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Alexei Navalny leads Russians in a historic battle against arbitrary rule, with words echoing Catherine the Great

 Women form a human chain on Feb. 14 in central Moscow to support jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his wife Yulia Navalnaya and other political prisoners.

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

 Hilde Hoogenboom, Arizona State University

 Tens of thousands of young Russians are protesting the leadership of Vladimir Putin nationwide in freezing temperatures. Thousands have been arrested.

  • Published in Politics

How the Ebenezer Baptist Church has been a seat of Black power for generations in Atlanta

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preaching from his pulpit in 1960 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
Dozier Mobley/Getty Images

 Jason Oliver Evans, University of Virginia

 The high-stakes U.S. Senate race in Georgia catapulted the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church back into the spotlight. For 135 years, the church played a vital role in the fight against racism and the civil rights movement. It was the spiritual home of the civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Published in Politics

Was it a coup? No, but siege on US Capitol was the election violence of a fragile democracy

Clayton Besaw, University of Central Florida and Matthew Frank, University of Denver


Did the United States just have a coup attempt?

Supporters of President Donald Trump, following his encouragement, stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, disrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Waving Trump banners, hundreds of people broke through barricades and smashed windows to enter the building where Congress convenes. One rioter and one police officer died in the clash and several other police officers were hospitalized. Congress went on lockdown.

While violent and shocking, what happened on Jan. 6 wasn’t a coup.

This Trumpist insurrection was election violence, much like the election violence that plagues many fragile democracies.

What is a coup?

While coups do not have a single definition, researchers who study them – like ourselves – agree on the key attributes of what academics call a “coup event.”

Coup experts Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne define a coup d’etat as “an overt attempt by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to unseat the sitting head of state using unconstitutional means.”

Essentially, three parameters are used to judge whether an insurrection is a coup event:

1) Are the perpetrators agents of the state, such as military officials or rogue governmental officials?

2) Is the target of the insurrection the chief executive of the government?

3) Do the plotters use illegal and unconstitutional methods to seize executive power?

Coups and coup attempts

A successful coup occurred in Egypt on July 3, 2013, when army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcefully removed the country’s unpopular president, Mohamed Morsi. Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, had recently overseen the writing of a new constitution. Al-Sisi suspended that, too. This qualifies as a coup because al-Sisi seized power illegally and introduced his own rule of law in the ashes of the elected government.

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Egyptian protesters celebrate the military overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi along with officers of the Egyptian Republican Guard, July 3, 2013, in Cairo.
Ed Giles/Getty Images



Coups don’t always succeed in overthrowing the government.



In 2016, members of the Turkish military attempted to remove Turkey’s strongman president, Reçep Erdogan, from power. Soldiers seized key areas in Ankara, the capital, and Istanbul, including the Bosphorus Bridge and two airports. But the coup lacked coordination and widespread support, and it failed quickly after President Erdogan called on his supporters to confront the plotters. Erdogan remains in power today.



What happened at the US Capitol?



The uprising at the Capitol building does not meet all three criteria of a coup.



Trump’s rioting supporters targeted a branch of executive authority – Congress – and they did so illegally, through trespassing and property destruction. Categories #2 and #3, check.



As for category #1, the rioters appeared to be civilians operating of their own volition, not state actors. President Trump did incite his followers to march on the Capitol building less than an hour before the crowd invaded the grounds, insisting the election had been stolen and saying “We will not take it anymore.” This comes after months of spreading unfounded electoral lies and conspiracies that created a perception of government malfeasance in the mind of many Trump supporters.



Whether the president’s motivation in inflaming the anger of his supporters was to assault Congress is not clear, and he tepidly told them to go home as the violence escalated. For now it seems the riot in Washington, D.C., was enacted without the approval, aid or active leadership of government actors like the military, police or sympathetic GOP officials.



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SWAT police try to clear the Capitol building of pro-Trump rioters, Jan. 6, 2021.
Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images



American political elites are hardly blameless, though.



By spreading conspiracy theories about election fraud, numerous Republican senators, including Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, created the conditions for political violence in the United States, and specifically electoral-related violence.



Academics have documented that contentious political rhetoric fuels the risk of election-related violence. Elections are high-stakes; they represent a transfer of political power. When government officials demean and discredit democratic institutions as a simmering political conflict is underway, contested elections can trigger political violence and mob rule.



