“It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened,” wrote Columbia Prof. Joseph Stiglitz in the spring of 2011. “America has allowed inequality to grow.” In fact, the United States now has the fourth-highest degree of wealth inequality in the world, surpassed only by Russia, Ukraine and Lebanon. So, as we mark the second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, we are presented with an ideal moment to take stock of our society with an eye to shaping its future.
Enter Robert Reich. The U.S. Labor Secretary-turned-U.C. Berkeley professor has never pretended anything to the contrary. Both a founding editor of The American Prospect and the current chairman of Common Cause, Reich has penned 13 books on economics and public policy in the last two decades. With the September 27 limited release of the documentary film Inequality for All, in which he is both narrator and star subject, Reich is resizing his impassioned argument for the silver screen. As he explained to Bill Moyers, “I’ve tried everything else!”
The film – directed by Jacob Kornbluth, whom Reich names the “creative giant” behind its inception – is masterful in constructing a narrative of urgency without falling into despair. Reich explores the causes and consequences of widening economic inequality through compelling graphics like the “suspension bridge," whose foundation tracks the concentration of income in the last century. In one powerful sequence, Reich asks a class of Berkeley students to guess how the profits from iPhone sales are distributed globally. To their surprise, the U.S. and China receive a combined 10 percent of revenue, while Germany and Japan receive upwards of 20 and 30 percent, respectively. Globalization, Reich concludes, is a terrific win for the consumer but a devastating loss for the worker.
Woven into the factual argument is personal testimony from across the economic spectrum. Among the most compelling is that of Nick Hanauer, the entrepreneur and progressive advocate whose 2012 TED Talk on income inequality sparked controversy in its call for a more equitable tax policy. When the rich call themselves “job creators,” Hanauer explains, they are “making claims about status, power and privilege.” As an early investor in Amazon.com and a successful venture capitalist, Hanauer is no stranger to wealth, but he readily admits that the rich don’t generate enough economic activity to sustain the economy. After all, he jokes, “even the richest people only sleep on one or two pillows.” Instead, Hanauer believes we must demand a kind of “middle-out economics” that protects and empowers the middle class – America’s true job creators.
“Constitution and Citizenship Day,” as it is formerly called, was once known only as Citizenship Day in commemoration of the countless immigrants who have chosen to uphold the U.S. constitution and claim the nationality of this country. One of the most important badges of citizenship, however, is not enshrined in the constitution -- the right to vote.
African Americans, women, and persons as young as 18 years of age were all granted voting rights through constitutional amendments. Those amendments established the conditions upon which the right to vote could not be denied but did not grant a universal, affirmation, and equal right to vote for all citizens. Indeed, the need for serial amendments to create the diverse electorate we see today is evidence of this constitutional void.
The current assault on voter participation is also proof of this void. If there were an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution, it would be harder for Republican-led state legislatures to enact voter ID laws that disproportionately disenfranchise the poor, minorities, students, and the elderly, more difficult for states like Florida to carelessly purge eligible voters from registration rolls, and a greater obstacle for election officials to limit participation by curtailing early voting and over-regulating registration procedures.
Why then should the right to vote remain absent from one of the most revered constitutions in the world? It doesn’t have to. Earlier this year, Congressmen Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) introduced a bill to amend the Constitution to include an affirmative right to vote. This idea has long been supported by organizations like Fair Vote which backs the current bill through its Promote the Vote campaign -- and its time has come.
As I’ve written for Reuters here, “at no time in recent history has the need for a right-to-vote amendment been more pronounced. The [Supreme] court’s ruling earlier this year in Shelby County v. Holder, disabling a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, calls for dramatic congressional action to both rehabilitate that landmark act and recommit to our constitutional ideals.” We would be remiss if we did not use this moment to reflect on the greatness of our Constitution and also flag its weaknesses. Indeed, there is no better time to kick-start a national discussion on the proposed right-to-vote amendment than during this celebration of both our Constitution and our citizenship, as neither is truly complete without an explicit right to vote.
by Edward A. Hailes, Jr., Managing Director and General Counsel, Advancement Project. This post is a part of our 2013 ACS Constitution Day symposium.
As the nation observes Constitution Day, most Americans would probably be surprised to learn that there is no provision of the Constitution or federal law that explicitly and affirmatively guarantees all citizens the right to vote. While the Constitution mentions the right to vote more than any other – forbidding it from being abridged based on race, gender, age or ability to pay a poll tax – it contains no affirmative language making that right explicit. In fact, the U.S. is one of only 11 of the 119 democratic countries in the world that do not explicitly provide the right to vote in their Constitutions. What’s more, the US Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder, which acknowledged the existence of persistent discrimination in voting, opened the door for new barriers to voting to emerge in states across the country.
