Wednesday, November 19, 2008
STEVE LEVY: RESIGN!
Long Island November 14, 2008
WE THE PEOPLE OF LONG ISLAND AND NEW YORK CITY CALL FOR THE RESIGNATION OF SUFFOLK COUNTY EXECUTIVE STEVE LEVY
This publicly elected official has created an atmosphere of separation and hate in the county over which he presides, giving refuge and a type of legitimacy to racists. Steve Levy allied himself with the Minutemen who hounded the Latino day laborers in Farmingville. Under his "watch," racist white youths invaded the home of John White, which led to the death of one of these youths. Steve Levy's human indifference to the conditions of Latinos in his county fed the cowardly reactions of alienated high school youths who were emboldened on November 8, to commit the unspeakably brutal attack and murder of Ecuadoran immigrant Marcello Lucero, a hard working, decent human being who lived and worked in Patchogue. Under Steve Levy's watch, KKK members have recently dropped racist leaflets in different communities in Suffolk.
Other racists in Suffolk County, under Levy's blind eye, feel free to smear anti-Black, anti-Obama and sexist graffiti on Suffolk streets. We demand the resignation of this man who has done such harm to our communities. Steve Levy's regime has contributed nothing to the development of unity and human decency in Suffolk County.
WITH STEVE LEVY, THERE WILL BE NO PEACE!!!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Yesterday, the City Council voted on the development plan for Willets Point. It's no secret that I've had some serious reservations about this plan since it was introduced.
I have voiced my concerns that the needs of local business owners in the Willets Point must be addressed. For months, I’ve been advocating that the city sit down with local business owners and workout a situation that meets everyone’s needs. And it appears – for the majority of businesses – that this may have happened. This is welcome news.
Many of these business owners have invested considerable amounts time and money improve their community, and many have supplied needed services to New Yorkers for generations. I hope this current plan takes that into account, for we all want an ideal future for Willets Point. I think we can all agree that the best way to move forward is to make sure that all parties - the city, the community, and local business owners - have an equal say in the development plan.
In the petition, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, EJS, California NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. argue that in order to protect the fundamental rights of all Californians, a higher standard is required to overturn the right to marry. Minority communities cannot be stripped of their fundamental rights by a simple majority vote.
"We would be making a grave mistake to view Proposition 8 as just affecting the LGBT community," said Eva Paterson, president of the Equal Justice Society. "If the Supreme Court allows Proposition 8 to take effect, it would represent a threat to the rights of people of color and all minorities."
The petition filed by Raymond C. Marshall of Bingham McCutchen and Prof. Tobias Barrington Wolff of University of Pennsylvania Law School on behalf of leading African American, Latino, and Asian American groups echo the arguments made in the November 5 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights: Proposition 8 prevents the courts from exercising their essential constitutional role of enforcing the equal protection rights of minorities.
The California Constitution requires that any measure attempting to revise the underlying principles of the constitution must first be approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislature before being submitted to the voters. Proposition 8 was not approved through that constitutionally required process.
"Proposition 8 contradicts the most basic protection guaranteed by the California Constitution, which is the right to equal protection of the laws," said John Trasviña, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "We can not allow the Constitution to sanction discrimination against one group of people."
"Direct democracy cannot override the California Constitution, which requires more than a majority vote to deprive a minority group of their fundamental rights," said John A. Payton, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
"We cannot become a society that picks and chooses who is entitled to equal rights," said Alice A. Huffman, president of the California State NAACP. "We should include all people from all walks of life in the entitlement to all freedoms now enjoyed by the majority of our population As a civil rights advocate, we will continue the fight of eliminating roadblocks to freedom."
"Consistent with core equal protection principles, minority communities must not be stripped of their fundamental rights by bare majority rule," said Karin Wang, Vice-President of Programs for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. "California went down this path before when the majority population chose to bar interracial marriages involving an unpopular minority: Asian immigrants. The state Constitution exists exactly for this reason - to protect the fundamental rights of minority communities."
"Let's not forget the landmark 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia, which allowed two people of different races to marry," said Paterson of the Equal Justice Society. "People then believed it was acceptable to keep Mildred Loving from marrying a white man because of their ideas of who should marry whom. We must not return to those times."