So what did happen?



The shocking events of Jan. 6 were political violence of the sort that too often mars elections in young or unstable democracies.



Bangladeshi elections suffer from perennial mob violence and political insurrections due to years of government violence and opposition anger. Its 2015 and 2018 elections looked more like war zones than democratic transitions.



In Cameroon, armed dissidents perpetrated violence in the 2020 election, targeting government buildings, opposition figures and innocent bystanders alike. Their aim was to delegitimize the vote in response to sectarian violence and government overreach.



The United States’ electoral violence differs in cause and context from that seen in Bangladesh and Cameroon, but the action was similar. The U.S. didn’t have a coup, but this Trump-encouraged insurrection is likely to send the country down a politically and socially turbulent road.



This story has been updated to reflect the death toll of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.The Conversation



Clayton Besaw, Research Affiliate and Senior Analyst, University of Central Florida and Matthew Frank, Master's student, International Security, University of Denver



This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Peru's democracy faces greatest trial since Fujimori dictatorship after two presidents are ousted in one week

  Gisselle Vila Benites, University of Melbourne and Anthony Bebbington, Clark University


Peru’s new interim president took office on Nov. 17 under unenviable circumstances.



Francisco Sagasti became the South American country’s third president in a week after President Martin Vizcarra was impeached for “moral incapacity” in what many Peruvians saw as a coup by Congress. Then Vizcarra’s successor, congressional president Manuel Merino, was quickly forced to resign after furious public protest.



New president Sagasti must now steer a shaken nation not just toward elections, scheduled for April 2021, but also toward renewed faith in democracy.



It’s not an unprecedented mandate for a Peruvian leader. Exactly 20 years ago, Peru’s political leaders faced – and ultimately failed – a similar test, after the fall of dictator Alberto Fujimori.



And their failures explain why Peru, in the words of political scientist Alberto Vergara, peered into the “abyss” of repressive authoritarianism for six days this November – with protesters facing indiscriminate and deadly violence, even kidnapping, torture, illegal detention and sexual abuse by Peruvian police.



Great expectations fall short



During Fujimori’s corrupt military-backed rule between 1990 and 2000, Peru’s democratic institutions were dismantled and its democratic values subverted. Dissenters faced death, disappearance and torture.



Fujimori’s regime came crumbling down in November 2000 because of electoral fraud and a mass popular uprising. Fujimori was removed from office by Congress and replaced by congressional leader Valentín Paniagua.



As interim president, Paniagua had a mandate – as Sagasti does today – to lead a deeply scarred nation into a formal democratic transition and help society heal. In 2001, Paniagua established a truth and reconciliation commission to document Fujimori’s atrocities and created a constitutional commission tasked with identifying the structural changes required to safeguard Peruvian democracy in the future.



Paniagua’s successors did not see his initiatives through.



The truth commission meticulously documented state crimes, and in 2009 Fujimori was convicted of mass human rights abuses. But prosecutions of others and redress for victims – particularly poor, rural and Indigenous populations – have been excruciatingly slow and inadequate.



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Confrontations with security forces, like this 1992 encounter outside a Peruvian prison, were a feature of life under Fujimori.
Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images



Peru’s leaders after Paniagua also discarded arguments that Peru needed a new constitution with greater protections for democracy and the rule of law. Drafting a new constitution might have ensured, as the late Peruvian politician Henry Pease put it, that “scoundrels won’t feel free to dissolve the Congress” as Fujimori had.



Instead, Alejandro Toledo, the first democratically elected president after Fujimori, channeled reform demands into 2002’s “National Agreement.” This document, developed jointly by government, civil society and political parties, laid out the basis for Peru’s democratic transition and established a shared national vision.



But it did little to tackle Peru’s chronic governance problems. Social, environmental and accountability controls over public and private investment remained weak. So did Peruvian courts, which are vulnerable to special interests because of a politicized and often corrupt judicial appointment process.



Uneven growth



The consequences of Peru’s lack of reform were dramatically revealed in recent years in the Lava Jato corruption scandal, in which construction companies bribed politicians across Latin America to snag big government contracts.