Nowhere is this more evident than in North Carolina, where Governor Pat McCrory recently signed into law legislation (HB 589) that enacts dozens of changes that will make it harder to vote. Among other provisions, the recently signed measure implements a strict voter ID requirement; cuts early voting by a full week; eliminates same-day registration; allows voters to be challenged by any registered voter in the same county, rather than precinct; bans 16 and 17-year-olds from pre-registering to vote; repeals a state directive that high schools conduct voter registration drives; prohibits paid voter registration drives; and prevents counties from extending poll hours to accommodate long lines.
Each of these changes, on their own, would already be considerably harmful to the voting rights of North Carolinians. Taken together, it is the worst voter suppression law in the country. It viciously targets nearly every aspect of the voting process – chipping away at who can vote, where they vote, when they can vote, and how they vote. With the stroke of a pen, Gov. McCrory has transformed North Carolina from a state with one of the nation’s most progressive voting systems, in which we saw some of the highest voter turnout rates of the last two presidential elections, into a state with the most draconian policies we’ve seen in decades. The law will disproportionately impact communities of color, seniors and students.
by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor, West Virginia University College of Law. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom represented the high point of the decades-long civil rights movement against Jim Crow apartheid. The March brought heightened international attention to African Americans’ demands for social, political, and economic justice. And the March offered a snapshot of the battle to awaken the moral imagination of the country. Indeed, the progress achieved in the 1960s battle for civil, political, and economic rights could not have been made without first winning the battle for the moral imagination of the United States.
The movement made apparent the injustices of Jim Crow. The movement called white America’s attention to the terrorism of lynching and bombings. The movement forced Americans to consider the effects of segregated facilities. The movement demanded equal participation for African Americans in the political process. The “I Have A Dream” speech spoke for many in the movement by setting out specifically the moral question of civil rights for African Americans to the country.
Dr. King sought not just to evoke the question, but also to show the necessity of answering the question immediately. He said that “[w]e . . . come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” Yet, the question we must confront in 2013 is whether we have been tranquilized into the lethargy of gradualism concerning the work that needs to be done.
Fifty years ago, because of the public shaming of nonviolent protest, the majority society of 1963 could no longer ignore the tyranny of American apartheid. As a result, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We can rightfully rejoice in the fact that America today cannot be called an “apartheid” country. But the majority society of 2013 seems to have forsaken the Civil Rights Movement’s call to moral imagination. Instead, many in society seem to have fallen victim to a new kind of gradualism.
A. Philip Randolph the influential labor and civil rights leader called Bayard Rustin “Mr. March,” referring to Rustin’s integral role in crafting the iconic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The A. Philip Randolph’s website describes Rustin’s tireless efforts to advance equality and human rights in America and describes him as the “Deputy Director and Chief Organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” the 50th anniversary of which is being commemorated with events beginning this week and into next week.
But because Rustin was also gay and refused to be someone he was not, he was at the time shunned by some within the civil rights movement and not surprisingly tarred by the FBI and other federal authorities as a “pervert.” Rustin’s sexuality was at the time employed crudely to try and undermine his noble and trailblazing work.
Change occurs albeit slowly within the country and sometimes for the better. Earlier this month President Obama in naming recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom included Rustin, posthumously. National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) Executive Director and CEO Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks lauded Obama’s action saying, “As one of the chief architects of the Civil Rights Movement and the brilliance behind the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Rustin’s indispensable contributions to the ethos of our country continue to reverberate and push us toward a more just and fair society, America is indebted to Rustin, and our nation is right to finally honor him for his stalwart courage and leadership.”
As USA Todayreports, the NBJC will commemorate Rustin’s towering contributions to the civil rights movement and his invaluable leadership in bringing about the March on Washington during this year’s 50th Anniversary of the March. The A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), which Rustin helped found, will also commemorate Rustin and Randolph. APRI has a schedule of events here. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law also has a schedule of events. The Leadership Conference and many other public interest groups are commemorating the event.
Catherine Albisa, executive director of the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative, in kicking off the panel discussion described Rustin as “an extraordinary example of what a social activist should be. He suffered for being a gay man at a time when gay men and lesbian women were persecuted for their sexuality. And I think from what I’ve read, some of the greatest suffering may not even have come from what his enemies threw at him, but what his friends threw at him; you know for accusations that he was betraying the movement for nothing more than being who he was, and yet he managed to stay true to himself and stay true to the movement.”