The court has precedent for invalidating an improper voter initiative. In 1990, the court overruled an initiative that would have added a provision to the California Constitution stating that the "Constitution shall not be construed by the courts to afford greater rights to criminal defendants than those afforded by the Constitution of the United States." That measure was invalid because it improperly attempted to strip California's courts of their role as independent interpreters of the state's constitution.
Founded in 1968, MALDEF (maldef.org), the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization, promotes and protects the rights of Latinos through litigation, advocacy, community education and outreach, leadership development, and higher education scholarships.
The Asian Pacific American Legal Center (apalc.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for civil rights, providing legal services and education, and building coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Pacific Americans and to create a more equitable and harmonious society. APALC is affiliated with the Asian American Justice Center, the Asian American Institute in Chicago, and the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco.
The Equal Justice Society (equaljusticesociety.org) is a national strategy group heightening conscious on race in the law and popular discourse. Using a three-pronged strategy of law and public policy advocacy, cross-disciplinary convenings and strategic public communications, EJS seeks to restore race equity issues to the national consciousness, build effective progressive alliances, and advance the discourse on the positive role of government.
The Equal Justice Society is a national strategy group heightening conscious on race in the law and popular discourse. Using strategies including law, public policy, communications, convenings and the arts, EJS seeks to restore race equity issues to the national consciousness, build effective progressive alliances and create a discourse on the positive role of government. Our more than 4,000 supporters throughout the country include advocates, attorneys, jurists, scholars, social scientists and communicators.
Equal Justice Society, 220 Sansome St, 14th Flr, San Francisco, CA 94104, Ph (415) 288-8700
Sunday, November 16, 2008
By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
First Posted 12:45:00 10/28/2008
MANILA, Philippines -- Only the migrant workers, not the government or any institution, are the rightful owners of the billions of dollars in remittances that they have earned in foreign lands, a US-based sociology professor and an advocate of migrants' rights said.
Jorge A. Bustamante, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2006, said that it was a "wrong perspective" for governments to put the "responsibility of development on the shoulders of migrants" whose remittances, in the case of the Philippines, have kept the economy afloat amid the financial crunch worldwide.
"I think this is something important to clarify because this lack of appreciation is making the wrong perspective about the nature of remittances because sometimes when migration is associated with dependency some people believe that economic development has to be related with remittances, and that would be a wrong perspective, that would be unfair to the migrants," Bustamante said in his remark at the solidarity dinner of parliamentarians hosted by Senate President Manuel Villar and Representative Cynthia Villar late Monday at the Villa Pacencia Laurel in Mandaluyong City.
However, Bustamante stressed that he delivered his statements as an academician, not as UN rapporteur.
He is a professor of sociology, teaching international migration and human rights at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
The event was organized simultaneous with the opening of the Global Forum on Migration and Development at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.
Bustamante is scheduled to attend the counterpart forum organized by progressive migrant workers group, the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees.
"Remittances are the result of the work of migrants and they represent their savings that have the basic objective to support their families at home. Therefore remittances are the property of migrants and nobody else, therefore, this money that belongs to the migrants should not be associated with any claim by any institution, government or private, which might think that remittances should be used for the purposes of economic development," he said.
He said such claims “would be unfair and incongruent with the nature of remittances, and this is something that has to do with the need to clarify some of the problems that we associate with the phenomenon of international migration all over the world."
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo repeatedly boasted that the remittances of the country's eight million overseas Filipino workers (OFW) have kept the economy afloat amid the international financial turmoil.
In 2007, OFW remittances totaled $14.4 billion.
Asked in an interview about the dangers of government treating remittances as its property, Bustamante said, "The danger is that remittances that are the property of migrants are stolen because only the migrants can decide what should be the destination of their own property."
Bustamante said governments should keep in mind that remittances were not touched for other purposes "than those that have been decided by the migrants themselves."
"Migrants are the only persons that could decide on what is the destination of their own money," he added.
John Monterona, coordinator of the group Migrante for Middle East, lamented that government fees and taxes imposed on OFWs were not being used for the benefit of the migrant workers.
