Opinion

By Oak Park resident, Peter Werbe

I never wanted to live in a suburb. I was born and raised in Detroit, attended its schools and, although I went away to college for a period, I finished my studies at Wayne State University. My wife and I happily moved into the area surrounding its campus with an appreciation of the student activism and exciting cultural scene of the time.

The suburbs always represented to me the worst about America. Culturally sterile, ticky-tacky houses, the artificiality of shopping malls, and – let’s be frank – where white people often moved so as not to live
close to minorities.

Each fall in the Detroit pubic schools I attended, the social studies department would sponsor a model United Nations, a miniature replica of the actual session occurring simultaneously at the UN headquarters in New York City. The flags of the many nations were flown, and students would be chosen to represent ambassadors from the world’s different countries, sometimes even donning the garb of their nation of origin.

Duly assembled, we would hold a pretend UN session where we worked on solving the world’s problems. I was always fascinated by the diversity of cultures even in this small representation of them.

By the 1980s, Detroit proper was hollowed out by de-industrialization driven by corporate search for cheap labor and white flight enabled by bank loans for massive suburban home construction and individual mortgages. Beginning in the 1950s, the government generously financed freeways to provide mobility to a new generation of segregated suburbs.

With its tax base eroded and good jobs having disappeared, Detroit’s remaining residents (mostly African Americans) who couldn’t afford to leave the city or were refused entry to suburbs like Dearborn, faced deteriorating urban conditions accompanied by a rise in crime.

After a third burglary at our house in a year, my wife and I decided that, since we had the white privilege of residential mobility, we had to move to a safe housing situation particularly since I often worked overnight shifts as a WRIF-FM radio DJ. The prospect of moving to the ‘burbs, as we called them, was extremely depressing as we viewed them as representing everything that was wrong with our country — particularly racism, but also consumerism, Ozzie and Harriet-style families, and the epitome of the car culture.

As it turned out, we never looked anywhere other than Oak Park, since we were unintentionally aided in narrowing our search by someone who reacted negatively when we mentioned the city to which we eventually moved. We were told that anywhere south of I-696 “was still Detroit.” We knew then where we were moving. Up until the 1950s, Oak Park was predominantly a white, Catholic enclave. But, with the post-World War II housing boom, builders filled in the city’s wetlands and constructed affordable homes. Our new next-door neighbors on the East Side of Oak Park, who had been residents of the city since the late 1940s, said that before the construction frenzy of the early 1950s, they could see the traffic on Greenfield two miles away across what was then designated as “swamps.”

Jewish families from Detroit’s Northwest Side began migrating to the new and sometimes uniquely designed homes, such as the Lustron prefab steel homes on Oneida. And then the echoes of my school day’s model UN began to emerge in Oak Park. African Americans followed the Jewish population, then Chaldeans, Asians, Russians and Muslims making the word, diverse, a thriving reality. And, thrown into the mix are those of us from a European heritage who appreciate a city that isn’t of homogenous ancestry.

Oak Park’s disparate ethnic groups maintain a distinct identity around their own cultural markers and, to some extent, neighborhoods, but we all come together around the city’s institutions—its government, public facilities, and festivals.

This diversity is a source of pride to most Oak Parkers. Living in a city with good leadership, low crime, and excellent city services is reason enough to want to be within our borders. But, what makes our city special is that we look and act like a world of harmony— something desperately needed in these times.

AS THE EARTH TURNS AND THE COLD advances upon us, the humble but ubiquitous t-shirt becomes mostly hidden under warmer clothing except among the most hardy of us. Warding off the chill, it returns to its utilitarian function for men as an undershirt as it was at its origin. Both sexes sport them when the warmth returns, partly as an item of fashion, but often as a canvas on which we express ourselves. We want to show what vacation destination we visited, concert we attended, bands we love, goofy sayings, political slogans, our favorite sports team, and many other categories of how we want to announce ourselves when people come upon us.

T-shirts (from their shape), as we know them today, have a military origin. A little over a hundred years ago, the U.S. Navy began issuing them to be worn under a sailor’s uniform. The term itself became part of the lexicon by the 1920s. The shirts were quickly adopted by men doing industrial and agricultural work as an inexpensive, lightweight, warm-weather garment.

But, then, Marlon Brando gave the shirts a cultural and sartorial boost by wearing one in the 1951 film, A Streetcar Named Desire, while yelling for “Stella!” Brando sported one in the 1953 movie, The Wild One, and James Dean did in 1955’s Rebel Without A Cause. During that decade, a white t-shirt with a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve identified it with one of the Big Scares of the 1950s along with communists —the juvenile delinquent!

By the 1960s, t-shirts, along with jeans, were associated with another generation of rebels, this time ones with many causes. Nothing rankled uptight adults more than seeing a long-haired youth sporting a pair of Levis and a t-shirt bearing the legend, “Power to the People” (still a good idea) or a clenched-fist salute.

