Tag: democracy

Citizens United comes to the heartland

April 4, 2011

In their decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the Supreme Court of John Roberts twisted the knife in for the kill of representative democracy in this country. Literally giving paper entities, corporations, more rights than actual persons by allowing unlimited, unregulated and unsourced money into political races resulted in political carnage in federal and gubernatorial races across the country in 2010, as pro-corporate and anti-worker candidates won the race for money and the election.

The aftermath has been a rampage of laws and deregulation that, without CU, might have taken a decade or more to accomplish. In quick order, the corporate money backed candidates have been gleefully wrecking rights that past generations struggled to gain — their actions running the gamut from disempowering unions to “just” dehumanizing and demoralizing them.

But if you thought that corporations were only interested in federal and state government for their takeover, or thought that it might take a campaign season or two to work its way down to the city level, well, I’ve got some castles made out of red dirt to sell you.

Tomorrow, April 5, there is a runoff election in Ward 2 of Oklahoma City for a seat on the eight-member city council. How much do you think that seat is worth? Well, if you are among the regular power players in Central Oklahoma, apparently the answer is: half a million dollars.

These folks are used to getting their way around here for a lot less, I assure you. But they hit a little road bump back in March when their favored candidate in Ward 2 failed to get more than 50% of the vote in a six-way election. Instead he, Charlie Swinton, a banking lobbyist (yes, really), was put in to a runoff against the second highest vote getter, Dr. Ed Shadid, a spine surgeon (and cousin of journalist Anthony Shadid).

The runoff race has really pealed back the pretty facade of corporate benevolence to reveal an ugly reality — they want their selfish deals with decisionmakers kept secret in the back rooms and out of the media (which the local press, with rare exceptions, is quite content to allow). They know that Ed Shadid, even if if his sole vote can’t stop such shenanigans, he will bring transparency and outside voices to the process.

So a lot of money has been funneled into shadowy 527s and paid for mailings and push polls with distortions, lies and twisted reality that would be funny if it wasn’t so deadly serious. Shadid is a vegetarian! He believes in sustainabilty and community gardens! Heavens, hide the children!

Fortunately, in response to this deluge of political spin, and sniping within both the Democratic and Republican parties about this non-partisan race, there has also been a groundswell of grassroots and sensible voices responding and fighting back, and it’s been a wonder to behold in this conservative region.

Here’s a sampling from local bloggers:

Kurt Hochenauer (who runs Blue Oklahoma web site)

I had intended to remain neutral in the Ward 2 Oklahoma City Council race between local physician Dr. Ed Shadid and Charlie Swinton, but that was before a shadowy, secret group started viciously attacking Shadid with bogus, clichéd right-wing mailers.

I urge everyone in Ward 2 to vote for Shadid on Tuesday, April 5 for many reasons, but mainly because at least we know who has supported him and what he stands for. We know who he is. At this point, Swinton and some of his major, anonymous backers, don’t pass a political “smell” test when it comes to transparency or openness.

Basically, some undisclosed people spouting the right-wing mantra want Swinton elected and are willing to spend money to make sure it happens, using their money to fund typical fear-mongering tactics that denigrate some basic Democratic Party ideals and positions. The only possible reason they’re doing this is they believe Swinton will do their bidding. What else could it be?

Doug Loudenback, chronicler of all things Oklahoma City on his blog Doug Dawgz

MAPS 3. I want it to be done, and I want ALL of it to be done. I don’t want city council members even saying that a MAPS 3 project should be changed (like Pete White did in December 2010 and early January 2011). I want council members to regard the concurrent City Council resolution which was impliedly but not legally a part of the MAPS 3 ballot to be regarded as sacrosanct — don’t tread on me. I want MAPS 3 to be done exactly as the voters were promised and with maximum citizen input and transparency. No deals behind the scenes and no secret handshakes.

OKC “enthusiast” Nick Roberts

Dr. Shadid talks about bringing a unique perspective the other 7 can’t offer onto the “horseshoe” — that of a physician. He talks about his insight into OKC’s health and lifestyle problems, and how OKC needs to focus on not being dead last on almost every health index of major U.S. cities. Or even 500 cities in the case of walkability..
2. Dr. Shadid talks about being an advocate for BUY LOCAL and truly supporting small business, not just throwing government money at big businesses in the name of “subsidies.” He talks about the harm it does to the local economy and local business when we throw money and advantages at these out-of-state businesses and retailers (i.e., BASS PRO). He cites the difference of 70/30 and 30/70; the ratios of money reinvested locally when you buy local! That is refreshing for a candidate to proclaim because it is so true.

