Category Archives: Voting Rights

In This Pennsylvania Town, Racism ‘Was Quiet.’ Then Trump Stoked Fears of Violence

Above: Troy Johnson of Aliquippa speaks up on election turmoil

MILTON, Pa. — Kareem Williams Jr. sits on a park bench in the center of town and waits for the racists to attack. He tells himself he is ready. It’s a cool Saturday morning in fall, and the valley is alive with the rumble of pickups.

When the trucks stop, here at the red light at the corner of Broadway and Front Street, drivers gun their engines. Some glare directly into Williams’ eyes.

Williams is a Black man. The drivers are white. All their passengers are white. Williams returns their gaze with equal ferocity. He tells himself he is ready. He is not. His back faces the Susquehanna River. His car is parked a block away. If these white men jump from their truck, fists or pistols raised, Williams has nowhere to run.

The light turns green. Engine roar blasts the river. Williams follows each truck with his eyes until it’s gone.

“I always knew racism was here. But it was quiet,” said Williams, 24, a factory worker and a corporal in the Pennsylvania National Guard who grew up in Milton. “Now, in this election, people are more openly racist. The dirty looks, middle fingers, the Confederate flags.”

To Williams, and to many non-white people he knows in central Pennsylvania, this rise in overtly racist behavior is linked inextricably to the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump. In yards up and down the Central Susquehanna Valley, Williams sees Confederate flags and Trump flags flying side by side. People with the most Trump bumper stickers seem the most likely to shout hateful things.

As the presidential election approaches, Williams said, such threats grow more common, more passionate.

“On election day I’m going to be in my house. I’m not going anywhere,” said Williams, known by his nickname K.J. “If these racists are looking to protest, they’ll go to Harrisburg or Philadelphia or D.C. If they’re looking to kill people, this will be the place. They’re gonna come here.”

Experts on American racial history agree. For Black people living in towns like Milton, they say, the threat of white terrorism is the highest it’s been in generations.

“Historically, most acts of racial terror have been enacted in rural communities, small towns or medium-sized cities,” said Khalil Muhammad, a history professor at Harvard University. “The conditions for wide-scale anti-Black violence are today more likely than at any point in the last 50 years.”

‘That’s a powder keg’

Within a month, 230 communities in Pennsylvania organized 400 anti-racism events, said Lara Putnam, a historian at the University of Pittsburgh who studies grassroots movements.

“That is an insane number,” Putnam said. “It’s an order of magnitude larger than the number of places that ever held a Tea Party event.”

Many protests happened in towns where African Americans and other non-white people constitute a tiny minority, surrounded by rural communities with virtually no people of color at all. Those areas are overwhelmingly conservative, said Daniel Mallinson, a political science professor at Penn State Harrisburg. Out of 6 million votes cast in Pennsylvania in 2016, Trump won the state by 42,000.

But in Milton he dominated, carrying the surrounding Northumberland County by 69%. In front yards and country fields, Trump flags and Confederate flags comingle.

“Traditionally when we think of political candidates, we think of yard signs. But a lot of Trump flags went up in 2016, and in a lot of places they didn’t come down. It’s a visual representation of tribalism in our politics,” Mallinson said. “There’s a lot of implicit and explicit racial bias in central Pennsylvania.”

As local critics and defenders of the white establishment grow more engaged, state and national politics raise the stakes. Pennsylvania is the likeliest state in the nation to decide the presidential election, according to FiveThirtyEight, a polling and analytics aggregator. Statewide polls place Democrat Joe Biden ahead of Trump by 7%, the same as Hillary Clinton’s lead in Pennsylvania three weeks before the 2016 election.

Large-scale voting fraud has never been detected in modern American politics. Yet Trump often claims he can lose only if the 2020 election is fraudulent, which stokes fear and anger among his core supporters, experts said.

“They fully expect Trump will win,” said John Kennedy, a political science professor at West Chester University outside Philadelphia. “When they hear the results on election night, that’s a powder keg.”