By the next decade and onto today, t-shirts became an accepted item of apparel that can be worn almost anywhere. It’s not unusual to see a diner so attired in a pricey restaurant where previously a suit jacket was required. In fact, put on one of those atop the shirt and you are considered dressed up!

If you’re anything like me, you have so many t-shirts there isn’t room for them in your drawers and closets. I’ve accumulated a particularly excessive number having worked in radio for years where they were issued to the staff with regularity. Every so often, I take the ones that I figure I’ll never wear again or have gotten a little too snug (ahem!) to the Salvation Army store on 4th Street in Royal Oak.

The Salvation Army defines itself as “a Protestant Christian movement and an international charitable organization structured in a quasi-military fashion,” so I try real hard to focus on their “charitable” aspect. We give our cast-offs to them, figuring we’ll be helping less-fortunate neighbors who work at the store preparing items for sale and provide inexpensive used clothing for people in need.

However, it doesn’t quite work out this way.

The Salvation Army and other charities receive way too many t-shirts and other clothing items, more than they could ever retail. After a very short stay on store racks, much of it is compressed into half-ton cubes and sold to second-hand textile processors where they take on another life as wiping rags and fiber for assorted products. Americans are so overloaded with clothing that if charities didn’t have these recycling firms, they would either have to dump the donations or turn us away.

However, t-shirts are a desired item in Third World countries, so the huge surplus are bundled into 100-pound bales and shipped primarily to Africa, but also around the world. According to a recent New York Times article, in Kenya, the locals refer to them as “the clothes of dead white people.” In Mozambique, they are labeled, often with some accuracy, “clothing of calamity.”

Reaching foreign ports, small jobbers break open the bales, compete for the best items, and sell them on the streets to ever-increasing urban populations. So that’s why you might see a Detroit Tigers or Grateful Dead shirt adorning a pedestrian in Kinshasa or Lima.

This is not to criticize the charities which sell our castoffs this way. These bulk sales provide revenue for their many programs. It’s this or the garbage dump for our discards. Americans have way more clothes than we can ever wear and they have to go somewhere.

Now, several countries in East Africa are trying to put a halt to the importation of secondhand clothing because it impedes their ability to create domestic textile industries. However, if they do this, the Trump administration has threatened to terminate the preferential trade status these countries enjoy under the terms of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. The office of the U.S. trade representative says this is to protect American jobs.

If used American clothing is banned from poor countries, those involved in recycling them at numerous levels of sorting, packaging, recycling, shipping, will, in fact, lose their employment. By weight, used clothing is the number-one export from the U.S.!

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where someone, somewhere wasn’t getting screwed?

I’m taking a big bundle of t-shirts to the Salvation Army soon and will watch TV over the next few months to see if it winds up on a demonstrator in the streets of Nairobi or Yangon.

Peter Werbe is a member of Fifth Estate magazine’s editorial collective www.FifthEstate.org.

By Rebecca Hammond

AUTUMN ODDSERVATION: Americans throw away the most pumpkins the week we buy the most pumpkins. Pumpkins are heavy, and we pool our tax money to put our unwanted stuff in landfills. Can we rethink them already? Maybe eat them? I’ve made pumpkin pies from ones people discard. A pumpkin can be stabbed a few times and roasted till soft, or cut up and boiled, then mashed and made into pies or bread, even soup. A Google search of recipes turns up some as simple and cute as using a small pumpkin for a dip container, and muffins, cupcakes, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin turkey chili, spread, dip, coffee additive. Pumpkin is healthy. Full of fiber and potassium, not to mention vitamin C, beta carotene, tryptophan and phytosterols (which studies show may lower “bad” cholesterol): it makes more sense to eat all those health benefits than to load them in a diesel-gulping truck, have them driven miles away, and toss them onto our mountain of discards.

Pumpkins seeds can be roasted and eaten. Scoop out the seeds and wash them. Let them dry. Roast at 325 degrees for 5-15 minutes. Some recipes tell you to toss them in butter or oil, or add seasonings like garlic. Put them in bird feeders if you don’t want to eat them. Our forebears would be amazed at how we turned good food into temporary disposable decorations.

The EPA’s website (which still happens to contain environmental information, something we may not be able to count on for long) states that in the early phases of decomposition, organic matter in landfills decays aerobically, producing little methane. The longer it remains, however, the more anaerobic the process becomes, and the more methane is produced. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, so preventing its formation is good common sense. Composting at home is the best way. We have a simple worm system in our basement, and being a skeptical person at this age of 60, I do nothing that’s recommended but put all organic waste in the bin with red worms dug from the yard. I’ve had this going for years now, and once or twice a year dig out the good stuff at the bottom and add it to houseplants or garden plants. I do not layer with newspaper, although every article I read says to. The worms know what to do; you can’t stop them from turning pumpkins or old lettuce into fertilizer.

