were enacted into laws in less than one year. In fact, the 26th Amendment (granting18-year olds voting rights) became law in only 3 months. Why? There was a demand for the White House and Congress to do the right thing.

Politically, we have come to a place for which our fathers and mother sighed with the election of President Barrack Obama. Yet, their collective tears will flow from the Great Beyond if we do not electorally stand up against the tea-partying grandchildren of the Klan who and exclaim with pride, “we too sing America”, and have the right to vote with equality.

Gary L. Flowers is the Executive Director & CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

Something is Strange at FEMA

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(NNPA) Hurricane Irene has come and gone. She left a trail of damage from North Carolina to Canada. The recovery phase has started with much anticipation. We ended the Hurricane Katrina recovery with important lessons learned. In all, Black contractors performed over $3 billion in contracts and I am most proud to have been a part of that. However, this Hurricane Irene recovery has started with unforeseen controversy already.

It has been reported to me that FEMA(Federal Emergency Management Agency) is demanding that contractors wait at least six months for payment of any work performed during this recovery. The only corporations that could survive that would be large, mega corporations. Small businesses and certainly Black owned businesses could not possibly participate in that arrangement and expect to survive. So why is FEMA doing this? Could they be trying to block out Black business participation? That is certainly the effect. Or maybe they are broke. That’s right. It is certainly possible with the lack of an official federal budget that they may have been caught unprepared. Maybe, they are “selling contracts” by eliminating competition from those who do not make sizeable political contributions.

Either way, it is a disaster that needs to be addressed immediately. It probably violates procurement law. We have started action through correspondence to federal officials and Congress including the Congressional Black Caucus. We pray that this will be addressed immediately and that our businesses will be included in the recovery. Small business is the biggest creator of jobs and jobs are in a serious downward spiral as you all know. The following is the letter I sent out to FEMA Administrator Fugate:

Dear Administrator Fugate:

I have received a complaint from a reputable member of my association. It is alleged that FEMA, in response to the recovery process of Hurricane Irene, is electing not to utilize the expertise of the Army Corps of Engineers in issuing contracts. Rather than that, they are sole sourcing private firms such as SAIC for recovery contracts within North Carolina. Allegedly SAIC is telling potential subcontractors that they will not be paid by FEMA for at least six months after completion of work. Therefore, all subcontractors should not expect payment for work done until sometime after that six month timeframe.

Requiring contractors to wait six months for payment eliminates any possibility of small businesses participating in this recovery. The seriousness of this matter is quite obvious. I, therefore, respectfully request answers to the following questions:

1. Is the above claim accurate?

1. What is the reasoning for sole sourcing and delaying payment of work for at least six months?

2. Is there a small business goal for this recovery?

3. Is FEMA working with the SBA in the procurement process?

4. Does FEMA have budgeted funds to manage this recovery?

5. What is the percentage of Black business participation with FEMA procurement fiscal year to date?

Your rapid response to this inquiry is dearly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Harry C. Alford
President/CEO

Cc: DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Congressman Darrell Issa, Congressman Peter King, Congressman Bennie Thompson, Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, Congressman G. K. Butterfield, Congressman Mel Watt, Congressman Sam Graves, Governor Beverly Perdue, SBA Administrator Karen Mills

If the above is accurate, it is a sad turn of events for our nation. Scandalous at least and it screams for a major clean up in morals and in responsibility of federal officials. As I write this it is flooding in Louisiana and Mississippi. In addition to that, Hurricane Katia is gaining strength and is starting to move towards our east coast in a manner reminiscent of Irene. Hopefully, we can rectify the above and, if needed, FEMA will get additional funding before the next disaster.

What is most disturbing is that Black unemployment is approaching 18 percent; double that of the national average. This is not the time to start blocking more job opportunities. It is callous and irresponsible. Job opportunities are the silver lining in regards to disasters. Let us not waste this opportunity. Hopefully, our congressional leaders will step up and see that we don’t.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

The King Monument: Time to Revitalize the Movement

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(NNPA) The planned dedication and ceremony to formally consecrate the National Memorial Monument of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. will soon take place after the recent postponement due to the challenging weather conditions resulting from Hurricane Irene. It is not that unusual, however, to now witness a growing chorus of people who are expressing their opinions on the stone structure’s style and architecture, the chiseled inscriptions of King’s quotes, and the overall intended tone that should exude from the moment.

I believe that we all should be very grateful to the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and to Harry E. Johnson and the King Memorial Foundation for their outstanding leadership over the many years to bring this significant project to a permanent establishment. Of course, we also have to recognize and thank the King family for their long fortitude and steadfastness of commitment to keep the dream, legacy and spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King alive and well for millions of people in America and throughout the world.

As a former North Carolina state youth director for Golden Frinks and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in NC in the 1960’s under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I would like to add just a word to enjoin the current public debate about the King National Memorial. I support the memorial. I believe that this monument in Washington, D.C. will not only stimulate a much needed review and broader comprehension of the leadership of Dr. King, but also even for those who have posited their criticisms concerning some aspects of the King National Memorial, this monument strategically located in the nation’s capital will bring renewed interests and involvement in the ongoing Civil Rights Movement. In other words, we all should be striving today to make sure that the “Monument” reflects and represents the “Movement” not just of the past, but just as importantly the “Movement” today for freedom, justice, equality, jobs and empowerment.

