05 November 2008

It Begins Now

Tonight I went to watch election results with some friends, but started to walk back home as we were nearing time for California and the rest of the West Coast to be called. I knew when all was said and done when seemingly in unison, whole apartment buildings started screaming. Fireworks started going off. There was literally singing on the streets. Cab drivers were going up the street honking their horns, pedestrians were cheering each other on. It was a beautiful sight.

Eight years of misrule were repudiated tonight right here in the streets of DC. As I walked the mile or so from Woodley Park to Adams Morgan where I live, the wave of joy continued to overtake me and all those around me. As I neared the busy intersection of 18th and Columbia, I could literally hear a roar of excitement. People were walking down the streets singing the "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours!"

This night is historic on so many fronts that I don't even know where to begin, and don't think I will. President-elect Obama (!!!!) hasn't gone on stage yet, but we've already heard an exceptionally gracious concession speech from Senator McCain, and I truly wish we had heard more of that John McCain during the campaign than we did.

Yet the hard work now lies ahead of us, in spite of the hard work of the past two years. Electing Barack Obama as President of the United States is the first step towards correcting this country's course, not the last. We'll need to fight to hold this president accountable, just like all the others.

But for now, we celebrate. This is our time, and this is our future. If nothing else, we've already seen tremendous progress based solely on the fact that some 100 million Americans are believed to have voted in this election. That's a damn site better than we've had before, and that's a tremendously good sign. Now let's keep up the momentum, and push ourselves to greatness.

I've been repeating this all week, and perhaps it's trite, but hard work like this is how we grant ourselves peace.

04 November 2008

This Election Shall be Live Blogged

It's 8am Tuesday and I just got back from voting! I arrived at my polling place at 6:50am, and the line was already wrapped around the block. By 7, when the doors opened, there were probably a hundred or so more people behind me. Of course, all this calls for photos!

Where I started in line.

Where the line ended when the polls opened 10 minutes later (you can't see it!).

Made it around the first corner.

Made it around the second corner. Still a long way to go.

A good sign along the way (that's my neighborhood, y'all).

So close you can smell the democracy.

At the door!

All in all, for a line that absurdly long, the wait wasn't bad at all, and I even had time to come back home for a snack. Once again, if you haven't voted yet, today is your last chance. Go vote, and grant us peace.

Dona Nobis Pacem: Go Vote

Folks, the time is now. Tomorrow morning the polls will open for a truly momentous election. If you're an American citizen, you've registered to vote, and you haven't voted yet (in places where early voting is allowed), we implore you to get out tomorrow. Lines are expected to be long, and the weather may not be entirely cooperative, so dress warmly and dryly and bring a little reading material, or, better yet, chat up your fellow voters. Regardless of how you intend to vote in a given race or on a particular issue, the democratic process brings disparate people together every couple of years and asks for their opinion on the critical issues of the day. Take advantage of this unique form of fellowship to get to know a few new people. Challenge each other's assumptions and celebrate your commonalities.

I, for one, believe strongly that participatory forms of government are essential foundations for peace. This country isn't quite peaceful yet, and hasn't been for centuries, but we're further along than a lot of places. In the past year, we've seen tense elections in places like Bolivia, Paraguay, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Russia and even Canada. In some of those places, people died for their votes. In others, their votes were canceled out by corrupt authorities. In still others, people felt a real sense of liberation after all was said and done.

Tomorrow and later in the week we'll start to analyze how this election impacts issues of peace and social justice around this world. If I can swing it, we'll even get to hear from someone on the ground at the winning candidate's victory celebration.

But for now, your charge is simple: Go to your polling place, stand in line, and cast your ballot. And vote on everything, not just the next president. In my own neighborhood, the race for our representative on the school board could mean a lot for how justice expands through the local population. All these issues matter; that's why they're on the ballot. Go out and vote your conscience, and thereby grant us peace.

EDIT: Persons in some corners are expressing concerns about voter suppression. If you experience trouble at the polls (e.g. your registration or ballot are challenged) and you think you need help, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) and they'll provide assistance, including on-site legal aid, if necessary.

03 November 2008

Is that a voting guide in your pants?

Because I'm a dork, I several hours this weekend doing my usual pre-election candidate research. If you haven't done that yourself yet, I recommend you get started.

Looking at the presidential race, my mind was basically made up there, and the wealth of information available through all types of media, as well as questionnaires the candidates have answered and items on their websites reaffirmed my choice. There being no ballot issues in my jurisdiction, and since I live in a colonized city-state, I didn't have that much to do.