I have in my living room a fern I rescued from the trash one fall years ago. Every year I see more ferns and plantable mums waiting for those diesel trucks. A person could fill a house and yard with the plants thrown away, at group expense, every fall. And you could stock a thrift store with the usable goods we toss.

ACTION ANTIDEPRESSION: An old friend recently told me about her struggle to replace disposable coffee cups in her counseling office with reusable cups. She’s a former seminarian, which reminded me that churches often grapple with the same two extremes, disposable, reusable? Counseling offices and churches are both places of meaning, places people go to to sort out life’s big issues. The issue of tossing vs. keeping might be bigger than being green or saving money. Lots of us love a certain mug for some specific reason. I bought my current favorite at the Henry Ford Museum with a beloved niece and her daughter on our annual January trip. A cup of coffee in that mug is more than warm liquid in a vessel, it’s a daily reminder of love and connection across miles, of a relationship important enough to prioritize. Maybe reusable cups are green, are good common sense, and maybe even a tiny little bulwark against disconnection and the depression and anxiety that we seek counseling to remedy. Quite possibly, disposable items are actually a bit depressing.

IN EARLY NOVEMBER, a big storm battered parts of the Lake Superior shore, with record
waves as high as 28 feet near Munising. A depressing aftermath turned up a few days later, with massive amounts of plastic trash washed along the shore of what we think is our most pristine Lake. Our state government won’t ban plastic bags, and they even took big government a step further and banned the banning of plastic bags. But if you visit most public beaches along the Great Lakes, you’ll see signs banning glass bottles, so it’s not bans themselves that they object to. We seem short-sighted, and have personalized risk, so a broken bottle that may cut us is unacceptable, tons of plastic junk that waves grind down until it disappears to view is fine. Plastic fibers have been detected not only in the Great Lakes, and on beaches, but in tap water, 83 per cent of samples tested world-wide. Wildlife mistakes plastic bits for food, and may fill up on it, with no nutritional benefit, of course. And in oceans, plastic trash is being found in the stomachs of creatures seven miles deep.
Is this depressing information? I don’t think so. I think it’s lack of action that’s depressing, not news itself. The onslaught of bad news has an antidote, taking action against the problem. But, I must admit, it gets harder to rectify the problems the worse we let them get.

LEAF ODDSERVATION: Last week three dump trucks, a bulldozer, and a front-end loader parked in front of our house to pick up leaves; compostable, valuable organic leaves. That maybe tells me more about cultural excess than I ever wanted to know.

Becky Hammond believes in “solvitur ambulando” (“it is solved by walking”), and practices it most days here in Ferndale.

By Rudy Serra
Q: I USE MEDICAL MARIJUANA, and I’ve heard about some changes coming in the law, including roadside drug tests. What should I know?

Answer: There are multiple changes in marijuana laws going into effect in Michigan. The Department of Licensing now has a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation. The Department recently conducted a half-day seminar at Cobo Hall for marijuana producers, to familiarize them with the state’s new electronic regulation system, METRC.

Growers and others will soon be required to have an account with METRC that tracks everything from moisture loss to the number of plants and identity of each individual plant. Plants will be individually tagged with a bar code and tracked throughout the process, including having manifests with bar codes for each plant that a transporter moves from one place to another.

METRC is a comprehensive system already used in other states. The state will realize huge profits from medical marijuana production. If I were a betting person, I would put my money on Michigan legalizing recreation marijuana by ballot initiative within the next few years.

Another change allows the police to use a road-side “mouth swab” to test drivers for drugs. This program is being implemented now in Berrien, Kent, Washtenaw, Delta and St. Clair County. Authorities want to use it statewide after the five-county “pilot program”. The test is designed to detect marijuana, methamphetmine, cocaine, opiates and benzodiazepines. The test can detect the presence of one of the target drugs, but it cannot prove “impairment.” Whether the test is scientifically reliable has not yet been proven in court.

The new law does not change the constitutional requirement that the police have some reason to pull a driver over. The State Police have designated a number of specially-trained officers as “Drug Recognition Experts,” and deployed them in the pilot counties. The new law does not change the constitutional requirement that the police have probable cause to request testing. In other words, they still need some objective evidence of impairment.

The law authorizing the new drug test makes refusal a civil infraction. Refusing to take a road-side saliva drug test is not a crime. You may have to pay fines.

If you agree to the test and it reports that you have a target drug in your system, then you can face much more serious criminal penalties. If a person uses medical marijuana or other prescribed medication that could show-up on the test, declining to take the test may be the better course of action. The consequences of refusal are not as serious as the consequences of a criminal conviction for impaired driving.

