Archive for June, 2011

LOD: Judicial Public Financing

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

The same rightwing law firm that engineered the Citizens United decision also attacked North Carolina’s judicial public financing program a few years ago; they took their challenge all the way to the US Supreme Court and lost. Now they’re representing a “right to life” group in Wisconsin, claiming that state’s new judicial program (modeled on ours) is unconstitutional. Democracy North Carolina and others have signed onto an amicus brief supporting the public’s right to sponsor a viable public campaign financing option, especially for judicial elections. Because judges have a constitutional duty to be impartial, there is a “compelling government interest” in preventing even the appearance of bias or corruption. The brief says this interest even justifies some public financing provisions that might be struck down for programs covering other elective offices – particularly the “rescue” or matching funds provision that helps enrolled candidates keep up with their opponent’s spending against them. The Supreme Court recently heard a case challenging Arizona’s system of providing matching funds (the McComish v. Bennett case). Most observers expect a 5-to-4 decision very soon that will throw out the matching-funds provision as an unconstitutional burden on the “free speech” (i.e., fundraising) of privately financed candidates. But even with the expected hostile decision, North Carolina’s judicial public financing program can continue, maybe without its rescue funds provision or maybe we’ll provide another test case.


LOD: First Maps of NC Districts

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Republicans in the state legislature are beginning to roll out their maps for the new General Assembly districts using 2010 Census data. They’re following federal law by first drawing districts that comply with the Voting Rights Act, which is good. But it appears they are going well beyond that mandate to use the VRA to create several additional majority-minority districts with heavy concentrations of Democratic or non-Republican voters. You can view the proposed VRA districts for the state House and state Senate under the section titled “Plans and Information for 2011.” What’s the impact of this strategy? Minority and Democratic voters are apparently being packed into a smaller number of total districts statewide, rather than have their influence spread across more areas; conversely, the lines are drawn to keep Republicans at a minimum in the VRA districts and put them in other districts that will favor GOP candidates. It’s a cynical use of the VRA to help Republicans win more seats in Raleigh and Washington. Sen. Eric Mansfield (D-Cumberland) says the maps seem to endorse a return to segregation; they will promote racial tension and polarization rather than centrist politics. You can share your view of these maps at a public hearing on Thursday, June 23, at a variety of locations across the state.


And Tour Stops Start…

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Another week in Charlotte…

Our week started with a planning day. We went to the office and set our goals on the table then later we made phone calls to prepare for our tour stop that was to begin the next day.
Tuesday morning called for our full and undivided attention as we made our way to Asheville, North Carolina. We met each other at 7:45am to leave for the city and reached there by 9:30. We immediately started speaking with people because from the way we planned the day, we were to meet with eight different people back-to-back. Surprisingly, we were able to fit a media sitting in the day which cost us a little more time than we budgeted for. We were featured in an Asheville radio show on WREC 100.7 FM and were pleased with our new accomplishment. We spoke briefly on being stripped of the right to vote and swiftly shifted our focus back to our planned one-on-ones. Later that evening, we met with about 16 concerned people in a chocolate & coffee lounge. The meeting was beneficial in our planning of the research aspect of our internship. We are to hold a large meeting on what we hope to establish and work on depending on what we assume the results of the bad bills would be.


Wednesday was just as filled as the last. We woke up even earlier and headed to Raleigh, North Carolina, met with the other Democracy Summer teams and watched the state’s General Assembly work. We also had the pleasure of hearing some of the representatives of the house and senate speak and explain to us the importance of being involved. Overall, we found the trip both fascinating and exhilarating.

On Thursday we went into the office and started working on an event we plan on having in Asheville on the 16th of July. We have defined the prescribed outcomes for our research assignment as a well thoroughly planned out an event complimenting the faith, cause and community based organizations to find a way to protect voting rights on a larger scale.

Today, Friday we are researching and further planning the structure for our overall goals for Asheville.

Tune in next week…


Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

Friday, June 17th, 2011

It is hard to believe that we are already at the end of week three of our internship! We have been so busy this week that the time has just flown by. On Thursday we had a speaking engagement for the Minority Business Council here in Greenville. We were asked to present on Democracy NC’s money in politics work and the Citizen’s United vs. FEC case, but that made Jasmine and I feel a little nervous. We have done a few public speaking engagements before, so we weren’t nervous about getting in front of the crowd and talking. What worried us was the topic that we were supposed to present about. All of our speaking engagements so far had been about the Voter ID bill; talking about the money in politics part of our work was new to us. We spent a lot of time just trying to read up on the Citizen’s United case and money in politics so that we would be prepared. I think we were both afraid of getting some fact about the issue wrong, or not being to speak intelligently about money in politics. Luckily for us we had the talking points and notes from the training session to go by, and after reading those we were ready to go. When it was time for us to actually present I think we had long forgotten our feelings of nervousness, and we just got up and spoke. In fact, we ended up going over our allotted fifteen minutes! After the presentation a few of the members of the Minority Business Council came up to us and commented on how well we had done and how passionate we seemed. I guess there was never any need to be nervous!

