Eyes on the Prize Re-release

As many of you probably know, PBS recently  re-released Eyes on the Prize - probably the most important documentary about the civil rights movement.  Eyes on the Prize had been unavailable for almost two decades due to copyright issues with some of the music and footage contained in the film (which is why I don't have a lot of great YouTube footage to show you).  You can find out more about that here, or by watching the video on the left.

As part of the re-release, PBS invited a number of civil rights activist to reflect on the film and the progress that we've made in America - and just as often failed to make - since the events depicted in the film.

One interviewee was our own Alan Jenkins, who weighed in on the inspirational power that the movement has and its continuing relevance at home and abroad:

The African American civil rights movement has inspired a lot of
other groups that have suffered injustices. One example that we saw
recently was the immigrant rights demonstrations around the country.
Immigrants' assertion that "we too are America" was inspiring, and very
much in the spirit of the civil rights movement. In addition, there's
been, since the late Sixties, a powerful Latino civil rights movement,
that included the farm workers' movement, and includes organizations
like the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, patterned on the NAACP's
Legal Defense Fund. The women's rights movement was inspired in part by
the African American civil rights movement. Certainly the immigrant
rights movement, and the gay rights movement as well. Those are just a
few examples. Dynamic people in those communities have led the
movements, but the African American civil rights movement provides a
powerful template for activism.

The impact of the civil rights movement has spread throughout the world. I've met with people in India -- Dalits, who are the former "untouchable" caste. What's exciting is that Martin Luther King learned nonviolent strategies from Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, so it's kind of a full circle. When I traveled to India I met activists who were singing "We Shall Overcome"
-- the touchstone song of the American civil rights movement -- in
Hindi, and talked about how they had gotten inspiration from the
American civil rights movement for their own struggle to achieve rights
in Indian society. And there are many more examples worldwide.

You can read the rest of his thoughts, as well as those of 11 other activists, here.


Video the Vote - Election Stories

Before the election, we told you about a voter protection program called Video the Vote.  VtV had the idea to document problems at polling places using rapid response teams with video cameras.  Videos were stored and tagged on YouTube to document and publicize all voting irregularities. 

Here are some of the results from that project:

Watch more videos here.


Starting Over

Our executive director is in the news again.  In a well-framed article from Reuters, Alan is interviewed about FEMA's decision to shut down a busing program that shuttles displaced New Orleans residents from their current home in Baton Rouge to their jobs and schools in New Orleans.   

Ending Buses to Stymie Regrowth of New Orleans:

Theresa Jones hangs on to her low-paying job in New Orleans by riding a
free, government-funded bus 80 miles to work from the temporary housing
she has lived in since Hurricane Katrina. But her efforts to
keep a job in hand and a roof over her head are in peril, as the bus
service for displaced New Orleans residents is running out of money and
poised to shut down at the end of this month.
...
The demise of the LA Swift bus service comes as a blow to its riders,
many of whom are low-paid workers who cannot afford to live in New
Orleans, where a housing shortage has sent rents soaring since the
storm devastated the city in August 2005.

Alan's take:

"People want to work, they want to get jobs and it's not asking very
much of government to keep those doors open through something as meager
as bus service from Baton Rouge to New Orleans," said Alan Jenkins of
Opportunity Agenda, a research and advocacy group based in New York.
"It makes no sense."
...
At Opportunity Agenda, Jenkins argues the rebuilding of New Orleans,
with affordable transportation, housing and health care and quality
education, is "a test of our national values."

"We're supposed
to be a land of opportunity, which means that everyone should have a
fair chance to start over," he said. "We're falling very far short of
that promise of opportunity in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Read the whole piece.  As I noted above, it is very well-framed, laying out the institutional barriers that hurricane survivors are struggling to overcome, and the role that government can and should play in keeping open the doors of opportunity to those who were displaced by Katrina. 


Diversity and Opportunity in the New Congress

To riff a little more on my blog from yesterday, Maureen Lane at DMIBlog has this to say about the challenges facing the new congress (emphasis mine):

Congress and our new governor can catch hold of this spirit of change
and have a dramatic impact on policy that affects poor and low-income
families. Before the federal government's attack on access to education,
the programs run at the state level demonstrated that training and
education allows people to achieve economic security. The new Congress
must take heed. Federal rules must change to enable poor families to
move out of poverty by allowing them access to the training and
education they want and need.