Sustainability advocate Shauna Lawyer Struby

I’m voting for Ed because our democracy was founded on “we the people.” That’s not “we the people with a lot of money and power,” but “we the people” with no regard for how much money any of us have. “We the people” is working families just barely scraping by. It’s the just-out-of-college young adults who can’t find decent jobs, and lonely seniors who can no longer drive and have no safe place to walk or a grocery store to walk to. It’s moms and dads working multiple minimum-wage jobs just to make ends meet. It’s people living in neighborhoods with bars on their windows and doors where it takes 45 minutes or more for the police to respond to an incident.

“We the people” is kids who go to schools without working kitchens, where the lunch menu is high-fat, high-sodium, processed foods; kids who — unless we change the school food system — are far more likely to become the first generation to die at a younger age than their parents. It’s the poor, the tired, the huddled masses yearning to get a decent, well-rounded education, make a living wage, take care of themselves and their families, be happy. “We the people” is me, you, us.

GI Rights lawyer and radical Mennonite James Branum (member of the small Green Party of Oklahoma)

Ed Shadid’s campaign is based on a hopeful vision of what OKC could be. Charlie Swinton’s campaign is based on fear and paranoia.

And the Shadid wave issn’t just limited to academics and treehuggers, as it was joined by self-described “right-of-center” (what passes for moderate in these parts) blogger Charles G. Hill who runs the universally popular blog, Dustbury.

The Ward 2 runoff is Tuesday, and I can hardly wait: it will mean an end, at least for the moment, to some of the nastiest politicking in the history of the state, and if you’re familiar with the history of the state, the bar for Nasty has been set pretty high.

The Minority Leader in the Oklahoma Senate, Democrat Andrew Rice, used his Twitter feed to make his endorsement for Shadid when the shady money led to Swinton, an avowed Democrat, becoming BFFs with some of the most grubby Republican operators in the state.

Other Democrats followed, like up and comer Brittany Novotny (who ran last year for state house against homophobe Sally Kern)

We talk about the need to become a more business friendly environment and to be able to attract the 21st century jobs that will diversify our economy. Yet, we are so far behind on anything resembling protections for our LGBT citizens, that we have actually had companies indicate that they were passing on Oklahoma City because they want to choose a location where they feel all of their employees are safe.

I’ve talked at length with Ed, and I know that he is someone who truly believes in making Oklahoma City a great place to live for all of our residents. He has told me that he won’t just guarantee to vote for LGBT protections, but he will be an advocate on the Council who will do the heavy lifting to make it happen.

I join this wave and say, vote Ed Shadid if you are so fortunate as to live in Ward 2 and thus have this unique opportunity to give all of our city’s citizens a real champion for democracy and justice on the city council.

Update: This just in, another blogger joins the wave:
James Cooper of U-Out a most excellent film and culture blog.

This Tuesday, the young people of this city—my friends, my neighbors, and my classmates—have an amazing opportunity to set aside their cynicism, to set aside their apathy.


One month ago, only 32 voters between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in the City Council election for Ward 2. 73 percent of voters were over 50 years old. In other words, that 73 percent determined the election.

James ends his post with some important info that I neglected:

Where to vote (enter your name and location in form)

OKC Ward map (Ward 2 in green – just a coincidence, I’m sure LOL)

Update 2: From spoken word artist Lauren Zuniga, on Facebook:

I have seen Ed at every important community gathering. From the Local Food Meet and Greet to the Women’s Bodies, Women’s Freedom Poetry Show we did at Church of the Open Arms. The only time I have seen Charlie Swinton is at the Capitol where he works as a lobbyist. I am not sure how Swinton would be able to help me and my neighborhood if the only time he visits is on a cardboard mailout bashing Ed Shadid. We need someone who cares. We need Dr. Ed. If you are an Oklahoma City Progressive who threatens to leave every week, now is your chance to take action!

The Oklahoman’s pity party

July 24, 2009

An open letter to the OKC Council & mayor:

Dear Oklahoma City Council members and Mayor Mick Cornett:

“Pity the members of the Oklahoma City Council.” Thus began an editorial, stunning in its contempt for democracy, published today in The Oklahoman, which decreed that the location of the Crosstown is a done deal, and it’s a waste of time for the very important people running this city to bother themselves with the dissatisfaction of their constituents on the matter.