This weekend the Greenville team is working overtime. We will be tabling at two events, the Wilson African American Festival and the “Because You Are Worth It” Teen Summit. Hopefully we will be able to get some people registered to vote and get a few petition signatures. Fingers crossed!

P.S. thanks to all of the organizers for that three day training session, that money in politics lesson definitely paid off!

Shaniqua and Jasmine


A Day at the General Assembly

Friday, June 17th, 2011

On June 15th, all of the Democracy NC team met in Raleigh at the General Assembly.  (We missed you Shaniqua!)  We decided to make our “Lobby Day” the day after the legislators had spent a long night previously voting on legislation and issues, such as the budget and voting rights legislation. To be honest, Khadijah and I did not know what to expect upon going to the General Assembly. Overall we both though it was a fun experience, especially being able to meet and speak face-to-face with certain legislators, such as Rep. Alexander, Rep. Rosa Gill, Rep. Rodney Moore, and Rep. Larry Womble.

All of the legislators that we spoke with, despite all of the angst against the bad legislation, seemed to be staying positive for the most part. Rep. Jennifer Weiss (HD 35) compared the bad legislation to “whack-a-mole on steroids.” The legislators expressed the importance of what we, as a group were doing, both as young people and grassroots activists. They also spoke a little about the issues that were being passed in both chambers – bad legislation like the Voter ID Bill, shortening early voting, eliminating Sunday voting and so on.

 This was a great experience and it gave each one of us a chance to truly see the democratic process at work. From sitting in on the redistricting committee meeting, to meeting with individual legislators, to sitting in both of the chambers – it was an overall great learning experience. Just being there makes a person realize how important of a role it is to be involved. As Rep. Womble said; “Politics rule you from the day you were born to the day you die.”

 

And if you have not seen the Winston-Salem Chronicle, the team was featured twice. We were able to publish a letter to the editor that focused on the voting rights legislation that is being discussed now in the legislature and we were featured with the Rec Center that we went to speak to! I must admit it was a pretty good week, one that we can definitely be proud of our successes as a team!

Khadijah and Kayla 

Winston, Salem Team


LOD: Voter Suppression Update

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

North Carolina’s infamous photo ID bill (H-351 – we call it the “Voter Suppression Act of 2011”) passed as expected on party line votes and is on its way to Gov. Bev Perdue. You can encourage her to veto the bill with this handy action alert. The other major anti-voter bill, S-47, was pulled off the floor tonight and will be taken up in July when the General Assembly reconvenes to tackle redistricting and other topics. Before the sponsor pulled the bill, he gained support for an amendment to delete the provision that would have killed Sunday afternoon voting, so “Souls to the Polls” faces one less threat. The bill still has a bucket load of obnoxious provisions, from ending Same-Day Registration and Voter-Owned Elections for executive branch offices to permitting corporate donations to political parties. In other action at the General Assembly, the bill (H-710) to merge three government watchdog agencies into a new underfunded, overtasked agency was also pulled for further study and action in the July session. Looks like a long hot summer.


Of, By, and For the People

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

As the Democracy NC journey continues, the Winston-Salem team continues to have fun while reaching out to new and different people.  This past Saturday, June 11, Khadijah participated in the People’s Assembly rally held in Greensboro; the march began at the Greensboro Four Statue on the NC A&T campus and came to a close at the Greensboro Courthouse.  The members of the march wore a surgical mask to prove that these issues being discussed were “toxic” to the city (environment).  The rally was successfully organized to allow influential and affluent community members to express their concern for certain issues that are being discussed within the Greensboro City Council and state; such as Police Corruption, White Street Landfill, Educational Disparities, $5 Million Energy Grant, Elimination of Early Voting Sites, and Redistricting.  In attendance was Reverend Gatewood, Reverend Cardes Brown (President of the NAACP Greensboro Branch), the Alpha-alumni, the Delta-alumni, and Democracy NC.  Overall the rally presented a strong, united front on the issues at hand, and the people at the rally were able to get their point across in a positive, strong way.