Since 2016, four Peruvian presidents and Fujimori’s own daughter have been criminally implicated in Lava Jato. Vizcarra, whose impeachment set off Peru’s current political crisis, became vice president because of this long-running scandal. He came to power in 2018 when then-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned after accusations of bribery.



But when lawmakers ousted President Vizcarra with the same charges in November 2020, it caused immediate public condemnation. Protesters felt lawmakers’ interpretation of “moral incapacity” – a clause in the Peruvian constitution – was dubious at best. At worst, they feared, it was a cynical manipulation by congressional conservatives to seize Peru’s government.



When Vizcarra’s successor, Merino, appointed as his prime minister politician Antero Flores-Araoz – an ally of congressional extreme right-wingers – those fears seemed to be confirmed. Some 2.7 million Peruvians – almost one-tenth of the population – took to the streets. Merino resigned after six days, having failed to secure the military’s support.



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Performance artists commemorate the victims of police killings during November’s protests.
Carlos Garcia Granthon/Fotoholica Press/LightRocket via Getty Images



Today, 85% of Peruvians surveyed by the Vanderbilt University pollsters Latinobarometro agree that Peru “is ruled by a handful of powerful groups for their own benefit”. The country loses about US$6.5 billion to corruption every year, according to the national comptroller.



Still, Peru’s economy has boomed since 2000, fueled primarily by mineral extraction, gas and crops like asparagus, grapes and avocados. Mining accounts for about 60% of exports.



While these activities occur in rural areas, Peru’s countryside remains extremely poor. People in gold-rich Cajamarca are about five times more likely to live in poverty than those in metropolitan Lima.



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Peruvian National Police at an illegal gold mine near Puerto Maldonado, June 11, 2013.
Lig Ynnek/flickr, CC BY-NC



Peruvians who protest against the environmental damage and disruption of livelihoods caused by mining – both legal and illegal – are often met with police and security force violence.



Protests and legal battles over mining in Peru have earned little political response. Oversight of mining operations is so weak that police and military forces sometimes sign agreements with companies to protect mines from protests.



Sagasti’s task



Improving political and economic inclusion and reforming the police are now high on Peruvian protesters’ list of demands.



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President Francisco Sagasti after taking his oath of office Nov. 17.
Hugo Curotto/Getty Images



As in 2000, some protesters and politicians are again calling for a new constitution that will strengthen the separation of powers in Peru and hold elected officials more accountable for their actions.



[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]



Back in the 2000s, Congress neglected such structural changes, allowing the problems that gave rise to Fujimori’s regime to continue after his overthrow.



Today Peru’s vigilant young protesters expect Sagasti to do more. To succeed as a post-crisis leader, he’ll need to restore Peruvians’ trust in government and lay the foundation for a more democratic future.The Conversation



Gisselle Vila Benites, Adjunct Researcher at the Center for Mining and Sustainability Studies at the Universidad del Pacífico (Peru) and PhD Candidate in Geography, University of Melbourne and Anthony Bebbington, Milton P. and Alice C. Higgins Professor of Environment and Society, Professor of Geography, Clark University



This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


  • Published in Politics

How Joe Biden did so well in Georgia


In Atlanta, people gather to dance and celebrate the election of Joe Biden as the next president.
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson


Bev-Freda Jackson, American University School of Public Affairs


For nearly 30 years, the state of Georgia has voted reliably Republican in presidential elections. Not since 1992 has the state backed a Democrat for president. Now, the hand recount of 2020 election ballots has confirmed Joe Biden won the state.



The initial returns from Georgia on election night leaned Republican, but in the days that followed, the balance of the count shifted steadily, as ballots from in and around Atlanta were counted. These votes were largely from communities of color, mostly African American – and they represent much of the state’s rich history of civil rights advocacy.



Atlanta, often called the “cradle of the civil rights movement,” was the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and made up much of the congressional district represented by the late John Lewis.



I am a political scientist and race scholar, with specific emphasis on examining social justice movement strategy and the impact of collective action. To me, the story behind how those Biden-Harris voters were mobilized – with others across the state – is the latest chapter in the state’s history of community organizing for peaceful democratic political change.



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Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to a church gathering in Albany, Ga., about desegregation efforts and civil rights, in July 1962.
AP Photo



A long history



Social justice movements and civil rights activism have always been important in Georgia. Even during Reconstruction, in the wake of the Civil War, the organizers worked to teach Georgians about voting rights and the rules for qualifying to vote in a state that had long denied them that right.