The Overseas Welfare Workers Administration (OWWA) charges $25 each as membership fee for departing OFWs and $.015 for documentary stamp, he said.
With about 3,000 Filpinos leaving every day to work abroad, Monterona said the government through the OWWA earned billions in pesos from the OFWs.
"The question is where does OWWA spend its more than P10-billion fund," he said in an interview.
Gary Martinez, Migrante International spokesman, said that despite the contributions of the OFWs, the government has been remiss in its duty to protect the welfare of the workers.
He lamented that thousands of distressed OFWs remained in shelters without assistance from the Philippine embassy or consular offices.
Some of the workers on the death row are also deprived of legal assistance.
Martinez said that 29 Filipinos were facing death sentences in various countries.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
by: Marjorie Cohn, t r u t h o u t Perspective
Celebrations of Barack Obama's election as president of the United States erupted in countries around the world. From Europe to Africa to the Middle East, people were jubilant. After suffering though eight years of an administration that violated more human rights than any other in US history, Obama spells hope for a new day.
While George W. Bush was president, I wrote "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law," which chronicled his war of aggression, policy of torture, illegal killings, unlawful Guantanamo detentions and secret spying on Americans. When the book was published, it seemed unimaginable that we could elect a president who would turn those policies around. But the election of Obama holds that potential.
This is the first in a series of articles in which I will suggest how the Obama administration can start undoing some of the damage Bush wrought, by ratifying three of the major human rights treaties and the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court.
Although the US government frequently criticizes other countries for their human rights transgressions, the United States has been one of the most flagrant violators. We have refused to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). And while the United States worked with other countries for 50 years to create the International Criminal Court, it has failed to ratify that treaty as well. When we ratify a treaty, it becomes part of US law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.
In this article, I will explain why the United States should ratify the ICESCR, which is particularly relevant now that we are in the midst of the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal helped lift us out of the Depression, gave his famous Four Freedoms speech, focused on freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Roosevelt fleshed out the freedom from want and fear principles in his Economic Bill of Rights. It contained equality of opportunity, the right to a job and a decent wage, the end of special privileges for the few, universal civil liberties, guaranteed old-age pensions, unemployment insurance and medical care.
FDR's Bill of Rights formed the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt helped draft, and which the UN General Assembly adopted in 1949. The Declaration embraced two types of human rights: civil and political rights on the one hand; and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.
These rights were codified in two binding treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
The United States ratified the ICCPR in 1992. But it has refused to commit itself to the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. Since the Reagan administration, there has been a policy to define human rights in terms of civil and political rights, but to dismiss economic, social and cultural rights as akin to social welfare or socialism.
Indeed, the United States's inhumane policy toward Cuba exemplifies this dichotomy. The US government has criticized civil and political rights in Cuba while disregarding Cubans' superior access to universal housing, health care, education and public accommodations and its guarantee of paid maternity leave and equal pay rates.
The refusal to enshrine rights such as employment, education, food, housing and health care in US law is the reason the United States has not ratified the ICESCR. This treaty contains the right to work in just and favorable conditions, to an adequate standard of living, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, to education, to housing, and to enjoyment of the benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress. It also guarantees equal rights for men and women, the right to work, the right to form and join trade unions, the right to social security and social insurance and protection and assistance to the family.
In the United States, more than ten million people are unemployed, two to three million families are homeless each year, and 46 million have no health care benefits. Untold numbers lost their retirement savings when the stock market crashed. Obama has pledged to give the rebuilding of our economy top priority after he is sworn in as president. He promised to create jobs and to ensure that all Americans are covered by health insurance. When Obama said he would cut taxes for 95 percent of the people, but end the tax cuts for the rich, he was criticized for wanting to "spread the wealth." But Obama's plan is fully consistent with our progressive income tax system. After the election, 15,000 physicians called for a single-payer health care plan, which Obama and Congress should seriously consider.
The United States's flouting of the United Nations in its unilateral war on Iraq, and torture of prisoners in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Iraq has engendered widespread condemnation in the international community. Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh, citing Professor Louis Henkin, summarized the hypocrisy of the United States in the area of human rights as follows: "In the cathedral of human rights, the US is more like a flying buttress than a pillar - choosing to stand outside the international structure supporting the international human rights system, but without being willing to subject its own conduct to the scrutiny of the system."
