PoliMoment 7/16

The Political Moment, Summer 2016

South by Southwest Experiment

July, 2016

On the occasion of the New Mexico Accountable Governance Summit

Albuquerque

 

Defining the “political moment” in which the 2016 New Mexico Accountable Governance Summit takes place helps us to move from moment to movement. “Accountable Governance” demands responsiveness to the conditions endured by everyday people in their day to day lives. This document attempts to capture many of the underlying currents facing our communities, including those that have been building for quite some time, and those that have dominated news headlines as of late.

Racial Tensions

The summer of 2016 could be characterized as a period of upheaval and turmoil across the entire political fabric. The period has been encapsulated by deep racial tensions around the televised police shootings of black victims like Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Soon thereafter, several high profile shootings of police officers took place in Dallas and Baton Rouge. In addition, 49 mostly Latino LGTBQ victims were killed in mass-shooting in Orlando, Florida. Yet overall crime trends across the country are dramatically down over recent decades. Are things getting worse, or are they getting more coverage through mediums such as social media in the hands of directly affected people?

Serving as a backdrop to this all, much of the country has found itself in shock and awe at the rapid rise of Donald Trump to the Republican presidential nomination, using a campaign based on fear, hatred and anxiety about the country’s well-being. Earlier in the summer British voters successfully removed themselves from the European Union and many attribute the “#brexit” to widespread fear-mongering about immigrants. As if to reveal the foundation of where much of the angst was coming from, Iowa’s U.S. Representative Steve King wondered aloud on national television about what contributions any “subgroup of people” had made to civilization in comparison to Europeans and their descendents, a blatant premise of white supremacy.

Although those election year subjects dominated the headlines, many other undercurrents have built for some time. President Obama, the nation’s first black president, is entering his final year of office, yet has had to work for the entirety of his term with an oppositional Republican majority congress that has voted more than 60 times to repeal access to affordable healthcare. In addition, Citizens United opened a flood gate of big money into elections, resulting in an onslaught of negative campaigning onto the airwaves and contributing to a downward trend in trust in government to address the issues that matter to everyday folks. As a result, many have turned away from federal policy as being of much help to their everyday struggles.

Blocked Governance

Did Barack Obama’s election to President of the United States represent a transition into a post-racial America? Simply and straightforwardly, “no.”  Since the year of his election, 2008, the Voting Rights Act has been eviscerated in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder. The imbalance is increasingly clear to our communities: that the color of one’s skin and the amount of wealth that one has determines access to and the power to hold accountable the educational, economic, and political systems of this country.

Many of our communities are faced with the reality of decreasing resources, low-paying jobs and little opportunity for economic advancement – a situation that has worsend for decades. The acute economic effects are seen in terms of unemployment, underemployment, cuts in school funding and local cuts in social services.  Billion dollar deficits at the state level have been seen across the United States. The right consolidated its takeover of state politics in the 2010 and 2011 elections and has diligently worked to dismantle participation of working families and communities of color in any democratic process, including making voting increasingly difficult through measures such as Voter ID and decreased voting opportunities. These forces present a major challenge in terms of securing living wages or increasing benefits through democracy, and they further reduce the opportunity for any increase in programs or services to benefit poor and working families and the unemployed.

Education and Mass Incarceration

Basic survival tools such as education are under severe threat. The fight for a quality education is happening all across the country, as we see the effects and struggles everywhere for students of color spilling over at the intersections and state borders politically, socially & economically. The fight for early childhood education is increasing as Head Start programs and other services lose funding, making it harder for students to be prepared as they begin their transition into public school. As education funding continues to decrease, schools are forced to consolidate, forcing the closing of many schools, which also increases the number of private and charter schools that operate outside of the public process, making it more difficult to influence school decisions. Some states have seen an almost 30% decrease in their public education budget, with statewide losses of over $9 billion causing school closures.

