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Letters to the Editor

Brown for homeland security
You asked for writers to tell what homeland security means to us in 100 words or less. Your paper stated that you believe that it is not about neighbors spying on neighbors. But it is about good jobs, health care for all and government in the public interest. In such a small space of 100 words I cannot tell my story. I could not tell how the nation deprives me of a sense of safety. It was just two months ago that I was living between two different homeless shelters. I have a graduate degree in social work and even now, the work I do does not provide the security I need to know I will continue to have a place to live. I do not work in social work now. I work and receive a wage insufficient to meet the local housing costs. I am not alone and use my situation only to illustrate a national shame for the world's wealthiest nation. I decided to look at the elections coming up and see where people stand. One candidate stood out, and that was Cynthia Brown for U.S. Senate. She stands out as clearly the one most invested in the public interest and not the corporate interest. Cynthia Brown does not benefit from large corporate funded campaigns. A paper like The Independent should be supporting and endorsing Cynthia Brown if it is true what you say about homeland security. She is the only candidate mentioning the essential need for a higher minimum wage.

How can I feel safe and secure without health care? Even when I had health insurance, I knew about many that did not have it. I knew that without universal health care that anyone could be at risk for lack of access to the best health care possible and necessary. The solutions lie with the legislators and other leaders we elect. It is only Cynthia Brown, among those running for U.S. Senate in North Carolina, who has stated a belief in universal health care. After the election we must fight against the scare tactics of insurance companies as they try to frighten us against health care reform.

Affordable housing groups in various cities, including Durham with the Council to End Homelessness in Durham (CEHD), are developing 10 year plans to end homelessness. These issues all go hand-in-hand. When I lived on the street, I didn't know safety, security or comfort.

Is Big Brother editing?
Let me see if I have this straight: In order to protect the alternative press in the Triangle, you are going to dismantle your competition.

Am I your only reader who thinks you are channeling George Orwell?

Race and redistricting
Now that it's all over but the voting, The Independent and local white progressive commentators generally must be taken to task for refusing to stand up for black voting rights during last spring's judicial battles over redistricting the state legislature. As a black voter who actually got moved, by a racist white judge, from a black state House district into a majority-white one that will force us into fratricidal primaries versus the very white progressives who ought to be our allies, I certainly deserve to be heard.

To its credit, the caption that The Independent chose for Durham Rep. Mickey Michaux's observation that since the Republican federal Supreme Court had already selected the President, the Republican state one [court] might as well go ahead and select the legislature, was "telling it like it is." But that one mere caption was the sum total of progressive printed support. It fell far short of insisting that the whole-county provision was unconstitutional because of its incompatibility with one-person/one-vote, or its tendency (indeed, its intent) to disenfranchise factions that were a minority within their county. Instead, after first speculating about why the Supreme Court was taking so long to rule, Independent columnist Bob Geary joined his Spectator counterpart Todd Morman, former Durham legislator Sharon Thompson, and voting rights activist Chris Heagarty in advocating an "independent" redistricting commission, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest in the legislature's redistricting itself. This unified chorus of white progressives whining about how "drawing district lines brings out the worst in legislators," while ignoring how racism is bringing out the worst in Republican judges, was simply deplorable: Legislators are supposed to act in their (and their constituencies') self-interest. Judges, however, are supposed to apply the law. One of these sins really is more important than the other.

Falling for Republican spin, Geary further argued (about the Democratic legislature), "With their blatant gerrymandering, they show themselves to be not the least interested in fairness, which opens the door for an unfair N.C. judiciary to step in. ... " This was simply ridiculous: The state Senate map ratified after the 1990 Census was aggressively partisan enough to sustain Democratic control of that chamber even through the Republican landslide of 1994, yet it did not open a door for any judicial intervention back then. What opened the door for the unfair judiciary to step in was a trend in the federal judicial climate, trickling down from the top, which the state Supreme Court chose to follow. In this climate, even if the Justice Department had reasserted its denial of preclearance to the whole-county provision (which the state should've demanded immediately, instead of drawing another map), the federal Supreme Court would have overruled it.

To see more clearly how infuriating it is to actual black people to watch white policy wonks fiddle while our voting rights burn, one need only ask, what would've happened if there had been an independent redistricting commission in THIS cycle? The opinion that it could somehow have helped is farcically naive. Had it existed, the commission would've had to assume that both the Justice Department's 1981 denial of pre-clearance to the whole-county provision and the U.S. District Court's 1983 rejection (Cavanaugh v. Brock, from Forsyth county) of it for the 60 non-preclearance counties were still in effect. Then, as commission supporters themselves have pointed out, it would still have produced a Democratic-leaning map because of the state-level Democratic registration advantage. Then, Republican judicial activists would've dredged up the long-discredited and (federally) unconstitutional whole-county provision, gone judge-shopping, and gotten the independent redistricting commission's plan superseded by a racist Republican gerrymander. They would've known they could get away with this because the federal Supreme Court has recently been overruling the Justice Department routinely in cases alleging wrongful dilution of minority voting strength (most blatantly in Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board).

You cannot cure one party's insistence on lying on the bench (instead of sitting on it) with a nonpartisan redistricting commission. There is a real problem here, and it IS NOT that legislatures can redistrict themselves. It is that Republican judicial majorities have abandoned all pretense of fairness or following the law and are just mis-resolving everything in their own partisan favor and against individual rights. These sins are NOT created equal. If this strikes you as self-interested special pleading from a member of a suspect class, then don't take my word for it: A Republican federal appellate judge (John T. Noonan Jr. of the Ninth Circuit) has offered a whole book's worth of documentation (Narrowing the Nation's Power, University of California Press). General evisceration of the Voting Rights Act has been part of this trend. What is the local white progressive community coming to, when even Republican judges are upset enough about this to write whole books about it, while all the community can do is pass the buck to yet another committee?

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