Efforts continued through the years, including rule changes that added more than 100,000 Black voters to the state’s rolls between 1940 and 1947. In the 1950s and 1960s, voting rights campaigns across the South sought to remove the vestiges of a Jim Crow system that suppressed Black voters with literacy tests, grandfather clauses and physical intimidation.



One major effort was the 1961-1962 Albany Movement, based in the Georgia town of that name. The effort was led initially by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, with later help from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, two of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations at the time. At the outset, Albany’s population was 40% Black, but many of them were not registered to vote.



The Albany Movement was the first attempt to completely desegregate a community, including through teaching nonviolence for people to engage in civil disobedience. The tactics and strategies pioneered there were successful in Albany and, as King and his movement shifted to Birmingham, Alabama, formed the basis for their work as well.



Between 1960 and 1964, half a million Black voters were registered in Georgia, as part of a larger Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee voter registration drive across the South.



Those decades of activism built strong networks for grassroots organizing and taught many people how to effectively fight segregation and racism with boycotts, sit-ins and other nonviolent methods of direct action resistance. After King’s assassination in 1968, the movement slowed significantly, showing how important it was to decentralize future civil rights efforts, rather than focusing them on one specific person or place.



Decades later, the Movement for Black Lives arose in response to police brutality against Black Americans, and built on the lessons learned through the 1960s.



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Georgia politician and activist Stacey Abrams speaks to a crowd in advance of the 2020 election.
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson



A new movement



The latest push for Black voters in Georgia came in 2018, after former State Representative Stacey Abrams, a Black Democratic woman, narrowly lost the race for governor to Brian Kemp, a white Republican man.



Her loss was largely attributed to the efforts of Kemp, who had been the state’s top elections official, to suppress Black votes. Those efforts included throwing more than half a million voters off the rolls – most of them Black – and tightening other voting rules.



In the wake of that election, Abrams committed herself to fight voter suppression in Georgia. She created an organization called Fair Fight to get the purged voters back on the rolls and to register others who were eligible to vote as well.



She began these efforts when Black Georgians’ attention had turned strongly to politics after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The 2020 death of civil rights icon and longtime Congressman John Lewis brought more attention to racial inequality. Many people realized they had been disenfranchised and were suffering from “intolerance fatigue,” the feeling of being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”



Abrams and Fair Fight benefited from the state’s 2016 implementation of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, sometimes called the “motor voter” law, which gives people the opportunity to register to vote at the same time that they apply for or renew a driver’s license.



Altogether, that collective effort registered 800,000 new voters in Georgia since Abrams’ 2018 loss. Some of those were likely among the many that Secretary of State Kemp had forced off the rolls, but many were also people who had never before been registered to vote in Georgia.



In addition to getting people’s names on the voting rolls, these groups pushed the importance of actually voting and taught people how to vote safely, including by mail or in-person before Election Day. Their efforts resulted in a 63% increase over the 2016 statistics for mail-in and early in-person voting ballots cast.



Overall, Georgia’s 2020 turnout was roughly 800,000 more than in the 2016 presidential election.



An additional factor in the Georgia election result may have been President Donald Trump’s own statements discouraging his supporters from voting, but the real key was the grassroots organization, the modern echo of the Albany Movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other efforts, that brought new voters into the fold.The Conversation



Bev-Freda Jackson, Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, American University School of Public Affairs



This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


  • Published in Politics

jonetta rose barras: An election year to remember

In the days before this year’s general election, DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson asserted that the city’s so-called political progressives were out of touch with the majority of the District’s electorate. Reviewing the unofficial results from Tuesday’s contest, it appears his analysis was correct.

  • Published in Politics

Testimony of Manny Monterrey on August 28th, 2020 March on Washington

        >> See the video at the end>>  I attended the March on Washington 2020 excited to capture images of a people united in support for the decent treatment of all humans. I’ve seen televised images of the 1963 March on Washington and I am moved each time at the harmony and love you see the attendees had for one another; it was genuine. Blacks and Whites for one moment were frozen in history in total and complete union and I just knew in my heart I would witness the same in this commemorative and commitment march organized by Dr. King’s very own son. While we all new the numbers would be lower than anticipated due to the global pandemic, I never in my wildest daydream could of even made up what I technically ‘didn’t see’. In a city where it is estimated 1.5 million Latinos reside within the tri-state region, our presence was next to none. In fact, from 9 am to 2 pm I counted a total of four, yes four Latinos attending the event, and two of those included myself and my wife.