Increased police and military presence and zero tolerance policies continue to push students out of school and into the juvenile justice system. This results in students who are inadequately prepared for higher education or the workforce, and creates pathways for juvenile detention, unemployment, and jail. There is a direct relationship between low funded schools in underfunded areas producing underprepared students. While there has been a decrease in the number of students of color dropping out of high school, there has been an increase in the number of students of color dropping out of college by their sophomore year.

The agenda is clear and the moves are strategic in the attempt to privatize public education and profit from systems that tear communities of colors apart. Many states have found themselves funding prisons at higher levels than early childhood education and mass incarceration is finally beginning to receive the criticism it deserves. Our brothers and sisters are missing, locked up at disproportionately higher rates than whites for the same crimes. They are not dead, but rather locked behind bars, unraveling the threads of our families and the often privatized prison system is doing just what it was designed to do as a multi-billion dollar industry.

Environmental & Food Justice

Our people continue to live in frontline communities that suffer the greatest impacts of environmental degradation, pollution, and contamination. Polluting industries continue to exert their political influence against a shift to more renewable energy. In addition, our communities have always suffered from poor health, obesity, heart disease, breast cancer, and high blood pressure. The provision of processed foods in our schools and the decrease in SNAP benefits created by the politics of the right stand in stark contrast to Farm Bill legislation that delivers millions to private corporations.

We see a cut in services being used as a tactic politically against poor people. If there is no value in it for White America, then it does not have value. We see this with displacement and gentrification taking place throughout urban centers with no regard for the well-being of poor families and working individuals. When gentrification takes place, we see investments from private individuals and corporations that build expensive condos and apartments, and luxury hotels and attractions on formerly public spaces. People of color and of low wealth can no longer afford to live in areas where they have historically lived, and lack access to transportation permitting them to get back and forth to institutions such as hospitals, banks, markets, etc.

In addition, since 2011 we’ve seen the extreme right dominate politics and policies to limit women’s access to reproductive health, forcing clinics to shut down and eliminating the already limited access that women and families have to low cost health care and health education.

Empowering a True Majority

Our communities have never stopped experiencing systemic racism, yet our promise lies in the empowerment of what promises to be a new American majority with a fresh set of values around equity and social justice. Among our best chances to get from where we are to where we need to be will require a great deal of grassroots organizing such as that carried out by organizations such as those that make up the South by Southwest Experiment – SWOP, SWU, Southern Echo and the Mississippi Delta Catalyst Roundtable. We will share the exercise of the power we build as a majority in a democratic and accountable manner, in knowledge and unity. This specter is what scares the opposition the most.

Moving from moment to movement will require taking a very disciplined look at how we steer the ship in a different direction. We must start with school board, city councils, state representatives, and so on to build a process recognizing that if we can take control of states, we can make policy at the state level. But we must also pull these states together in a way that can impact federal policy. We must be seen as a coherent entity, from Mississippi, to Texas, to New Mexico, from the South, to the Southwest – historically the most colonized and exploited regions of the country. Only borders separate us, but the injustice spills over far beyond borders. We must appreciate the role of all the local organizations and the roles they play to bring people onto the playing field and into spaces such as this Summit, especially young people as they make up the building blocks for a sustainable and just future. The foundation must be strong and our vision must be long-term and sustainable.

How will we protect the accomplishments achieved by the social movements of the past 150 years and more? How do we impact the growing concerns over access to primary and secondary education and ward off the student loan debt that cripples students of color? How do we protect the rights of the LGBTQ community? What is the solution to the continuing police violence and intimidation in black and brown communities? How do we ensure the safety of immigrants? How do we advance conditions for workers? How do we achieve a living wage, quality education, and safe food and water? These things are all in the balance. Our reality requires change that can impact our peoples’ daily lives and we cannot rest until our people begin to experience the improvements directly, and beyond.

Leveraging 21st Century People Power

Despite the daunting political landscape, the growing acceptance and understanding of 21st century technology and its contributions to people power shines a light on many promising possibilities for galvanizing our people. Social network systems like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and PokemonGo have the power to bring people together and to move together in ways unseen for generations. There is a growing recognition that social networks, much like the concept “you are what you eat,” emphasize that “you are what you’re connected to.” While this has proven semi-powerful for Donald Trump and his personal Twitter account, our strength in numbers and our understanding of the connectivity of movements like #blacklivesmatter promises to be even more powerful.

