† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Justice As Theft: Into the Twilight Zone by Kay Whitlock
In 2011, Tonya McDowell, a homeless woman from Bridgeport, Connecticut, was charged with first degree (felony) larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny for enrolling her 6-year-old son in Brookside Elementary School in the community of Norwalk. Because McDowell and her son did not legally reside in Norwalk, the rationale for the charges was theft of $15,686 in educational costs from the Norwalk public school system. She faced a possible sentence of 20 years in prison. Moreover, McDowell’s babysitter was evicted from public housing because she apparently assisted by providing false documents necessary for enrolling the young boy.
McDowell and her son are black; the Norwalk public school system is predominantly white – and therefore better funded than the Bridgeport system, in which people of color predominate. Essentially, she was charged with “stealing” a good public education for her son, who is entitled to public education, but not, presumably, a good one.
This prosecution was outrageous, right? Yes – by any reasonable standard of human decency, anyway. But we live in a societal Twilight Zone in which the often-subterranean currents of the dominant U.S. public imagination respond to virtually all claims to social and economic justice as some form of theft, with all of the dissonance, danger, anxiety, emotional vulnerability, defensiveness, and fury associated with its evocation.
As they prepare to leave the Capitol for a month-long August recess, Republican members of the House of Representatives are taking with them legislative summaries and informational packets to tackle tough questions in their districts about immigration.
Supporters of a proposal to revamp the nation’s immigration laws plan to use the recess to pressure House GOP members in their districts to pass a plan like that which passed the Senate in June.
Those in favor of granting citizenship to an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants say they will use rallies, marches, coordinated phone calls, social media campaigns and pressure from big-dollar donors.
“This is the beginning of a long, hot summer for the House of Representatives,” said Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union, a labor union that supports the Senate’s immigration bill.
Republicans will also face pressure from Tea Party groups and other opponents of the Senate immigration bill.
“This is a new approach. The theory in the past has been to be stealth about the effort to confront members at town halls — but sometimes it’s been too stealth, and we haven’t generated enough activity,” said Brad Woodhouse, president of the progressive group Americans United for Change. “Since everyone knows that both sides are doing this, we’re going to be public-facing about it.”
On Wednesday, the group is launching Accountable Congress, a new website meant to be a summer toolkit for the progressive community, providing information about where Republican members of Congress and senators will be speaking during the August recess away from Capitol Hill. It includes progressive talking points on issues of the day, including immigration, climate change and gun violence, in addition to suggested questions to ask Republican lawmakers.
Woodhouse said he wants supporters to confront the elected officials, ask them tough questions and record the exchanges. The group plans to share noteworthy responses, and to collect and share information about what Republicans are doing and saying. Americans United has presented its plan to various progressive organizations already and will be holding daily calls with activists to coordinate the strategy.
“We’re also not just focusing exclusively on swings -– whether in the issue or electoral sense,” said Woodhouse. “We’ll try to have a presence at any GOP member event.”
House Republicans are putting together their own August recess playbook. The House Republican Conference has created a 31-page document offering instructions to members for meeting with constituents, promoting the House GOP’s agenda and garnering media attention. It does not, however, advise members on how to deal with confrontational town halls.
Democrats took a thumping during the 2009 summer recess, when lawmakers faced tea party activists at town hall meetings during the height of the health care debate. The party lost control of its message, with the myth of “death panels” often dominating discussions.
Last Monday, in what became a heated exchange with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Mee Moua, executive director of the Asian American Justice Center, defended programs allowing families to immigrate together to the U.S. (Courtesy of the DOL)
Today, despite the strides women have made in high-skill fields (most professional workers are now women), they are still heavily underrepresented in “guestworker” programs for professional immigrant workers, which skew heavily toward the vaunted, notoriously male-dominated science and tech (STEM) fields. For example, the controversial H1B visa program for professional temp workers, long touted as a spigot for STEM talent, brought in about 350,000 immigrant men but fewer than 140,000 women in 2011. Meanwhile, lawmakers are weighing proposals to sharply limit family-based visa programs–which make up about 65 percent of authorized permanent immigration–alongside plans for expanding the prized professional visas. As Pramila Jayapal points out at Colorlines.com, men tend to hold professional visas, intended to anchor household “breadwinners,” while women are overrepresented among family visas, which can chain their legal status to an authorized (male) worker.