I'm not going to tell you every single person I intend to vote for, though I will mention a few. Especially useful resources were the Washington Post (the voter guide moreso than their endorsements), the DC chapter of the League of Women Voters (find your local chapter -- they do great stuff!), and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, which is a local, not national, organization.

After reading that stuff, plus candidate websites (where I could find them), I found myself having to seriously think about two races: the At-Large DC Council race (two seats), and the Ward 1 State Board of Education race (1 seat). Ward 1, where I reside, is not voting for a ward rep to the DC Council this year (stay tuned for 2010). Other local races for shadow senator and shadow representative don't excite me because none of the candidates excite me, the at-large seat on the Board of Education is a one person race, so you either like him or not, and the delegate to the U.S. House is a pretty easy choice when you compare the candidates.

So that at-large race: there are 2 open seats, one of which needs to go to a non-Democrat (under the law that states that 2 of the 4 total at-large seats need to be held by someone of the non-majority party). The Democratic incumbent is Kwame Brown. The official Republican candidate is Patrick Mara. The Republican incumbent, Carol Schwartz, is running a write-in campaign. There are also three independents (Michael Brown, Mark Long, and Dee Hunter), and Statehood Green Party candidate David Schwartzman. Personally, I really like Carol Schwartz, especially after the way she's acted on the issues I raised in my last post (writing the mayor in opposition to proposed changes, grilling Peter Nickles at his confirmation hearing). She's also a fiscal conservative in a city that frankly needs more of that. We certainly don't agree on everything, but she believes in holding government accountable, so she gets my vote (write in her name, and connect the arrow).

That leaves me one other choice. My research leads me to support David Schwartzman, but since he's also a non-Democrat, that vote would basically cancel out my vote for Schwartz. Thus I'll also vote for Kwame Brown, the incumbent Democrat, since a vote for him won't count as a vote against Carol since he's already in the majority party. The other so-called independents are basically job-seeking Democrats, and Micheal Brown seems hell-bent on running for every office open until he gets on. And Patrick Mara just seems shady, especially after having met him. As an aside, why oh why can't we vote for these two seats entirely separately, instead of all lumped together?

The other race then is the State Board of Education seat. This reconstituted Board advises the State Superintendent of Education (not the DC Public Schools Chancellor) on issues related to academic standards and compliance with federal law. The Board and State Superintendent oversee all public education institutions in DC, including DCPS and all charter schools. Here in Ward 1 we have one of the few contested races for a seat on this new Board. Two of the four choices, Pamela M. Johnson and Dotti Love Wade, get incredible props for being concerned parents/community activists, however their grasp of the issues they'll face seems a little weak. That leaves Lillian Perdomo and Shelore Williams, both with long records on education issues and a firm grasp of what they'll be doing and where they want to go. Yet it's Perdomo's record of engaging parents through her grassroots multicultural outreach work and her committment to social justice issues that put her on top for me. Read her bio and see for yourself.

Now, your homework is to Google all of the above, as I'm too tired to look up all those links to individual candidate sites again. I'm happy to help if you get stuck.

Happy voting! Polls in DC are open from 7am to 8pm Tuesday, and you can still vote early tomorrow.

P.S. This week I'm leading the election coverage over on Practical Peaceniks. Be sure to check out my introductory post, and check back there throughout the week. And don't worry, I'll always save my most irreverent bile for this space. :)

Update on LGBT rights in DC

I realize blogging has been light this month, and for that I apologize, but I did want to (perhaps belatedly) alert your attention to some very local issues that have been going on.

The DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) has been running a long campaign to improve human rights protections within the district for transgendered and gender non-conforming individuals. While the DC Human Rights Act now includes those protections, and progress has been made in getting the Metropolitan Police to improve their policies in this area, engaging the DC Department of Corrections (DOC) has been far more challenging. This summer, after an Inspector-General's report found the DOC to be out of compliance with the law, and after DCTC and DOC had already been negotiating some, the DOC convinced the Office of Human Rights to propose new regulations that would exempt it from the Human Rights Act, which would magically clear up the little problem of their not-complying with the law.

Clearly, this couldn't stand. During the comment period, dozens of local and national organizations wrote to oppose the regulatory change, and DCTC also collected comments from around 200 citizens through an online petition. Out of all that, not one single response agreed with the proposed rules, and thus the Office of Human Rights and the DC Commission on Human Rights did not move forward with enactment. A local resident had also filed a complaint against DOC policy, and received a response in early October that made several specious arguments aimed at proving that the DOC was doing nothing wrong, and in fact was exemplary in its choice of housing people based on their genitalia and nothing else.