The rapid nature of this societal transformation – far faster than the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th Centuries – is breath-taking, and it is one that is dramatically more accessible to our people – because our lives are related via social networks! Our networks are our power! They enable us to move beyond the outdated model of a soap box and instead alow us to listen to our people and to understand them. They enable us to connect, to lift up ideas in new ways, and to hold systems accountable. It’s not easy to intimidate a network. The concept of a few people in a room determining the future of our governance is quickly losing its power. Instead, the power of mapping networks and matching them to the political map could be the X factor in empowering a true majority going forward.

Moving Forward: The Vision

It has never been beneficial to keep fixing and patching systems that are inherently broken. There needs to be a coherent inspiring vision of what the country is about, providing access to the “fundamental tenets of a free society: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Our country is changing rapidly demographically and this provides great opportunity to build progressive state-level power.  We must take full advantage of this shift by ensuring that our youth both understand the roles and responsibilities of elected and public officials and also see themselves inside a process that in turns helps their own communities to prosper.

The disengagement of our communities in the political process exacerbates the inequities we see in the state as elected officials and public continue to ignore the concerns and challenges of our families. We must go beyond mobilization strategies that emphasize getting people registered to vote, and create pathways and pipelines for political participation and decision making inside of our own communities. We must create, build, and sustain momentum with the courage and boldness demonstrated by those who have come before: Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Fannie Lou Hamer, Assata Shakur, Céser Chávez, Berta Cáceres, Emma Tenayuca, and so many others.

This is our time! This is our moment! This is our movement!

 

This document is the result of a collective process through which the youth of the SxSW Experiment partner organizations engaged in listening and dialogue sessions within each of the partners. Special thanks go to Kameisha Smith and Curtis Hill of the Nollie Jenkins Family Center in Holmes County, Mississippi, Janelle Astorga Ramos of the SouthWest Organizing Project in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Bonnie Hernández of the Southwest Workers Union, San Antonio, Texas.

© South by Southwest Experiment, July 2016

Raíces: Using our roots to heal our souls

‘Raíces’ or roots is a word which reflects our indigenous ancestry.  To reclaim our roots is to reclaim our identity and to solidify our existence in the spaces we occupy.  To start our first full day of activities, we engaged with the Raíces curandero healing group in a process of healing our souls in preparation for our accountable governance summit.  We put our hands in front of us and faced the four directions to harvest the positive energy that is radiated around us.  The Accountable Governance Conference is predominantly people of color who come from all over the South and Southwest.  The healing we went through this morning helped us cleanse the trauma we, as people of color, face.  We have begun the healing process from the historical trauma we endured since this nation’s beginning and the trauma that continues to plague us.  In addition, we sought to protect ourselves from the hateful rhetoric that has taken us by storm recently in this country. Our roots and ancestors provide us the strength to make a difference in this world and in our society.  We must not lose hope and we must remember that we are the ones our ancestors prayed for.

Organizers from across the South and Southwest gather in Albuquerque to advance ‘Accountable Governance’

 

BY  ON 

 

This post was created by the South by Southwest Experiment, representing Southern Echo, SouthWest Organizing Project, and SouthWest Workers Union, and is based in conversations that have taken place with communities in New Mexico, Texas, and Mississippi.

Beginning Thursday, July 28th, 2016, over 130 grassroots organizers, community leaders, and elected officials from New Mexico, Mississippi, and Texas, will be gathering in Downtown Albuquerque for a deep conversation about “Accountable Governance” with the South X SouthWest Experiment (a black-brown-indigenous partnership of people of color led grassroots organizations that includes SouthWest Organizing Project, SouthWest Workers Union, and Southern Echo). The subject, grounded in the rich political moment of the summer of 2016, will advance a set of principles aimed at improving government’s responsiveness to the struggles endured by everyday people in our day to day lives.