We should encourage President-elect Obama to send the ICESCR to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification. Becoming a party to that treaty will help not only the people in this country; it will also engender respect for the United States around the world.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and the president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her new book, "Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent" (with Kathleen Gilberd), will be published this winter by PoliPointPress. Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com. The next article in this series will explain why the United States should ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Monday, November 10, 2008
UNIDOS PARA 2009:
IN EL SALVADOR
Join CISPES in kicking off the campaign to Defend the Right to Free and Fair Elections in El Salvador!
Come to a discussion of the democratic forces at work in the transformation of Latin America.
Tuesday Nov. 11th, 7pm @ the North
American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) 38 Greene St (corner of Grand), 4th floor: 1, A/C/E, N/R/Q/W, J, 6 to Canal St.
Panel Discussion with:
Claudia de Cuellar, former City Councilwoman, Ayutuxtepeque, El Salvador
Jaime Herrida, Vice-Consul, Consulate of Nicaragua, New York (invited)
Greg Wilpert, Journalist and Author, VenezuelaAnalysis.com
Just how hard the US government is working to prevent El Salvador from going “left” Impact of elections across Latin America
The next big elections in Latin America— El Salvador 2009!
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador
NY CISPES • P.O. Box 250762 NY, NY 10025 • (917) 214 – 3479 • http://www.cispes.org/
Thursday, November 6, 2008
NYC Peoples Convention2009
Post Election Forum
A New Era of Struggle
Saturday 8 November, 2008
9am to 5pm
--FREE to All--
At CUNY Murphy Labor Institute
25 W. 43rd Street --18th Floor
Manhattan (D, F, B Trains to 42nd St)
Barack Obama is the winner! And yet there is still a lot of work to do for our communities. We have entered a New Era of Struggle!After an historical presidential election; The global Capitalist financial crisis, riddled with ripoffs and Governmental Bailout; State & municipal governmental budget cuts, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of job layoffs; Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustave and other signs of racist incompetency and Global Warming; The Jena 6 racist attacks; hundreds of thousands of housing foreclosures; rising Police terror within Black & Latino communities; Our persistent Youth violence; a toxic profit-driven Health Care system; and a public mis-educational system steering our children into prisons or low end jobs...What must we do with a new president in the White House?How can we bring change that will benefit our communities?
9am to 10am- Registration
10am to 3:30pm -- Introductory Remarks & Panels
Sista Suheir Hammad- Poetic Tribute to Our Continued struggle
10am -11:30am-- Local/Regional: Councilmember Charles Barron; Assemblymember-elect Inez Barron; Nellie Bailey-Harlem Tenants Council; Larry Hamm-Peoples Organization for Progress (NJ) Moderator: David Greaves- Publisher, Our Times Press
11:30am -1pm-- National: Herb Boyd-Journalist, The Black World Today & Amsterdam News; Brenda Stokely-Union activist and Katrina activist; Gary Younge-Journalist, The Guardian (London) and the NationModerator: Nayaba- Senior Editor, Amsterdam News
Coordinators of Forum: Sam Anderson-author, professor/activist & Jessica Watson-Crosby, co-chair Black Radical Congress-NY & National Chair, Black Radical Congress.
I get emotional when I think about the new opportunities those of us working on behalf of reproductive justice with this monumental election. In my 6 years with NLIRH, I have attempted to push a truly progressive agenda for women's health and rights. Over and over again I have heard: Now is not the time and We have to wait for better a political climate.
Today, we can finally say ADELANTE, our time has come. Now the real questions face us. What does this new era mean? What do we want for our families and communities? What does a Latina agenda for reproductive justice and immigrant rights look like? To begin, we have three top requests of the new administration:
1. Repeal the Hyde Amendment, which denies low-income women access to abortion services;
2. End the discriminatory, militaristic and inhumane immigration enforcement practices that are destroying our communities;
3. Support an equitable and affordable plan for comprehensive health care for all.
I'm not naïve enough to believe that this can all be done quickly. I realize that we are entering immensely challenging times. We are fighting two un-just wars in the midst of serious economic turmoil. However I believe that the issues that face our country are not irrelevant to a reproductive justice, pro-family platform—in fact—they are intimately interconnected. Without economic security we cannot exercise our right to healthy pregnancies or adequately plan our families. Without clean air and quality affordable food options we cannot ensure the health of our children.
