Non-partisan groups build power by boosting turnout

Non-partisan groups build power by boosting turnout

Nearly 40% of Louisianans are people of color, and half of all Louisianans live in households earning less than $50,000 a year. But state government all too often fails to uphold the interests of these constituencies. As the Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports, faith communities and advocacy groups, led by Together Louisiana and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, are trying to change that dynamic by boosting turnout at the polls by voters of color and voters whose incomes leave them struggling to get by:

Their goal is to increase participation of a large group of voters who historically have left the electoral decision-making to wealthier voters. While nearly 46% of the state’s 2.9 million voters participated in the Oct. 12 primary, upper income voters outpaced lower income balloting by 13 percent. “We were concerned about low, low turnout,” said the Rev. James Barrett, of the Greater Sixty-Aid Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. “We’re concerned about what it tells our elected officials about our issues.”


Locking up kids in crisis
Budget cuts during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration decimated mental health services for children, leaving most Louisiana parishes without a practicing psychiatrist or psychologist, and 21 parishes (as of 2015, the most recent year that data is available) without a practicing pediatrician. The legacy of those cuts is a state that frequently locks up kids facing a mental health emergency, rather than providing them with the care they need. Now, the Southern Poverty Law Center is suing the state for failing to meet its obligations. | The Advocate’s Emily Woodruff has the story.

In Louisiana, children on Medicaid have few options when they experience a mental health crisis, according to the lawsuit. Children should have access to professionals trained in crisis prevention to de-escalate a situation and prevent parents from seeking law enforcement as a last resort. In many rural areas, there are no such centers or programs, or they have long waiting lists. “The … option they have is to call 911, which can result in getting juvenile justice involved,” said Victor Jones, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC. “The other option is to have the child institutionalized.”


The GI Bill’s legacy of racial inequity
For millions of veterans, the GI Bill offered a pathway to a fulfilling career and a foothold in the middle-class. But while the 1944 legislation authorizing tuition waivers and living stipends for veterans was race-neutral on its face, the bill’s implementation—in part by the design of avowedly racist legislators—placed obstacles before black veterans and underfunded Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Historian Joseph Thompson, writing in The Conversation, explains:

More than 2 million veterans flocked to college campuses throughout the country. But even as former service members entered college, not all of them accessed the bill’s benefits in the same way. That’s because white southern politicians designed the distribution of benefits under the GI Bill to uphold their segregationist beliefs. So, while white veterans got into college with relative ease, black service members faced limited options and outright denial in their pursuit for educational advancement. This resulted in uneven outcomes of the GI Bill’s impact.


No due process and long-lingering punishments for vets with “Bad Paper” discharges
Benefits that help veterans buy homes, earn a college degree and access reliable, affordable health care are key supports for people who put their lives at risk in service to their nation. But veterans with “other than honorable” discharges, issued by commanding officers for minor offenses and without the due process protections that accompany trial in a court-martial, are cut off from these supports when they leave the military. Writing for The Nation, veteran Tyson Manker explains how the stigma of an other than honorable discharge does particular harm to vets with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and who suffered sexual assault while serving.

Less-than-honorable discharges, used to oust gay troops until the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” are given for a variety of behaviors attributable to PTSD, including self-medication—as I experienced. Most outrageous is when rape victims are punished with bad paper for reporting their assaults. Or the fact that right now black service members are “substantially more likely than white service members to face military justice or disciplinary action.” (…) After being ostracized from their peers and the military community, they’re permanently barred from most government jobs, and most often are not allowed access to VA health care or other much-needed benefits to ease transition out of the military. They face serious disadvantages in the job market, where employers routinely request service records when applicants identify as veterans.


Number of the Day
44,000 – Estimated minimum number of New Orleanians who could see relief if Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s office dismisses warrants stemming from traffic violations. Stand with Dignity and the New Orleans Public Defender’s Office argue that these warrants disproportionately penalize the city’s poor residents. (Source: Route Fifty)