Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Democracy in Peril: Voting our Values and Valuing Our Vote

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South Oakland County NAACP, October 6, 2007

Today as we look out over our beloved country, would it be an exaggeration to say that our democracy is in grave peril; that the ship of state appears to be nose-diving into a deep abyss; that special interests appear to be corroding our basic freedoms, rights and opportunities which have historically been hallmarks of our constitutional republic? America is a unique country, one of the first in the world to implement government for the people, of the people and by the people. If current trends continue and we are not careful, our children and grandchildren will grow up in a country where democracy and freedom are merely relics or artifacts of the past. If we are not careful, democracy will give way to plutocracy and the rule of law will permanently overrule the rights of man.

During the last five years we have seen the following alarming trends and policies in America.

  • Launching an unjust preemptive war in Iraq, causing the death of nearly 3,000 American soldiers with over 20,000 seriously wounded and the death of nearly 100,000 Iraqi citizens. The costs of this war will be estimated at 1.27 trillion dollars, which equates to $1,000,000 dollars each day for 3,487 years from the time Moses left Egypt until now. Some estimates now have the war costing $8 billion dollars per month.
  • Not only is the war costly, but soldiers who have gone to war are reported to not have proper body armor and equipment. The news carried the story of one father who had to purchase adequate body armor for his son in combat.
  • Moreover, we now have a stop loss policy that forces soldiers to stay in combat months after their contracts with the military are complete. 72% of US troops in Iraq say the US should get out, according to a February 2006 poll.
  • Cut 11 billion from Medicaid over five years. Prevented low income Americans from getting Medicaid by a requiring birth certificate and or passport as proof of citizenship.
  • Refused to allow Medicaid to negotiate better prices with drug companies as part of a disastrous Medicare Drug Plan which has stranded the elderly without needed medications.
  • Implemented 2003 tax cuts that benefit the wealthy. These cuts will cost 150 billion over 10 years. 97% of that money will go to $200,000 plus households.
  • An economy in which 13% of people do not have enough food. 37 million are poor, up for the fourth straight year. The number of people without health care has reached a record 46 million. Homelessness continues to increase dramatically. Wage gains have not kept up with inflation. Income inequality continues to grow. In 2003, income of the richest 1% rose and the bottom 75% lost ground.
  • Changed bankruptcy law to make it more difficult for ordinary Americans to get debt relief. Credit industry spent $40 million lobbying to get desired results.
  • Attacked the elderly, working poor and students by passing $39 billion in budget cuts over five years.
  • Reneged on the Kyoto treaty to combat global warming. Allowed corporations and lobbyists to help determine climate change policy.
  • Allowed pharmaceutical and insurance industries to help write and determine legislation influencing costs of prescription medicine and insurance premiums.
  • Enacted Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 which three separate federal courts have ruled unconstitutional because it does not contain provisions safeguarding women’s health.
  • Ignored and vehemently opposed important gay and lesbian rights issues such as child adoption, equal benefits for couples; funneled faith based funds to churches that teach homophobia.
  • Violated the rights of women by reversing gains made, not just in past decade, but over much of 20th century. Attacked health care, reproductive rights, poverty and education programs.
  • Censored Justice Department lawyers who found that Texas redistricting plan and Georgia voter ID law both violated Voting Rights Act. Prohibited these non partisan lawyers from voting analysis in the future.
  • Subverted Bill of Rights by extending USA Patriot Act, much of which was written before 9/11.
  • Authorized National Security Administration to illegally wiretap international communications involving US citizens without obtaining warrants.
  • Rammed Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) through Congress in spite of massive grassroots opposition from unions, freedoms and many other rights now in jeopardy.
  • Recurring voting irregularities in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, where voter fraud and other constitutional violations occurred in Florida and Ohio. Enlistment of Debold electronic voting systems that are easily tampered with and manipulated to rig elections.