Now that we have new leadership in place, we advocates, activists and organizers must rise to the occasion. We must take the momentum of this election to our everyday organizing and activism, placing women's ability to care and provide for their families at the center of our platform. Our Latina sisters at California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and COLOR each led Latino-specific messaging and movement-building campaigns that resulted in defeating ballot initiatives that could have jeopardized the health and well-being of women and families in Colorado and California.
As we move forward, let us put our principles of dignity and justice to practice and ensure that the most marginalized women and families are at the center of our policymaking, organizing and advocacy efforts.
Thank you to all of our activists, supporters and allies who have been fighting for reproductive justice with us. Let us toast to a new era of salud, dignidad y justicia para tod@s!
Silvia HenriquezExecutive DirectorNational Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
And then yesterday, the biggest racial barrier in American politics was annihilated. By record margins, America elected Barack Obama the first African-American president of the United States.
Hope overcame fear. Ordinary citizens mobilized to change the future. This is the heart of Amnesty International. Since 1961, we’ve held out hope for those enduring injustice, when all hope was lost. And through the power of your collective actions, hundreds of thousands now enjoy greater freedom and a safer, more just world.
A record 131 million people cast their vote and exercised one of the most fundamental of human rights. But as Barack Obama said last night,
"This victory alone is not the change we seek--it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.
"We have a great opportunity. The world faces overwhelming human rights crises. But with your help, we can turn this country’s policies on human rights back in the direction of alleviating, and not contributing, to these crises.
President-elect Obama has promised to restore the rule of law, to repair America’s damaged perception in the world, to close Guantánamo, and to renounce torture.
These promises bring hope. In the coming days, we will need you to help make those promises a reality.
Larry Cox,Executive DirectorAmnesty International USA
Many Sikh Americans are inspired by the steadfast determination of those pioneers of the civil rights movement who marched, were arrested, and even died so that we can all be free. Yesterday's images of joyous celebration at Ebenezer Baptist Church deeply motivates our community to strive, to dream, to fight for a better America.
Yet we know that our work is not complete. Bigotry took a historic blow yesterday, but as Sikh Americans know, it remains alive and well in our country. One day the Sikh articles of faith will be the objects of respect and admiration, but that day has not yet arrived. So today, while we rejoice in the opportunity to build a better America, we know that our work must continue on.
The Sikh Coalition offers its good wishes to President-elect Obama. We look forward to working with an Obama administration to safeguard the rights of all Americans."
Monday, November 3, 2008
The right to vote is about political power; not citizenship per se. That is why blacks and women-who were citizens-were historically denied the right to vote. In fact, immigrant voting rights were eliminated during the late 19th and early twentieth centuries at the same time other measures that barred voting were enacted, including literacy tests, poll taxes, felony disenfranchisement laws, restrictive residency requirements and voter registration procedures. Taken together, these "reforms" combined to disenfranchise millions of Blacks, immigrants and working people of all stripes.
Moreover, advocates seek voting rights for immigrants on the local and state level, not nationally. One might agree that people should become U.S. citizens to vote in national elections, but immigrants are already members of their local communities and possess all the other responsibilities and duties of local citizenship. Permanent residents are already, in a clear sense, citizens of the city. Granting newer New Yorkers a vote in local elections will make policy makers more mindful of all residents, which ultimately benefits our democracy.
Far too many Americans think of voting only as a "right" and not also as a responsibility, discouraging people from voting gives the message that the community does not want its members to take a stake in contributing to the betterment of the place where they live and to holding local officials accountable for their behavior. As the social reformer Saul Alinsky has written, "We must recognize that one of the best ways to insure that men will assume obligations to their fellow men and to society is to make them feel that they are definitely a part of society and that society means enough to them so that they actually feel obligated or have obligations."
