In April 2012, an anti-immigrant bill similar to the ones passed in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina legislatures was stopped cold in Mississippi—contrary to all expectations.
Tea Party Republicans, confident of rolling over any opposition, had enlisted Kansas Secretary of State and co-author of Arizona’s SB 1070 Kris Kobach, to push the bill with Mississippi state Representative Becky Currie, who introduced it. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which designs and introduces similar bills across the country, also had its agents on site in Jackson. The timing could not have been better. In November 2011, Republicans took control of the state House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction, making Mississippi one of the last Southern states to give up Democratic control of the legislature—a final triumph for the Nixon/Reagan Southern Strategy. But these were not just any Republicans. When Governor Haley Barbour, now ironically considered a “moderate Republican,” stepped down, voters replaced him with Phil Bryant, a rabid anti-immigrant whose venom rivals that of Lou Dobbs. And yet, the seemingly inevitable did not happen.
In 1960, the young civil rights movement faced a split between advocates of direct action and electoral work. The movements for justice today face a similar divide, between direct action strategies, such as Occupy and more traditional efforts to advance the agenda through the electoral system.
The 2010 Census clearly documents a profound population shift in the U.S., which could be a game-changer for the progressive community. However, given the regressive rhetoric and policies of conservatives toward voters of color (VOC) and progressive whites, states like Arizona and Georgia are rapidly turning into key battlegrounds. The populations of both states have increased significantly since 2000 and each has gained a new congressional seat and an extra Electoral College vote.
In Arizona, VOCs now make up 24 percent of the voting population. In 2008, an impressive 74 percent of registered voters went to the polls. In Phoenix, long a Republican stronghold, the population grew by 9.4 percent to nearly 1.5 million with significant numbers of them being people of color. The city recently elected a Latino city councilman and a Democrat for mayor.
The face of the Southern electorate is changing and nowhere is the shift clearer than in Florida and North Carolina. In these two critical battleground states, the share of white voters has shrunk since the 2008 presidential election, while the number of African American, Latino and other people of color voters has steadily grown. However, new voting restrictions could undermine the political potential of this shift towards an increasingly diverse electorate.
The foreclosure crisis has disproportionately impacted communities of color because people of color were sold adjustable rate mortgages at a higher rate than whites, even where income levels and financial risk were on par. The upshot of this predatory lending practice has been a massive dislocation of workers and families (most of whom considered their homes their only economic asset) side by side with an unprecedented transfer of wealth to financial institutions and the private sphere.
Advocates abroad call this type of activity by a name more familiar to the third world—a land grab. Multinational corporations have acquired 15 to 20 million hectares of land in wholesale purchases in the global south to establish large-scale industrial farms for food and biofuels.
Closer to home, in the Detroit area, speculator John Hantz is trying to purchase 200 acres to create a large corporate farm. Indeed, land grabs have been afoot for some time within postindustrial landscapes from where capital has fled in search of cheaper labor. What makes the current land grabs especially troubling is the opportunistic use of the tsunami of foreclosures by banks to seize properties. Their willful enablers in this transfer of assets have been the states and their housing policies, ostensibly created to reduce the number of vacant bank-owned properties by converting them into rental units.
Foreclosures: Excellent Investment for Some
A handful of fast-growing real estate management corporations are now stepping into the foreclosure crisis. Backed by billions of dollars in private equity, property management companies are viewing the crisis as a rare opportunity to amass tens of thousands of single-family homes and convert them into rentals—i.e. long-term high-yield investments. Beyond the stresses on families in neighborhoods experiencing the land grab, this nascent industry—promoted by federal policies—will in all likelihood facilitate the transfer of tens of billions in wealth from distressed homeowners—largely Black and Latino—to a few wealthy private equity firms.
The right to vote is under attack all across our country. Conservative legislators are introducing and passing legislation that: (a) creates new barriers for those registering to vote, (b) shortens the early voting period, (c) imposes new requirements for registered voters, and (d) rigs the Electoral College in select states.
On April 26, Urban Habitat hosted 120 Bay Area leaders for the annual State of the Region Conference at The California Endowment’s Oakland Conference Center. Social justice advocates came together to talk about equity, how to problem-solve, act, and organize.
Urban Habitat President and CEO Allen Fernandez Smith kicked off the event by celebrating the achievements of the more than 80 organizations in attendance, while outlining the important work being done in the region and all that still needs to be done moving forward.
In July 2011, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) was arrested during a demonstration in Washington, DC, to protest President Obama’s refusal to use his executive powers to halt deportations of the undocumented. Gutierrez’ arrest came only two days after Obama had addressed a conference of the National Council of La Raza, reminding attendees that he was bound to “uphold the laws on the books,” conveniently forgetting the history of the civil rights struggle that had made his presidency possible.
With over 392,000 deportations in 2010, more than in any of the Bush years, many activists fear a repeat of the notorious “Repatriation” campaign of the 1930s and the infamous Operation Wetback of 1954, both of which resulted in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Latinos. But a few things are different this time around.
According to a new report, millions of voters may be denied the right to vote under new laws adopted in a dozen states. The study, released last August by the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, says that new voting laws regarding (1) photo identification requirements, (2) elimination of same day voter registrations, (3) proof of citizenship requirements to register to vote, (4) rule changes for voter registration drives, (5) reduction in early voting days, and (6) restoration of voting rights to convicted felons will make voting harder for over five million people in the 2012 election.
The Center points to a partisan divide on the laws, noting that they were mostly generated from Republican-controlled state legislatures and signed by Republican governors. The only exceptions are the Democratic-controlled legislatures of Rhode Island (which has an Independent governor) and West Virginia (which has a Democratic acting governor).
The report also projects that the new laws will have the greatest impact on minority voters because African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to register to vote during voter registration drives in Florida, and the new photo identification requirements in Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin would exclude up to 3.2 million citizens, mostly minorities, who do not have government-issued photo IDs. Alabama and Kansas require new voters to present proof of U.S. citizenship at the voting booth, while Tennessee requires new voters who have been identified in a database as potential non-citizens to submit proof of citizenship.