Contrastingly, this conversation takes place in the face of a 50-year conservative movement that has built a neo-liberal agenda, including the building of social structures, the rollback of democratic practices, voter exclusion, big money in politics, militarization of police, and the use of anti-immigrant rhetoric to stoke deep resentment amongst their base. They have also worked for decades to downplay the role of government in addressing our communities’ struggles, including defaming government and characterizing it as the problem, dismantling essential public services by cutting taxes, deregulating safety and ending protections, and defanging organized labor and other groups who fight back. Using racist dog whistles, their mantra is simply that “wasteful government takes the hard-working white man’s earnings and gives it to lazy people of color who don’t deserve it.” We all are left feeling the vortex of despair.

This weekend’s accountable governance summit challenges that dominant world view and is focused on achieving a representative democracy that responds to our community’s struggles with the level of urgency that they deserve. Our efforts focus on the health of our base, not the health of the elite. We strive to reinstate the valuation of our lives, to hold on to gains made, and to win in much bigger ways that affect our families’ daily lives. We seek to build the infrastructure necessary to build a new center of gravity that transfers power to those closest to the pain, not just to challenge and tear down that which oppresses us.

Our summit also takes place in the context of the Summer of 2016, a period which has been encapsulated by deep racial tensions around the televised police shootings of black victims like Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Soon thereafter, several high profile shootings of police officers took place in Dallas and Baton Rouge. In addition, 49 mostly Latino LGTBQ victims were killed in mass-shooting in Orlando, Florida. Yet overall crime trends across the country are dramatically down over recent decades.

In addition, much of the country has found itself in shock and awe at the rapid rise of Donald Trump to the Republican presidential nomination, using a campaign based on fear and anxiety about the country’s well-being. Earlier in the summer England voters successfully removed themselves from the European Union and many attribute the “#brexit” to widespread fear-mongering about immigrants. As if to reveal the foundation of where much of the angst was coming from, Iowa’s U.S. Representative Steve King wondered aloud on national television about what contributions any “subgroup of people” had made to civilization in comparison to the white race, a blatant premise of white supremacy.

Has Barack Obama’s service as President of the United States over the last eight years represented a transition into post-racial America? Simply and straightforwardly, “no.”  Since 2008 the Voting Rights Act has been eviscerated in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder and the imbalance is increasingly clear to our communities that the color of one’s skin and the amount of wealth that one has determines access to and the power to hold accountable the educational, economic, and political systems of this country. The right wing quickly struck back with its takeover of state politics in the 2010 elections and has diligently worked to dismantle participation of working families and communities of color in any democratic process, including making voting increasingly difficult through measures such as Voter ID and diminished voting accessibility.

The agenda is clear and the moves are strategic in the attempt to privatize public education and profit from systems that tear communities of color apart. Many states have found themselves funding prisons at higher levels than early childhood education and mass incarceration is finally beginning to receive the critique it deserves. Our brothers and sisters are missing, often locked up at disproportionately higher rates than whites for the same crimes. They are not dead, but rather locked behind bars, unraveling the threads of our families and the often privatized prison system is doing just what it was designed to do as a multi-billion dollar industry.

Our communities have never stopped experiencing systemic racism, yet our power rests in the empowerment of what promises to be a new American majority with a fresh set of values around equity and social justice. Moving from moment to movement will require taking an incredibly disciplined look at how we steer the ship in a different direction. Despite the daunting political landscape, recent acceptance of 21st century technology’s contributions to people power offers many promising possibilities for galvanizing our people.

One of our greatest thinkers, Karlos Gauna Schmieder, talks about how our social networks have the power to bring people together, and use systems like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and PokemonGo to move together in ways unseen for generations. The beauty of social networks, much like the concept “you are what you eat,” emphasizes that “you are what you’re connected to.” While this has proven semi-powerful for Donald Trump and his personal twitter account, our strength in numbers and the connectivity of movements like #blacklivesmatter promises to be even more powerful. The rapid nature of this societal transformation, far faster than the Industrial Revolution, is breath-taking, but it is one that is dramatically more accessible to our people – because our whole lives are social networks! Our networks are our power! They enable us to connect, to lift up ideas in new ways, and to hold systems accountable. It’s not easy to intimidate a network. The concept of a few people in a room determining the future of our governance is quickly losing its power. Instead, the power of mapping networks and matching them to the political map could be the X factor in empowering a true majority going forward.