  • Published in Politics

jonetta rose barras: Skirting DC law with government approval

Some top executives in DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration appear to be suffering from amnesia. Maybe it’s the stress of dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic and public health emergency. 

How else to explain why they are intent on pushing through a Medicaid contract with a company — MedStar — whose past behavior jeopardized the fiscal health of two other managed care organizations and damaged the entire program? Another company with whom the District is seeking to finalize a contract — CareFirst — owes the city millions of dollars in cash or services; it also appears to be flaunting DC small business certification laws, with tacit support from government officials.

jonetta rose barras: A government of redundancies

The DC Council Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Ward 4’s Brandon Todd, recently gave preliminary approval to the Racial Equity Achieves Real Change Amendment Act of 2020. The legislation, now known as the REACH Act, was the brainchild of Council Chairman Pro Tempore Kenyan McDuffie, but it was co-introduced by 11 of his colleagues. 

As approved, the bill establishes an Office of Racial Equity and requires the mayor to design and implement a racial equity tool to aid in eliminating racial disparities among District government employees. It also requires, beginning in 2021, creation of racial equity-related performance measures in the development of agencies’ annual performance plans and an evaluation of the use of the racial equity tool in their annual performance accountability reports. Further, as explained in the committee report, the measure requires the Office of Human Rights and the Department of Human Resources to develop and provide racial equity training for all city employees and boards and commissions. 150w" sizes="(max-width: 190px) 100vw, 190px" width="190" height="190">
(Photo by Ed Jones Jr.)

It also establishes a Commission on Racial Equity, Social Justice, and Economic Inclusion and creates a DC Council Equity Assessment Program to provide racial equity training for the legislature and to conduct racial equity impact assessments on permanent legislation. 

As an indication of the legislature’s commitment, it included nearly $1.8 million in the fiscal 2021 budget to fund the bill. And, circumventing its own legislative process, the council references the not-yet-adopted bill in the local Budget Support Act.

That move was curious, especially since the legislation has been lying around for more than a year. It was first introduced in January 2019. A public hearing was held in April 2019. It sat in committee until the massive protests over George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis ignited a national call to “defund the police” and fueled demands to end “structural racism.”

During an interview with me earlier this week, Todd disputed my assertion that the recent demonstrations led the council to act. “I’m not a knee-jerk reaction kind of guy. I try not to make decisions based on emotions and feelings, but based on data.” He said the intention had been to bring the bill for a vote in March, but the coronavirus interrupted that schedule. 

“As our city continues to grow, we have to prepare for a more diverse city and, at some point, for a more diverse city government,” Todd continued, offering his assessment of why the legislation is necessary and important. “We want to make sure there is a path forward to those who want it.”

Does that sound like a reverse version of “The Plan”? 

For decades there was a belief among many African Americans in DC that whites were plotting to retake the city. That was when DC was known as “Chocolate City” and Blacks made up at least 70% of the population; today they account for only 46%. 

The failure of elected officials to better manage gentrification has exacerbated fears by longtime Black residents, causing some to instigate a different kind of plan where people of color create their own insurance policy against the continued demographic shift and their displacement. Few people will publicly speak about those concerns and whether the equity legislation is really an advance assault. 

Media reports quote McDuffie as describing it as “a historic piece of legislation.” 

That is an exaggeration, of course. Undoubtedly, institutional racism is prevalent throughout America. Still, there is nothing historic about the Racial Equity Act, either nationally or locally. 

It is another piece of feel-good legislation with make-busy work that epitomizes government redundancy. It is an example of costly and wasteful overlaying of programs and processes. Several of its mandates could be implemented almost immediately without spending $1.8 million. 

For example: Does the legislature really need a DC Council Equity Assessment Program replete with an equity czar to implement a training program or use a racial lens to examine the proposed impact of legislation on certain populations? Lawmakers could simply amend their rules today, mandating both.

