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Julianne Malveaux

Turning the Clock Back on Voting Rights

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(NNPA) Shelby County, Ala. is suing the Justice Department because they think that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (and its reauthorization in 1982 and 2006) is unfair. The facts: The small city of Calera redistricted its boundaries in a way that the sole African American councilman lost his seat. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act forced a new election with different boundaries, and Ernest Montgomery regained his seat.

Shelby County (which includes parts of Birmingham) objects to the provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires that areas with histories of past discrimination have changes to voting laws and boundaries monitored by the Justice Department. This would include many southern states, as well as areas, such as Alaska, that have historical discrimination against Native people, and Texas and parts of California, that have historic discrimination against Latinos. They say that it’s all equal now and there is no need to monitor them.

Not surprisingly, conservatives and the Attorney Generals of several affected states have filed amicus briefs to support Shelby County. These include the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas. Additionally the usual suspects such as the Conservative Legal Defense Fund, the Cato Institute, the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Southeast Legal Foundation, among others, have lined up to support Shelby. It is not surprising that the conservative Project 21, nominally an African American organization, has lined up to support Shelby.

It is more surprising that the National Black Chamber of Commerce has filed an amicus brief. I’d be most interested in leaning where the Black Chamber polled its membership before filing this brief. If I were a member, I’d have to cancel my membership. If my dues were used to support that nonsense, I’d be repelled. I guess it just goes to show that “everybody brown ain’t down”, and raises questions about this organization.

Many suggest that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act means there is no need for Section 5. While Section 2 allows lawsuits, it forces plaintiffs to show that changes in voting provisions are motivated by “invidious practices.” Section 5 says that those who are known to have engaged in such practices are required to have the Department of Justice review them.

If our nation had never chosen to implement the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, there would have been no need for the Voting Rights Act. The Fourteenth Amendment actually states that state population decides the number of Congressional representatives, but if enough people are denied the right to vote, Congressional representation should be reduced. This provision has never been enforced, even when the whole Black population in some southern states could not vote.

The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits denying the right to vote based on race, color, and previous condition of servitude, and authorized Congress to enforce this amendment with the appropriate action and legislation. Until 1876, federal troops enforced the right that African Americans had to vote, spurring an unprecedented level of African American civic participation. Because the African American population (and number of voters) was greater than the number of Whites in Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina, African Americans were elected as lieutenant governors, secretaries of state and treasurers (not to mention Gov. Pinchback of Mississippi, who served a scant two months and was denied seats he was elected to in the Senate and to Congress). Additionally 16 African Americans served in Congress – two in the Senate and 14 in the House of Representatives. No wonder some were eager to nullify the Fifteenth Amendment. Federal troops were withdrawn from southern states in 1877; in 2013, 136 years later, southern states are asking that voting protection be withdrawn from their states.

Why? Just as the election of 16 African American legislators alarmed the South, so has the election and reelection of President Barack Obama alarmed our nation. His election reminds us all of the power of the vote, and emboldens those who would limit it. That’s why several states have passed voter ID legislation requiring people to have an official government ID in order to vote. That’s why a 102-year-old Black woman waited more than six hours to vote. That’s why some states have consolidated voting places, making people travel further and wait longer to vote. We don’t have poll taxes anymore (although forcing people to travel more than an hour and wait more than an hour is an implicit poll tax), nor do voters have to take a fitness test, so the means of voter suppression have been both more and less subtle. It reminds us of why we had the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and in our nation’s failure to implement, the Voting Rights Act.

The court heard these arguments on Wednesday, February 27. We must be alarmed and, if we live in states that filed amicus briefs, aware of those who would suppress our vote.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.

State of the Union on Point

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(NNPA) I was among the 33.5 million people who sat riveted to their televisions, parsing every second of the State of the Union address. I was stunned to learn, through a Washington Post article by Lisa De Moraes, that viewership was less substantial for this address than last year’s 38 million, and even lower than the 48 million that watched in 2010. Are people less interested in what our president has to say? Or is there something else going on?

In any case, this was an important and significant SOTU address. Unleashed from the pressure of re-election, and able to set forth a progressive and aggressive agenda, President Obama dealt with some of the key issues that face our nation. He was able to utter the word “poverty” without his tongue freezing up. Unfortunately, he is still unable to utter the words “Black” or “African American.. Still, President Obama laid out an agenda that will ultimately have a positive effect on the African American community, especially if some of his efforts are targeted.

In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take from soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”

President Obama was not so direct, nor so cutting. But he offered important clarity to an issue his administration has ignored heretofore. While focusing on the middle class, he also noted that people should not work full time and still earn a wage that puts them beneath the poverty line. His advocacy for a minimum wage of $9 per hour, or about $18,000 a year for a single worker who might support a family, was a significant move forward for the poor. Missing was a conversation about poor people and health benefits, and about the employers who refuse to employ people full time so that they can avoid paying benefits. Obamacare will cover many of these employees, but the fact that profitable companies would rather offer a worker 22 hours than 30 to save money is reprehensible.