Since it is already all too easy to dismiss dissenting voices of the non-rich and non-connected that are shut out of any real input into decisionmaking around here, certainly council members can ignore without much discomfort or guilt those few tenacious souls who show up for their brief chance to make a last-ditch case at public meetings.

But the rabble does manage to find a few places to express its ire about the way things work around here. Ironically, the comment thread beneath the online version of today’s editorial became such a place.

I would strongly urge you city representatives to read every comment posted there — if, of course, you can bear to waste a few minutes of your time discovering what a large number of your constituents think. I hope that it is just the editorial board of the state’s largest paper that would entertain such an elitist attitude, and that someone like yourself, who does at least have to get elected occasionally, might not be so anxious to ridicule citizens who care deeply about their community.

Here’s the link.

The people of Central Oklahoma have again and again expressed their desire for decent and affordable mass transit, again and again, they have been ignored. I think it’s time that average people, and not just rich business owners, got what they wanted. A slight change to the Crosstown relocation would be a good place to start.

Serena Blaiz

Poem I wrote 20 years ago about Tank Man

June 4, 2009

Most of the world was moved by Tank Man, the unknown rebel to the Chinese government’s violent crackdown on the student democracy movement in Tienanmen Square during the Spring of 1989.

But I was moved intensely enough write a poem that those who have seen my small body of work say is probably the best I’ve written. Anyway, I really identified with the man, since I was working then (much as now) as virtually a full time peace and justice activist. His solitary statement was a symbol of individual resistance, the importance of even just one person making a stand for what is right.

Today is the 20th anniversary of Tank Man’s stand. In some ways, it seems to me like much longer, but I also feel like it was not but a year or two ago. Most of those 20 years have not been particularly productive ones for me — but that’s another post. It’s a time to remember, and to be grateful that democracy continues to be sought and practiced more and more around the world, however imperfectly. Some of the students who were at Tienanmen Square 20 years ago even say that China itself has become better (an article in today’s Oklahoman quotes a man who now teaches as OSU), though there are many who would argue with that. There are protests taking place in cities around the world, to call for real change for the people in China.

The fact that China has blocked a lot of internet sites for the past week or so doesn’t indicate much improvement to me — except for the fact that the intrinsically democratic medium of the Internet is a bloody headache for tyrants to control. In my opinion, if the US really wanted to spread democracy around the globe, they would make broadband freely available via satellites to every spot on the globe.

Images of Tank Man are continuing to be newly revealed — enhancing our understanding of that moment — and art created. Because passion for and commitment to love, peace and human rights will always inspire.

So here’s my little contribution to the genre. I have only altered it from the version I produced in a few hours 20 years ago in that I removed Roman numerals over each stanza, which I now do not know why I thought was a good idea. It was previously published in the Palmetto Post, a newspaper of the Florida Green Party.

(I’ve posted the poem as an image, because I have not figured out yet how I want to publish my poetry, if at all, and would like to lessen the chance of it being used until that time. I would ask that if you want to share it, that you link to this post rather than download the image. Contact me for other arrangements. Thanks.)

5 year blogiversary, or, my Thanksgiving story

November 27, 2008

I started blogging on Thanksgiving weekend in 2003. I was inspired by an Oklahoma blog I started reading shortly after moving to the state in January. That blog: JMBzine and its owner is now a friend and colleague of mine in several social service and political projects.

Of course, I have blogged very sporatically, and using at least five different URLs and using the following blog tools

  • Movable Type
  • Blogger
  • WordPress
  • Xoops
  • Wordress again
  • Drupal
  • WordPress again

What have I learned? Unless something revolutionary happens in open-source software for running blogs, I’m sticking with WordPress.

If I had it all to do over, I would just use Blogger. The main reason is that it doesn’t require any software upgrading, and — a factor getting more and more important to me as I start to recognize my own mortality — it will exist after my domain registration expires, my hosting account is closed, and I am no longer able to drag myself to the keyboard. If Blogger decided to finally add an import feature for non-Blogger formats, I’d probably use it.

There are several downsides to Blogger, and for some projects it’s not the way to go. I’m just talking about a personal blog.

If I were advising a new blogger with limited tech skills who doesn’t care much about the design of their site, I would point them at WordPress.com for a free blog with a very accessible and easy to use interface, that is probably also relatively timeless.

