Local Activists, Organizers and Community Leaders Speak Out on Sanders Institute “Gathering” of “Progressive” Leaders

 

From left to right Rutland NAACP President Tabitha Pohl-Moore, former Champlain Valley NAACP President Mary Guillory-Brown, former State Representative Kiah Morris, former State  Representative, Kesha Ram, and Executive Director of Justice For All Mark Hughes 

Vermont is known as a progressive safe haven. However, some of our citizens struggle to connect personal experience to this sentiment. The purpose of publicizing these feelings is not to throw shade at the national progressive movement that Senator Bernie Sanders is trying to foster, but to point out that Vermonters in marginalized positions- be they poor, disabled, LGBTQ, people of color, indigenous, immigrant or non-mainstream in other facets of identity, help to create this state and make it what it is, yet still, we find ourselves excluded from the movement. This is an awkward juxtaposition. To call out when we have been excluded invariably elicits an accusation of sabotage, selfishness, or saltiness. To ignore it is to relegate ourselves to invisibility, thus fortifying the very systemic inequity the progressive movement works to deconstruct. It is with this in mind that I write the following: 

At 9:15 PM on November 19th , Windham Area NAACP President Steffen Gillom sent me a text with a link to the VT Digger article announcing Senator Sanders’ 3-day progressive event in Burlington that was planned for this past week, it was followed by the question, “Did you know about this?” My first response was excitement. A progressive agenda that promised to raise an intersectional approach to ending injustice and oppression? In our backyard? As I read the roster and saw the names of my own idols like Cornel West, my initial response grew into hope. We would finally be heard and seen here in Vermont!  But, as I neared the end of the star-laden roster, I began to wonder.  How many leaders from Vermont were invited to speak? I reviewed the list again and saw only the name of Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman. Okay. One. Then I wondered how many justice leaders from Vermont had been invited.  Racial? None. Economic? None. LGBTQ? None. Immigrant rights? None. I read the article several times. Maybe I missed something? I thought progressive politics was about lifting the voices of common people. For a group that prides itself on grassroots organization, it seemed that this progressive event had forgotten its roots; the people of Vermont.

My heart began to sink as my curiosity grew. In his remarks, Senator Sanders said that this event was “not just to talk about economic issues, we’re here this weekend to be talking about racial and social justice. We’re here to be talking about ending, in all of its many and varied forms, institutional racism.” 

How could Senator Sanders host what is supposed to be an intersectional, progressive event without inviting the very people whom he serves? If this is really about economic justice, where are the poor folks? If it is really about racial justice, why are there no local racial justice leaders?  Chief Don Stevens of the Abenaki?  Disability rights?  Where is Justicia Migrante? I don’t see them on the list.

 I had a hard time believing that Senator Sanders would overlook the very people he serves as people who could speak to the issues.  I also know that the Senator’s people had no problem finding me to talk about race in Vermont the day before he met with NAACP President Derrick Johnson last May. But really, there are plenty of other leaders who could speak. Surely someone in Vermont had to have been invited and they just weren’t included in the article because, really. Who here compares to Danny Glover? So I took to social media and posted the article, tagging various justice leaders that I knew. No one knew about it. I asked groups like Rights and Democracy, who posted an article to advertise the event, if they would be speaking. I heard nothing. Even Kiah Morris, who was Vermont’s lone black woman in the legislature—that is, until the racist threats and harassment became so intolerable and intimidating that she not only had to withdraw from an uncontested race, but she stepped down from office just three months ago—was not invited. 

I write this not to complain about the fact that none of us were invited; I write this to point out the hypocrisy of the situation. How do you say that you are a person of the people, how can you be “awoken”, in the words of Victor Lee Lewis, when you come home to Vermont to talk about justice and institutional oppression and don’t invite the very people your represent? In speaking with other folks, I learned that I am not the only one who has noticed this omission. We hope that we are missing something, but if we are not, this is a either a major oversight or just one more example of how institutional oppression looks, even among those who are progressive. 