We should encourage all residents of our cities and towns to participate in the life of their communities regardless of where they come from, whether they come from Delaware or the Dominican Republic. We all have the same interests in good schools, safe streets, affordable health care and housing. We're a stronger society when everyone participates because everyone benefits if decisions are made democratically.
"Americans have fought and died to defend the right to vote. Why should we give it to people who are not citizens?"
From the American Revolution to Iraq, noncitizens have fought to defend American ideals, and even died for them. Today, there are more than 70,000 noncitizens in the U.S. armed forces. The newest New Yorkers have fought in every war and continue to fight and die in Iraq. In fact, one of the first casualties in the war in Iraq was a young Dominican solder, Riayan Tejeda, who was granted citizenship posthumously. The Armed Services actively recruits immigrant communities, especially in Latino communities.
In fact, immigrants may be more likely to fight and die than most Americans. Right now all legal permanent residents must agree to take up arms for the United States; should a draft be reinstated, they would be the first ones called. In 1971, the U.S. voting age was lowered to 18 in acknowledgment of the soldiers under 21 who were required to risk their lives for this country but previously could not vote.
America has a long history of immigrants fighting on our behalf. In the Civil War, the confederates opposed immigrant suffrage (in no small part because many immigrants opposed slavery); a large part of the Union Army was comprised of noncitizens (almost 20%). In both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and countless conflicts around the world, immigrants have been on the front lines.
"Giving immigrants the right to vote discourages them from becoming citizens."
Many immigrants who want to become citizens but because of bureaucratic red tape must wait an average of ten years to naturalize. The naturalization process has become more difficult, costly, and time consuming. Historically, it was much easier and faster to become a citizen. Few by comparison were denied. But, as different immigrant groups came to the U.S., many of whom were not universally seen as "white" at the time and who had different religious and ideological orientations (i.e. were not WASPs), the laws and procedures required to become a citizen changed. More recently, laws passed in 1996 and subsequently have increased the number of rejections and deportations.
During the time it takes to become a citizen, immigrants miss out on an important opportunity to contribute to their new country. Meanwhile, their children miss the chance to learn by the example of seeing their parents vote. Immigrant voting is not a substitute for citizenship, but rather a clear pathway to citizenship. Immigrant voting promotes civic education and political literacy among newcomers.
For many immigrants, the biggest reason to hesitate before applying for citizenship is emotional, not rational; they often do not want to naturalize until they "feel American." Thus, immigrant voting will actually encourage citizenship by encouraging immigrants to become more involved in their new communities.
At a time when one in nine U.S. residents is born abroad and the need to integrate newcomers into our society is so important, this country does far too little to encourage immigrants to learn about and participate in our civic institutions. Local voting rights give immigrants incentives to take a stake in working to understand and better their adopted communities and to prepare themselves for eventual citizenship and national voting rights.
"So if the wait for naturalization is so long, then instead of giving the vote we should just speed up the citizenship process."
Immigrant advocates in New York and around the country have long argued that the United States should speed up the painfully slow citizenship process. Even were the naturalization process shortened to considerably below the current average wait of ten years, however, it would not diminish the reasons to allow residents the local vote regardless of their citizenship. Ask any naturalized immigrant if their pride in being sworn in as a U.S. citizen would at all be diminished by having had the right to vote in local elections beforehand. For many immigrants, applying for citizenship is a confirmation that they have come to feel "American" -- not the other way around.
"This idea is way ahead of its time."
Immigrant voting was important to the Founding Fathers of the United States. From the Founding until 1926, 22 states and federal territories permitted noncitizens to vote in local, state and even federal elections. In New York City, noncitizens voted in school board elections from 1970 to 2002 (when school boards were dissolved). Since 1988, Chicago has allowed noncitizens to vote in school board elections. Six towns in Maryland permit noncitizens to vote in local elections.
Both the historical and contemporary practices come out of the same democratic principles: recognition that members of a community have a stake in decision making that affects that community, embodied in the rallying cry of the American Revolution: "No Taxation without Representation!"
The Constitution allows states to let immigrants vote in local elections; the Supreme Court has upheld states rights to permit noncitizens to vote. Leaders including Jefferson and Lincoln understood that letting noncitizens vote in local elections promoted bonds to their new communities and nation, encouraging active citizenship and naturalization.