When I started with Movable Type, I didn’t know markup or code of any kind. I downloaded the manual and taught myself how to completely redesign the templates. Although I soon thereafter abandoned MT when its owners revealed hostility towards open-source, I did get a good idea of the general principles that are used by all the php based blog platforms.

In 2004, I got a book on X/HTML and basic CSS, and taught myself the basics. Deconstructing an HTML site design that was contributed to the Oklahoma Green Party(where it’s still in use) in order incorporate it with blogging software, I learned a couple of very useful php commands that make life easier for web-keepers.

That’s about the extent of my code knowledge, but by experimenting with a ridiculous number of open-source software offerings, including (in addition to above) Xoops, B2, Mambo and its derivatives like Joomla, I’ve learned that I don’t need to know how to create what people smarter than I are creating and giving away. I also am constantly scouting out free scripts and services that are available for bloggers and web-keepers.

I believe in the democratic principles behind blogging, the netroots, copyleft and open-source technology. I encourage — and provide hands on help where I can — progressive activists to become bloggers. I read and/or participate in (probably way too) many blogs in the loose leftist confederation that has become known as the Netroots, which I consider the revival of grassroots democracy in this country, and the hope of democracy around the world, lighting even its darkest corners.
That the Internet turned out the way it did (thanks to the corporate entities who didn’t see its potential and passed on buying into it during the early stages), is a miracle. Without the Internet, I think it’s possible that the past eight years would have been the decimation of our beloved form of government in the U.S. Through the instant global communications provided by the Internet, advocacy campaigns were created and activists mobilized in new and powerful ways. And we are only at the beginning of that process.

What’s more, now we will have a president who understands and appreciates this resource, and will use it to improve government and policy. I believe the Internet and the open-source movement and the transparency principles that guide the blogosphere were instrumental in guiding Obama’s political ideology and agenda.

For these amazing tools, and all who have embraced and expanded them, I am eternally grateful. However strange it may be to those who think of Thanksgiving as a time to forgo technology and focus on “real” communication, for me, Thanksgiving has become the tech holiday, a time I think most pointedly about the digital threads that have connected all the world in a global family that 20 years ago was only science fiction, and a time to renew my commitment to use its power for the common good.

Out of the gate running: Obama unveils change.gov

November 7, 2008

See update below.

Barack Obama isn’t wasting any time promoting and setting up a process for implementing his plan for change. There is a new web site up, CHANGE.GOV, where his governing agenda and transition process will be accessible to the world.

Very impressive. This clearly has been planned for a while, and you can bet that John McCain would not, could not, have done this.

Of course there’s an interactive component to the site and the project; that is, after all, a huge part of what got Obama elected. “An American Moment” lets you share your story about what the campaign and election mean to you. And, showing that he means to listen like he promised, there’s a page for inputting your “your vision for what America can be, where President-Elect Obama should lead this country.”

An overview of the top priorities are in the sidebar

  1. Revitalizing the Economy

  2. Ending the War in Iraq

  3. Providing Health Care for All

  4. Protecting America

  5. Renewing American Global Leadership

Under the “Agenda” tab there is a more detailed menu of the new administration’s ambitious plan for change:

  • Civil Rights
  • Defense
  • Disabilities
  • Economy
  • Education
  • Energy & Environment
  • Ethics
  • Faith
  • Family
  • Fiscal
  • Foreign Policy
  • Healthcare
  • Homeland Security
  • Immigration
  • Iraq
  • Poverty
  • Rural
  • Service
  • Seniors & Social Security
  • Taxes
  • Technology
  • Urban Policy
  • Veterans
  • Women
  • Additional Issues

In “Civil Rights” for example, a list of specific policies that address hate crimes, the courts and sentencing, pay equity and voter suppression. An excellent start.

And check out the America Serves tab:

America Serves

“When you choose to serve — whether it’s your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood — you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That’s why it’s called the American dream.”

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.

If you are interested in a more traditional job in the administration: Apply here.

The transition process is promised to be transparent. Yes, there’s a blog.

Another feature I re-e-e-e-e-ally like about the site: a countdown timer:

74 Days Until Inauguration

Update [2008-11-09 23:45]:

I meant to post this yesterday. Seems that soon after I browsed change.gov, there was a significant wipe of the site. The tale is covered by Boing Boing (with links to cached pages), where Xeni seems sanguine about the strange unveil/reveil. In the bigger scheme of things, I don’t think this is a huge red flag, but it seems very strange that they would publish the site with surprising speed, then quickly pull chunks of it pertaining to the agenda. BB comments suggest various scenarios to explain this behavior, and also note that there is a copyright notice, which is certainly not usual for a government web site, which is, you know, paid for by the people.