JUDGE RUDY REPORTS is a regular feature in Ferndale Friends. We welcome questions from readers. If you have a legal question or concern, send your question by email to rudy.serra@sbcglobal.net. Advice about specific cases cannot be provided but general legal questions and topics are welcome.

By Jeannie Davis

”TIS THE SEASON”: Time for merrymaking, gift-giving, enjoying family and friends, shopping, errands, cooking, decorating. We are surrounded by Norman Rockwell images. Happy people, tables groaning with food. Perfect Christmas trees surrounded by beautifully wrapped gifts, with well-behaved children gazing with awe. Shiny magazines with airbrushed picture spreads urge us to create homes resembling holiday movie sets. Commercials and ads manipulate us into blowing our life savings so “the kiddies can have a good time.” After all, “Christmas is for kids.” We are pushed to bake cookies so we can share the spirit by giving to our neighbors. Gather with the family, “its good for you.” Join the crowds at the mall, catch the Christmas spirit.

I say Humbug! Whatever happened to doing as we please? We are old. We hate the malls, with thousands of people jostling and sharing germs, along with their children who tear through the crowds screaming with glee, careening into people as they go. If I get knocked about by one more uncontrolled urchin, I will do something that will get me arrested. And the bad thing is that I will be smiling as they lead me away.

Decorate? I am 77-years-old, and these people in the magazine expect me to climb on a ladder to string lights which will only short out within 30 minutes. Maybe a candle and a few live pine boughs? No, I am not again vacuuming pine needles into July. People say, “Just glue this onto that, add a red bow, and it looks good.” I tried that and got third-degree burns from the glue gun.

Bake cookies for the neighbors? No way! They have loud parties every weekend, with drunks leaving at 2:00 A.M. yelling at each other, urinating on my lawn, and in one instance, stealing my garden gnome. They don’t mow their lawn until a goat would get lost in the vegetation. The only cookies I would bake for them would be spiked with Ex Lax.

Gather with the family? Not on your nelly. They take over the house like an invading army, raping and pillaging. Talk to them, listen to their stories? Well, there is Ethel who won’t stop talking about her gall bladder surgery. Ethel, it happened in 1976, shut up about it. Hubert voted for Trump, and “damn proud.” How does one pick a conversational topic with that guy? Miriam is not a problem; just show her the bar and she will be comatose within an hour. Of course, we have to go through the crying jag first. Grandma always wants someone to sit by her and tell her all the gossip. This sounds like the best bet, except that Grandma has halitosis that would stop a moose during mating season.

And the kids! They are constantly on the move, chasing each other, bickering, and sticking their grubby little fingers into all the food on the table. And the gifts! The adults give restrained thanks, telling me that when the mall opens in the morning they will be in the exchange line first thing.

But of course, the whole point for this masochistic exercise is the kid’s gifts, seeing their angelic little faces when they open them. First, their faces are definitely not “angelic,” they have more food on their faces than in their stomachs. With total abandon, they tear into the waist-high pile of care-fully wrapped, thoughtfully-chosen presents. With-in ten minutes, the living room is strewn with paper, boxes, ribbon, and I think I saw a body part in there. CSI would take a week to find out what happened here. At a few points I am fearful for my life. Then the real fun starts with kids fighting over seemingly identical toys. Anarchy takes over, and I join Miriam at the bar.

What’s the alternative? Sleep late, spend the day drinking egg nog, eating cookies. I would watch Christmas movies where all the children are clean, and mannerly, and all the adults are sane. For Christmas dinner? Well, all the Chinese restaurants are open.

Sounds good to me.
Enjoy your holiday, however you spend it.
Jeannie Davis

(Pub. Note: We are not fooled for one minute by Jeannie Davis’ “Grinch” imitation here. We’ll catch you under the mistletoe, Jeannie!

By Sara E. Teller & stephanie loveless

ALTHOUGH HE LIVES IN LANSING, Hugh McNichol quite possibly knows – and cares – more about Ferndale elections than pretty much anyone who actually lives here.

He’s been working with the State Bureau of Elections, regarding Ferndale. He’s been lobbying the State legislature on our behalf. He helped form a Lansing chapter of the organization, Represent Us, and organized a rally at the State Capitol earlier this year as part of his election reform efforts. And so much more.
And you’ve probably never even heard his name before.

“Ferndale was technically my first home. I was born in Warren because Ferndale — where my parents lived –didn’t have a hospital, or so my parents tell me. We moved to Lansing shortly after and I’ve called Lansing my home ever since. I joined the Army Reserves after high school (2000) and in 2006-2007, I deployed to Iraq. That’s probably what got me interested in governments, not just ours but world-wide.”