Moreover, we have witnessed the continuing assault on affirmative action; the vilification of Christians who are left, leaning or moderate in political ideology and theology; the persecution of Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent; the demonization of gays and lesbians, the denigration and disparagement of members of the judiciary whose task is to maintain a balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government; the global ascendancy of multinational corporations some of whom have their own armies and some of whose budgets are larger than some Third World Countries; the detention and torture of prisoners at Abu Gharib without due process; the deterioration of public education in the central cities and urban and rural areas; the erosion and retrenchment of various personal freedoms; the virtual abandonment and neglect of “refugees” and victims of Katrina one year later; an assault on science; the co-optation and monopoly of conglomerate owned media as propaganda centers rather than the true fourth estate interested in disseminating truth; media centers that are more concerned with obtaining fatter profits than producing good journalism; the emergence of Corporatism, Corruption and Crony Capitalism and the bankruptcy of America where China and Saudi Arabia own much of our debt estimated in the trillions of dollars; (the US borrows 3 billion a day from China whose trade surplus is 500 million a day; the exportation of various jobs for foreign countries whose cheap labor undermine the American worker and the American middle class; union busting and an attack on the rights of workers to form unions and the religious prosylization of America, promoting a kind of mindless, Christian fascism that precipitates the dumbing down of America and the devaluation of other religious faiths and beliefs and the abolishment of true dissent. The statement read “One Nation Under God. ” The subtext read “Whose God? ” What we have had the past ten years is a coalescence of Republicanism and Dominionism, which appears to be undermining the basic tenets of a representative democracy in the name of religion and in the name of God.

In his article, Fascism Anyone? ” Dr. Lawrence Britt delineates the fourteen characteristics of fascist regimes have in common. He lists the eighth as, ”Religion and the ruling elite were defenders of the faith and opponents of the Godless. A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion. ”

Moreover, we have a president who appears to have obviated the law over 700 times, a Congress that seems to have sold out to big money interests and appears to do the bidding of large Corporations rather advocate for John and Mary Q. Citizen. The September/October issue of Public Citizen reports, “”In the midst of the worst lobbying and ethics scandals in more than three decades, our elected representatives turned a blind eye and did nothing to clean up their act.”

Where are we going as a nation? Where are the voices of protest? Where is the church? The old adage is true. “Ignore your rights and freedoms and they will go away.” Have we come to a place in our nation where we place profits over people, secrecy over transparency, greed over ethics, politics over morality and war over peace making and peace keeping?

Government in Washington seems in the last five years to have evolved to where there is no longer any honest debate, dissent and dialogue in the Halls and on the floor of Congress? What happened to the art of give and take, the art of compromise where we agree to disagree and move on with legislation in the best interests of all Americans and not just a select few? Rutherford B. Hayes once said, “Who serves his country best serves his party best. ” What happened to listening to and respecting the other man’s point of view? What is happening to our beloved country?

The great genius of American democracy is compromise, negotiation, conciliation but how can we compromise when we are enshrouded in fear and our public discourse replete with suspicion, venom, accusation and recrimination?

We live in a climate of fear, smear and scare where a once emboldened electorate now appears to be cowering under the threat of socially induced hysteria; where political opponents are unjustly vilified and unrightly smeared; where people who forthrightly speak out against such injustices are labeled fear mongers or unpatriotic. What is happening to our country? It appears that we are losing the very essence of democracy; freedom of speech, freedom of assembly; freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

What are at stake are not only democracy itself but the very principles and processes of democracy such as the right to vote and the right to have our vote counted fairly and squarely. John Conyers in his book “What Went Wrong in Ohio, and Robert F. Kennedy’s article, “Was the 2004 Election Stolen? delineate in meticulous detail the fraud, corruption, in competencies and possible outright theft of the electoral processes in Ohio in the recent 2004 Presidential election. “In recent elections we have seen machines that count backward, slice and dice districts, felon baiting, phone jamming and plenty of dirty tricks, ” says Sasha Abramsky.

In his article “Just Trying to Vote Here, ” Abramsky cites the eleven worst places to vote in America. They include Atlanta Georgia because of its New Poll tax; Beaufort North Carolina, Fort Worth Texas and Philadelphia Pennsylvania for machine melt downs; long lines in Franklin County Ohio, St. Louis Missouri and New Orleans Louisiana; incompetence in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, foul play in New Hampshire; gerrymandering in Travis County Texas; no felons allowed in the Mississippi Delta; voting while black in Charleston, South Carolina; suspect students in Waller County Texas; failing to register in Florida and Politicos in charge in Florida and Ohio.