At a time in the United State when we are clearly heading into another difficult national political debate and polarizing crossroads on issues like voting rights, jobs, poverty, racial discrimination, immigration, environmental injustice, disproportionate incarceration, home ownership and land loss, and other severe economic inequalities impacting the African American community, we need the Civil Rights Movement today just as much as we needed the movement 40 years ago. Again we urgently have to ask, “Where is the Movement today that the King Monument represents?”

In an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, the renowned scholar Dr. Cornel West emphasized, “King weeps from his grave. He never confused substance with symbolism. He never conflated a flesh and blood sacrifice with a stone and mortar edifice. We rightly celebrate his substance and sacrifice because he loved us all so deeply. Let us not remain satisfied with symbolism because we too often fear the challenge he embraced.” Dr. West affirms the liberation theology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that necessitated a visible, audacious, challenging, revolutionary, and moral praxis that encouraged a massive and participatory grassroots Civil Rights Movement led in many instances by the Black American church in coalition with many others of conscience and spirit.

We should all recall that at one point in the movement, in spite of differences in ideology, age, class-orientation, political party or other social distinctions, the NAACP, SCLC, National Urban League, CORE, and SNCC all worked together in coalition with others in the Civil Rights Movement in the interests of advancing the cause of freedom, justice, jobs and liberation for all. Today we have more national organizations than we had in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but Black people in America are less organized and mobilized primarily because we have less unity and sense of purpose among us as a people. In 2008, the election of President Barack H. Obama was an important milestone in the history of our long struggle for freedom. 2008 also witnessed the largest voter turnout of African American voters in U.S. history. We have to rekindle that kind of voter mobilization across the nation once again. There are efforts in more than 20 states today to repress Black and Latino voter turnout. The forces of reaction and repression are at work to systematically prevent another large Black voter turnout. How is it that there are some who still say “Well, we really don’t need a movement today?” I am hopeful that the dedication of the new National Memorial for Dr. King will at least remind more of us that we still have a lot of work to do. We still have serious civil rights and human rights issues to be addressed and challenged.

In particular I see so many of our young people who cry out today for a deeper understanding and appreciation for what happened and how it happened 50 and 40 year ago in the movement for change. There is no better way to get that kind of an understanding than to simply join the movement and help to lead our struggle forward. I caution against the rise of cynicism and hopelessness in our community. You can be critical without becoming cynical. Constructive criticism always has its place. But we should not indulge in throwing stones of disunity at each other. Let’s show our love for the love that Dr. King gave to all of us by revitalizing the movement that he led: the Civil Rights Movement. Let’s build and expand the “Movement” that the King “Monument” reflects and represents.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is Senior Advisor to the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN).

The Contrast Between Katrina and Irene

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(NNPA) Oh, what a difference six years can make. Almost to the exact date six years ago Hurricane Katrina roared up the Gulf of Mexico and into the greater New Orleans area. As I write this article from Washington, D.C., Hurricane Irene is coming north with a vengeance. Katrina was a Category 5 but Irene has leveled to a Category 1. However, Irene dwarfs Katrina in size. This monster is as large as continental Europe and is wreaking havoc from South Carolina all the way to Maine. Twenty percent of this nation’s population will be affected.

The biggest contrast is the preparation and recovery by federal, state and local governments. We fell asleep with Katrina. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was in a total “fog”. Applicable National Guard response was initially lethargic and very slow. The Governor of Louisiana was in a state of “ice”. The Department of Homeland Security and the military were equally slow and inept. Our governmental activities concerning Katrina were initially a national disgrace. It was the darkest days of the George W. Bush administration.

This time, with Irene, it is going to be so different. Every state’s governor and major cities’ mayor are totally proactive. Mandatory evacuations have taken place as opposed to the Katrina preparation. Respective National Guard units are in place ahead of the storm. FEMA is everywhere and providing valuable information and recommendations to the general population and elected officials. If needed, the Army stands ready. Power providers have recruited thousands of workers from unaffected states and they are in place ready to start the recovery. This promises to be a very proud endeavor for the nation. President Obama as opposed to President Bush may be positioning for his greatest moment.

FEMA Administrator Charles Fugate is a great communicator and motivator of his people. They are all in a “gung ho” mode over at FEMA. Katrina’s FEMA Administrator Michael Brown was a failure. A terrible communicator and totally unqualified for the critical position, he went down in disgrace.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is certainly on the case. Her hands on approach is contagious to everyone involved. Her commitment is to the safety of all of the people is clear and evident and certainly welcomed. Her predecessor Secretary Chertoff was of the opposite ilk. What is most shameful today about this guy is that he probably made millions of dollars selling full body scanners to TSA at our airports. He set up the process to require them and then, after leaving, started selling them to his old agency. What a racket!