In Europe, local voting rights for noncitizens go back as far as 1849 in one Swiss canton. From 1963 through the 1980s, resident voting rights were instituted broadly in 11 European nations; they have been reciprocal among European Union members since 1992. Governments in approximately countries on nearly every continent in the world have approved noncitizen voting rights in some form.
In this global era, we should restore an old idea: civic and voter participation at the local level by all members of a community. In short, democracy for all.
Immigrant Voting Project (Please visit http://www.immigrantvoting.org/)
If the November 4th election is a repeat of the recent April 5th presidential primary election, more than 100,000 votes will be lost once again in New York City. In April, these votes which were actually cast on Election Day and the majority came from predominately black and brown neighborhoods. How can we prevent this electoral hemorrhaging from happening again? How can you prevent your vote from being lost? I have developed some dos and don’ts through helping voters on election days for twenty-eight years. My rules for wise voting can serve as a guide to protecting your ballot. Make you vote count.
First Rule of Voting:
Make sure that you are registered to vote. Every citizen should know whether the Board of Elections considers him/her to be a registered voter. It is not advisable to rely on the fact that you actually completed a voter registration form at some time in the past, or even that you have voted in the past. Confirming your registration is not difficult.
You can definitively confirm your registration either by: calling the Board of Elections Toll Free: 1.866.VOTE-NYC (1.866.868.3692), TDD: 1.212.487.5496; orvisiting the Board of Elections’ office in your borough and asking them to look you up in their voter databank (you may be asked for picture ID).
In addition, your registration should be valid If you voted on a voting machine at any public election this year; or, If you received a mailing this year at your current residence from the Board of Elections (BOE) that announced your polling site and the dates for the primary election and the general election.
If you cannot confirm your registration, don’t take chances, RE-REGISTER by filling out and signing another Voter Registration Form. The highly publicized deadline for the presidential election passed on October 10th, but you need to be registered for next year’s very important elections for mayor and city council seats. You cannot register online, because the law requires that you actually sign the form, but you can download the application at www.vote.nyc.ny.us/register.html complete it, sign it and then mail it in.
In New York City, a very Democratic town, voting in the local primary elections is pivotal -- the candidate that wins the Democratic Party primary election usually goes on to win the general election. To vote in a primary election, you must be enrolled in the political party having the primary contest, in addition to being registered to vote. It’s easy to enroll in a political party. You simply complete a new Voter Registration Form and complete Question 11 “Choose a Party” on the form by checking the box next to political party in whose primary election you wish to vote.
Second Rule of Voting:
Be at the right polling booth. If you vote at the wrong polling site, your vote will not count even if you are registered! In NYC, most polling sites have more than one polling booth. Make sure that you know your correct ED/AD [Election District/ Assembly District] so you can correctly identify the correct polling booth assigned to your ED/AD within that polling site. The BOE says “You can vote ONLY at your designated polling place. Make sure you are at the correct polling site and Election District/Assembly District (ED/AD) for your address.” The price of going to the wrong polling site or polling booth (ED/AD) is very high. Your name will not be on the list and your vote may be put in jeopardy. Technically, your vote is supposed to count if you vote within the correct AD. But, you will only be able to vote on the machine, if you are at the correct polling booth for your ED.
DO: Far in advance of election day, find out your ED/AD and polling site. According to the BOE’s website, “you can find you poll site location by:Search with the Online Poll Site Address Locator www.vote.nyc.ny.us/pollingplaces
Call the Voter Phone Bank at 1.866.VOTE.NYCE-mail your complete home address to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll e-mail your polling place location back to you. (Please put in the subject line the borough in which you reside.)”
Third rule of voting:
Vote Early on Election Day. Go to the polls as early as possible to vote, especially this year when heavy voter turnout has been predicted. The polls are supposed to be open from 6am to 9pm. The later you vote, the more likely it will be that you run into long lines or broken voting machines. Also, the poll workers work an 18 hour day on Election Day, so they are generally not as fresh or attentive in the evening hours, as they were in the morning. If you run into problems when voting, for example, finding you proper polling site or booth, or getting a court order, you can correct it if it’s not the end of the day. Employers, with few exceptions, are legally required to give their employees two hours during the workday to go and vote.If your poll is not open on time or appears to be inactive, report it! Call the BOE at 1866 Vote NYC. If your poll is not ready for business at 6am, wait for the time it takes, rather than come back in the evening when it’s sure to be crowded. If you can, assist others in getting to the polls.