After spending all day Monday research Social Service Agencies for our research project, creating/learning how to use twitter, and attending a Young Democrats meeting in Surry County, Tuesday consisted of meetings and running around.  Early Tuesday morning we attended a small gathering of socially active people in Greensboro.  This small group is moderated by Marnie Thompson, the founder of Fund for Democratic Communities (F4DC), which meets every Tuesday at Spring Garden Bakery at 8:30am.  The group discusses different topics every week but they relate all of their discussions back to social justice, activism, and democracy.  Both Khadijah and I felt that this type of group meeting was interesting and invigorating.  The people there were a range of different ages but were all able to come together for one purpose – promoting democracy, which we both found inspiring.  Upon attending the meeting, we were given an article to read on whether social activism, even though fulfilling, was a career path someone would be able to take after college, based on the amount of pay.  It was interesting to hear such a variety of views among such a small group – but nonetheless, it was a lot of fun.  We were also able to meet Elizabeth Shiemann, a fellow with Kate B. Reynolds Charitable trust who was interested in our day to day work at Democracy NC.  We also helped a group of senior citizens send in their letters to Gov. Perdue asking for a veto of the voter suppression bills coming out of Raleigh.

Overall, the week has been pretty productive already and Wednesday we head off to Raleigh to visit the General Assembly! Let’s hope that the legislators are as willing to work with us as the citizens of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Surry County have been!

Khadijah and Kayla

Winston-Salem Team


URGENT ACTION ALERT

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Take Action Now!

Urgent: Ask Perdue to VETO the Voter Photo ID Bill. We need you to take immediate action to protect voting rights in NC!

A bill to require voters to show government-issued photo ID every time they vote (HB-351) has passed both houses in the NC General Assembly and is headed for Governor Perdue’s desk. We need you to contact Governer Perdue and tell her to VETO this bill. It is the centerpiece of an attack on voting rights in our state. If we can stop this bill, we can build momentum for resisting other anti-voting initiatives by this General Assembly. Please take action now.

If this bill is signed into law, North Carolina would slip from one of the highest pro-voter rankings in the nation to well below average. Don’t let extremists who have refused to compromise on reasonable ID requirements destroy our state’s strong record of pro-voter policies. Please take action now.

Then, please, help us spread the word so others take action as well.


Hard Work Does Pay Off

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Week three has started off very eventful. Monday we spent researching social service organizations in the Eastern North Carolina area that we could possibly contact and partner with in the future. We learned the importance of keeping meticulous notes on everyone that we contact. Monday afternoon we got a chance to make our first presentation without Shaunee which went extremely well. Being that we are so young, it’s surprising that so many people actually listen to us and take us seriously. One of the people that we met with in Rocky Mount in the past week actually asked “Am I being punked or what?” because he thought we looked so young. It was great that the group we presented to Monday actually looked passed our age and saw our message. It was slightly difficult because we had very limited time; however the wonderful elevator speech practices that we did in training definitely came in helpful as we made sure to hit certain talking points. Tuesday we were in meetings from noon until 9:30 that night. Of course with meetings being back to back all day, there was tardiness (not on our part of course) and rescheduling that had to take place but we fit everyone in (FLEXABILITY at its finest). Even though the day was long we made great contacts with active people in the community and we also got the chance to glean information on more contacts from them. We had 4 one on ones and then we moved right on into 2 presentations that we had to make that afternoon. No real time for lunch, no real time for breaks…if you want something done sometimes you have to work hard for it. We want a government of the people, by the people and for the people…so we work hard for it. At our last presentation we were on the end of the agenda, but it was great to hear what the SCLC was doing in the community. They too were glad just to have young people involved and being active. We had to leave early but as a departure gift we were all given a 2 liter soda and a bag of popcorn. You see, hard work does pay off.


LOD: Pay-to-Play Harms Public Health

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Pay-to-play politics can be petty – or deadly serious. The Wilmington Star-News reports that state Sen. Thom Goolsby received a $4,000 donation from the head of the city’s home builders association and shortly thereafter introduced a bill in the General Assembly that the association’s lobbyist had prepared. The bill overrides a city policy about how the Wilmington convention center is rented to groups. That policy hardly deserves statewide attention, but the Goolsby/builder interaction does, because the two men risk being charged under the state’s anti-bribery law if “it could reasonably be inferred that the thing of value [the $4,000 donation] would influence the legislator in the discharge of the legislator’s duties” (NC General Statute 120-86). Meanwhile, one of the biggest campaign donor’s in the state, Duke Energy, joined several other businesses in pushing a surprise bill yesterday that will stop North Carolina from regulating toxic chemicals released into the air by power plants, paper factories, steel mills, etc. This example of arrogant special-interest legislation illustrates the grave consequence for people’s health of pay-to-play politics. On the national level, the Koch brothers are the poster boys of using their money to gain policies that help their businesses and personal fortune at the expense of others’ health and safety. A fascinating, horrible case in point: they’ve used their clout for years to prevent proper regulation of formaldehyde as a carcinogen, costing untold damage.