McNichol became involved in the push for Instant Run-off Voting (IRV) last year after the results of the election. He wasn’t in favor of either of the two front runners and didn’t think it was right to be forced into choosing someone he dislikes over a candidate he believes in. “Should I vote my ideals and waste my vote on a candidate that has no chance?” Hugh asked himself, “or, should I vote the reality of the race and choose the lesser of two evils?” The current voting system doesn’t allow for other options.

“I realized our democracy is broken whenever more than two candidates are running, and I wanted to help fix it. IRV allows us to vote our ideals without worrying about it helping the candidate we dislike the most.” Under this voting system, “winners must have majority support, more than 50 per cent of the vote (as opposed to a mere plurality). It empowers voters and makes their preferences matter,” Hugh explains.

With IRV, a voter is given the opportunity to rank their choice of candidates one-two-three. For example, in the last general election, a voter may have marked their ballot 1) Clinton, 2) Stein, 3) Johnson. If any candidate gets a simple majority, they win. If nobody gets at least 50 per cent, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and if that candidate is your first choice then the second choice on your ballot is counted instead. The process continues until finally one candidate emerges with majority support of the electorate.

“One of my favorite applications for IRV is its use by military voters located overseas,” he says. Five states allow members of the military overseas to rank their choice of candidates. This ballot can then be counted in the primary, general, and any subsequent runoff election, instead of their local clerks having to mail them another ballot. Right now, if a ballot arrives after the votes are counted in a primary, it doesn’t count.

“That’s an unnecessary disenfranchisement of our service members overseas and I’d like to see more states, including Michigan, adopt it.”

IN 2004, THE RESIDENTS OF FERNDALE voted overwhelmingly – 70 per cent to 30 per cent — in favor of using IRV for our mayoral and council races. So why aren’t we using the system? For one thing, Ferndale’s voting machines at the time were incapable of the simple calculations necessary to conduct an IRV election. Addition-ally, there have been roadblocks from the State. “When I’d found out that the biggest roadblock impeding implementation was the cost of upgrade to compatible machines, I started calling the Bureau of Elections. I requested that the new machines they were already planning to purchase be IRV compatible, especially because Ferndale had been waiting since 2004,” McNichol says.

His efforts, along with that of other supporters, were not wasted, and Ferndale’s new machines are indeed capable of IRV.

However, there was yet another challenge to over-come. “The next hurdle was ballot instructions. Although IRV, or “preferential voting,” is authorized in our State Constitution, Michigan’s Election Law con-tains no official ballot instructions to tell voters how to rank their preferences.” Without instructions, voters might get confused. But adding step-by-step directions is as simple as including something like:

1) Pick your first-choice candidate, and darken the oval next to that candidate under “1st Choice.”
2) If you have a 2nd choice candidate, darken the oval next to that candidate under “2nd Choice.”
3) Continue until you have ranked all your choices.

With the help of the nonpartisan national election reform organization, FairVote (www.fairvote.org) and clerks in both Ferndale and Lansing, these instructions have been drafted and are currently under review at the Secretary of State. If approved, “it’ll go to legislative services who’ll make sure it’s in compliance. This could also take weeks or months, or could be outright rejected,” Hugh explains.

Sadly, that does not seem to be the end of the story. On July 27, 2017, Ferndale City Clerk Marne McGrath said she is coming to the conclusion that “just because election law doesn’t specifically prohibit it, it also doesn’t allow it.” She said FairVote is “looking closely at voting instructions. Although I feel they are on the right track, election law is long, old, and not always clearly written. Michigan is one of only eight states that administer elections at the local level and it can be frustrating working with such a decentralized system.”

Perhaps a legislative solution will be required for Ferndale to finally fulfill the will of its voters expressed more than a dozen years ago. Or perhaps the City should pursue a more assertive approach. The voters are waiting.

“In the meantime,” McNichol said, “I’m advocating for IRV to our state legislators. Most of them had never even heard of it. Now we have supporters from both sides of the aisle, but we need more.”

McNichol, along with the help of Ferndale resident and Exec. Director of Citizens for a Fair Ferndale, Kathryn Bruner James, sent Rep. Robert Wittenberg and Sen. Vincent Gregory emails, and has traveled to their offices to solicit their sponsorship. “Ferndale is their district. The people of Ferndale are their constituents,” McNichol explains. However, “Neither knew what IRV was or that Ferndale had passed it in ‘04,” he says, defeatedly. “Education and time have probably been the biggest setbacks.” It takes quite a bit of time to knock on doors and get people to listen.

As far as an estimated timeframe for the roll out of the new voting system, Hugh says, “My best guess is 2019, but the Ferndale Election Commission will ultimately decide when IRV will be implemented in Ferndale.” This is because the 2004 referendum, perhaps unwisely, gives our local election com-mission ultimate authority over the matter, beyond approval of the County and State. Even then, if our local election commission decided it does not want IRV, Ferndale voters would be forced to go back to the polls to take the matter out of their hands. (Ferndale’s Election Commission consists of the city clerk, mayor and city attorney.)