Besides, shouldn’t legislators and their staff members already be alert to the equity issues affecting their constituents? Perhaps their greatest obstacle isn’t the lack of any legal structure but the paucity of diversity in their legislative offices.

Even without the act, over the city’s 45-year history of quasi-political independence, the council has passed laws mandating equitable distribution of government resources and programs. It also has established or approved establishment of various offices and commissions to ensure racial and gender equity. 

Consider that by law any District agency must procure “50 percent of the dollar volume of its goods and services, including construction goods and services, with Small Business Enterprises (SBEs).” DC also requires that large developers subcontract with certified businesses. In both cases, many of those businesses are owned by people of color. 

There are four racial or ethnic commissions and offices — an Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, Office on Latino Affairs, Office on African Affairs and Office on African American Affairs — plus an Advisory Commission on Caribbean Community Affairs. Each conducts outreach, provides grants and generally advocates on behalf of its target populations. 

The Office on African American Affairs is supposed to “leverage internal and external resources” to improve “access to economic mobility and inclusive prosperity.” According to its website, the Office on Latino Affairs “provides development, training and support for community service agencies to help improve business processes and make it easier for these agencies to serve the Latino population of the District of Columbia.”

Annual reports are supposed to be provided to the public — although apparently not every office has complied. In the 2021 budget, the four agencies have a combined budget of nearly $8 million with more than 25 full-time staff positions, according to government budget documents.

These entities already provide the infrastructure for pursuing racial and ethnic equity. They have the ability to collect data to determine whether the government is engaged in discriminatory practices against people of color,  including erecting barriers to job opportunities, social programs, or contracting and procurement. 

“They already have pretty big tasks before them,” Todd said of the racial/ethnic quartet of agencies I identified. “It’s important [however] to have a singular focus on how our government prepares, responds and acts using a racial lens.” 

He said that the existing offices could “work collaboratively” with the equity commission through the city administrator. “They can help figure out where the gaps are.”

It sounds like, once again, the council has put the cart before the horse, introducing and adopting legislation without fully understanding the needs. Despite this bill’s obvious flaws, who is going to say no to a racial equity act when, finally, a large segment of the country seems focused on ending institutional racism?

jonetta rose barras is an author and freelance journalist, covering national and local issues including politics, childhood trauma, public education, economic development and urban public policies. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A 'New' DC

'Our Mayor a national celebrity, Jack Evans era ends &AG Racine aspires to become a political powerhouse

           As the District of Columbia slowly begins the re-entry phase after the coronavirus quarantine and continuing protests over the murder of George Floyd, things look like they've changed quite a bit here in our town. For many of the new, younger residents this is the first serious civic engagement in which they participate. It brings with them a new generation of leadership and, hopefully, greater involvement in the affairs of the DC community, beyond mere symbolism.

jonetta rose barras: Big ambitions, big spending of AG Karl Racine

Perhaps we should have recognized much earlier the large ambitions of Karl Racine. After all, he had been a White House counsel and was one of the first African Americans elected as managing partner of Venable LLP, a top firm in the city. He also spent more than $225,000 of his own money in his quest to become DC’s first elected, independent attorney general. 

For much of the past five years, Racine has been praised, including by me, for strengthening the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). He created the Office of Consumer Protection and a Public Advocacy Division, aggressively fighting slum landlords and other predators. As president-elect of the National Association of Attorneys General and chair emeritus of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, he has worked with counterparts across the country to fight President Donald Trump’s discriminatory policies, his violations of the Constitution and his insatiable greed. 150w" sizes="(max-width: 195px) 100vw, 195px" width="195" height="195">
(Photo by Ed Jones Jr.)

Still, Racine’s shine may be fading. Increasingly, some people, including advocates, civic leaders and government employees, are questioning his actions and motives. For example, they wonder about his seemingly growing appetite for executive branch territory like the Office of Human Rights. They also have frowned upon his foray into DC Council politics. 

In the June Democratic primary, Racine has endorsed Brooke Pinto for the Ward 2 council seat and Janeese Lewis George, who is running against Ward 4 incumbent Brandon Todd. Racine also jumped out early for independent candidate Ed Lazere, who is vying for the at-large post reserved for a non-Democrat in the November general election. Racine announced that choice before Lazere or anyone else has even qualified for the ballot.