Over the last ten years of welfare reform, the laboratory of the states proved access to training and education aided families to secure long-term employment.
Governors from both political parties touted education access as an
essential piece of achieving economic advancement for poor families
across the board. For any of us to advance justly, all of us must have
equality of opportunity and government has a role to play when it comes
to equality of opportunity.

Also on DMI Blog, Andrea Batista Schlesinger talks about the need for not just good public policy, but a changing of public consciousness about policy and the role of government:

Electoral victories are short-lived unless they lead to a
fundamental rethinking in the consciousness of people about what kind
of government they want.

Voters voted for "change."
But that change can't just be a change in party. For Democrats to win
long-term, they will need to communicate that the difference between
Democrats and Republicans is more than a stance on the war, but an
ideological clash over whose interests should drive politics and
policy, and what the role of government should be in our lives.

You should go read both pieces.

Also, lots of ink has been spilled talking about the "new conservative (democrats)" and Speaker Pelosi but what about diversity in the 110th Congress?

The WaPo has the scoop:

The House and Senate elections this week added at least five women to
the next Congress, the only notable demographic shift in an otherwise
dramatic political upheaval.

...

The congressional black population will remain unchanged at 43, with
three members leaving the House and three elected to the next Congress,
all Democrats -- Yvette Clarke of New York, Keith Ellison of Minnesota
and Henry "Hank" Johnson Jr. of Georgia. In Senate races, black
candidates did not do well. Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) was
defeated in his Senate bid, as was Maryland's Lt. Gov. Michael S.
Steele. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) remains the only black Senate member.

...

The number of Hispanic legislators remains unchanged, with 23 in the
House and three in the Senate. Rep. Nydia M. Valazquez (D-N.Y.) is in
line to be chairman of the House Small Business Committee.


Responsibility and Opportunity

The Democrats captured the House last night, and there is a fairly decent chance that they will take the Senate as well.  Around midnight, I watched Rahm Emanuel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee talk about the Democratic victory as an "opportunity to bring responsibility to Washington."

That's certainly a worthy goal.  Washington could use some real responsibility and accountability, but I couldn't help but think that Rahm had his words mixed up.   What he should have said - what would have been inspiring and tapped into our moral sensibilities and our aspirations as a country - was that, now elected by the people, the Democrats had a responsibility to create opportunity for all in America.

Over 46 million Americans lack basic healthcare - placing themselves and their families in jeopardy.  The minimum wage is at its lowest level since the 1950s.  As a nation of immigrants, we should welcome newcomers who help revitalize our community and contribute to growing our economy, yet  more than ever our government's policies are hostile to newcomers in our country.  Millions of our citizens are behind bars and disenfranchised for minor drug offenses.  Millions of our children are priced out of college or saddled with massive, unmanageable levels of debt.

Lately in America we talk a lot about security.  But terrorists aren't the only things keeping America insecure.  Our citizens are no longer secure in their personal health or their ability to support their family.  In a nation that prides itself on stories of Horatio Alger and "lifting yourself up by your boostraps," we find that economic and social mobility - the chance to achieve the American Dream - is more out of reach than ever.  In a religious nation that takes pride in its faith, we seem to have abandoned the concept of redemption in our criminal justice system.

Mr. Emanuel is right to call for accountability and responsibility in Washington.  We need it.  But even more, we need to restore opportunity to all Americans, and our elected officials have a responsibility to help set us on that path.  Last night, Mr. Emanuel missed a chance to remind all of us about our responsibility to the American Dream.


Voter Story

Readers may notice a recent addition to our site.  In the sidebar is a new, open-source widget - Voter Story - designed to combat irregularities at the polls during tomorrow's elections.

It's pretty simple.  If you encounter any irregularities at your polling place, or have trouble voting, simply fill out the form and submit your personal voter story.  Your submission will be forwarded to a non partisan voter protection agency.  You will receive an email confirmation stating that your story has been submitted and that you may receive a follow up call regarding your submission.