Trump also appears to encourage the more violent factions of his coalition. The president repeatedly has declined to promise a peaceful transition of power. He defended Kyle Rittenhouse for killing an unarmed protester in Kenosha, Wisconsin. During the first presidential debate, Trump appeared to encourage white terrorists, urging the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” and insisting that “somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.”

Some white people in central Pennsylvania appear to be following the president’s lead.

“Do I worry about right-wing vigilante violence against peaceful protests if people are protesting Trump after the election? Yes,” Putnam said. “It’s happening. And there’s every reason to think more of it will happen.”

In September, Trump proposed designating the KKK and antifa as terrorist organizations. Antifa is not an organization, however, but rather an idea shared by some on the left to aggressively challenge fascists and Nazis, especially during street protests.

“President Trump has unequivocally denounced hate groups by name on numerous occasions but the media refuses to accurately cover it because that would mean the end of a Democrat Party talking point,” said Samantha Zager, a Trump campaign spokesperson. “The Trump campaign will patiently wait for the media to develop the same intense curiosity on these actual threats to our democracy as it has with regard to hypothetical scenarios from the left.”

In July, neo-Nazis rallied in Williamsport, 20 miles north of Milton. In August, a white person fired into a crowd of civil rights marchers in Schellsburg, Pennsylvania, wounding a man in the face. At a recent event for police reform in Watsontown, three miles north of Milton along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, white counter-protesters yelled that Black people “live off white people.”

Overlooking the protest, on the balcony of the Mansion House restaurant, white men stood armed with assault rifles.

“They looked like snipers,” Williams said. “Trump is the motivator in all of this. He has a huge following here.”

The last time America witnessed such an open embrace between white supremacists and the White House was the administration of Woodrow Wilson, said Muhammad.

“You have to go back 100 years,” Muhammad said. “We have every reason to be extremely vigilant about the possibility for violence over the next several weeks. Anywhere where people are flying Confederate flags are places where people ought to be mindful of where they move in public.”

Racism in the land of Chef Boyardee

The side streets of downtown Milton end in rich river bottomlands where the autumn corn grows 7 feet tall.

Continue reading In This Pennsylvania Town, Racism ‘Was Quiet.’ Then Trump Stoked Fears of Violence

How Hostile Poll-Watchers Could Hand Pennsylvania to Trump

One tactic is making the lines slow down with spurious challenges

The state’s unique rules make it vulnerable to Election Day mischief. In a tight race, that could help Donald Trump.

By Erick Trickey
Politico.com

In 2004, hundreds of University of Pittsburgh students waited for hours to vote in the presidential election. The local Democratic Party, alarmed at the bottleneck, handed out pizza and water to encourage the students to stay. Pittsburgh Steelers Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris worked the line, armed with a giant bag of Dunkin Donuts, and Liz Berlin of the Pittsburgh band Rusted Root performed on guitar.

The stalled line wasn’t because of the high turnout. It was what was happening at the check-in desk.

“The attorneys for the Republican Party were challenging the credentials of pretty much every young voter who showed up,” recalls Pat Clark, a Pittsburgh activist and registered Democrat who was working for an election-protection group that day.

The GOP attorneys were acting as poll watchers. A common practice in many states, partisan poll watching helps parties get out the vote and keep an eye out for irregularities. But in Pennsylvania, laws governing how observers can challenge voters are unusually broad, and that makes them susceptible to abuse.

On that day in 2004, students who were challenged by the GOP lawyers were told they needed to find a friend who could sign an affidavit proving their identity and residence. Other battleground states, concerned that their voter-challenge laws could be misused, have limited or even abolished them in the past decade. But Pennsylvania hasn’t modified its rules. That worries election experts, who fear Donald Trump’s persistent calls for supporters to monitor the polls to prevent cheating could create conflicts and chaos inside and outside of precincts across the state.