Respectfully,

 

Tabitha Pohl-Moore
Rutland Area Branch of the NAACP

Steffen Glenn Gillom
President, Windham County Branch of the NAACP

Amanda Garces
Founder, Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools

Curtiss Reed, Jr.
Executive Director, Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity

Kiah Morris
Former State Representative

Katrina Battle
POC Caucus Coordinator, Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington

Jabari Jones
Organizer, Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington

Wafic Faour
Vermonters for Justice in Palestine

Member, BLM of Greater Burlington

Marita Canedo
Migrant Justice

Shela Linton
Co-Coordinator BIPOC Caucus, Root Social Justice Center

Sha’an Mouliert
Co-Coordinator, I am Vermont Too

Mark Hughes
Executive Director, Justice for All

Beverly Little Thunder
Activist, founder of Kunsi Keya Tamakoce, Peace and Justice Board Member

Gemma Seymour
Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future

Nico Amador
Community Organizer, ACLU of Vermont

Etan Nassredin-Longo
Co-chair, Fair and Impartial policing committee of the Vermont State Police
Chair, Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel

Olivia Lapierre she/her
Environmental Justice Community Organizer

Don Stevens
Chief of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe

Sarika Tandon
Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity

Press Release: ’40 Days of Fire’ to Address Overt and Systemic Racism Across Vermont

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

’40 Days of Fire’ to Address Overt and Systemic Racism Across Vermont

Racial Justice Community Organizing Campaign Kicks Off in October in 5 Locations –

Contact: Stephanie Gomory, Justice For All Executive Director: 802.532.3030

Montpelier, VT — 40 Days of Fire, a joint effort by Justice for All and Rights and Democracy, is a statewide racial justice community organizing initiative kicking off in October. Events held all over the state will enlist Vermonters to learn more about and engage in our ongoing efforts in the fight against overt and systemic racism in Vermont. We will also mobilize voters to take a stand against racial pandering and dog whistles in politics.

The 40 Days of Fire initiative offers Vermonters in all communities an opportunity to host and participate in training and empowerment sessions, conduct workshops, register to vote and participate in voter engagement opportunities, and directly confront candidates and elected officials on the issues of racial justice and the rights of those in traditionally marginalized communities.

All are welcome to the following organizing sessions planned so far (RSVP at the links):

  • Burlington, October 2– Ruach haMaqom Synagogue, 6:30 – 8:30 .PM
  • Middlebury, October 4 – Fenn House at Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, 6:00-8:00 PM
  • Hardwick, October 9 – St. Norbert’s Church Hall, 6:00 – 8:00 PM
  • Hartford, October 14 – Main Street Museum, 3:00-5:00 PM
  • Marshfield, October 17 –Twinfield Union School, 6:00-8:00 PM

To learn more about 40 Days of Fire, and to sign up to hold a workshop in your area, please visit http://justiceforallvt.org/40-days-of-fire/.

About Justice For All
Justice for All pursues racial justice within Vermont’s criminal justice system through advocacy, education, and relationship building.

 

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40 Days of Fire: A Racial Justice Community Organizing Campaign

WELCOME to the 40 Days of Fire Campaign!

Wait!
Here are the CliffNotes:

  1. Contribute (bottom of this page) to the 40 Days of Fire campaign and sign up to bring the 40 Days of Fire campaign to your community
  2. Read Education and Action Page and take the specific actions outlined
  3. Disseminate the Education and Action Page (email, social media, etc…)

 

There has been an aggressive and persistent political assault across this nation (including Vermont), fueled with race baiting and based in white nationalism . At the same time Vermont, not unlike the rest of the nation is undergirded in systemic racism and challenged with overt racism. 40 Days of Fire is a statewide racial justice community organizing initiative designed for two purposes:  to electorize the fight against the current use of racial dog whistles in discourse and debate by educating and empowering folks to break their silence and; to enlist Vermonters to learn more about and engage in our ongoing efforts in the fight against overt and systemic racism in Vermont.

This joint effort by Justice For All and Rights and Democracy is offering folks in all communities across the state an opportunity to host and participate in training and empowerment sessions, conduct workshops, register to vote and participate in voter engagement opportunities as well as directly confront candidates and elected officials on the issues of racial justice and the rights of those in traditionally marginalized communities.

Agenda:

  1. Race, politics and policy: The Making of a Nation
  2. The State of Vermont: Systemic (and overt) racism across the state
  3. Breakout: Addressing overt and systemic racism in Vermont
  4. Strategy to call out and take a stand against racial pandering in politics

Go here to get educated and take action NOW!

