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Thursday is Data Privacy Day, “an international effort held annually on January 28 to create awareness about the importance of privacy and protecting personal information.”
I’m an open data advocate who’s equally concerned about privacy. So on Saturday, I nearly spilled my coffee when I read that Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt disclosed that two critics of his office missed voting in some elections. Schmidt shared the data in retaliation to their calls to abolish the elections commission which is “led” by a chairman who doesn’t vote and seldom shows up at the office.
As a longtime voting rights activist, I want people to vote. I also want them to stay engaged beyond Election Day because that’s how you bring about change. That said, I believe one’s voting habit is no one’s business unless that person is receiving a taxpayer-funded six-figure salary to oversee elections.
Indeed, at last year’s Code for Philly Apps for Democracy Hackathon, I expressed my dismay that a team had developed an app, Social Voting, which would allow users to check to see whether their neighbors voted. Vote-shaming is of a piece with slut-shaming and fat-shaming.
Disclosing voting data sows distrust of government. If private citizens believe their voting record will be open to public scrutiny, they will be reluctant to register to vote.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first observed in 1986. Check out Marcus Baram’s recap of how millions of Americans, led by Stevie Wonder, shamed Congress and President Ronald Reagan into showing Dr. King some love.
Over the weekend, I attended a conference organized by the Black Radical Organizing Collective.
While I tend to fall in the center of the political spectrum, I’m sick and tired of all this bull that’s doing down.
The conference featured a who’s who of black radicals, including Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Patrice Armstead, Cornel West, Anthony Monteiro, Angela Davis, Pam Africa and Charlene Carruthers. While they all dropped knowledge, West’s remarks particularly resonated with me. He observed that gospel, blues, jazz and rhythm-and-blues are rooted in our spiritual striving.
West excoriated the black “misleadership class.” He said comparing today’s leaders to leaders of the 1960s is akin to comparing Kenny G to John Coltrane.
The misleadership is in stark relief in Philadelphia where we have the spectacle of an elections chief who doesn’t show up for work and doesn’t vote.
Anthony Clark said he exercised his right not to vote. Philly’s black leaders have maintained a deafening silence about this buffoon who dishonors the sacrifices of the civil rights leaders and foot soldiers who fought for the right to vote.
West and other speakers noted that our struggle for social justice is endless. Indeed, the first black political convention was held in 1831.
So we have been at it for a long time. But in the words of one of my favorite gospel songs, “I don’t feel no ways tired.” The struggle continues.
Angela Davis spoke at Saturday’s People’s Assembly. She concluded her remarks with a call to action: Wake up, everybody!
On Saturday at the Merriam Theater, bassist Christian McBride performed like it was 1969. McBride’s “The Movement, Revisited” is centered around the words of four Civil Rights icons, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali.
McBride and his 18-piece band were joined by the Philadelphia Heritage Chorale, and four narrators – Rev. Alyn Waller as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Dion Graham as Muhammad Ali, Samuel Stricklen as Malcolm X, and Sonia Sanchez as Rosa Parks.
McBride shared that he grew up reading Jet and Ebony which gave him a history lesson in the black experience. The four icons stood out for him. “The Movement, Revisited” stems from a commission by the Portland Arts Society to compose a piece for Black History Month:
The genesis for this project began in 1998 when McBride was commissioned by the Portland (ME) Arts Society to compose THE MOVEMENT, Revisited, a two-part composition for small instrumental group and gospel ensemble. This year, McBride envisioned a project of wider scope on the same theme and it has grown into a full-scale, 90-minute production.
The narrators brought to life the personality and passion of their character. I particularly enjoyed McBride’s exuberant “Rumble in the Jungle.” The choir evoked the spirit of the Freedom Singers with “I’m So Tired” and “Freedom, Struggle.”
In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, McBride said:
I don’t want to predict anything, but the magnitude of the piece – why it was written, what it was about – I can’t imagine I’ll ever write something as monumental on this scale again. I do get overwhelmed playing it, and every time I do, it feels new. Sometimes, I play this piece and still go, “Wow, did I really write this?”
If the standing ovation is any indication, the audience was wowed by the piece.
McBride’s message music harkens back to earlier generations of jazz greats who were inspired by the struggle for racial justice. In 1929, Louis Armstrong asked, “(What (Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue.” Composed by Fats Waller, it is considered the first American popular song of racial protest.
Billie Holiday told the world about the horrors of lynching.
Both Armstrong and Holiday are featured in an exhibition at the Library of Congress, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom.” The multimedia exhibition explores the events that shaped the Civil Rights Movement. It includes manuscripts like Dr. Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” composed in 1954 and popularized by Nina Simone in the 1960s.
In 1959, bassist Charles Mingus composed “Fables of Faubus,” a satirical protest against Arkansas governor Orval Faubus who had deployed the Arkansas National Guard to Little Rock Central High School to prevent nine African American students from entering the segregated school.
Jazz has an element of freedom. It is that freedom that allowed jazz musicians to use their platform to sound a message of defiance and resistance. From John Coltrane’s “Alabama” to Max Roach’s “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite,” jazz was a soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement.
“The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom” will be on exhibit at the Library of Congress until Jan. 2, 2016.
The 20th anniversary of the Million Man March will be observed on Saturday. I was one of an estimated 3000 women who were on the National Mall in 1995.
I don’t plan to get on the bus for the Justice or Else Gathering.
I’ve been there, done that. I got the t-shirt, the poster and the book. It’s now your turn. For more information, visit www.justiceorelse.com.