In Milwaukee Wisconsin, in 2004, fliers from non existent Milwaukee Black Voters League were distributed in black neighborhoods, warning residents that, “If anyone in your family has ever been found guilty of anything, even a traffic violation, you can’t vote in the presidential election, and if you violate any of these laws you can get ten years in , and your children will get taken away from you. ” (Abramsky p. 54, Mother Jones, Sept-Oct 2006)

“Prairie View A&M is a black school in the heart of east Texas, where the local leadership has, over many decades, worked to deny the students claims to being full time county residents and thus eligible to vote. In 2003, Waller County District Attorney Oliver Kitzman wrote a letter to the elections administrator and the local newspaper warning that any students who tried to vote could face ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The NAACP filed suit, noting that as far back as 1979 the U. S. Supreme Court, ruling on a lawsuit brought by Prairie View students, held that students could register to vote in the communities in which they attend college. ”(Abramsky p. 55)

We not only have election fraud and the denial of the right to vote but outright intimidation of black voters. We all know about the thousands of blacks incorrectly purged from Florida’s voting rolls as felons in the 2000 presidential election. Few cogent explanations are offered for this fiasco. The truth is those responsible knew that many blacks generally voted democratic. Isn’t it strange that districts that are heavily African American largely voted Republican and those that are primarily Republican voted Republican?

Are we now living in a Kleptocracy, where the rule is to steal all you can, wherever you can as long as you can and intimidate as many people as you can as often as you can to suppress the vote?

Historically in America, there has always been vote rigging and fraud in elections, but have we now come to the place where we are so flagrant and shameless in corrupting this process that we don’t care about its short and long-term consequences? Are we now at the point where public officials  can virtually impede the voter process ? Someone once said, “The only way for evil to prevail is for the good to remain silent. ”

What are at stake are not only the core values of our democracy but the various sacrosanct, time honored practices and procedures by which democracy is established, enforced, monitored and maintained.

With the emergence with all the recent election faux pas, there is talk of privatizing the election process. How could we even think of privatizing the elections by allowing private corporations to build the electronic machines and give oversight to voting? What have we come to as a nation? Do we really believe that private corporations can do a better job than private citizens and local principalities in counting votes and monitoring elections? Do you believe in the present climate of corporate cronyism, corruption and power “politrics” that corporations are above rigging the election process to favor the candidates that most favor them? Would you trust private corporations driven by private interests to be fair and just in counting ballots given the recent problems we have had in various voting precincts across this nation? They have already bought off a large number of elected representatives and the political process through lobbying. Now we hand over to them exclusive power to count our vo

In order for our vote to count, we must have our vote fairly counted. But how can our vote be counted fairly when people, including private interests and public officials, are colluding through omission or commission, to undermine our right to vote by doing everything from voter intimidation to questioning the weight of paper ballots? Perhaps the old axioms are true, “Never let truth get in the way of politics and nothing is as admirable in politics as a short memory. ”

What’s at stake is not only democracy in America and the core values that make democracy possible-such as life, liberty, truth, equality and justice, but the various procedures and processes by which democracy can thrive and survive. The possible corruption that we see today is reminiscent of some third world countries. Democracy cannot survive through unchecked corrupting influences because they destroy the very foundation of a free society. Lord Acton was right, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ”

Our entire democracy is wrought by a government of checks and balances, but when you have no checks and no balances, when you have no moral authority and look the other way from corruption because the corrupters happen to be members of your own party, then the stage is set for the house of cards to soon come caving in. It is a matter of time before it all unravels before our very eyes. Edmund Burke was right when he observed, “”The greatest way for evil to prevail is for the good to remain silent. ”

It is in this climate of corruption, suspicion, terror, moral depravity, unaccountability of public officials, terror and fear mongering, that the stage has been set for the emergence of a new assault on affirmative action.

After this nation has tried to heal its wounds and provide equal opportunities for blacks, women and other minorities, including the handicapped, aged and differently “abled,” we now witness the emergence of a new movement, again heralded and financed by private and corporate interests, who want to turn back the clock and throw America back into the dark ages by taking away the rights of people and their unbounded access to opportunities which have been historically denied them.

This new assault on the rights of free citizens not only undermines democracy, disenfranchises people but also distorts the true purpose and intent of affirmative action. Buzz words which create fear and resentment among the people become the new wedges driving people further apart. Words like “preferential treatment, ” “quotas” and “reverse discrimination” are code words used to disfigure and ultimately destroy the true face of affirmative action. People latch on to these words without understanding how they are used to obfuscate truth, divide the citizenry fan the flames of anger and escalate fear and terror among the people. What could be more terrorizing and arouse fear than the thought of someone less qualified taking a job from you who is more qualified?

Moreover, lies are disseminated by those who want to destroy affirmative action; lies which precipitate more suspicion and division in our country and keep people ignorant of the real issues. These include such myths as, unqualified black people and women take jobs away from more qualified white people. The historical record says this is emphatically untrue. Most of the people who apply for positions are often more qualified and historically have been dismissed as inferior, uneducated or undereducated. They are not less qualified candidates taking the jobs of more qualified candidates.