Locations scheduled and currently being considered for 40 Days of Fire Racial Justice Organizing Campaign:

  • Burlington, October 2– Synagogue Ahavath Gerim, 6:30 – 8:30pm
  • Middlebury, October 4 – Fenn House at Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, 6:00-8:00pm
  • Hardwick, October 9 – St. Norbert’s Church Hall, 6:00 – 8:00pm
  • Hartford, October 14 – Main Street Museum, 3:00-5:00pm
  • Marshfield, October 17 – Twinfield UnionSchool, 6:00-8:00pm
  • Webinar, 23 October – Zoom Call, 6:00-7:30pm
  • Brattleboro, October 28 – All Souls U.U. Church, 12:00 – 2:00pm
  • Westforfd, November (TBD)
  • Stowe (tentative)

 

Join us for the 40 Days of Fire Community Forum “The Gathering” at the McLure Multigenerational Center (241 Winooski, Burlington)  on Saturday, 27 October from 1:00 till 4:00.  We will discuss our progress and plan our next steps in the Campaign.

To learn more about 40 Days of Fire, and to sign up to hold a workshop in your area, please visit http://justiceforallvt.org/40-days-of-fire/.

We need your financial support to make the 40 Days of Fire happen!

One Time Contribution




Thank you

 

Justice For All Membership available here.

Why is This?

Mark Hughes, Executive Director

Slavery has never been constitutionally abolished anywhere in this country.  This year, the Racial Justice Reform Coalition asked the senate to “urge the 2019 senate” by resolution to amend the constitution, removing slavery. Despite adopting S.R.11, which urged the 2019 senate to introduce an ERA amendment, they refused to introduce a resolution urging the removal of slavery from the constitution this year.  Afterwards the house introduced a resolution (H.R.25) urging the 2019 senate to take up such slavery amendment.  House Operations never took it up.  Stop.  Think.  Why do you think folks don’t know this?

Although we have every indication that this will likely be one of the first priorities of the senate next year, it is short sited to suggest that this is “one of the last vestiges of slavery” in our laws.  The constitution, originally written on 1777 and amended 28 times is largely the same document and it was not written for black and brown people (it had them in mind).  Dismantling systemic racism takes more than changing the constitution.  Unraveling all of the language that has and continues to create and sustain white supremacy is a full time job. But what about all of the rules, statutes, court decisions and institutions upheld by the constitution? To change the constitution without this discussion misses the institutionalized racial impact of the constitution and keeps us form a methodical dismantling of the affect.

Why don’t our lawmakers have an open debate on this language in the constitution? Why wouldn’t the press want to cover it, at least to the level of healthcare?  Among other things, a good constitutional debate on how we classify our inmates would do us well.  Do we, as Vermonters really want to continue to consider our inmates as “slaves”?  How do we treat them? How and where do we house them?  What do we pay them? How do we profit from their labor (Vermont Corrections Industries)?  The constitutional slavery debate is one that must ask tough questions like “why do we continue to teach our children that we were the first state to abolish slavery?”  And “what other falsehoods are we teaching them?” The debate about slavery is one that should question our culpability in transporting these “slaves to other states. And yes, how does the threat of prison slavery impact 1500 brown bodies that uphold a white man’s dairy industry on a daily basis?

Indeed one of the oldest and nastiest debates in national history has been how white people have responded when morality, profit and labor collide. Perhaps if we were to have this debate we could have conversations about how well white folks have historically performed with that collision. This might give us the ability to candidly acknowledge the political and economic power that came (and continues come) from the exploitation of the labor of black and brown people.  This would further enable discussions on the false narratives of black and brown inferiority created to sell the sham to others. We could also engage in open discourse on how those decisions continue to impact black and brown people and communities today.  Who knows, a good debate might shed some light on existing practices that sustain white supremacy and maybe even head off a future train wreck or two.  It might be pushing it but imagine this debate shining a light on those who refuse to call shenanigans as they benefit from the product of the exploitation of black and brown bodies, all while somehow expressing their hollow so called sorrow for those that they watch exploited.

Our elected officials have been taking an oath to this constitution forever.  Not knowing that the language was there is probably worse than knowing and doing nothing.   So now we turn to the outpouring of concern surrounding the overt racism that forced Kiah’s resignation.  As real as that is, there is little discussion on the systemic racism that impacts 31K black and brown Vermonters (on a daily basis) and without a doubt contributed to Kiah’s fate.   Legislators should stop congratulating themselves on the Act 9 and Act 54 from this biennium and acknowledge the uphill battle that it took and the important components of this legislation that never saw the light of day.

I try not to miss an opportunity to mention to white people that I have never met a white person that doesn’t have a racist in their family. Lately, I’ve added that I have never met a white person who hasn’t silently witnessed oppression of black and brown people.  I say it.  I wait.  I suppose now I will just leave them with one last question after positioning the first two.  “Why is this?