The Great Adventures of The Charlotte Team..

Monday, June 13th, 2011

This week in Charlotte…

It’s been another eventful week! Monday started off with scrupulous amounts of planning for meetings that were to be held in the upcoming days. In the evening, we also met with Mary Klenz from Legal Women Voters along with Advocate Tom Bowers, in order to discuss the details of our scheduled meeting with Governor Bev Purdue’s Assistant Budd Berro the next morning. Roles were assigned and we all parted ways to rehearse our parts for the next day. It was interesting to see how different types of advocacy organization could come together to strengthen their platform and get their voices heard. The meeting was supposed to be about the budget, yet because we were there show our support, we were invited to speak about our issues as well. The group was mainly speaking about how education and environmental factors were several affected by the budget. A man named Mr. Greene made a remarkable observation that really stuck out to us; “It’s scary to me how many things are being affected by one budget. It’s like their using the budget to get away with all these things.”

The next morning, we found ourselves downtown at the government building yawning and entering a welcoming room in the government building at 8:15am. We met with about 6 others who were to accompany us in the meeting and discuss other issues that they felt needed to be addressed. Our first meeting was with Governor’s Assistant Budd Berro. We listened as he explained that he was in charge of the piedmont regional office under Governor Perdu and then introduced ourselves. The meeting began with our group mentioning its strong concern for the environment. About 15 minutes later, we went into education and then ended off with voting rights. Joyce was unable to speak at the engagement because she had laryngitis thus the weight fell on Maiysa and Robert. We think that the meeting went well because we spent a good amount of time expressing how we felt about the current issues that are being overlooked. Next we headed down the hall to a meeting on redistricting. We were attentive yet we were victims to boredom. There were two men on the end that really irked our nerves because we felt that they were either being very obnoxious and not understanding or we felt that they were being too vague to understand. We learned plenty on redistricting that day, and came to appreciate the intricate process involved in redistricting and the time the volunteer appointed committee puts into it.

Wednesday came with anticipation of our very first one-on-one. We had set up a meeting with Monica Embrey of Green Peace. We really enjoyed speaking with her because she was so understanding and alive.  We gave her several contacts and in exchange, she told us that she wanted to help support our efforts. We could really see how organization could jump to each other’s professional aid. Next, we found ourselves heading to the homeland security building to help the League of Women Voters with the voter registrations. It was amazing. We had the privilege of witnessing about 98 people, from 52 different nations, become US citizens and pledge into our country. During the ceremony, we prepared the documents of voter registry and after we made sure everyone had them. Not many were interested in hearing about extra information that would help them to vote so we just stood at the door, ready and available to inform. We expected people to be itching to know all the details about their new right but they didn’t seem as excited. Though we weren’t bombarded with questions as we had predicted, it was still an exquisite experience seeing the lives of so many change, before our eyes, within minutes.

On Thursday, we had our 1st media appearance. We were really excited when we walked in the studio and yet a little nervous. Upon our wait, a woman named Joyce Waddell entered the room and graced us with her loving, warm presence. She smiled very vividly and asked us some questions about ourselves. At the time, Joyce’s voice was not yet 100% so against Dr. Waddell’s it sounded quite rough. Her aura reminded us of someone very calmly sitting on the couch of a welcoming home and her voice matched her graciously. When the camera finally got rolling we began to relax as we spoke with her. We still remember the beautiful light blue sequence dress that lit up the set while we fed her the answers that she anticipated hearing. She gently glanced from the camera to us in increments of 30-40 seconds while we asked each other with our eyes who was ready to answer the next question. About an hour and a half of this, we left the room swiftly and mentally satisfied with our accomplishment. For the most part we felt prepared but then again we hadn’t had all the answers to all the questions. We couldn’t help but to feel responsible even though we knew it wasn’t our fault. Some of the questions she asked us, on and off the camera were ones that just hadn’t crossed our minds. Briefly after, Robert went to fidget in Dr. Waddell’s hot seat while we talked about our performance and waited in a different room. Overall, it was a learning experience and we decided that we did not like having to answer unexpected questions on the spot but we could do it fairly well. The episode will air on the 28th of this month on channel 21, “Public Access” at 9:30pm. Be watching.