The other myth is that affirmative action gives preferential treatment to black people, when in truth more women have benefited from affirmative action than any other segment of the population. Some people have created the impression that affirmative action programs are nothing more than race preference programs which is also untrue.

Historian John Oliver Killens reminds us, Black Americans are the only people in America who have been set aside because of their color and then are told by those who have set them aside to forget their color.

It is very curious that in the case of affirmative action, blacks, women and others who have historically been denied free access to opportunities in America because of their color are now told that they can’t have access to that system because of their color; that such access is considered racial preference and discriminates against those who have always had access.

This to me is simply evidence of the gross contradictions, hypocrisy and continuing schizophrenia of this anti affirmative action assault. How can you tell someone who has been historically denied access to economic opportunities because of race or gender that he or she now can’t have access because of race or gender?

Rev.Joseph Lowery says it plainly, When the government by public policy, kept you out, the government has a responsibility, by public policy, to bring you in. And it needs to be just as intentional about including you as it was excluding you. ”

Let me illustrate it another way. A man has been trying to build this house for himself and has historically been denied opportunities to build it. He finally galvanizes enough resources to build a house and now after all of the labor, time and resources, after all of the blood, sweat and tears he has put into building this house, now someone, a neighbor or a stranger comes to him and says, “I am sorry Tom, I know that you have come through hell and high water to get the resources to build this house and you have labored hard to help build it, but we have some bad news for you. You really can’t really live in this house now and enjoy all of its benefits. Or they say to him, “Tom, we understand that you helped to build this house but we want to take it from you and we will let you come into this house that you have helped to build but we want you to confine your activity to the windowless basement. You can’t live in any of the other rooms but you can live downstairs. ” Now what is Tom to say? “What?” he would say. “I can’t have access after I have helped build my own house, after I have waited and labored to get the resources to build it, now you want to take it all away?” How would you feel?

How does America say to black people, to women and others after you have helped to build this great house known as America, after you have fought, bled and died to help build it, now we will limit your confinement to a certain section of it because of who and what you are. Or now you can’t take rightful ownership of what you have built.

This precisely is the problem with efforts to rescind and destroy affirmative action. After countless souls have helped to build America and make her strong, but denied many of its benefits because of race or gender, now certain people say you can’t have access to it because of those very same reasons.

Langston Hughes said, “I swear to the Lord, I still can’t see, why Democracy means everybody but me. ”

The whole matter is absolutely mind boggling, if not gut wrenching. This is evidence of the ongoing double mindedness; the moral ambivalence and double standards engineered by certain adversarial forces in this country who want to maintain power and control everything. They are not interested in truth, justice, freedom, giving to every man, woman and child a fair shake, a square look and an open door to opportunities in America. They would rather give those opportunities to people not living in our shores than give them to people living in our own corridors. How can we talk of spreading democracy abroad when we are undermining democracy at home?

When someone tells you that you can’t have free and open access to opportunities because of race or gender they are telling you that you don’t have a constitutional right as an American to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They tell you your race or gender or handicapping condition will stand in your way and that the constitution means absolutely nothing.

Thurgood Marshall, that great lawyer, warrior and Supreme Court Justice who believe that the law was a great equalizer and eliminator of discrimination in America once said, “It must be remembered that during most of the past 200 years, the Constitution as interpreted by this court did not prohibit the most ingenious and pervasive forms of discrimination against the negro. Now, when a state acts to remedy the effects of the legacy of discrimination, I cannot believe that the same constitution stands as barrier. ””

The Constitution is our Holy Grail. The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution are the three great documents of freedom. To deny people rights and access to opportunities is to incinerate the Holy Bibles of our representative democracy and to consign these important writs to the trash heap of prejudice and injustice.

This movement to destroy affirmative action is an anathema to all Americans who have fought, bled, died and sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom in America. That we would even have a conversation in 2006 about whether affirmative action should be abolished is a stain on the sacred memory of all people who cherish and vouchsafe independence and freedom. It is a mark on those who have marched and sang, fought and bled in the courts, counting houses, church houses and streets of this land. Many people have struggled to get America to a place where the check of freedom and justice has not once again returned to them marked “insufficient funds. ”

Unfortunately, a precedent has been set in California. The constitutional amendment to abolish affirmative action in California, cleverly and deceptively worded, was deliberately designed to create confusion and ambiguity among voters. Many voters in California were confused when they read the ballot and many have said that they would have voted “No, ” had they been educated about how the ballot would read.