These biases are no political accident, but a symptom of the privileging of corporate demands over community needs. Immigrant women’s labor, whether it’s in the household, off the books, or on payroll, is fueling the economy. But because it doesn’t seem to directly contribute as much to corporate bottom lines, it’s overlooked.
Beyond the economics, a more fundamental, unspoken question lies at the heart of the immigration debate: Does Washington place a higher premium on capital or social equity? Any real conversation about the latter would be forced to begin with migrant women, who live at the intersection of multiple injustices. Though many male immigrant workers suffer labor abuses, gender inequality adds an extra layer of vulnerability to the working lives of migrant women.
Working-poor migrant women are concentrated in informal sectors such as cleaning and caretaking. Some low-wage jobs, like home health aides and other domestic workers, are virtually synonymous with “immigrant woman of color.” Not coincidentally, those sectors have historically been excluded from critical federal labor protections, such as overtime pay and safety regulations. Jobs traditionally worked by women have not only been culturally devalued as mere “women’s work,” but also legally degraded by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which for decades categorically excluded women of color serving as domestics in private homes. In other sectors, such as industrial farming, women make up a significant minority of workers and endure myriad, hidden gendered abuses, from health disparities to sexual assault in the fields.
Marginalized by the law and the economic hierarchy, a migrant nanny might have virtually no recourse against a boss who sexually harasses her, fearing that she’ll lose both her job and her visa status if she reports him. Or she might be pressured to stay with an abusive partner who threatens to have her deported if she tries to escape.
There were hints in Mr. Obama’s speech of potential fault lines in the debate. He declared, for example, that there must be a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants “from the outset.” That would seem at odds with the assertion by some senators that citizenship must be tied to tighter border security.
Although Mr. Obama did not say it in his speech, the White House is also proposing that the United States treat same-sex couples the same as other families, meaning that people would be able to use their relationship as a basis to obtain a visa.
Mr. Obama offered a familiar list of proposals: tightening security on borders, cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers and temporarily issuing more visas to clear the huge backlog of people applying for legal status in the country.
His speech, on the heels of the bipartisan Senate proposal, sets the terms for one of the year’s landmark legislative debates. These are only the opening steps in a complicated dance, and the effort could still founder, as did the effort to overhaul immigration laws in the George W. Bush administration.
But the flurry of activity underscores the powerful new momentum behind an overhaul of the immigration system, after an election that dramatized the vulnerability of Republicans on the issue, with Mr. Obama piling up lopsided majorities over Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters.
President Obama plans to push Congress to move quickly in the coming months on an ambitious overhaul of the immigration system that would include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, senior administration officials and lawmakers said last week.
Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats will propose the changes in one comprehensive bill, the officials said, resisting efforts by some Republicans to break the overhaul into smaller pieces — separately addressing young illegal immigrants, migrant farmworkers or highly skilled foreigners — which might be easier for reluctant members of their party to accept.
With President Barack Obama’s decisive victory in the 2012 election, he becomes the first Democrat since Franklin Delano Roosevelt—and the only president since Ronald Reagan—to win two consecutive elections with more than 50 percent of the popular vote. Although the election was closely contested, President Obama successfully solidified his historic progressive coalition from 2008 and held on to all of the states he won that year with the exception of conservative-leaning Indiana and North Carolina. And after the electoral disaster of that Democrats suffered in 2010 at the congressional level, the party expanded its majority in the Senate with significant wins in Massachusetts, Virginia, Missouri, Wisconsin, and even Indiana.
Why did this happen? A potent mix of demographics, a steadily improving economy, a clear rejection of the GOP’s extreme conservatism, and an embrace of pragmatic progressive policies on social and economic issues propelled the president and his party to victory. The president’s central message that “everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same rules” was more convincing to Americans dealing with rising inequality and diminished economic opportunities than the conservative alternative of supply-side tax cuts, deregulation, and limited government. His policy choices—from the stimulus bill and auto and financial sector bailouts to the health care law and support for expanded rights for women, Latinos, and gay and lesbian families—clearly paid off politically as the nation decided to give the president more time to lay a new foundation for our economy, society and government.