“Is he empire-building?” asked a senior-level government official who requested anonymity. 

“I have heard complaints. I don’t think it’s playing well,” DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told me in a recent interview.

Racine has become a big-game hunter. 

When U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris was a Democratic presidential primary candidate, he cast his lot with her, dreaming that her victory might catapult him to leadership of the U.S. Department of Justice. Now, he’s supporting Joe Biden. Racine’s eyes are still on the prize, however.

In March, The Washington Post reported Racine filed for a third term as the District’s AG. That same day, however, he had this to say during an appearance on WAMU-FM’s Kojo Nnamdi Show: “I am not foreclosing going into the federal administration, if there’s a job that’s an important job that can advance the United States.”

If he wants to be U.S. attorney general — and I think he does — he has to demonstrate a broad reach and diverse skills; operating an AG’s office that mimics those in other states and exercising leadership in the national associations are critical. If Racine doesn’t land the federal appointment, there’s always DC to come home to, which is why he’s playing local politics.

“I am not insensitive to concerns,” Racine told me last week. “But I don’t have a team. We don’t have a color. I don’t have a mascot.”

Those comments — veiled references to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose political organization has been called “The Green Team” — exposed where Racine sees his local political competition. He offered no apology, however.

Pinto and George each served as an assistant attorney general in Racine’s office.

“Damn right I am supporting Brooke Pinto. She is tough, and hard as nails,” he said. Last week the Post endorsed Pinto in the crowded Ward 2 race. This week Mendelson endorsed Patrick Kennedy. Former at-large Council member Carol Schwartz has announced her support for John Fanning.

“Janeese is far left. She has been presented as being this wacko liberal, [but] she is evidence-based and a strong criminal justice advocate,” Racine said of his Ward 4 endorsee. The perception of George’s political leanings has come from her self-identification as a “Democratic Socialist.”

Racine said stepping behind Lazere was harder although “I think he is immensely qualified. I think we need a Latinx, like [Franklin] Garcia or Monica Palacio,” two of the other prospective candidates running for the at-large seat in November.

“My analysis was that Ed checked more boxes. He also has a pathway to victory,” Racine added, noting that Lazere garnered a significant number of votes in his 2018 campaign to unseat Mendelson. 

Racine has already telegraphed his support for Ward 8 Council member Trayon White and at-large Council member Robert White, both of whom, like Pinto and George, previously worked in the OAG. If his candidates win, Racine will hold a chit with at least five members of the 13-person legislature. 

“I am not looking to curry favor nor am I afraid to share my views,” he said. 

That isn’t the point. Shouldn’t the AG be an honest broker? Shouldn’t he move above the political fray, especially when he is expected to do the legal bidding for the executive and legislative branches as well as all the citizens in the District?

Racine’s behavior has made him susceptible to allegations of empire-building. It doesn’t help that he has gobbled a portion of the Office of Human Rights’ portfolio to create a Civil Rights Section within the OAG. Opportunistically, he used supplemental COVID-19 emergency legislation, approved last month by the council, to continue the gorging, allowing him to prosecute more cases under the Human Rights Act.

In that same law, Racine secured approval of a “Funeral Bill of Rights,” which had been part of his legislative proposal that had languished in a council committee since January 2019; wasting no time, he released details of the “Consumer Bill of Rights for Funeral Home Establishments” on Wednesday. 

And, when it comes to preventing utility disconnections, that job will go to Racine — not the Office of the People’s Counsel, which by law serves as a legal representative and advocate for utility customers.

Recently, he announced the creation of a Public Corruption Section, hoping to enhance the criminal prosecutorial authority of his office. The new office could clash with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, the Office of the DC Inspector General and the DC Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. 

“The success of those entities at being a deterrent has been mixed,” Racine told me. “There is a need for a prosecutor to [deal with] pay-to-play, campaign finance. There is no better entity than the local prosecutor” to handle that task.

He has accused federal officials of not being interested in public corruption cases or other crimes like campaign finance or financial disclosure violations or even false claims, which is a form of fraud where an individual or company deliberately misrepresents the value of a product or services that may have been delivered to the government. Ironically, under former U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. and his deputy Vincent Cohen Jr. there was a strong anti-corruption focus, including felony cases against various council members and campaign violations against members of the 2010 mayoral campaign of Vincent Gray. Gray was never charged with any wrongdoing. 