“I hope you people can … not just vote on the 8th, [but] go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100-percent fine,” Trump said at an August 12 rally in Altoona, in rural central Pennsylvania. “We’re going to watch Pennsylvania—go down to certain areas and watch and study—[and] make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times. … The only way we can lose, in my opinion—and I really mean this, Pennsylvania—is if cheating goes on.”

In a speech 10 days later in Ohio, Trump dropped an ominous hint that he had more in mind than just witnessing democracy in action: “You’ve got to get everybody to go out and watch, and go out and vote,” Trump said. “And when [I] say ‘watch,’ you know what I’m talking about, right?”

Trump’s claim that widespread voting fraud could swing the presidential election has been widely debunked; a national study discovered only 10 cases of fraud by misrepresentation from 2000 to 2012—1 in every 15 million eligible voters. But Trump’s remedy could have a very real and much larger impact. In a state that has been described as a “blue wall,” crucial to Clinton’s election chances, and where polls show her lead in the 3 percent range (down from 9 percent a month ago), blocking likely Democratic voters in Pennsylvania’s major cities could help Trump tighten the results on November 8.

“Instead of seeing orderly poll watching,” says Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, “we might see a lot of individuals trying to take on the role of election officials or law enforcement, and crossing the line into intimidation, discrimination and polling place disruption.”

***

Pennsylvania knows it has a problem on its hands, or at least the potential for one. That’s why the Pennsylvania Department of State issued guidelines in 2012 to help election workers cope with the state’s broad law.

The guidelines, which are nonbinding, call on election workers to prevent watchers from challenging voters “routinely, frivolously or without a stated good faith basis.” Wanda Murren, press secretary for the Department of State, explains that using challenges “to intimidate or harass certain voters” could “rise to the level of criminal behavior.”

Continue reading How Hostile Poll-Watchers Could Hand Pennsylvania to Trump

Anniversary March Commemorates Selma, Stresses the Importance of Voting

By Justin Criado

Beaver County Times

March 9, 2015 – BEAVER FALLS — Upwards of 100 people marched from New Brighton to Beaver Falls on Sunday afternoon to commemorate the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," which took place March 7, 1965, in Selma, Ala., as civil rights activists marched to the state capital of Montgomery for voting rights.

"Things like this sparks into the people to get out there and vote, and that we have a chance to get out there and make a difference," said Abe Askew, of Aliquippa.

Askew believed that Sunday’s march and similar acts of empowerment can have positive impacts on people and communities alike, saying he will spread the word regarding the importance of voting.

"(I’ll tell) all the people that I know from Aliquippa and it’ll go from here to there," Askew said. "It goes into a stream and a stream into a river."

The march began at New Brighton’s Townsend Park, across from the borough building at Third Avenue and Sixth Street, and crossed the bridge over the Beaver River to Beaver Falls, before concluding at Beaver Falls Memorial Park at Sixth Avenue and 11th Street, where several guest speakers addressed the crowd, including event organizer Olivia Ryan.

Ryan, a graduate of Beaver Falls High School and Kent State University, decided to organize the event after a panel discussion on law, race and the community last weekend at Geneva College. (Continued)

Continue reading Anniversary March Commemorates Selma, Stresses the Importance of Voting

‘Moral Mondays’ Launched in Western PA

Protesters Rally for Officials to ‘Do the Right Thing’

People gather at the Beaver County Courthouse to raise awareness of several social and economic issues.

By Kirstin Kennedy

Beaver County Times

Oct 28, 2014 – BEAVER — Everyone knows the First Amendment gives citizens the right to assemble. Few regularly exercise it.

But that wasn’t the case Monday evening on the steps of the Beaver County Courthouse, when over 30 people gathered with signs and chants.

Willie Sallis, president of the NAACP in Beaver County, said he helped to gather the protest to pressure elected officials to "just do the right thing."

"What is the moral thing to do? … That’s what we’re trying to keep alive with the union and the civil rights leaders," he said. Sallis paired with several other organizations — including members of local labor unions — for the rally, with the hope of raising awareness of several social and economic issues.

