Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Ferguson votes

Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown was killed by a white cop last summer, voted yesterday. Viewed from across the country, the results seem mixed.

Two-thirds of Ferguson’s 21,000 residents are Black. Yet there had only been one African American on the city council. The new city council will be replacing the city manager. The previous occupant of that position resigned after the city's racist law enforcement practices were excoriated in a Department of Justice report. The new city manager will have to supervise a new police chief as the previous chief also has left.

Turnout was way up -- 30 percent rather than 12 percent of eligible voters who participated in the last election. Given that these elections are held in April of odd numbered years, it is amazing that anyone votes.

Three council seats were open. An African American woman, Ella Jones, who seems to have had activist support, replaced a white council member who did not stand for re-election. Two Black men ran in Ward 3 where Michael Brown was shot, so Wesley Bell has added another African American face to the council. In Ward 2, two white men ran. A former Ferguson mayor, Brian P. Fletcher, who had peddled “I Love Ferguson” t-shirts in opposition to the protests, triumphed.

In the run up to the election, Democratic committeewoman Patricia Bynes explained why increasing Black turnout is so laborious:

“There’s nobody stopping people in Ferguson from participating in these low-level elections. The disenfranchisement comes from people feeling oppressed,” she said. “All of the systems that are in place. And when you beat people down enough, some stand up, get involved, and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ But others start giving up, and feed into the idea that ‘things are not going to change, I can’t change it, I’m not strong enough to change it’—and they give up on one of the most powerful things in this country.”

Bynes argues that we should view voter apathy in communities like Ferguson in a different framework, and that conservative measures to limit access were, in essence, redundant when paired with bad public policy and cultural erasure. “They don’t have to play voter-ID games. There’s no poll tax anymore. They don’t even have to play games with where you put the polling place,” she told me. “After you have beaten people down enough over the years and some of them have forgotten their history, this is what happens.”

Ferguson has made a start on a new history, but nothing comes easy.


Rain Trueax said...

My objection to what was claimed as an excuse for not voting (a lot of whites are apathetic too) is it takes away the responsibility once again from the one who stays home-- it's not their fault. I have argued against that mentality all my life and in personal relationships too. It is only not my fault if I am a slave. To say it's not my fault means I have no responsibility for what I've done or not done. I disagree. It is their fault to not vote.

We can though make it easier to vote. Oregon, on a ballot measure, went to vote by mail. And this year, our governor signed into law that when someone gets a driver's license, they are registered to vote. That does not get in non-drivers but it's better than what we had. Vote by mail might bring out more in other states as sometimes they don't vote because they are working. Vote by mail offers no such excuse as the ballot comes in the mail and so does the information on candidates or ballot measures. [I did not actually vote for doing it by mail as I liked the polling booth and the community aspect, but it was the right decision, our voting numbers are much improved, and I am a major fan of it now. When we will be gone for the time the ballots would arrive, we request early voting and that works too]

janinsanfran said...

Hi Rain: easier voting would sure help. Registration is a restrictive anachronism in our hyper-connected world.

What also strikes me about the Ferguson situation is how little incentive the town presented to aspiring candidates. The winners only get paid $250/month. But they have to reconstruct the whole town government edifice. And they can't (shouldn't!) depend on revenue from ticketing black drivers to do it. And, for their entire terms, most constituents are going to be mad at them.

Not much fun and quite enough reason for a lot of good people not to run.

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