Maybe after running such a seemingly near perfect campaign, making a series of rather doltish mistakes like this (and the Nancy Reagan joke at the press conference), is just so unexpected.

The Obama era begins

November 5, 2008

Barack Obama has won in a landslide and will soon be at the helm of this nation. Thank all powers, large and small, for that.

A new era is beginning, which, based on my experience, I can only liken to the Kennedy presidency, when a generation of young people felt a dawning of a new world in which their work, their dreams and their ideals, mattered. Public service was the ultimate job. Governing in a democracy was the most honorable vocation. Justice was the light that led the way in dark moments.

I expect to have many issues with the policies, the compromises, that Obama will bring forward. But I trust that he is the perfect person to lead this country, indeed “the free world,” at this moment, with its many and considerable problems.

I only hope that the majority of those who supported someone else will be able to find the strength and good will to come to terms with the new world that a President Obama represents.

The job Obama has sought and today has gained is by nature the most difficult in the world, but now its difficulties have been multiplied exponentially by the misguided values and incomparable incompetence of George W. Bush. Although I am not religious, I will be literally praying that Obama has and can maintain the courage, the intelligence, the temperment and the skill that he will need to navigate this perilous sea.

That his victory has historical ramifications beyond all that was evident in the faces of the people at victory parties across the county who were shown by MSNBC during their coverage. Jesse Jackson (the first black man I voted for) and Oprah Winfrey were shamelessly crying. A woman in Harlem was brought to her knees. Students at Spellman College were radiating disbelief and joy.

In his acceptance speech, Obama referred to a woman in Atlanta who, at 106 years old, voted for Obama. Her life has stretched through three centuries, and she’s seen amazing changes, many of them critical and not to be diminished. But the meaning of having a person who looks like you in the most important position in the world cannot be equaled. Many white men, who take for granted their birth-given rank in the world, have a hard time understanding these symbolic mileposts.

But today is the first day of a new reality. And now we all have to live up to it. Celebrate, cry, pray; then get to work with more passion and purpose than ever before.

Urgent: Take Action Now to Stop Racist Voter Suppression

November 3, 2008

Sign the online petition at http://www.iacenter.org/stopvotersuppression

Online Petition Text:

To: President Bush, Senator McCain, Governor Palin, Attorney General Mukasey, Governors of Key States, Congressional and Republican Party leaders and members of the media

In the days leading up to a historic election, there has been a massive, illegal attempt to suppress votes, particularly among the poor, communities of color, and students.

These tactics include:

–In Ohio, the Republicans attempted to illegally challenge the registrations of 200,000 new voters.

–Voters, like in West Virginia counties, have reported that electronic voting machines visibly changed their vote to John McCain when they tried to cast their vote for Barack Obama.

–Students in Colorado, Virginia, and South Carolina were told that they would lose their scholarships and that their parents could no longer claim them as dependents on their tax returns if the students voted in their college towns.

–In Georgia more than 50,000 voters were improperly purged from the voting rolls, a clear violation of federal laws that prohibit massive purging within 90 days of an election. Approximately 4,500 of them have been wrongly identified as “non-citizens”.

–In Indiana, Republican officials filed a lawsuit to close down early voting sites in three key Indiana cities—Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. Indiana’s population is only eight percent Black, but Black voters are heavily concentrated in the three cities targeted by the lawsuit.

–In Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin, right wingers are using the Jim-Crow practice of ‘caging,’ where they send out mass mailings to low-income neighborhoods.  If the letters come back unopened, then those voters are challenged at the polling place.

These are just a few of the tactics that have come to light in the recent period which are part of an ongoing pattern of racist disenfranchisement–an illegal campaign to deliberately deprive people of the hard-won right to vote.

I demand:

•    Stop police intimidation of voters.
•    Keep polls open until everyone has the opportunity to vote.
•    Full emergency staffing of polling places to meet the widely-expected massive turnout.
•    STOP all voter suppression – count all ballots.

Make your voice heard NOW! Sign the online petition and send a strong, clear message to the White House, Congress, Governors of Key States, and the media. You can sign online at http://www.iacenter.org/stopvotersuppression

Make an immediate donation to help stop racist voter suppression in an urgent national campaign.  Donate at http://iacenter.org/donate.