All of these various documents pointed the way back to the desk of DC's acting attorney general Peter Nickles. The mayor's general counsel until he forced the resignation of then-attorney general Linda Singer, Nickles has been a controversial character on any number of counts, including his failure to actually live in the District. But his fooling around with the Human Rights Act and a legal opinion he wrote opposing a clarification of domestic partner parenting rights led the DCTC and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) to oppose his nomination to be permanent AG.

Showdown: DC Council Chamber, Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, October 17. Nickles' confirmation hearing ran for roughly eight hours that Friday, and included some 20 or more witnesses, including representatives of DCTC and GLAA. DCTC members in the audience came equipped with bright neon stickers that said "No to Nickles" which garnered the attention of some Council members. After testimony, each member grilled Nickles on this issue, and expressed extreme concern that he would mess with the Human Rights Act, which is cherished as being among the most progressive in the nation.

Since then, DCTC, GLAA and others have met with 8 of the 13 Council members' offices, and had an initial meeting with Nickles himself. We can be hopeful for a positive outcome, but there is much still to be done. Regardless, this issue has received scant media attention since this summer, so I thought I would bring it to light.

02 November 2008

Peaceniks Forum: The Election that Changes Everything that Ever Was

Perhaps that's a bit of an overstatement, but that seems to be the way most Americans are acting right now. So let's have a bit of discussion. What matters to you this time around? Why is this election so important? If you're one of our growing contingent of international visitors, what outcomes do you want to see from the U.S. election? Will anything good come of it for you?

Here at Practical Peaceniks, we've already weighed in on how we think McCain or Obama will promote peace in the world (or not). We've also touched on how some of the rhetoric surrounding the campaign has caused people like us who are dedicated to peace and social justice to cringe/want to spit venom. As virtually anyone has noticed by now, the campaign has only gotten more heated, especially as one side pulls ahead while the other seems to be spiraling downward. Is this a positive trend? Further, is a campaign process that has taken nearly two years and cost two billion dollars really good for this country, or any country?

For my own sake, I want to see a government for the people that brings an end to the degradation of civil liberties and demonstrates a renewed emphasis on expanding civil rights to all individuals in the United States (I use that construction intentionally). I want a government of the people that takes to heart the advice of Nobel Laureate, former Secretary of State, and fellow Tennesseean Cordell Hull, who said in 1945, "There is no greater responsibility resting upon peoples and governments everywhere than to make sure that enduring peace will this time -- at long last -- be established and maintained." Finally, I want to see a government by the people, that does not engage in unjust wars (with victims at home and abroad) and refuses to compromise our core values by torturing and illegally detaining individuals suspected of acting against us.

This election is important to me because I feel strongly that the country has been on a downward spiral. It's not just a matter of U.S. standing or influence in the world -- I don't really care about that. It's that within our own borders, we are a society that has lost the ability to value anything other than ourselves and our material wants. Too many Americans lack healthcare. Our schools need support, investment, and love. Our economy needs to be reconstructed so that injustices meted out by the privileged few don't get perpetuated when those same privileged few get bailed out while their victims get nothing. And looking abroad, this is a nation of remarkable power, and we should truly scrutinize whether we are using that power -- hard, soft, or whatever you want to call it -- in a responsible, compassionate way that still somehow manages to further our interests and keep us safe.

As for the electoral process, I tend to agree that it was wrong for Obama to break his promise to accept public financing in the general election. However, in so doing, he may well have uncovered a new approach to public financing. Having over 3 million donors and an average donation of just $85 may indicate that public interest in financing campaigns is growing, and we just need to rethink how the current public finance process works. The time this whole soiree has taken, though, is ludicrous. I've frankly stopped paying attention to the news for much of the past month simply because I was tired of it all. When the campaign process drags on for so long, we lose sight of issues and instead start deconstructing every syllable that comes out of someone's mouth. The 24-hour news cycle only exacerbates this problem. And only having two major candidates hurts too, I think. Maybe the Barr, McKinney and Nader campaigns have something to offer the country. If they do, we certainly haven't had a chance to hear about it. If they don't, we haven't even heard that either.

Consider this the opening salvo (definitely not a peaceful term) of your Practical Peaceniks election coverage this week. As always, we welcome your thoughts, and encourage you to join the conversation.