That said, the 2016 New Mexico Accountable Governance Summit will strive to create a set of principles around the spirit of governance that will begin to steer the ship in a promising new direction. Early in the 1990s, environmental justice leaders came together and created the “Environmental Justice Principles” and the “Jemez Principles” – and those one-page documents have served as “gold-standards” in guiding environmental justice work ever since. Our work seeks to achieve the same level of meaning on the topic of representative democracy. We strive to achieve a radical democracy represented by elected officials committed to confronting generations of imperialism, colonization, oppression, enslavement, racism, and imposed poverty. We reject a mainstream politic that is rooted in domination and control, that privileges the whims of a free market and the privatization of public assets, that conversely denies the historical realities of long-standing struggles, and that is informed by an ineffectual politics of meager compromise and a philosophy of self-advancement. That politic has led to an upward transfer of wealth, that defends the military status quo, that subjugates women, and that is responsive to large donors and not the urgencies of The People.

Instead, we envision governance that understands long-standing struggles such as hunger, poverty, and income inequality as the outcomes of white supremacy, cultural oppression, land theft, disrupted food systems, exploitation of labor and resources, unrestrained capitalistic greed, and environmental injustices. Our people are not morally flawed or lazy; they’ve constantly overcome countless structural and systemic obstacles against all odds. We believe that our government will be emboldened and strengthened by elected and appointed public officials who represent historically excluded backgrounds, particularly poor women of color, and who place the broader community interest over their narrow ambition and self-interest. We seek to shed light on the myriad pressures that elected officials are faced with once they get into office, and then to also engage in new meaningful ways to support their impact.

As our friends at Demos often emphasize, our efforts must “lead with race,” because the opposition is already doing so with their dog whistle racism. Instead, we believe that our success depends upon raising people of color as the protagonists in our own struggle. As grassroots community organizations, 90% of what we already do is “candidate development” – and the work ahead requires us to build our pool of candidates several years out, to prepare them to run for office, to connect them with mentors, and to help develop the economic and employment conditions to make it possible for them to be able to run and serve.

Truly accountable governance affirms a long view of the generational struggle and seizes the value of engaging and empowering our young people and people of color to assume the roles of architects and decision-makers in our collective overcoming, to ensure continuity of the movement. Once fully functioning, that governance will be deeply participatory beyond simple voting, and will bring together resources at all levels of government to support the collective dreams of its people.  We look forward to the rich input that participants will have into developing a set of accountable governance principles and we hope that this weekend’s convening will add significant value to our people’s promising outlook as the rapidly rising New American Majority.

We Are All Flint

Statement from SxSW Experiment

January, 2016

In Flint, Michigan children … and their families, too … have been systematically poisoned by water adulterated with high levels of lead as the result of the state’s gross negligence and wanton disregard of the health, safety and welfare of the people.

The overseer of Flint, a state Emergency Manager appointed by the Governor to manage the city and acting under this authority, made the determination to cut the city budget by changing the source of water from Detroit to a local river. The state’s manager made this shift in the water source apparently without regard and indifferent to the corrosive impact that the acidic river had on the pipes that began to deliver lead-permeated water to the trusting, unsuspecting local families of Flint. Local residents drank it, bathed in it, cooked with it, brushed their teeth with it, and now they are suffering serious nerve, brain, skin and other maladies that are caused by lead poisoning and other adulterating elements in the water.

Having caused the problem in the first place, the Governor and manager moved way too slowly and with a negligible sense of urgency to address this calamity until the Flint Mayor declared an emergency and the gross errors in judgment by the state became a national embarrassment on the national nightly news.