May we never repeat our lack of efficiency demonstrated during the Katrina debacle. It wasn’t the hurricane damage that caused all the pain. It was a total lack of preparation and a very inadequate response afterwards. New Orleans got through the hurricane but the flooding due to the mysterious levy breach is what caused most of the pain and tragedy. Everything ugly appeared and festered.

I remember hearing an accounting of the subsequent activity by an employee of the Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He recalled all of the special operations military personnel and private firms like Blackwater staying at the hotel. They would sleep and rest during the day and at sundown they would go out in full uniform and equipment as if they were going into battle. Through the night you would hear gun fire. In the morning they would return back to the hotel dirty and sweaty. It was a very sad point in America.

Hopefully, the contracting activity resulting from the rebuilding after Irene won’t emulate that of Katrina. I had to fight and fight to get Black businesses into the door. Finally, President Bush stepped in and opened the doors. In the end, we had over three billion dollars in contracts. It wasn’t easy and I had to go vocal and contentious before it happened. Hopefully, not this time as we have learned from the past. We will database every applicable trade opportunity and email all potential Black contractors asking if they are interested in the rebuilding. We will then take that list and put it in the face of every sole source prime contractor and federal agency letting the contracts out. From there, we will weekly track the progress and verify the stated activity. What a difference six years can make.

There will be other disasters. If we do this correctly, we will have a model for future events. Our businesses will be in the mix and our people will not have to share such pain. America will return to its greatness when it comes to responding to hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and other calamities.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

Fair Wages Are an American Tradition

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By Steven C. Edelstein –

The first Monday of September Americans celebrate the workers who make our country strong. On Labor Day, we are proud of the traditions that brought us the eight-hour work day, paid vacation and sick days, and minimum wage and overtime protections. These basic labor standards helped to make our country the wealthiest in the world by creating a vast middle class able to buy the goods and services that kept our economy growing.

Unfortunately, 129 years after the first Labor Day celebrations, more and more American workers find themselves without some of these basic labor protections. Amazingly, the fastest-growing occupations in the country—personal care and home health aides—are explicitly excluded from the Fair Labor Standards Act minimum wage and overtime protections. As a result, the 1.7 million workers who provide loving care and assistance to our frail and disabled family members are among the most poorly paid workers in our nation.

In 1974, the Fair Labor Standards Act was updated to include most domestic workers, such as cooks, maids, and yard workers. However, companions for the elderly were exempted. At the time, long-term services and supports for elders and people with disabilities were primarily provided in skilled nursing facilities. Home care workers were considered the equivalent to babysitters, providing company to elders who were lonely or needed “someone in the house” to assure safety while family members were out working.

Today, the home care industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy. Federal and state policies explicitly promote care at home over facility-based care—and by 2018, home and community-based aides are expected to outnumber facility based aides by 2 to 1. Home care aides provide the same skilled services to their clients as certified nursing assistants provide to nursing home residents. These services include not only personal care such as bathing, dressing, and toileting, but assistance with mobility, oral and injected medications, nutrition, and monitoring of vital signs such as blood pressure. Clearly, these are not “companionship” services.

The Department of Labor recently held two listening sessions to solicit input on revising the companionship exemption, to ensure that workers who provide skilled home care services receive the fair wages they deserve. Industry advocates argued that narrowing the exemption would make care unaffordable for seniors and people with disabilities and would undermine quality. This argument does not honor our tradition of providing workers with fair wages—wages that allow them to support their families and live with dignity. Moreover, it is not supported by the evidence.

First, 22 states already provide minimum wage and /or overtime protections to home care aides. These states have thriving home care sectors that have been growing a pace with the expansion of demand from a rapidly growing elder population.

Second, the biggest challenge facing the industry is attracting and retaining workers. Providing basic labor protections would show that as a society we value the essential services that home care workers provide—and we respect their right to fair wages. Better wages, along with better training and supports, would attract more workers to the field and decrease turnover, thereby reducing industry costs and increasing the quality of care provided to clients.

Finally, leading the lobbying effort to maintain the companionship exemption are for-profit home care franchises experiencing astounding growth, even during these difficult economic times. While it costs on average $19/hour to hire an aide through these agencies, starting pay for aides is less than $9 per hour. Obviously agencies have other business expenses besides worker wages, but profit margins for many are high. This suggests that the additional costs of paying a fair wage would not necessarily need to be passed on to customers.

America’s families are the consumers of home care services. We want our loved ones to have compassionate, quality care provided by someone we trust and respect. Often these caregivers become like “family members.” But they have families of their own to support. We cannot ask the caregivers—usually poor, often immigrant women—to sacrifice their meager wages to make the system of care affordable. Rather we must find solutions that work for everyone. We must begin with the assumption that our nation’s labor laws apply to all workers, including those who provide the intimate caregiving services that allow our loved ones to live independently and with dignity at the end of their lives.

Steven C. Edelstein is the National Policy Director at PHI, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of jobs for direct-care workers and the quality of care for elders and people with disabilities.

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