Inspired by a recent lecture given locally by the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, Sallis dubbed the rally Moral Monday.

"What’s the right thing to do for the poor?" Sallis said. "What’s the right thing to do for health benefits? What’s the right thing to do when it comes to jobs? What’s the right thing to do when it comes to minimum wages? All we’re saying is, ‘Look, do the right thing.’"

On the courthouse lawn, participants chanted, "Keep it fair; we care."

Continue reading ‘Moral Mondays’ Launched in Western PA

Oct 27: ‘Moral Monday’ Rally at the Courthouse Monday Evening!

From Tina Shannon:

Friends,

Monday, October 27th, is a big day for Beaver County.

It’s the day we’ll have our first Moral Monday rally at the Beaver County Court House.

At 6:00 PM we’ll all gather on the steps of the Court House in Beaver to announce our intentions. We intend to follow our moral compass & use our energy to address the issues facing Beaver County & Pennsylvania.

Public education is under attack. It’s harder than ever to make a living because unions are under attack too. There aren’t enough jobs. Our very water is being threatened because of cuts to the agencies that are supposed to protect it. Inequality is at an all time high, with our brothers & sisters in the African American community suffering the worst. We intend to gather people together & address these issues & other issues that hurt our beloved community.

Please please join us. It’s the beginning of coming together. It’s the beginning of reaching out. It’s the beginning of standing & listening to each other & finding the way forward.

With love & solidarity,

Tina Shannon, 12th CD Progressive Democrats of America
Read more on Moral Mondays:

http://www.thenation.com/article/180491/how-moral-mondays-fusion-coalition-taking-north-carolina-back#
Activists to Watch: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber | BillMoyers.com

We Win a Round on Voting Rights in PA!

Corbett Administration Abandons Voter ID Appeal

From PA AFL-CIO

May 9, 2014 – After more than two years, multiple trials, and a confusing roll-out that ultimately disenfranchised tens of thousands of eligible voters and cost millions of dollars, Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law has been defeated.  In a statement yesterday, the Corbett administration indicated that they would not appeal the Commonwealth Court’s January ruling, which found the law to be unconstitutional on its face.

At the time of that ruling, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO urged the Commonwealth to accept the judge’s findings and to abandon further appeals.  “This process has already cost the Commonwealth millions of dollars, and risked the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of our citizens,” said PA AFL-CIO President Bloomingdale.  “We are pleased that the administration has finally decided to face the fact that their voter ID law was never constitutional.”

While defending the broader concept of voter ID requirements in their statement yesterday, the Corbett administration also made the surprising acknowledgement that ‘for a voter identification law to be found constitutional, changes must be made to address accessibility to photo identifications.’

“While the court ruling in January, combined with this week’s developments, are a victory for voting rights, there is still much work to do,” said PA AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Snyder. “We have avoided taking a step backwards, but Pennsylvania is still one of the more restrictive states when it comes to ballot access.”  Among the changes that voting rights advocates have called for in Pennsylvania are early voting, same-day registration, and no-excuse absentee ballots.

Meet the Preacher Behind Moral Mondays

Coming to Beaver County in June, The Reverend William Barber is charting a new path for protesting Republican overreach in the South—and maybe beyond.

By Lisa Rab

Beaver County Blue via Mother Jones

April 14, 2014 – The Reverend William Barber is charting a new path for protesting conservative overreach in the North Carolina—and beyond.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the Reverend William Barber II [1] reclined uncomfortably in a chair in his office, sipping bottled water as he recovered from two hours of strenuous preaching. When he was in his early 20s, Barber was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful arthritic condition affecting the spine. Still wearing his long black robes, the 50-year-old minister recounted how, as he’d proclaimed in a rolling baritone from the pulpit that morning, "a crippled preacher has found his legs."

It began a few days before Easter 2013, recalled Barber, pastor at the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and president of the state chapter [2] of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). "On Maundy Thursday, they chose to crucify voting rights," he said.