Join us in a session on abolishing constitutionalized slavery in Vermont at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier tonight from 6:00 till 8:00 PM.

 

White People: Save the Nation; Break Your Silence

Mark Hughes, Executive Director, JFA

Racial hate and the systemic response to it (or lack thereof) are what recently forced an African American political candidate to withdraw her candidacy. Our constitution says that “Every person within this state ought to find a certain remedy, by having recourse to the laws, for all injuries or wrongs which one may receive in person, property or character; every person ought to obtain right and justice, freely, and without being obliged to purchase it; completely and without any denial; promptly and without delay; comformably to the laws.” As we have throughout all history, we stand awaiting a remedy yet again but all we get it silence.

Yes. Racial hatred remains an issue in Vermont and across the nation. As ridiculous and unfortunate as this situation is, at least it shines a light on a reality that exists in the everyday lives of over 31thousand black and brown folks across the state. The OTHER racism which has a much more harmful global impact is systemic racism. Black and brown people are being left out or left behind in the areas of housing, education, employment, health services, economic development and criminal justice EVERY DAY! The final racism is political in nature and the edifice of policy violence. The current stream of racial inflammatory rhetoric and the Trump administration’s decision to overtly run a campaign on it is stoking the flames.

The Governor and his entire staff conducted operations from Bennington; ground zero of the activities surrounding the hate triggered campaign withdrawal. There was not a peep from the administration about the overt racist acts and the systemic response that caused the pullout. The Governor’s racially mute visit to Bennington in the middle of this horrific sequence of events goes far beyond him having blind spot or tone deafness. As an African American in Vermont, it is an arrogant slap in the face. Silence.

As a result of my direct involvement I could go on for pages with all of the obstacles that the Scott administration has deployed to block our attempts at legislative efforts to address overt and systemic racism in Vermont. The so-called progressive legislature has also throttled some of these efforts with the use of procedure and the skillful crafting of language to block significant portions of racial justice reform proposals. The press continues to struggle to responsibly capture and appropriately contextualize the struggle and the historical significance of the legislative work that is being done surrounding racial justice. An example is the lack of coverage in 2018 of H.R.25, the first effort to remove slavery from the constitution in Vermont history! Silence.

Governor Scott just reappointed an attorney specializing in law enforcement defense to the State Police Advisory Commission. The Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council broke the newly created law (ACT54) by changing the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy without consulting the Human Rights Commission in November 2017. The Chair and Vice-Chair (myself) of the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel resigned in March of this year. Silence.

The biggest threat that black and brown Vermonters face today is white silence, because with it comes complicit consent to escalation of overt hate. With this silence black and brown folks will continue to be locked up and locked out as white folks choose to look the other way, pretending to believe the age-old false claims of the inalienable rights of all men. With this silence officials will be elected who in turn create policies with the intent of hurting black and brown people but the majority of the folks impacted will once again be white folks (Because while most black people are poor, most poor people are white).

People of color pleaded with the neo-liberal progressive white folk to break the silence in 2016. Black and brown folks even comforted white people and welcomed them to the struggle on November 9th. Two years later many white people have either normalized, become complicit or have grown numb. Throughout all history white people have ignored the fact that they are directly responsible for the policy violence directed at black folks, which hurts us more but hurts more of you. White folks, save the heart of this nation so the United States of America can for once be one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. Break your silence.

Regarding the Overt Racist Attacks on our State Representative, Kiah Morris…

The ongoing campaign of racial hate being directed at Kiah Morris and her family resulted in her deciding to withdraw her candidacy for House Representatives last week. Racial hatred remains an issue in Vermont and across the nation. As ridiculous and unfortunate as this situation is, at least it shines a light on a reality that exists in the everyday lives of over 31thousand black and brown folks across the state. The OTHER racism which has a much more harmful global impact is systemic racism. Black and brown people are being left out or left behind in the areas of housing, education, employment, health services, economic development and criminal justice EVERY DAY! The final racism is political in nature and the edifice of policy violence. The current stream of racial inflammatory rhetoric and the administration’s decision to overtly run a campaign on it is stoking the flames.