The attempt to destroy affirmative action undermines the constitution and negates the central tenets of freedom in our representative democracy. It is unjust. It is not right and only serves the interests of a selfish, greedy and powerful minority. (By the way who is financing this movement?)

How can America now say we want to take back everything that we have given you; we want to breach our social contract, shred the constitution, trample the Bill of Rights and deny American citizens the opportunity to live and grow and prosper through life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

This movement goes against the very principles of a free society and a representative democracy. This is more than an assault on women, minorities and blacks. It is in essence an attack on our very freedoms as free citizens in a free nation.

So now it’s alright to go back to segregation, back to a time in which separate but equal was in vogue, back to a era in which people who qualified themselves educationally could not get consideration for employment commensurate with their education let alone a decent job because of their race, gender or handicapping condition? Are we saying that it is ok to go back to yesterday; to a time of when the privileged few had access to virtually everything and an underprivileged many virtually had access to nothing?

Is it now acceptable to open up the floodgates of racism, sexism and ageism, drown the future of freedom loving Americans? Do we really want to turn back the clock and cause time to stand still after this nation has struggled and still struggles to heal the wounds of race and class and gender and condition? Do we really want to go back and resurrect the old demons of hatred, malice, prejudice and strife? Is this the kind of society and world we wish to leave for our children and their children?

What we have is Democracy in peril. What we have is freedom on the brink of bankruptcy. What we have is a concerted effort by a select and powerful few to deprive the people of opportunities to grow, to be educated and gainfully employed with a decent job with a decent wage; to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the right to actualize their true potential; to pursue the higher ideals and a loftier vision that inextricably binds man to man, forges common ground, builds common community and makes the world a better place in which to live, not only for our children but for their children and their children’s children’s, children.

It is time for the citizens of the country to wake up and take back our country and to re-establish the higher constitutional principles that have made this nation uniquely great. I disagree with George Bush, “The Constitution is not just an (Expletive deleated) piece of paper. ”

This great experiment in Democracy will perish in less time than it took the Roman Empire to establish and perpetuate itself as a world power if we do not pay attention, galvanize sources and resources to hold our elected representatives accountable, challenge the public servants to serve the public good and the private sectors to work for more than just selfish gain and enlightened self interest but to cooperatively and diligently to do what is right for all Americans and to preserve our rights and freedoms as a free nation by ensuring and promoting the survival of American democracy.

We must take our heads out of the sands, stop living in the past and wake up. We must access information from non-traditional sources that will give us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and not the spins and non-news that comes from some of the traditional media outlets. Who cares about whether a movie star’s baby has her picture taken. What about the thousands of children wallowing in despair and poverty in this country who are so hungry they have no picture of the future in their imaginations.

We must mobilize citizens across racial, class and gender lines and realize that an attack on affirmative action is an attack on freedom and an attack on freedom is an attack on all Americans. Whether the attack on freedom comes from the outside from terrorists or from inside by those vested interests who would rather see America unfree, fearful and afraid to live, walk and bask in the bright glow of freedom, we must work together, we must bond together, we must do everything in our power to keep democracy alive and well, lest we all perish in ruins of a fool’s paradise.

Call your congressman and senator, exercise your right to vote but don’t vote for a candidate until you know where he or she stands on key issues, join an organization that will advocate your interests, read and learn as much as you can, tell your friends and mobilize them to the polls. Vote no on proposal two. Remember that Proposal two is no good for you. Demand that voting processes be standardized; that we have paper ballots that leave paper trails and that the electoral process not be digitized and privatized into the hands of corporations who have a vested interest in keeping certain political parties in power. Challenge your ministers, business persons and community leaders to stand up and do justice and walk humbly with their God. Challenge them to stand up and speak up and then shut up if they have nothing good to say.

The history of America can be summed up as one long twilight struggle to establish, preserve and perpetuate human freedom. There are basically three types of people in our country: “Those who seek to establish, enforce and maintain the basic rights of all people. Those who seek to rescind, recede and revoke the basic rights of all people and those who are indifferent. We cannot afford indifference. We cannot afford apathy. Those who would kill affirmative action and other programs would kill freedom.

Frederick Douglass once said, “A man who would not labor to gain his rights is a man who would not, if he had them, prize and defend them.”

We are living in times when Democracy is imperiled. We must fight for right because it is right. America is not a perfect country, but America is our country and no person, power of principality has the right to take away your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let us march forward and do the work that God has called and equipped us to do? Vote your values and please by all means value your vote!!!

@Copyright, Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III All Rights Reserved

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