The tool can be placed on any website (technical details below), and will compile all submissions into a centralized database to document voting problems and to make sure that good government and election protection organizations are fully aware of all irregularities that occur in their area.

If you're concerned about the integrity of the voting process, please spread the word about this tool and consider adding it to your website (if you've got one).

How to install Voter Story on your website:

The sign-up and installation process can be pretty simple.  Go to Voter Story, sign up for an account, and click "Download Free Widget."  This will present you with some code to cut and paste into your site.  Pick the platform that you are using and copy the code, open your site, paste, republish, done.

You probably noticed that the Voter Story widget looks a little janky on our site.  It seems like Voter Story was built for Drupal and not so much for other website platforms.  I had a few problems installing it on my site, so if you are using Typepad, here's what I did to get it to work:

  1. Went in to Typepad and created an "Advanced Design" of my template. (Designs>Manage Designs)
  2. Went to VoterStory.org and copied BOTH code snippets for Typepad in sequence (top to bottom). 
  3. Opened up the "sidebar.inc" file in my typepad advanced templates.
  4. Pasted both sections of code beneath  the <!-- sidebar --> tag.
  5. Saved Template
  6. Published Template

Don't bother trying to alter the width or height of the widget to make it fit/look better.  My attempts to do so resulted in a worse design issue than what you currently see in our sidebar.

This is a fantastic effort on the part of Evolve Strategies, The Carnegie Corporation the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute.  A word of advice for next year, though.  It would be much better if the tool was slightly more customizable, if users were allowed to track how many times their readers submitted stories, and if the group kept a running list of websites who were utilizing the widget.


Experiments in Democracy

With only four more days until Americans make their yearly trek to the polls, its hard not to think about what it means to be a citizen, and what political participation really looks like in America - both historically and practically. Here are some items I've been enjoying as I try to grapple with that problem.

A new poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics (pdf) suggests that, on Tuesday, young voters will shatter previous turnout records for midterm elections.  The poll - which has an incredible sample size of over 2,500 18-24 year olds (half on and half off the "college track") - concludes that turnout could be as high as 32%.  The previous record was 27% set in 1982.

The gang at Radio Open Source just finished a show about "Experiments in Democracy" with Lani Guinier.  The show explored the question of what participation looks like in America and in other democracies, and how we can truly make our electoral system more representative of the voices of the people it is meant to serve.  Listen to the show. (24mb mp3)

A rash of stories about Diebold machines are leaking into the media.  Problems are yet again arising with these machines, and the blogosphere is awash in conspiracy theories.  HBO is currently airing a documentary on the machines - Hacking Democracy - which premiered last night.

A citizen journalism outfit - the Polling Place Photo Project - is  asking folks to take a picture of their polling place and submit it to the project.  PPPP hopes to create a record of the voting experience in America in 2006.

In a more activist vein, I'll point people yet again to Video the Vote - a project that seeks to document and minimize irregularities in Tuesday's voting process.  If you've got some time on Tuesday and want to help safe-guard our democracy, this non-partisan group is looking for volunteers for a variety of tasks from filming sites, manning the phones or shuttling film crews in your car.

Finally, conservatives like to fear-monger about immigrants voting illegally.  Its the purported rationale behind many of the stringent voter ID laws they are trying to pass in the states.  So allow me to relish in a moment's worth of Schadenfreude as I introduce you to the new face of voter fraud.


All in the Framing

The New York Times is running an article today about violence in Louisiana schools: After the Storm, Students Left Alone, Angry.  The article reports on a surge of  violence in Louisiana high schools, and provides an instructive look at why proper framing of issues matters for those of us looking to achieve positive social change.

Focusing on the John McDonogh High School in New Orleans, the article paints a picture of students gone wild, many living without parental supervision and lashing out during school.  An ominous lead clearly sets the stage and cast of characters:  A school that sounds more like a prison, populated by students who are obviously criminals:

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 31 — John McDonogh High School has at least 25
security guards, at the entrance, up the stairs and outside classes.
The school has a metal detector, four police officers and four police
cruisers on the sidewalk.