"They" are North Carolina Republicans, who in November 2012 took control of the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion for the first time in more than a century. Among their top priorities—along with blocking Medicaid expansion and cutting unemployment benefits and higher-education spending—was pushing through a raft of changes to election laws, including reducing the number of early voting days, ending same-day voter registration, and requiring ID at the polls. "That’s when a group of us said, ‘Wait a minute, this has just gone too far,’" Barber said.

Barber "believed we needed to kind of burst this bubble of ‘There’s nothing we can do for two years until the next election.’"

On the last Monday of April 2013, Barber led a modest group of clergy and activists into the state legislative building in Raleigh. They sang "We Shall Overcome," quoted the Bible, and blocked the doors to the Senate chambers. Barber leaned on his cane as capitol police led him away in handcuffs.

That might have been the end of just another symbolic protest, but then something happened: The following Monday, more than 100 protesters showed up at the capitol. Over the next few months, the weekly crowds at the "Moral Mondays" protests grew to include hundreds, and then thousands, not just in Raleigh but also in towns around the state. The largest gathering, in February, drew tens of thousands of people [3]. More than 900 protesters have been arrested for civil disobedience over the past year. Copycat movements have started in Florida [4], Georgia [5], South Carolina [6], and Alabama [7] in response to GOP legislation regarding Medicaid and gun control.

Continue reading Meet the Preacher Behind Moral Mondays

Aug 24 March Gathering New Energy: Help Us With The Buses!

by Tina Shannon, President

PA 12th CD Chapter, Progressive Democrats of America

July 24, 2013

Friends, You’ve probably all heard about the 50th Anniversary March on Washington by now. At first it seemed the March might be a well-deserved but merely historic commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr’s magnificent I Have a Dream speech.

As time passed though, it became clear that many folks were quite aware of how relevant Dr. King’s words were to our present time. We are having our voting rights curtailed. We need jobs. The important institutions of civil society, such as schools and social services are being cut and even eliminated.

Then the incident in Florida made painfully clear to our entire nation how strongly racism still exists. Trayvon Martin is a black teen-ager cut down before his life was even launched, and he is only one of many with more to come. The whole country now must confront the truth about ALEC, the right wing think tank creating harmful & divisive legislation for corporations to foist upon Republican State lawmakers. We must also face the fact that Stand Your Ground laws are in place throughout the country allowing scared racists to confront those they perceive as different and dangerous and kill them if they feel threatened.

So, on top of all the economic and political problems we face, laws like this are being implemented that destroy the very fabric of our society.

It’s time to say, enough.

Folks all over the country are reserving buses and getting their friends & family to go to Washington to deliver this message.

We have reserved & filled 4 buses in Beaver County already. Enough people are expressing interest that we have reserved a 5th bus. We are currently raising funds to pay for it.

The cost of the 5th bus is $2400. One of you has already very generously donated $500. Only $1900 more to go. Please donate whatever you can. If everyone gives $10 or $20, we’ve got this.

Please sign up to go on the bus also. I think this March shaping up to be a historic event all on it’s own.

I often hear people ask, “When are we in this country going to get fed up & take to the streets?” Good question. It might be August 24th.

Let me know.

Tina Shannon

(724)-683-1925

August 24, 2013: March for Freedom, Jobs and Voting Rights. We Need EVERYONE OUT to Defend the Dream

Our 12th CD PDA Chapter is part of this Committee. We are working to make this an important national event. HELP US FILL THE BUSES!

Contact Tina Shannon if you want to go,

via email or 724-683-1925

 

"I HAVE A DREAM"

50th Anniversary

March on Washington

Come with the MLK 50th Anniversary Committee

to a March on Washington

August 24th 2013

to continue the fight for jobs and voting rights

Leaving from IBEW Hall, Sassafras Lane in Vanport/Beaver

Departure time : 3am Returning: 11pm