The biggest threat the nation faces today is white silence, because with it comes complicit consent to escalation of overt hate, resulting in violence in our communities. With this silence black and brown folks will continue to be locked up and locked out as white folks choose to look the other way, pretending to believe the age-old false claims of the inalienable rights of all men. With this silence officials will be elected who in turn create policies with the intent of hurting black and brown people but the majority of the folks impacted will once again be white folks (because while most black people are poor, most poor people are white). People of color pleaded with the neo-liberal progressive white folk to break the silence in 2016. Black and brown folks even comforted white people and welcomed them to the struggle on November 9th. What will it take for white people to come to understand that if we are to save the heart of this nation, they must break their silence?

 

Mark Hughes,
Executive Director,
Justice For All

Are you interested in bringing a statewide racial justice
organizing campaign to your community?

Check out 40 Days of Fire

Racism Contributes to African American State Representative Candidate’s Withdrawal

Representative Morris withdrew her nomination for State Legislator over the weekend! Representative Morris, her Husband James and their son Jamal have been the targets of extremely hateful attacks since she took office four years ago. Unpacking this means examining everything from how law enforcement, the general public, the press and her fellow legislators have chosen to respond.

The criminal justice system is fairly consistent about failing black and brown people and this is no exception. In the same way the burden of proof is overwhelmingly on people of color when police are responding to an alleged crime committed by us (or perhaps just our presence), it falls squarely on us when we are the victims. It becomes a matter of “public safety” when whites feel “uncomfortable” but when an African American is looking for justice we invariably need “more proof”.

As the sponsor of H.492 (Act 54), Kiah was instrumental in the formation of the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel: the Panel (agency heads) that threw the Chair and Vice-chair (myself) under the bus and tossed out the work accomplished over the first 6 months.  Act 54 is the same law that the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council snubbed when they changed the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy without Human Rights Commission review in November 2017 to enable them to receive a 500K grant.

But this is not a surprise to our legislators because the senior leadership has remained silent, as we have informed them of policy implementation violence as it has occurred. This is the legislature that refused to take up language expanding the HRC or making racial profiling illegal this year. The senate refused to introduce a resolution to (next year) amend the Vermont constitution to remove slavery. The House introduced it but wouldn’t take it up.   Though this is the House’ first call for the Senate to amend the Constitution (by removing slavery) since 1777 in all likelihood your are reading/hearing this for the first time (H.R.25, 2018). This leads us to the press, but I’ll stop there because if you don’t see it by now, you just don’t’ want to see it.

Folks across the state are expressing their surprise and outrage at this turn of events. Please stop it. It exacerbates the problem when you continuously express shock and amazement at each manifestation of its existence. Systemic (and overt) racism are just as present (if not more) in Vermont as they are in any other part of the United States. The point is that as unfortunate as this is, to treat it as an isolated event misses the point. The root of this is systemic racism in Vermont and the fact that never in state history has anyone really taken a wholehearted effort to address it. The question is what, if anything can be done to once and for all cause white people to understand that it is morally wrong to trade the lives of black and brown and poor people for political and economic power?

We call upon the Attorney General and Human Rights Commission, in coordination with community stakeholder to revise the ACT 54, Racial Disparities in State Systems, report released 15 December of 2017.  We demand that specific recommendations be tied to resources, implementation timelines and achievement measurement criteria.  We call upon the Senate President Pro Tempore and the House Speaker to  prioritize enacting policy recommendations outlined in the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel Report (Act) 54.

 

Mark Hughes,
Executive Director,
Justice For All

 

Are you interested in bringing a statewide racial justice
organizing campaign to your community?

Check out 40 Days of Fire

#prisonstrike

Support the Strike

On August 21st prisoner rebels across the country will refuse to keep the prison machinery running and demand an end to prison slavery. On the outside, we’re busy spreading the word, organizing solidarity demos and more.

National Prison Strike

Men and women incarcerated in prisons across the nation declare a nationwide strike in response to the riot in Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina. Seven comrades lost their lives during a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration, and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in our nation’s penal ideology. These men and women are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.

These are the NATIONAL DEMANDS of the men and women in federal, immigration, and state prisons:

1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.

7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.

10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!

We all agree to spread this strike throughout the prisons of Ameri$$$a! From August 21st to September 9th, 2018, men and women in prisons across the nation will strike in the following manner:

1. Work Strikes: Prisoners will not report to assigned jobs. Each place of detention will determine how long its strike will last. Some of these strikes may translate into a local list of demands designed to improve conditions and reduce harm within the prison.

2. Sit-ins : In certain prisons, men and women will engage in peaceful sit – in protests.

3. Boycotts: All spending should be halted. We ask those outside the walls not to make financial judgments for those inside. Men and women on the in side will inform you if they are participating in this boycott.