In the last six weeks,
students at McDonogh, the largest functioning high school here, have
assaulted guards, a teacher and a police officer. A guard and a teacher
were beaten so badly that they were hospitalized.

While this is clearly not an action to be condoned, by leading with the most inflammatory piece of the story, the writer sets up a dynamic whereby the individual students - rather than the devastation of the Hurricane and the failure of local, state, and national government to properly rebuild - bear the brunt of responsibility for the conditions in which they find themselves and which are the root cause of the school violence.   

This is a traditionally conservative framework - that of individual responsibility - and it permeates the rest of the piece. As we read further down, blame is laid on absentee parents, with little comment on the barriers that keep them away from their children:

Mr. Jackson said many parents whom he had spoken to were in Baton
Rouge, Houston or elsewhere. “That’s the question that’s buzzing in
everybody’s heads,” the McDonogh curriculum coordinator, Toyia
Washington Kendrick, said. “How could you leave your kids here, that
are school-age kids, unattended?”

The answer is as various as the
fragmented social structure, which the hurricane a year ago made even
more complicated. Some students describe families barely functional
even before the storm. Others say pressing economic necessity has kept
parents away.

Rachelle Harrell was living in Houston, working
as a medical assistant and trying to pay off a $1,300 electricity bill
in New Orleans. But she yielded to her son Justin and his cousin
Kiante, both 16, and sent them back to New Orleans on a Greyhound bus
while she stayed in Texas.

While individual responsibility is important, and students should be
punished for their actions, the real problems described by this article
are systemic in nature and do not lend themselves to easy solutions that address the actions of individual students.  While the story does make passing references to systemic
problems with the school system, for the most part it shirks all
responsibility to examine root causes, preferring instead to
focus on the more limited narrative of students run amok:

If the causes are complicated, the consequences seem evident to school
officials: a large cadre of belligerent students, hostile to authority
and with no worry about parental punishment at home. 

Punishing students and ratcheting up security in an ever expanding cycle will neither return missing parents, nor free those
parents from the obligations that keep them away.  It
will not bring new books to the classroom or new teachers into the
schools. In its framing, the article moves readers away from positive solutions to what are clearly systemic problems in Gulf Coast communities.  Worse, it lays blame for those problems solely on the survivors of the hurricane because it is easier to point fingers than to confront serious failures on the part of public institutions.

A well-framed story would have focused on the systemic, root causes of these problems and how public institutions could help Katrina survivors back in their feet.  It would have delved into those "complex causes," to create a greater understanding of the problem in the mind of the public.  With this piece, the Grey Lady had a chance to help the victims of Katrina and move the public forward in its understanding of the effects that the storm continues to have, and the role that public institutions can and must play if we are to truly help the Gulf Coast recover from the disaster.

Instead, they chose to highlight the negative actions of a few bad apples in a framework that completely isolated those actions from their causes.  As a result, the public will be less informed than it could be, and we're that much farther from making real progress in the Gulf.


What About Katrina?

The midterm elections are less than one week away, yet, as the Center for American Progress points out to us, very few candidates are talking about Hurricane Katrina, an issue that should be at the forefront of all our minds.

In the latest edition of their newsletter, The Progress Report, CAP notes that after the initial media buzz in August - accompanied by big promises from our elected officials - the issue quickly faded off the radar of the media and our national legislative agenda. 

Among the facts noted by CAP:

  1. The Population of New Orleans has remains 57% smaller than its pre-storm levels.
  2. 50% of the city's doctors and nurses have not yet returned.
  3. A lack of basic services - like electricity - are keeping residents from returning and repairing their homes.

The third item in particular hits home for me.  My girlfriend is from New Orleans and a friend of her family has been unable to move back from Houston because there is no electricity running to her home.

I recommend reading the full report from CAP, and also remember to check out our Katrina materials if you are looking for information on rebuilding the Gulf Coast.


Closing Wage Gaps

Not a lot of time to blog today.  I'm giving a guest lecture on blogging at the New School today, and I need to practice my presentation.  I promise I'll have a cornucopia of posts tomorrow on all sorts of interesting opportunity issues.

To tide you over, check out Ezra Klein's interesting analysis of the wage gender gap.


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