With his clear Electoral College and national popular vote majorities, President Obama has arguably created a genuine realignment at the national level that could continue to shape American politics for years to come. Obama’s strong progressive majority—built on a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, cross-class coalition in support of an activist government that promotes freedom, opportunity, and security for all—is real and growing and it reflects the face and beliefs of the United States in the early part of the 21st Century. The GOP must face the stark reality that its voter base is declining and its ideology is too rigid to represent the changing face of today’s country.
The day before the election, President Barack Obama was preparing to speak in Ohio when state Republicans tweeted that they had knocked on 75,000 doors that day. Campaign aides told Obama they had knocked on 376,000 doors that day, according to a campaign staffer who recounted the story to reporters.
The president smiled widely. “That’s my team,” he said.
Through investing heavily in a ground game devised by field organizing veterans and honed over the last five years, the president’s campaign used voter-to-voter contact, a sprawling physical campaign, and personalized outreach to help the president compete against the financial advantage of the his opponent.
Recently Republican senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock suggested that a pregnancy resulting from rape was “something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock’s Christian fascist views permeate through a significant portion of the Republican Party, which has rampaged against reproductive rights with medieval zeal. The GOP’s anti-feminist backlash poses the gravest threat for women of color, who historically never had the benefit of being viewed as “proper” rape victims because innocence and “virtue” were an oxymoron when you were a slave, “squaw” or concubine.
In an era in which the wombs of African-American and Latino women are handily served up in every election cycle as welfare-queen-anchor-baby-spitting breeders, humanism has got to be culturally relevant, steeped in activism, and the everyday realities of communities of color.
Our call for news of Obama reelection-related layoffs brought in the following, from across the nation:
Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert Murray read a prayer, and then “laid off 54 people at American Coal, one of his subsidiary companies, and 102 at Utah American Energy, blaming a ‘war on coal’ by the administration of President Barack Obama.’”
A business owner in Williamson, Georgia told C-Span that he laid off three employees (“who voted for Obama”) and cut his remaining employees’ hours from 30 to 25 per week due to his fear of Obamacare.
The owners of the West Cinema and the Pink Sugar boutique in Cedartown, Georgia say they are closing those businesses because they anticipate “higher taxes and more regulations during Obama’s second term of office.”
The CEO of Papa John’s Pizza said that due to Obamacare, it’s “likely that some franchise owners would reduce employees’ hours in order to avoid having to cover them.”
[T]he GOP’s suppression strategy failed. Ten major restrictive voting laws were blocked in court and turnout among young, black and Hispanic voters increased as a share of the electorate relative to 2008.
Take a look at Ohio, where Ohio Republicans limited early voting hours as a way to decrease the African-American vote, which made up a majority of early voters in cities like Cleveland and Dayton. Early voting did fall relative to 2008 as a result of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s cutbacks in early voting days and hours, but the overall share of the black electorate increased from 11 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2012. More than anything else, that explains why Barack Obama once again carried the state.
I spent the weekend before the election in black churches in Cleveland, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the GOP’s push to curtail the rights of black voters made them even more motivated to cast a ballot. “When they went after big mama’s voting rights, they made all of us mad,” said Reverend Tony Minor, Ohio coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. According to CBS News: “More African-Americans voted in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida than in 2008.”
The same thing happened with the Latino vote, which increased as a share of the electorate (from 9 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2012) and broke even stronger for Obama than in 2008 (from 67-31 in 2008 to 71-27 in 2012, according to CNN exit polling). The share of the Latino vote increased in swing states like Nevada (up 4 percent), Florida (up 3 percent) and Colorado (up 1 percent). Increased turnout and increased support for Obama among Latinos exceeded the margin of victory for the president in these three swing states.
Racial minorities made up 28 percent of the electorate in 2012, up from 26 percent in 2008, and voted 80 percent for Obama. “Romney matched the best performance among white voters ever for a Republican challenger—and yet he lost decisively in the Electoral College,” wrote Ron Brownstein of National Journal. Minorities also accounted for 45 percent of Obama’s total vote. That means that in the not-so-distant-future, a Democrat will be able to win the presidency without needing a majority of white votes in his or her own coalition. In a country with growing diversity, if one party is committed to expanding the right to vote and the other party is committed to restricting the right to vote, it’s not hard to figure out which one will ultimately be more successful.