We are grassroots community and labor organizations that work for environmental justice, effective public education, living wages and fair working conditions, just development policies and accountable governance. Our constituencies are people of low-wealth. Our communities are made up of African-descendent, Latino and Indigenous people in the U.S. South and Southwest.

We are appalled! Flint, Michigan is a city with a majority of African-descendent people, and one that has suffered from corporate disinvestment that has left over forty percent of the city’s residents living in poverty.

We note that, over the past decade and more, Michigan’s answer to poverty and accompanying fiscal crises in communities subjected to corporate disinvestment has been the imposition of autocratic rule on those communities by the State Government. Like several other predominantly Black cities in Michigan, Flint residents were subjected to undemocratic, authoritarian rule by an Emergency Manager appointed by and directly accountable to Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder.

It was within the context of that regime that the decision was made – ostensibly in the name of saving money – to make the Flint River the source of the city’s municipal water delivered to homes, public spaces and businesses. Since that time in April of 2014, Flint residents have been exposed to heavy metals including high concentrations of lead, volatile organic compounds, and bacteria delivered to them via their public water.

Following many months of increasing public concern and, finally, the declaration of a State of Emergency by the new Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, Governor Snyder responded by firing his head of Environmental Quality, issuing an apology, appealing to the federal government, and attempting to spread the blame on the state bureaucracy.

Mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, grandparents, sisters and brothers wonder what the Governor, the State of Michigan and now, the Federal Government will propose to do to alleviate the infrastructure crisis in Flint and the long-term human damage that has resulted. Governor Snyder and his administration bear direct responsibility for both. Indeed, the Governor and others face the specter that they could be found criminally negligent in this matter.

There is another critical question: How do we address the infrastructure crisis throughout the United States? As in Flint, this issue disproportionately burdens communities of people of color and of low-wealth. This is not simply a question of failure of public investment. It reflects a deep structural problem that threatens to create future public health disasters.

The deeper message of Flint goes beyond the dangers of human error or even negligence, and beyond the actions of state governments that would facilitate the impoverishment of our people. It is about a crisis in the U.S. that threatens the lives and well-being of a growing majority of the population.

The neoliberal model of development that underlies the strategic political policies in Michigan that led to this crisis has as its cornerstone the privatization of public resources and public services. This model is supported by both major political parties and bankrolled by those who have accumulated tremendous wealth at the direct expense of people of color and of low-wealth.

It is a mode of development that is rooted in the systematic undermining of the right to democratic participation by limiting the capacity of local people to impact the formation and implementation of public policy … whether in Flint, across the US, or in other parts of the world. The same forces that have made the Flint disaster possible are the same ones that are bent on privatizing public water supplies and preventing a just resolution to the growing world climate disaster.

We stand in solidarity with the people of Flint, who are on the frontlines of the struggle for democracy. We share their struggle for democracy and for a transition to a just society that more fully values human life and development.

Webinar Tues March 24: NM Walkouts-Young People of Color Fight Corporate Testing in Public Schools

New Mexico Walkouts:
Young People of Color Fight Corporate Testing in the Public Schools
Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at 6pm ET/5 CT/4 MT/3 PT

Register Here

Join Albuquerque youth organizers Janelle Astorga Ramos (SouthWest Organizing Project) and Maya Quiñones for a conversation about the recent student walk-outs in New Mexico to protest the implementation of the PARCC standardized test in public schools there, and prospects for the workmoving forward. The conversation will place the anti-test movement in the context of broader themes of public education such as push-out and the criminalization of youth. Our host will be youth and education organizer Kameisha Smith (Southern Echo) of Holmes County, Mississippi.

This webinar will be accompanied by a Twitter Chat. Our hashtag is #OurEducation.

You can join the webinar from a computer with webcam and microphone or by phone. You will be sent information on how to join the webinar once we receive your registration. Looking forward to seeing you March 24!

New Tool: “Sharing Our Stories, Sharing Ourselves”

Featured

The South by Southwest Experiment is pleased to offer the first volume of our Living Curriculum Series, “Sharing Our Stories, Sharing Ourselves,” during this year’s Facing Race conference in Dallas, TX, and at key moment for racial justice movements.