Fourth rule of voting:
No Candidate Gear at the Polls. The BOE has clearly stated that anyone wearing clothing or carrying signage for a candidate will not be allowed to enter or remain at the polls. This is considered electioneering and is illegal in New York. Please remove or cover your clothing sporting the name or likeness of any candidate, before you enter the poll or you may be escorted out. Definitely do not bring any signage into the polls. However, you can carry in written materials for your personal use, such as palm cards, into the polling site and even into the voting machine booth with you.
Fifth Rule of Voting:
Handle voting problems wisely.
Problem: If the voting machine breaks...
DO NOT: Never leave the poll booth area without voting.
DO NOT: Vote with an Affidavit Ballot envelope
DO: Request to vote on the new AMD machine; the machine will generate a paper ballot which the poll workers will place in a cardboard ballot box. Your vote will definitely count. Or,After the machine has been broken for 15 minutes, demand to vote on an emergency ballot, which is a paper ballot without the Affidavit envelope. Follow the instructions for completing the ballot. If you need help understanding the ballot or completing the paper ballot, ask a poll worker for assistance. Your vote will definitely count.Problem:
If you name is not found any of the books of registered voters
(1) Double check to make sure that you are at the correct ED/AD. You name will only be in the book of voters for your correct ED/AD. (See Second Rule of Voting above on how to find your correct ED/AD.)
(2) There will be two sets of books: the regular books (A-L & M-Z), and the supplemental list. Make sure that the poll worker carefully looks for your name in both sets of alphabetized books. Spell you last name slowly or and repeat it, if necessary; even better write it down and show him/her. Look, without touching the book, make sure that s/he is looking for your name at the right location within the books.
(3) If you are at the correct ED/AD, and your name still cannot be found, (make sure that they looked in the supplemental list)Ask for and accept a paper ballot and Affidavit (“A”) envelope.
Carefully follow the instructions for completing the ballot and the Affidavit envelope. Complete it at the poll. Take your time; mistakes can cost you your vote. If you need help understanding or completing the paper ballot or the envelope, ask a poll worker for assistance. The Affidavit ballot is a provisional vote. Your vote will count only if the BOE can verify that you are a registered voter on their database and that you voted within the correct AD.
Try to get a court order to vote on the machine, if you have the time. (See Lost your Vote by Mistake on the Voting Machine below.)
Explanation: A voter’s name may not be in the book of registered voters because the voter moved and did not re-register, and was legally removed from the book, or the voter had not voted for a “several” years and the BOE “purged” her/him from the book even though they are legally registered. In the latter case, BOE says if the voter is found in the database, the “A” ballot will be counted as valid.Problem:
If you lost your vote by mistake on the Voting Machine
Try to Get a Court Order
The poll worker cannot let you vote twice on a voting machine, even if you lost your vote by mistake. But, you can go to the BOE office in your borough (or in Harlem at the State Office Building) during voting hours and speak to a NYS judge about the problem you had voting. This is a very informal process, neither a lawyer nor knowledge of the law is necessary. Just tell the judge what happened. If the judge feels it is justified, he/she may issue you a court order which will allow you to vote on the machine back at your polling site. However, you must make it back to your polling site and be in line to vote by 9:00 pm.
Technically, you can go to the judge for any voting problem, including not being in the books of registered voters at your polling booth. For problem other than mistakes in voting on the machines, however, you may have to show some evidence that you should be able to vote.
During this historic election, all citizens should be able to exercise their right to vote. More importantly, every vote should count. Be a wise voter. Don’t lose you vote!
If you experience a problem during the election, call the VOTER PROBLEM HOTLINES:
Board of Elections at 1 866 VOTE NYC (1.866.868.3692)
Voting Rights Election Protection at 1 866 OUR VOTE (1.866.687.8683)
Esmerald Simmons is the founder and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice in Brooklyn, New York.