4. Hunger Strikes: Men and women shall refuse to eat.

We support the call of Free Alabama Movement Campaign to “Redistribute the Pain” 2018 as Bennu Hannibal Ra – Sun, formerly known as Melvin Ray has laid out (with the exception of refusing visitation). See these principles described here:

https://redistributethepain.wordpress.com/

How You Can Help

Make the nation take a look at our demands. Demand action on our demands by contacting your local, state, and federal political representatives with these demands. Ask them where they stand.

Spread the strike and word of the strike in every place of detention.

Contact a supporting local organization to see how you can be supportive. If you are unsure of who to connect with, email millionsforprisonersmarch@gmail.com

Be prepared by making contact with people in prison, family members of prisoners, and prisoner support organizations in your state to assist in notifying the public and media on strike conditions.

Assist in our announced initiatives to have the votes of people in jail and prison counted in elections.

Donate to strike’s official fundraising page here: https://fundly.com/2018-prisoner-strike

For the Media: Inquiries should be directed to
prisonstrikemedia@gmail.com

Latest Updates

 

14th Amendment to the US Constitution Ratified on 28 July, 1868

Well, it’s been 150 years now.

The 14th Amendment sought out in an attempt to ensure that the “truths” that were asserted to be “self evident” 92 years earlier became a reality for African Americans. It was only as a result of the reconstitution of southern governments (inclusion of African Americans) that the 14th Amendment was ultimately ratified.  This would be only partial and short-lived. Whites later rallied behind the Democratic Party, which promised a return of white control (and supremacy). The Ku Klux Klan used violence and intimidation to assist southern Democrats in winning elections. By the 1870s, most southern governments were Democratic controlled. In 1877 in a “Compromise” to settle the hotly contested election (Hayes/Tilden), Hayes was given the White House in exchange for the federal troops pulling out of the south (effectively ending reconstruction).  The withdrawal of federal troops from the South in 1877 enabled white southern Democrats to reverse many of the political and social gains African-Americans had realized and ushered us into the proliferation of lynching, black laws, convict leasing and the era of Jim Crow. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was even overturned and deemed “unconstitutional” in 1883!

Over the years, the 14th Amendment has served as the foundation for Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which struck down racial segregation (overturning Plessy v. Furguson) and Loving v. Virginia (1967), which deemed the prohibition of interracial marriage unconstitutional.   It is however more widely known for undergirding decisions like Roe v. Wade (1973) which legalized abortion, Bush v. Gore (2000) which gave the presidential election to George W. Bush, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) which constitutionalized same-sex marriage.  Notably, there was a conscious decision by the Supreme Court to avoid the use of the 14th Amendment in support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Between 1890 and 1910, 14th Amendment cases involving corporations vastly outnumbered those involving the rights of blacks, 288 to 19.  

The 14th Amendment has often been cited in defending cases calling for the elimination of affirmative action (particularly in colleges and universities), introducing so-called reverse discrimination.  From Fisher v. Texas to, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, numerous attempts have been made to do so. In early July, 2018, this administration rolled back the affirmative action guidelines for colleges and universities. The brief filings in the “Students for Fair Admission, INC., v. Harvard “ litigation” (reverse discrimination) are due at the end of this month while the President is poised to seat yet another Supreme Court Justice.  The 14th Amendment stands at the intersection of overturning Roe v. Wade AS WELL as Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (college admission affirmative action).

Race and racism has been used throughout all history to obtain and sustain political and economic power.  The turmoil and adversity leading to the ratification of the 14th Amendment was severe and the price high.  It came at the cost of the lives of countless African Americans and the obliteration of their history and the hopes of their future. It came as at the cost of the most horrific and bloodiest war in United States history.  The 14th Amendment is yet another example of efforts that have been made throughout all history to right that which has been wronged.  It along with all other efforts has been faced with white backlashes of increasing violence and complexity. And once again, adding insult to injury is that the 14th Amendment today serves as just another tool that was designed to make things better but was co opted to make things worse.

Happy Sesquicentennial, 14th Amendment!

 

Mark Hughes,
Executive Director,
Justice For All
Racial Justice Reform Coalition

 

Donate to Justice For All here.

Justice For All pursues racial justice within Vermont’s criminal justice system through advocacy, education, and relationship-building.

Here are options to become a member, provide organizational support or simply provide a contribution.

Thank you for your support!