Currently, this does not seem to be a concern. Mayor Coulter said recently, “”For cities without a primary election for local offices, IRV can help ensure voters actually elect the candidates they want. We’re hopeful that with the new equipment we can finally implement this system.” And McGrath also seems genuinely interested in implementation. McGrath stated: “I am confident that we will see a lot of movement on this in the next two years.”

And so we wait. In the meantime, supporters should contact their elected officials to urge IRV be implemented in Ferndale. See below.

Rep. Robert Wittenberg: Box 30014, Lansing, MI 48909-7514; (517) 373-0478; robertwittenberg@house.mi.gov

Sen. Vincent Gregory: BOX 30036, Lansing, MI 48909, senvgregory@senate.michigan.gov; (517) 373-7888

If you are interested in working for IRV in Ferndale, contact: stephanie loveless at steffie@ferndalefriends.net

Hugh McNichol: 517-420-8452; hugh.mcnichol@gmail.com

For more information, contact:
FairVote: www.fairvote.org, 6930 Carroll Ave Ste 240, Takoma Park MD 20912, 301-270-4616, info@fairvote.org

FIRV : www.firv.org
Ranked Choice :  www.rankedchoicevoting.org
Represent Us: https://represent.us/

By Mary Meldrum

WE HAVE ALL BEEN CAPTIVATED BY THE stunning political stories that have erupted in our country lately. Walls, immigration bans, the return of white supremacy groups and more have distracted us from a quiet power grab that has been taking place behind the scenes: Gerrymandering. It is a slight-of-hand that has been executed masterfully by political groups to advance their own agenda.

Voters should choose their politicians; not the other way around. But some of our most important borders in Michigan and other states have been drawn up by politicians to serve their own political agendas, looping the power of the people out of decisions regarding their future. Our Founding Fathers would be appalled with gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is a process by which the party in power, either Democrat or Republican, redraws voting districts to benefit their own party and weaken their opponent. Because of gerrymandering, fewer and few-er Congressional districts, for example, are competitive anymore. The incumbent is sure to be reelected, giving people little reason to even bother voting.

Gerrymandering manipulates political boundaries that divide our neighborhoods and communities, essentially removing voters’ ability to impact a political election. This unfair but legal tactic is used in every state by both Republicans and Democrats in order to sequester enough votes to win elections no matter what the majority of the voters want.

Forms of gerrymandering go back to as early as 1788. But everything changed in 2010. In 2009, Republican strategists took advantage of the fact that 2010 was a census year as well as a midterm election year. State leaders – based on those census results – redesigned voting districts to benefit the GOP for the next 10 years.

The 2010 election outcomes of 2010 show the strategy was wildly successful. Republicans gained almost 700 seats at the state level across the U.S. This wiped out Democratic advantages in Alabama, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Republicans were then firmly in charge of redistricting.

IN MICHIGAN, THE GRASSROOTS STARTUP ORGANIZATION, VOTERS NOT POLITICIANS, is transparent process for drawing fair electoral district boundaries that will result in fair and competitive elections. The plan is to reform the process by amending the Michigan Constitution through a ballot initiative in the November 2018 election.

Katie Fahey is the President of Voters Not Politicians, which has snowballed into a large network of people across Michigan following the 2016 elections. She began by holding 33 town meetings to discuss and survey voters to find out what they really want.

“It is breathtaking to see how many people want to come together in these divisive times,” Katie shared.

Voters Not Politicians needs 315,654 valid petition signatures by February 2018 for the ballot initiative to succeed. As of September, they had collected over 140,000 votes, and 100,000 of those came in 25 days. They already have signatures from all 83 counties in Michigan.

Because of their success, it isn’t surprising that they have become a threat and a target to the status quo and establishment politicians. One such opponent is Michigan Republican attorney Bob LaBrant, who filed a complaint against the Voters Not Politicians commit-tee this past Summer. LaBrant advises clients on political strategy, and is recognized as one of Michigan’s foremost experts on campaign finance law and redistricting.

MICHIGAN IS ONE OF 37 STATES that gives all power for deciding voting district boundaries to the state legislature. In order for proposed maps to pass muster, a simple majority of each chamber of the state legislature must vote yes. The governor has the power to veto the redistricting plan. However, when one party controls each of these areas, they effectively have full control over the redistricting process with zero input from other parties, and of course, no input from the people who elected them in the first place.

When the legislature draws the election maps, they get to choose their voters, instead of voters choosing them. This is direct manipulation of election outcomes and allows politicians to give their party an advantage sometimes for decades to come.

