For Immediate Release: July 16, 2017
Notice of Press Conference: Monday, July 17, 2017 at 4:00
Contact: Jonathan C Beard
Voting Rights For Columbus Blacks Threatened by City Officials
Worried African American citizens of Columbus will be holding a press conference Monday to amplify the concerns being raised by an ordinance to be voted on by Columbus City Council at the meeting later that day.
If passed, Columbus City Council’s Ordinance 1868-2017 would place a proposed charter amendment on the ballot to change the structure of city council from its current format of having every member elected at-large (in citywide elections) to a structure where 9 members would be nominated by district, but all would be elected through citywide votes — an almost unheard of electoral format across the country.
The proposal is legally suspect: the NAACP Legal Defense Fund — the nation’s pre-eminent civil rights law firm — has previously raised questions about the potential for unlawful racial discrimination through vote dilution in Columbus’s current at-large elections system, and the U. S. Department of Justice also challenges at-large elections by lawsuit. This proposal is even more likely to yield racially discriminatory effects than the current politically manipulated system.
Jonathan Beard, Chair of Everyday People for Positive Change and co-chair of the political awareness committee of the Columbus Action Network says, “They must really think we are stupid: they are trying to roll back the hands of time with this terrible proposal that overrides the clear intent of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 2 — a permanent provision of the Act — ensures that people of race, color and language minority groups are able to elect candidates of our choice, without having our votes diluted in a larger pool of majority voters.” Beard notes that the City Hall proposal is designed in a way that ensures the votes of Columbus’s geographically-concentrated African American citizens in one or more districts must be ratified by the city’s White majority in the citywide (at-large) elections. “What city council has put forward is institutionalized racism. It is an unnecessarily discriminatory design that will ensure the Columbus Black community’s political leadership has to have the approval of the White majority, which is unacceptable to Black Columbus,” he says.
Rev. Joel L. King, Jr., first cousin to the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will be leading the effort to galvanize the African American and other faith communities against this divisive plan that was brought forward by staffers of city council and the mayor, ratified by the 2016 Charter Review Committee, and moved to council’s agenda by council’s Rules and Reference Committee. King says “clearly, the results of this ordinance run counter to everything Black folk and our White allies fought together to achieve more than fifty years ago. This is nuts: we will not go backward because some people don’t know or understand our history.”
Beard says, “to date we count at least four votes on council — a majority — in favor of this abomination. They have the votes to pass it. To delay a vote until after the November election is unacceptable when it should simply be trashed for the racial inequities it would enshrine in our charter. Council members should have the courage to stand up to the big money oligarchs that control their elections and run the city – this seems to show the much ballyhooed “Columbus Way” was barely-masked White supremacy. Our council must support Columbus’s federally protected racial and ethnic minorities, or face the wrath of the overwhelmingly good people of Columbus at the polls for the council’s rejection of the core component of Voting Rights Act – the crown jewel of American democracy.”
Willis Brown, a member of everyday People for Positive Change and Commissioner of the Near East Area Commission says “We will stand on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, in front of the city-owned King Arts Complex to remind Columbus officials that King is significant not so you can hypocritically name something after him while rejecting his values and life work — but because he stood for the equality of all God’s people, as we do here today to affirm and defend that work.” We are here to remind you of the fact that the crowning achievement of the civil rights era — the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — is at risk here in Columbus, Ohio. Brown says, “Just look around my neighborhood and you can see example after example of how Black voices have been disrespected by our at-large city council — this new proposal makes it even worse.”
Everyday People are calling on Columbus City Council to abandon this proposal that negates racial political equality and instead consolidates power even further in the hands of a few and removes democratic power from the people. Beard says “Council is delaying a vote on this discriminatory ordinance – likely until after the council elections in November – rather than killing immediately it like it deserves. We are calling on our African American brothers and sisters and all the other people of good-will to reject this discriminatory proposal from the past, and to prepare for the ballot issue that promotes political equality for all Columbus citizens to be put forward in May.”
Everyday People will start building opposition to the expected November ballot issue and support for the May ballot issue for fair and competitive elections — starting with our first meeting for supporters on the Near East Side, at the MLK Branch Library, 1600 E. Long Street, on Tuesday, September 5th at 6:00, and a second meeting for Linden area supporters, scheduled for the Linden Branch Library at 2223 Cleveland Avenue on September 6.
Vote dilution removes power from everyday people in Black Columbus. As depicted by our logo, Everyday People for Positive Change embraces love, peace, and power to the people. Reach out to us to help at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at www.EverydayPeopleColumbus.us, and join us on Facebook.