The State of the Union address is not an opportunity to drill down on every issue, so I very much understand that President Obama could not offer details to the many proposals he raised in SOTU. Still, it was refreshing to hear the president talk about poverty, about women’s work and wages, and about issues of equality. The first legislation that President Obama signed was the Lily Ledbetter Act, which dealt with equal pay issues, without acknowledging race in any of these conversations or the fact is African American women (and Latinas) are at the bottom of the pay scale. Advocating equal pay and dealing with issues of poverty, and implementing solutions, improves the material conditions of women at the bottom.

President Obama discussed infrastructure improvements in his 2008 campaign. Partisan bickering has made it difficult for him to work with states to refurbish, as he says, 70,000 bridges, as well as roads and highways. The last time our nation paid attention to these structural issues was in the 1950s when President Eisenhower, in a job-creation move, built federal highways across our nation to facilitate easy transportation. Have you driven on an interstate highway lately? Whether you are Democrat or Republican, we should all agree that these highways (some called pot hole central) need improvement? Some politicians are so willing to undermine the Obama administration that they are also willing to see our nation become dysfunctional.

The two emotional high points in this speech included the shout out to the 102-year-old woman who waited all day to vote, and the call to gun reform, mentioning victims by name. I was most moved by the family of Hadiya Pendleton, who sat with First Lady Michelle Obama, who had attended their daughter’s funeral. They are not only important as parents of a gun violence victim, but as proxies for the more than 500 people shot in Chicago in the last year or so. It was also moving to see former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, unable to clap, who brought her hands together. The president’s comments got a standing O, but as soon as the president’s speech was over, thirsty vultures, including Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) ran to the media to voice opposition.

The president has offered an ambitious agenda, and one that will improve the lot of all Americans. While I chafe at his failure to mention African Americans, I am excited by proposals to close the wealth gap. His agenda won’t be implemented unless we advocate for it. What will you do to move it forward?

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Whole Foods and Whole Fools

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(NNPA) There is a Whole Foods store about three blocks from my home, and around the corner from my gym. I am enamored by the displays of produce, the red peppers contrasting the yellow ones, the kale, chard, and collard glistening from their morning sprinkle. I love the way the fish gleams back at you, char and salmon, swordfish and tilapia. When I walk over to the prepared food, I grin at the ways the veggies are layered with cheese, crumbs, and so much more. They have sandwiches that I identify with, ingredients that I salivate about. And now I must declare that I would rather drink muddy water or sleep in a hollow log that to indulge in whole foods.

I am utterly appalled that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey described Obamacare as “fascism.” Fascism is an incendiary word that speaks totalitarianism, or dictatorship, and it descries it in a pejorative way. Whatever dissent there may be about Obamacare, the fact is, enough members of Congress voted for it to make it a law. John Mackey, what were you thinking when you called Obamacare (a term I proudly embrace) totalitarian and fascist? Is President Obama so mesmerizing that he forced opposing members of Congress to vote for his plan?

I had mixed feelings when the store also known as Whole Paycheck swooped into my neighborhood. People earn less hourly than the price of a pound of cheese. Most folks, though, were happy to have jobs. Happy, that is, until they complained about the terms and conditions of their work. I really didn’t pay much attention, but there was a niggling sense that something was wrong.

Some of the workers grumbled outside the store. If you asked if they could help you, they were emphatically negative. I can understand folks preferring to keep their jobs than to put it out there for justice. But from the swing of the head, the cut of the eye, it was clear that all has not been good at Whole Paycheck.

Unease translated into disease for me. How dare John Mackey decide to flip his lip without a script to describe national health care as “fascism?” He seems to be trying to start a fight, to diminish a president, to ignore that vote of Congress, to put President Obama in a context that he does not deserve to be in. Fascism? One dictionary describes fascism as “a right wing nationalist ideology or movement with an hierarchical structure that is opposed to democracy and liberalism.”

How did President Obama get in this mix? CEO John Mackey, unsupportive of Obamacare (as many business leaders are) chose to take opposition to another level, and decided that “fascism” was a great way to frame his ire. Then he said it didn’t matter, that his word choice was careless, that his ignorance would not affect his corporate profit, that he simply misspoke. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said to support evil is to embrace evil, is to be evil. This is an evil I can gleefully walk away from. Mackey says that it doesn’t matter that conscious people won’t support his store. He may have a point. But I’m going to take my little $200 a week elsewhere and I know others who will do the same thing. John Mackey, your words have been duly noted.

If my words are irrelevant, keep shopping at Whole Paycheck and supporting oppression. If you agree with me, send John Mackey a note via Libba.Letton@wholefood.com or Kate.Lowery@wholefoods.com. To use a term like “fascism” in the context of public policy is ugly and unacceptable. To cooperate is to be complicit.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Embracing Black History

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(NNPA) One hundred and fifty years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a flawed document that freed enslaved people in Confederate areas that he did not control. At the same time, it was a progressive document because it initiated discussion about the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteen “FREEDOM” Amendments.