The evolution and use of advanced computer software and big data has empowered this type of manipulation and contributed to the extreme partisan gerrymandering that we see in states like Michigan. Skillful redistricting can grace incumbents with virtually guaranteed reelection or leave them with no chance at all.

America for Sale
LARGE AMOUNTS OF “DARK MONEY” (legaly undisclosed political contributions) flooding into politics has also led to the severe manipulation of voting maps. Lobbyists and special interests invest enormous sums of money to fund highly complex and corrupt redistricting plans to keep politicians they control in power. This influences politicians to follow the will of who is pa-ing them instead of the will of the people.

The names of the groups that are bankrolled by corporations, unions and other special interests sound very  dedicated to democracy and America. Names like “Fair Districts Mass” and “Protect Your Vote” and “The Center for a Better New Jersey.” But a deep-dive investigation by ProPublica (an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force.) found that while these groups purport to help represent voters in their communities, their main interest is gaining a political advantage in the fight over redistricting. Powerful players are turning to increasingly sophisticated tools and techniques to “game” the redistricting process, while voters are almost all blind to their shenanigans, and ultimately losing.

Corporations and outside interests provide cash for voter data, mapping consultants and lobbyists to influence state legislators who are in charge of redistricting. They can also fund the inevitable lawsuits that contest nearly every state’s redistricting plan after it is unveiled.

HERE ARE JUST A FEW TECHNIQUES used in gerrymandering:

CRACKING: If a party feels threatened by high densities of voters that fall into certain demographics or political ideologies, they crack them apart to dissipate and destroy their voting power.

PACKING: Politicians can also “pack voters” from the other party into a few districts. While this gives the other party a couple districts, it maintains power in all the other districts because the opposing party’s voters have been herded so tightly into just a few districts.

KIDNAPPING: Michigan representatives must live in the district they represent. District lines can be drawn so precisely by the opponent party that they can remove an incumbent politician from their home district. This strategy is used when an incumbent with a solid home-base is targeted and the lines drawn to move them to a neighboring district. This gives the majority party the power to silence their influence in the next election.

HIJACKING: Hijacking occurs when a political candidate is packed into a district with an established leader of the same party. This forces the two to run against each other in the primary election and removes them from competing with the other party in neighboring districts.

If we continue to allow politicians the power to control the redistricting process, we risk letting one of the two parties manipulate our election maps in 2020, when the next census is conduct-ed. Both parties are preparing to continue the tradition of partisan gerrymandering and have very distinct and aggressive strategies in place to secure voting districts: the Republicans are preparing a project called REDMAP 2020 and the Democrats are preparing their own project named ADVANTAGE 2020.

Politicians don’t want us to take away their control of the election maps because it helps them stay in power, even if the general public wants them out. If gerrymandering in Michigan continues, the ones who benefit are the members of the state legislature and their armies of lobbyists.

“The people of Michigan have been locked out of effective change-making opportunities, but we have the power, energy, and drive to create a solution that ends gerrymandering and reinvigorates the very spirit of our democracy,” emphasizes Katie Fahey.

Voters Not Politicians is a major grassroots effort to thwart the gerrymandering plans of politicians, and they need your signature.

If you’d like to sign their petition, go to:
www.votersnotpoliticians.com/findthepetition

www.votersnotpoliticians.com

 

0 237

By Jill Lorie Hurst
Photo by Bernie LaFramboise

THEY POPPED UP QUIETLY, SHORTLY AFTER THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: THE SIGNS. A new group of signs that appeared as the campaign signs came down. Poster board with printed words that reminded us that we are a community,not only locally, but globally.

The first sign I noticed was the tri-colored, “No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor”. A simple, powerful statement written in English, Arabic and Spanish. Once I noticed the first, I started to look for them – and there they were, all around town. That sign and others that expressed beliefs that support our freedoms and human rights for all.

I wanted one for my lawn, but couldn’t figure out how to get one without stealing it off a neighbor’s lawn. Sarah Lynn Fox liked the signs she was seeing, too. She and her husband, Brian Stawowy, noticed them as they walked their dogs around the neighborhood. Sarah said, “It made me feel so great to see all the signs…proud to live in Ferndale.”

She tried to get a “Hate Has No Home Here” sign, but it was back-ordered. Not one to sit and wait around for someone else to solve her problem, Sarah went online and found a web site (signsonthecheap.com) that allows you to create and print your own signs. She came up with a similar design and decided to print in bulk. She would make 100 signs and offer them to others, for free. “I wanted to spread a little bit of hope around the community.” A co-worker told her she was crazy: No one would want the signs. And what would Brian say? Sarah posted on the Facebook Ferndale Forum, and the response was overwhelming.

