An update from the Campaign

July 3, 2013 Leave a comment

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Dear friends,

Over the past year and a half, we here at the Campaign for Stronger Democracy (which includes the staff, our dedicated executive committee, and our wonderful organizing committee) have been working diligently to further the cause of democracy, and build a coalition that will be able to move the cause forward. It is certainly no small task, and as expected, we faced many challenges along the way in what can only be described as a dynamic and charged environment. We have created lasting connections, and brought together organizations that might not have had the opportunities to interact. We have expanded the reach and reputation of the work and the organizations that make it happen. We have faith our efforts will have ripples for some time to come.

Regrettably, we must announce that the Campaign will no longer be staffed effective July of 2013. Brandon will be continuing his work at the Midwest Democracy Network, and Peter will be on assignment with Greenpeace USA in connection with the Democracy Initiative.

This is not an end to the Campaign, but rather a reimagining. The groups that have participated plan to continue working together and keep pushing for widespread, inclusive, and holistic democracy reform. Plans are afoot.

We send thanks to all we have met in this endeavor, as well as those who have taken the time to visit our website, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

The work of democracy is visionary and gradual; think of the years of effort leading up to women’s suffrage and civil rights. I feel as though we have done great work with the Campaign and we hope that some of you out there have found some inspiration in what we have shared over the last few years.

Stay tuned. The Campaign’s mission to strengthen the connective tissue of the democracy movement is not a finished task, and there will be communications and activities in the coming months. All of you who see the need for sustaining a shared commitment to locking arms in this work, well, lock arms!

Take care, and keep moving forward.

Peter and Brandon

From volunteering to employment

June 20, 2013 Leave a comment

handsraised2Going on this week (right now, in fact) is the National Conference on Volunteering and Service, hosted by Points of Light. The conference brings together folks from all sides of the political spectrum (let’s just say that Karl Rove and Donna Brazile both have prominent roles) to discuss what’s great about volunteerism, and the great impact that service can have in bringing people together to help one another.

A new report from the Corporation for National and Community Service (h/t to NCoC for this link) finds that volunteering can often lead to increased employment opportunities. This builds off of NCoC’s report from 2011-12 which found strong connections between a state’s civic health and its economic vitality.

The report, Volunteering as a Pathway to Employment, finds that volunteers are 27 percent more likely to find a job after being unemployed than non-volunteers. Volunteering also improves the job prospects of those without a college degree (51 percent higher than non-volunteers) and those living in rural areas (55 percent higher than non-volunteers).

Business, government, and nonprofit leaders need to consider how their policies and actions can “strengthen social cohesion and provide opportunities for volunteerism,” while citizens should take the opportunity to lead volunteer projects and neighborhood efforts.

Read the full report via CNCS: Volunteering as a Pathway to Employment

Waiting for Shelby

June 19, 2013 Leave a comment

Seal_of_the_United_States_Supreme_Court.svgSomehow, some way, the Supreme Court has managed to maintain its shroud of secrecy, despite being located in Washington, D.C. where government leaks are commonplace. Those with information like to talk (even as “unnamed sources”) but that’s not the way the Supreme Court operates.

As such, we don’t know what the Court will be announcing tomorrow. Much like waiting for the white smoke to come out of the Vatican, we won’t know what’s coming until it’s actually given to us. Maybe they’ll release an opinion on Shelby County v. Holder, the case involving Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Maybe they won’t. We’ll find out tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then on Tuesday, and if not on Tuesday, then perhaps later next week.

In the meantime, however, groups have been speculating and gathering up info on the case, bracing for what might come if the preclearance provision is declared unconstitutional.

The Columbia Journalism Review has an exhaustive roundup of the case, linking to stories that provide background, while also providing state examples and a toolkit for reporters.

Colorlines has speculated that states have been holding off on instituting their restrictive voting laws, such as voter ID in Virginia, until the Court hands down its decision. Virginia’s strict law might not hold up through Department of Justice review (although a weaker voter ID bill was cleared by the DOJ last year), but depending on the outcome of the case, it might not have to.

Other states could jump into the fold and introduce their own restrictive voting laws without having to worry about preclearance, says the Brennan Center. In their report, If Section 5 Fails: New Voting Implications, Myrna Pérez and Vishal Agraharkar say that jurisdictions could re-enact changes that were previously struck down or deterred by Section 5 and adopt new restrictions, while in the process creating new barriers for voters, and particularly voters of color.

If Section 5 falls, democracy takes a huge, huge hit. Until we get the decision, though, all we can do is wait.