One hundred years later, in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. riveted the nation with his “I Have A Dream” speech during the August 28 March on Washington. Many will remember that he said, “I have a dream that one day people will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Somehow people forget that in the same speech he said, “We have come to the nation’s capital to cash a check that has been marked insufficient funds.” If people said “cash the check” as often as they said “I have a dream,” we’d move more quickly forward in closing the economic gaps that African Americans experience.

We’ve been doing this 50-year thing for the past couple years, and we’ll be doing it for another few. The “Greensboro Four” North Carolina A&T State University Students (with the help of Bennett College students, often ignored) sat in at Woolworth counters on February 1, 1960, more than 50 years ago. The March on Washington happened 50 years ago. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and beyond that the 1960s will resonate for the next few years with commemorations and anniversaries.

These celebrations are important historical moments, but who remembers? The median age of the population in the United States is about 37 years old. Many of these folks remember the civil rights moment through twice and thrice told tales. Those who are under the median age see the civil rights movement as something like a fable, something they heard about, but doesn’t really matter to them. Many of these young people see themselves as “post-racial.” They hang out with their peers, race notwithstanding. They have never experienced discrimination. Even when they experience it, they are slow to embrace it. They are post-racial, whatever that means.

If some of these young people had been immersed in history, they might understand why the Black unemployment rate is twice that of the White rate. If they had read some Dr. Martin Luther King, who spoke of racial disparities in much of his work, they would understand the many ways the struggle continues. But popular culture suggests that when Black folks and White folks can both act extreme fools on reality shows (I think I blanked out after about a minute of “Bad Girls Club”); there is some measure of equality.

There has been a rich history and legacy of struggle and protest that has been swallowed by the notion of post-racialism in the first decades of this century. It is laudable that President Obama used both a Bible of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and that of President Abraham Lincoln, connecting the 150-year-old dots. President Obama’s choice in using both Bibles in this anniversary year is a testament to his sensitivity and ability to juggle the tightrope he must manage as both president of the United States and the first African American president of our nation.

Most folks 50 and older get it. What about those who are both younger than our nation’s median age and unschooled in the nuances of history? Is our conversation about race in America stuck in some kind of time warp, where we are unable to speak cross generationally because we have extremely different memories, recollections, and knowledge about that which happened 50 years ago?

We do our nation a disservice when we duck and dodge our racially tinged history. We have to grace and embrace the past in order to move forward with our future.

Somehow this is a message that needs to be transmitted to young people, especially in this 150th year after emancipation, this 50th year after the March on Washington, this season of embracing and celebrating our history.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Obama Slights his Loyal Following

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(NNPA) President Barack Obama has the opportunity, in this second term, to put his feet on history. He won an election that his opponent had essentially claimed, he has been firm about that which he would negotiate on, and he has offered a progressive inauguration speech that offers up a liberal agenda, embracing Social Security and Medicare, uplifting immigrants and gay rights, and embracing ways to address inequality.

One could not help but applaud the strong direction of President Obama’s speech. But those of us in the African American community wonder why we could not get a shout out about high unemployment and poverty rates, inner city challenges, and income, economic and unemployment disparities. Failing to address the community that offered him 97 percent of their vote indicates that there is a reckless disregard of his strongest supporters.

I understand that President Obama is the president of the whole United States, not the president of Black America. At the same time some of the evils that affect African Americans are issues that any president would address. To be sure, some of the gaps that are recorded and experienced have not changed since the 60s. Imagine the impact this president could have if he made a minor attempt in closing the gaps.

The inauguration speech spoke to all of us when it offered a progressive agenda. It spoke to some when it called out other communities and offered advancement some of them, but it spoke to none of us in the African American community unless we chose to parse the subtleties, the Bible, the references to Detroit, and the acknowledgement of inequalities.

Hundreds of thousands of people thronged to the site of the inauguration speech. Many of them were parents and grandparents who were determined that their children and grandchildren had the opportunity to witness history. A second term for President Obama is actually more exciting than a first term because now this president is freed from the shackles of reelection possibilities and free to do his thing.

Will his thing improve the lot of all of us, some of us, or none of us. In the African American community, many think we won’t get a thing but an amazing and uplifting symbolism. There are still those who cheer simply because we have an African American president. Can we put our cheer on for results?

In the next 18 months, President Obama has the opportunity to do whatever he wants to do. He can target resources and opportunities to any community he choses to embrace his targets. For example, more than $500 million was directed to a failed wind experiment in California. What about offering the same opportunity to inner cities?

Liberal agenda we heard during the president’s inauguration suggested that all of us would have the opportunity to benefit from progressive economic plans. He called out some communities, which suggested that some of us would get special attention. He to fail to give a shout out to the African America community suggests that none of us can count on special attention.

President Barack Obama can make a difference by targeting the African American community, either directly or subtly in his choices about pubic policy. While this president has a window of opportunity, who will gain? All of us, some of us, or none of us? Our president will leave a legacy when he decides that African Americans deserve the same focus that other communities do. We need our President to target disparate unemployment, unequal wages and wealth, and differential access to education and opportunity. Immigration and marriage equality addresses some of us. Why can’t we address the inequality that faces all of us?

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

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