  • Recent mid-term elections were characterized by voter suppression throughout the South and other parts of the country. While the Democratic Party lost big, there were both wins and losses for communities organizing for racial justice, including minimum wage hikes across the country.

  • The community of Ferguson, MS continues to organize and mobilize for just policing in communities of color.

  • Over 2 million deportations of immigrants have taken place over the last 8 years, far and away the largest such number of deportations in US history over such a period of time.

  • 10 million families live in poverty. The economic recovery has left out millions of people of color and low-wealth.

The SxSWE Living Curriculum series is designed to be a tool for racially diverse communities and organizations that can help them to better engage in efforts to build partnerships across racial divides. It is the result of several years of work by the SxSWE partners Southern Echo (MS), Southwest Workers’ Union (TX) and SouthWest Organizing Project (NM).

The first volume “Sharing Our Stories Sharing Ourselves” is a practical guide that includes exercises used within the SxSWE partnership and also with dozens of allied organizations that allow participants to share their personal and organizational experiences and histories with others in order to build authentic relationships across race, geography and issue. The specific exercises covered include:

  • Life Road Map: Personal stories towards self- and movement-formation

  • Collages: Artistic expressions of self

  • Collective Timeline: Sharing our history and our resistance

Use the viewer at the top of this page, or go to the direct link: http://issuu.com/centerformediajustice/docs/v_1_sharing_ourselves_small

SWU: Texas and The Voting Rights Act Decision

From Southwest Workers’ Union
June 26, 2013

Well I was going to title this post, Good Morning, It’s 1953! But I guess I won’t after last night’s hard fought (and talk about dramatic) victory by Senator Wendy Davis in blocking the restrictive anti-abortion bill in the Texas legislature. And then this morning the Defense of Marriage Act was found to be unconstitutional!! This ruling allows gay married couples to take advantage of tax breaks, pension rights, and other benefits that are given to other married couples. So it hasn’t been all regressive legislation this week, but there have been substantial blows to the expansion of civil and human rights.

Perhaps the most telling decision of the current political moment was yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling to strike down key pieces of the Voting Rights Act aka the most important and effective piece of civil rights legislation that protects the freedom to vote for people of color, particularly in states with a history of voting discrimination. The pieces that were struck down designate which parts of the country must get approval by the Department of Justice before making any changes to their voting laws, leaving it now to a highly divided Congress to come up with a “coverage formula” that reflects the current voting protection needs.

So what does this mean for Texas?

  • Voter ID. The immediate impacts have started. Within two hours of the Supreme Court decision Texas attorney general Greg Abbott announced that the voter identification law that was blocked by the Justice Department last year will go into effect. This means that despite the fact that the State of Texas could not prove that this law wouldn’t have discriminatory effects on voters of color, low-wealth, elderly, youth, or rural residents, the state will now require only certain forms of approved ID in order to vote.
  • Losing Our Legislators. Legislators, such as last night’s filibusterer Wendy Davis, will likely lose their seats under the 2011 redistricting maps that were passed by the Texas legislature but blocked by a federal court because they were found to have “a discriminatory purpose.” Without protection of the Voting Rights Act, the conservative Texas legislature can enact redistricting maps that divide progressive and people of color voters into various districts, and diminish our ability to elect leaders of our choice.
  • Rural Communities Will Bear the Brunt. In 2011, Southwest Workers Union won its case against Medina County for diminishing the rights of minority voters. While we won our case, local manipulation of election rules and gerrymandering currently exists all over the state and Section 5 still plays a critical role in protecting people of color’s right to vote. These local cases, including city council, county commissions, and school boards make up the majority of Section 5 rejections, and will now go unprotected and unable to reach litigation due to the high cost.
  • The Decision Does Not Reflect Reality. The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the current coverage formula does not reflect the current reality of discrimination and racism in Texas and throughout the South inside our legislatures, our public systems, and in our everyday lives. The continual rise of race silent and rights-diminishing policy in the U.S. highlights the problematic relationship between race, power, and governance in American politics. It also pushes the public narrative away from a justice framework–where it is completely fair to require jurisdictions with poor discrimination track records to have to prove more–to one of personal burden to prove discrimination.

