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 center-right on 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!
It’s been nearly 15 years since the 2000 Florida presidential election. Under then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s watch, tens of thousands of African Americans were purged from the voter rolls. “Florida” has since become a metaphor for voter disenfranchisement.
I watched with disbelief as Bush tried to woo black voters at the National Urban League’s annual conference:
I know there are great and lasting things we can achieve together, maybe only together, to keep America faithful to its ideals of equality and justice for all. Your support in that effort is something I will work every day to earn. I welcome your friendship, and I ask for your vote.
He must think African Americans are stupid or have collective amnesia.
Bush certified the contested 2000 election for his brother, George W., who got a measly nine percent of the black vote. As the writer and producer of a documentary about the election debacle, Counting on Democracy, I plan to refresh folks’ memory of how black voters were “Bushwacked” in Florida. There’s also a new generation of voters who have never heard of hanging and dangling chads, or seen a punch card ballot.
By the way, one of the key players in Florida was the legendary dirty trickster, Roger Stone, who I interviewed for the film. Stone is now working for Donald Trump.
Stone must be up to his old tricks. He reportedly was fired by Trump. Stone said he quit.
But I digress.
Counting on Democracy, narrated by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, aired nationwide on PBS in 2002. If you would like to arrange a screening for your school, class, organization or church, email me.
Aug. 6 marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
Last week, Congressman Chaka Fattah was charged with racketeering, conspiracy, bribery, bank fraud, money laundering and falsification of records. As I read the 29-count indictment, I thought the ancestors must be rolling over in their graves. The struggle for voting rights was about empowering African Americans to vote for candidates who would represent their interests.
Fifty years after Bloody Sunday, we have an entitled political class that is more interested in advancing their personal interests, and that of their family and friends.
In a Fox29 man-on-the-street interview, a constituent said it best:
He’s [Fattah] supposed to be bringing us up, not taking from us.
And that’s precisely what Fattah allegedly did. Co-conspirator Herbert Vederman allegedly sponsored Fattah’s live-in au pair.
A nonprofit run by a Fattah crony received a $1 million grant from NASA to support a STEM program for members of underrepresented groups. The crony, now co-conspirator, allegedly used some of the funds to repay a political loan.
This scheme should take the steam out of those who are quick to holler that black elected officials are harassed. If your hand is not in the cookie jar, you don’t have to worry about unfair scrutiny.
The allegation that he is the legislative equivalent of a capo didn't seem to impress Fattah, who has been under investigation long enough to repeatedly seek and win reelection regardless. While glibly allowing that the indictment is more significant than "Deflategate" - an airy scandal involving footballs - Fattah answered a disturbingly detailed 29-count indictment by reiterating a general denial and vowing to "try not to have it be a distraction."
In fact, the charges are so serious as to render Fattah's service a distraction. Even if he hasn't serially abused his office, as the charges suggest, he will be a busy defendant. As neither is compatible with his continued service, he should step down.
Such grave allegations, along with the pleas that preceded them, are a blot on what seemed to be a distinguished political career, and the latest in a long line for Philadelphia Democrats. Fattah is entitled to be presumed innocent unless proven otherwise. But he is not entitled to his office.
If Fattah doesn’t resign, his trial may a “distraction” for Democrats when they convene in this notoriously “corrupt and content” city for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
On Saturday, I attended the Harlem Book Fair.
I’m a doer. I enjoy spending an afternoon listening to speakers who approach issues on which I focus, including voting rights, civil rights, black culture and community engagement, from the perspective of a scholar. Sometimes scholars drop some unexpected truth.
I can’t count the number of times I have invoked Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech before the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.
There’s just one problem: Sojourner Truth never uttered those words. Nell I. Painter, author of Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, was one of the panelists on “Fashioning the Self: The Image in Black” (Painter is on the far left).
According to Painter, Sojourner Truth never said, “Ain’t I a woman.” She “said things that meant that,” but not those exact words. As for the Southern dialect, more fiction. Sojourner Truth was not a Southerner. She never traveled farther south than Washington, DC.
Sojourner Truth was born and raised in upstate New York. She grew up speaking Dutch as her first language. Truth be told, Sojourner likely spoke with a Dutch accent.
Painter said that Sojourner Truth showed herself as a well-dressed, mannered matron, not as an angry black woman who flashed her breasts at a convention.
The panel discussion is available on C-SPAN2 Book TV.