And although Sarah offered the signs for free, the community was all too happy to help finance the project. One person sent $200 dollars to help. Another person who contributed money doesn’t even live in Ferndale anymore, but liked the project enough to support it. By the time the signs came in, Sarah had a spreadsheet with 300 names on it, people waiting for signs.

The night she set out to deliver the first batch, Brian was with her all the way. It turned out to be quite an adventure. He smiles, remembering that first delivery outing. “It was fun. We got to learn a lot about the town.” They both mention “admiring their neighbors’ houses, the front yard gardens”. Brian said the best part was “us working together and meeting our neighbors face-to-face.” They loved the chance to get to know more about their adopted home town. People were friendly, inviting them in and sharing their Ferndale knowledge with them.

I was sure Sarah and Brian were native Ferndalians, but they both grew up north of the Detroit area, moving to the area for work (him) and grad school (her). They met downtown after a Tigers game. In 2013, when they decided to settle down together, they found their way to Ferndale because of easy access to Detroit and a dog-friendly community. Sign distribution is just one of the changes in their life since January. They’ve attended immigration marches and city council meetings. Sarah: “We didn’t know our congressional district or who our state representatives were until this year.” She added “If the election results had been different, our lives would be different.”

Along with the signs, Fox and Stawowy are circulating petitions to support “Voters, Not Politicians,” a ballot proposal to end gerrymandering in Michigan. It’s an important, non-partisan issue. “You have to start some-where,” says Fox. “We can no longer make excuses to not get involved.”

Sarah Lynn Fox and Brian Stawowy are living breathing “signs of hope” for our future. As I walked past their high-ceilinged home after our interview, I read their sign:
We Believe Black Lives Matter
No Human Is Illegal
Science Is Real
Women’s Rights Are Human Rights
Water Is Life • Love Is Love
Mother Earth Is Worth Protecting

Like a light in the window. Signs of hope in Ferndale.

 

By: Ingrid Sjostrand

A 65-GALLON GREEN RECYCLING CART HAS SHOWN UP ON your curb and, well… every other curb in the neighborhood. Where did it come from? What can be recycled in it? Is there a cost?

While the debate over the benefits and negatives of these carts is growing hot, I went to the source for the basics. Colette Farris, organization development manager at SOCRRA
(Southeastern Oakland Resource Recovery Administration), gave me all the details you need to know about the cart program.

SOCRRA is a municipal corporation responsible for recycling, trash and yard waste in 12 member com-munities in metro Detroit. Founded in the 1950s, it covers the cities of Berkley, Beverly Hills, Birming-ham, Clawson, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Lathrup Village, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak and Troy.

The carts have been delivered to almost 100,000 single-family households in these cities and are meant for mixed recycling, which means there is no longer a need to sort your recyclables prior to pick up.
“SOCRRA is currently constructing a new Material Recovery Facility (MRF) to enable us to process mixed recycling, which is connected to the timing of distributing the carts. The new equipment has the technology to automate the sorting of materials instead of hand sorting.” Farris says. “This change means that neither the residents nor the drivers of the recycling trucks need to presort before delivering recyclables to our MRF.”

While the carts do allow for mixed recyclables, there are still some limits to what can be put curbside and what needs to be dropped off at SOCRRA’s recycling center.

“Two changes were made to what we collect curbside – batteries are no longer accepted curbside and the only metal that can go in the carts are cans and empty aerosol cans,” Farris says. “These, along with Styrofoam and plastic bags can be brought to the SOCRRA drop off center for recycling.”

All carts were delivered with informational paperwork breaking down the details, but paper, cartons, cans, glass and plastic jugs, bottles and containers are all acceptable materials. Cardboard can be recycled in carts too, it just has to be broken down into three-foot by three-foot pieces. (Some bins were distributed with incorrect instructions which humorously stated three inches instead of three feet).

Distribution of carts started in July, and was completed on September 8th at no cost to residents. Prompt-ed by an initiative by Gov. Snyder to double recycling within the next two years, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was able to purchase the arts through grant funding from nonprofit The Recycling Partnership.

“The goal is to increase recycling rates in our communities and we didn’t want the cost of the cart to be an obstacle in achieving this goal,” Farris says.

So far, the carts seem to be making a difference. In August, 2,017 tons of recyclables were collected compared to 1,733 tons in August 2016 – a 16 per cent increase. Farris only expects this number to increase now that all carts have been delivered.

SOCRRA encourages everyone to try the carts for two or three months but for those that decide not to keep theirs, they will take them back. The old bins being replaced by carts are for residents to keep, but can be returned to the recycling center also.

Most feedback SOCRRA has received has been positive but Farris encourages residents to reach out with any comments or questions. Contact SOCRRA at socrra@socrra.org, check out their web site, www.socrra.org, or call the administrative office (248) 288-5150 if you have specific questions about recycling.