So while we still have other pieces of the Voting Rights Act, we realize this decision will have far reaching harmful implications in Texas politics. However, we will continue to vocalize instances of discrimination, challenge the power of the status quo, and highlight the impacts on the rising minority electorate in Texas. And for those of us who can, we will continue to exercise our rights at the ballot box because as we saw last night on the Senate floor, state and local elections and our rights to participate in the legislative and electoral processes have direct impacts on our communities and our bodies.

Second segment of Will Copeland’s Reflections on last weekend’s “Building Bridges: Accountable Governance” convening in Jackson, MS

South X Southwest Experiment
Building Bridges to Empower a True Majority
Jackson, MS July 26-July 29

by William Copeland
East Michigan Environmental Action Council (Detroit)

Report 2

It was challenging to participate fully and remain fully engaged, but at the same time keep in mind that we are not direct partners in SxSW Experiment and that the coalition building is not aimed at us. in other words I had to be ok with fully participating at the margins of the exchange.

One way I achieved this was by saying “Yes” to whatever role was asked of me. I served on a small synthesis committee of 3 people from organizations that are not in the coalition. We were tasked with giving personal evaluation as to whether the weekend met its goals. One powerful framework put forth this weekend was “We didn’t come here for answers.” The convening organizers recognized that creating models of accountable governance is a long term project. (By this weekend the partnership has already been 6 years in the making).  They sought to bring in staff, youth, members of the core organizations with allied elected officials and national partners (such as EMEAC). Another framework that was discussed was the political advancement from protest to policy to co-governance to implementation as a pathway to implement policies that will be in the community’s best interests and are accountable to the community.

In my synthesis presentation I mentioned EMEAC’s Up South Down South Global South initiative. I focused on the importance of communities where people of color are numerical majority using democratic practices to create policy tools that can be shared with the rest of the nation. As a Detroiter in an 85% Black city it is a challenging research question — to do a power analysis — to understand why our local policies do not reflect the needs of this majority community. The political and strategy question is what can we do about it.

We all went out dancing on the last night. The Central Mississippi Blues Society rocked the house. During a break in the music I was asked to perform. The crowd enjoyed “Dedication,” “Respiration,” and “Organic Activist.”

Another strategy I used was limiting my Detroit comments to about 1 per workshop. I tried to make connections and highlight similarities and differences between our local situation and the situations discussed in the South and Southwest. I talked about the impact of Mayor Coleman A. Young being Detroit’s first Black mayor and raising the standard of community accountability that still haas yet to be equalled. I talked with a Mississippi school board member about their state takeover (conservatorship) and similarities of Emergency Management in Michigan.

Lastly an important strategy was building relationships during the meals, breaks, and other down time. Again, I used this strategy so that the group time wouldn’t be dedicated to relating to the issues of Detroit, but with specific individuals I could have exploratory conversations about how our socio-economic struggles, political challenges, or organizing efforts shared common similarities. In other words, we exchanged tips. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a list that may be of significance to allies in Detroit:

Diana Lopez, Southwest Workers Union, Food Justice
I loved hearing about their Food Justice organizing and campaign work, including a campaign where youth investigate urban grocery stores in San Antonio and point out shortcomings in produce and healthy options

Javier Benavidez, Center for Civic Policy, Gentrification
He has studied gentrification and has some resources to share. We engaged in a comparison of gentrification in Albuquerque and Detroit

Amelia Hunter, Southern Echo, Digital Justice
Wants to increase broadband access in rural Mississippi. Got excited when I told her about BTOP programming and wants to share models.

Emma, Liz, etc. SouthWest Organizing Project
Using student bill of rights as organizing tool to empower youth to understand and demand rights

Mike Sayer, Southern Echo, Electoral Politics
Wants to dialogue about electoral strategies for community governance given new city charter in Detroit.