So much for voter suppression. So much for the enthusiasm gap. So much for the idea that smug, self-appointed arbiters of what is genuinely “American” were going to “take back” the country, as if it had somehow been stolen.
On Tuesday, millions of voters sent a resounding message to the take-it-back crowd: You won’t. You can’t. It’s our country, too.
President Obama and the Democratic Party scored what can be seen only as a comprehensive victory. Obama won the popular vote convincingly, and the electoral vote wasn’t close. In a year when it was hard to imagine how Democrats could avoid losing seats in the Senate, they won seats and increased their majority.
Republicans did keep control of the House, but to call this a “status quo” election is absurd. After the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans had the initiative and Democrats were reeling. After Tuesday, the dynamics are utterly reversed.
In 2008, Latinos were 13 percent of the electorate; about 60 percent voted for Obama. On Tuesday, Latinos made up 14 percent of Colorado voters — and, according to exit polls, three-fourths of them supported the president. Think that might have something to do with Romney’s “self-deportation” immigration policy? I do.
Nationwide, roughly three of every 10 voters Tuesday were minorities. African Americans chose Obama by 93 percent, Latinos by 71 percent and Asian Americans, the nation’s fastest-growing minority, by 73 percent.
Ok, now the election’s done. Good. Thank God—it went on about six months too long. There went a billion dollars that could’ve been used to help educate children or wipeout poverty or pay 1/16000th of our national debt. But at the end of the day, our guy (Obama) won, the best President ever for Tribes; a great champion for Native people, Tester, won; and Heitkamp also won. Good job everybody—thank you to all of the organizers, all the volunteers, all the Natives who fundraised, who spoke, who kept Native people as a relevant topic to the campaign. Heck, there was even a couple of Skins in Chicago in the headquarters on election night representing. ALL OF YOU did a great job.
Still, now is not the time for celebrating. Now is the time for working—in fact, the hard work only begins now.
In the past few months, there have been MANY people asking you to vote for specific candidates—Obama, Tester, Heitkamp, Inslee for example (and, of course, there were folks on “the other side” encouraging you to vote for their candidates as well). “Our” people won, in no small part due to the Native vote in various states. Now is the time to hold those candidates and their supporters accountable. If those candidates, their parties, and/or supporters (including me) cannot show how Native life is improving as a result of those candidates’ respective actions, then we need to reconsider how much value to put into those candidates’ and/or parties’ performances. That’s how this system works—“We give you support when you need it (during election time) and you give us support when we need it (when we need help with our issues).” That’s what the Jewish voting bloc has done for decades; that’s what the Hispanic voting bloc is beginning to do now.
NOTE TO ELIZABETH WARREN: Oh yeah, our favorite Cherokee—Elizabeth Warren—also won her Senatorial seat in Massachusetts. Despite her strategic, fictitious Native lineage that she leveraged to distinguish herself from other job candidates, she’s been dodging Indian media, Indian Democrats, Indian people. Heck, she probably doesn’t even sit Indian-style or bar-b-q during Indian Summer; she seems to want nothing to do with us. The truth is, she doesn’t have to be Native to be an ally—who cares? Inouye isn’t Native. Obama isn’t Native, although he is adopted Crow. Tester isn’t Native. He’s a big cornfed white boy rancher who happens to be one of the best champions that Native people have in DC. Therefore, this is an invitation to Senator Warren’s people—congratulations, and come talk to us. Otherwise, we’ll likewise hold you accountable.
President Barack Obama was declared the winner of Florida’s 29 electoral votes Saturday, ending a four-day count with a razor-thin margin that narrowly avoided an automatic recount that would have brought back memories of 2000.
No matter the outcome, Obama had already clinched re-election and now has 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206.
The Florida Secretary of State’s Office said that with almost 100 percent of the vote counted, Obama led Republican challenger Mitt Romney 50 percent to 49.1 percent, a difference of about 74,000 votes. That was over the half-percent margin where a computer recount would have been automatically ordered unless Romney had waived it.
There is a Nov. 16 deadline for overseas and military ballots, but under Florida law, recounts are based on Saturday’s results. Only a handful of overseas and military ballots are believed to remain outstanding.