Friday was our most hectic day yet. Unfortunately because of all the excitement from our television appearance from the day before, we had been unable to check our email to realize that the Team Conference call was scheduled for the following day. In frenzy, we received calls from Robert Friday morning informing us of the mishap and we quickly got on our phones and dialed away. It was nice to hear about the different things the Greenville and Winston-Salem teams had already accomplished this summer and comforting to learn that we were all encountering as well as overcoming similar struggles. After this, we arrived at the office to arrange last minute details for our event that night. We were asked to contact several news stations to ensure that they had received our press release and guarantee that they would be in attendance. At first it seemed that not one of the news stations would be coming. To make matters worse our office printer seemed to not cooperate and would not print any of the needed materials. 4 o’clock was approaching fast. Alas, in the last half hour, everything seemed to fall into place. One of the organizers, Hector, for Action NC (with whom we share the office) helped us by allowing us to print our materials from his printer. He also gave us contacts to different Hispanic news papers that would want to be informed of the Racial Justice Event. With everything finally accounted for, we packed up our cars and headed to the event – but little did we know the worst was yet to come….

When we arrived to the event, it was a pleasure to find that the Hispanic news papers had in fact shown up. But the projector and the film that was to be shown later that night had not. The press conference started within minutes entailing that we had a mere half hour before the crowd made its way down stairs for the film showing. When the film finally did arrive, we found ourselves in another set of turmoil. As it turned out, the laptop we had planned to use was not adaptable to the DVD we were using. As the crowd filled the room, we found a DVD player that could play the film, but of course the wiring for the video player was missing. The only thing left to do was too look for another laptop. As luck would have it, one of the speakers had a laptop in his car that he allowed us to borrow. We held our breaths as we inserted the DVD and waited for Windows Media Player to start up. Alas, the film was finally playing. We now turned our attention to the projector, which had been working fine all this time. To our dismay, the projector shut off and would not turn back on. While we were having our technical difficulties, the coordinators of the event had been running a Q&A session with the audience but they were running out of topics to discuss. Thus, they turned to us to speak to the group. We informed them of our views on the voting rights bill and why we were so passionate about it while passing out 60 or so flyers. We also spoke to the crowd about the Cut the Strings campaign and asked them to sign our petition. We were at a loss of what to do about the film. As we stood there flabbergasted, a man in a black suit entered the room dragging a trolley bag behind him. He approached us and asked if we needed a projector. We stared at him. It was music to our ears. We helped him set his equipment and smiled joyfully as the film, At Death House Door, finally began playing. We sat down to enjoy the film. Everything had finally worked out. The event lasted roughly three hours and in the end we were exhausted! As we said our farewells to everyone there, we looked at each other with looks of relief and finally went off for the weekend…

Coming up this week… a tour of Ashville…and a much anticipated trip to Raleigh with the rest of the Democracy Summer teams!

Maiysa Mesbah and Joyce Lutu


Don’t be so Delicate

Friday, June 10th, 2011

This week has been full of traveling but what a great experience it was.  We began our journey in Elizabeth City on Tuesday.  We started by passing out “Respect our Vote” flyers at community shelters and food banks in the area since HB 351 would affect low income, low wealth, and displaced residents in large numbers.  We also passed out voter registration forms.  After stopping by shelters, and riding around in circles for a while, we reached the courthouse downtown to visit the lemonade stand set up by MomsRising.  They were focused on the hurts that the education system, smart start programs, more at four etc. would take because of the proposed budget.  We of course realize that issues surrounding the budget are based in special interest money the goes into legislators who write the budget, so we tied our money in politics aspect to their cause.  After leaving the lemonade stand we attended a community meeting set up by Pasquotank County NAACP president Keith Rivers.
Tuesday was our longest day, we got back after 11, but it was definitely very informative and we got to see community meetings at work.  It showed how in a group not everyone may agree on every aspect, but everyone must keep in mind that the goal is to keep the community moving forward. There were definitely fervent activists in the Pasquotank County area. One resident pleaded that Shaunee not be so delicate in her approach to telling the community about the dire need for them to make their voices heard. On Wednesday our plans of being on the local cable station fell through because of miscommunication but we still got a chance to meet with elected officials and citizens in the Edgecombe/Nash County area.  One of the people we met with also happened to be a lawyer and he spoke of the importance of public financed campaigns for judges. Our week of travels ended in Washington, North Carolina with a few one on one meetings with known activists from the area.

Week two was a very surprising and productive week.  From meeting the governor, to being questioned on our final destiny in life we have thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it.  We look forward to next week and all the surprises that we are sure will come.

Jasmine and Shaniqua



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