SCOTUS NVRA decision is a victory for voters — for now

June 17, 2013 Leave a comment

voteThe Supreme Court has a number of high profile, potentially wide reaching cases in front of it this term, and…we’re still waiting for decisions on most of them. However, on the slate today was a decision in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) which challenged the citizenship verification that the state demanded to be included on voter registration forms provided under the Motor Voter law (aka the NVRA).

In an opinion written by an unlikely voting rights ally, Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court ruled 7-2 that the citizenship requirement should not be included on the voter registration forms used under the NVRA, overturning the restrictive provisions put in place by Arizona.

Brenda Wright of Demos said that the decision would preserve community voter registration drives, such as the ones hosted by League of Women Voters chapters across the country. The League also declared that state driven restrictions lost while “voters won.” Common Cause took part in the lawsuit along with a coalition of individuals and advocacy groups, with representation from MALDEF. Jenny Flanagan of Common Cause also hailed the decision as “a major victory for American voters.”

The decision this morning not only provides protection for voters amidst real, serious threats that impact real people, many of whom have already had their registration forms tangled up in the system. The case affirmed that all citizens have the right to vote, not anyone else.

While the decision provides some immediate relief against this type of restrictive voting law, some are saying that we should prepare for future challenges and be weary of the narrow ruling.

In their release, Project Vote said that the decision is a strong affirmation of the NVRA, but at the same time the door remains open for future litigation. The American Prospect also outlined the path that Arizona could take to get the provision back on registration forms:

Scalia’s opinion concludes by providing a road map for Arizona to challenge the regulations of the Election Assistance Commission: “Arizona may, however, request anew that the EAC include [a proof of citizenship] requirement among the Federal Form’s state-specific instructions, and may seek judicial review of the EAC’s decision under the Administrative Procedure Act.” It’s possible that there will be a similar attempt by Arizona to burden voters that ends up in federal court.

Professor Spencer Overton of the George Washington Law School and Demos says that Scalia’s opinion can ultimately lead to Arizona getting what it wants, and that, more importantly, states might have “exclusive control over voter qualifications”:

…Scalia’s explicit pronouncement that states have exclusive control over voter qualifications could jeopardize Congress’ power to protect voting rights. For example, today’s opinion could undermine efforts to encourage Congress to restore voting rights in federal elections to all former offenders nationwide who have paid their debt to society. Professor Marty Lederman has pointed out that today’s opinion could bring into question a federal law that requires a state to register a U.S. citizen who moved from the state and now lives abroad (e.g., many members of the military). Another thorny question left unresolved by the opinion is whether photo identification is itself a qualification the state can impose on federal elections (even in defiance of a federal statute to the contrary), or whether photo ID is simply evidence of a qualification like residency.

There’s more to come from the Supreme Court over the next couple of weeks. Still, there’s plenty to digest, even in this opinion. We’ll be waiting to see what comes next.

CSD Newsletter – June, 2013

CSD logo mediumThis month brought some interesting headlines from the government, and ones that we will be keeping an eye on. The actions of the IRS and NSA this past month reinforce the fact that the government is not beyond reproach. One way to begin creating lasting change is by having conversations with people. Let them know how you feel, and why you feel that way. Then they could be compelled to go and talk to others. It’s an amazingly simple process but one that has proven successful throughout history.

As such, it is also incredibly important that we mention the National Dialogue on Mental Health. Some great organizations have gotten involved (including AmericaSpeaks and Everyday Democracy, which are both represented on the Campaign’s leadership board), and the conversations they began last week will continue throughout the summer. This conversation is an incredibly important one to be having, as it is all too frequently brushed under the rug.

Stay tuned for some big news from the campaign in the coming weeks. Thank you for reading, as always.

Peter
Executive Director
phardie@strongerdemocracy.org

Read more…

Getting together on prison reform

June 10, 2013 Leave a comment
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Richard Viguerie writes a very interesting piece in the New York Times today, entitled “A Conservative Case for Prison Reform.” An excerpt:

But it’s not just the excessive and unwise spending that offends conservative values. Prisons, for example, are harmful to prisoners and their families. Reform is therefore also an issue of compassion. The current system often turns out prisoners who are more harmful to society than when they went in, so prison and re-entry reform are issues of public safety as well.

These three principles — public safety, compassion and controlled government spending — lie at the core of conservative philosophy. Politically speaking, conservatives will have more credibility than liberals in addressing prison reform.

Not to say that those who do not identify as “conservative” and are in the prison reform movement would necessarily agree with everything that Viguerie writes here, which does not yet go into addressing specifically private prisons, ex-felon voting rights and prison gerrymandering. What the article does, however, is that it does set up a conversation about prison reform in which both sides could very well participate.

I would argue, however, that it’s not necessarily about which side has more credibility when discussing the issue, but rather, whether all sides can come to the table and work together on a solution that will be of mutual benefit (and not just political benefit, either).

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