As a private attorney, Racine represented one of the individuals charged in an unrelated felony: former Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas Jr., who took for his personal use tens of thousands of dollars that were supposed to be spent on disadvantaged youth. Doesn’t that make Racine’s emphasis on prosecuting public corruption more than a bit hypocritical?

Neither the AG’s ambitions nor his opportunism has been sufficiently exposed. Sometimes, in politics, memories are far too short. 

Unquestionably, DC should have the ability to prosecute crimes, as every other state does. But, is Racine’s snatch and grab method the best approach for achieving that goal?

A serious examination of his territorial expansion — including his recent hiring of Jonathan Kravis to help develop the public corruption unit — has not taken place. Kravis had been deputy chief of the Fraud and Public Corruption Section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office; he oversaw the prosecution of Roger Stone for obstruction of Congress and related offenses. Kravis resigned over the U.S. Department of Justice’s handling of the Stone sentencing.

Racine said Kravis, hired under a $58,000 three-month contract, has been asked to explore “what is prosecutable and to see what legislation we might need, see how we might organize ourselves, see how not to be in a conflict situation with cases.”

That seems like a cart-before-the-horse exercise to me.

Nevertheless, Kravis told me that establishing the Public Corruption Section is a “worthwhile project.” He said he has been speaking with attorneys general in other states to better understand how to set up the division and create more cooperative relationships including with the U.S. attorney. “Some of our good cases could come from referrals.” Additionally, Kravis said the pool of people impacted by the division wouldn’t just be elected officials. It could include political candidates and senior government managers. 

As he has been reviewing the DC Code, he has concluded that “it would be very helpful for the DC Council and Congress to expand” the OAG’s prosecutorial authority. “There are areas for legislative reform,” Kravis added.

Mendelson seems willing to give Racine the opportunity to create the new division. “I don’t know that I want to second-guess what he’s doing,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, it could be abolished. And Racine has to stay within his appropriations.”

Well, that sounds easy. 

However, given Racine’s propensity for political flexing, he runs the risk of crossing the line in his role as AG, thereby jeopardizing the reputation of his office. He told me if he found himself facing a potential conflict of interest, he would recuse himself. That’s another area where Kravis is focused.

“One thing I have been talking about is how to have a sensible recusal policy and procedures in place,” said Kravis. “It’s important to be thoughtful about it in advance. It’s something that hasn’t been on the OAG’s radar.”

Maybe that’s because Racine has been spending too much time in the mirror. 

jonetta rose barras is an author and freelance journalist, covering national and local issues including politics, childhood trauma, public education, economic development and urban public policies. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


It seems a a lifetime ago when we were winding down from the Obama era. The angst and excitement for change was in the air. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had sealed up the nomination after a bruising primary against Senator Bernie Sanders. As others fell back or were eliminated through the process, Bernie catapulted to the front. Young people and the progressive wing of the party had finally found a champion who would take their issues to the forefront. Once unthinkable rhetoric was now a part of the national discourse. Much like in 2020 the “Democratic establishment” wing of the party coalesced behind Clinton and eventually came out on top. But even with a victory, Clinton entered into the general with a heavily split party. Some in the Bernie camp vowed to never support Clinton, others turned to the Green Party, and some would respect the process and throw their support behind her. Bernie would endorse Clinton but would get criticized from all sides for either selling out or not doing enough (deja vu).

All eyes were on Clinton and who she would pick for VP. Her short list at the time included Senator Cory Booker, Secretary Julian Castro, Senator Elizabeth Warren (all of whom would eventually run for President in 2020) Tom Perez who is now the DNC Chair and a few other highly qualified names. Democrats had a big appetite to make history again by going with a possible first woman President. Barack Obama had broken the ceiling in proving that a Black man could in fact be elected as President of the United States. “The New American Majority” a term coined by Steve Phillips had finally manifested. This new “majority” made up of African Americas, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Arab Americans and Progressive Whites were the group that would take Obama over the mountain top not once but twice. The landscape had changed and for a moment in time it seemed that Democrats had finally shifted away from chasing the ever illusive “Reagan Democrat”.

Democrats had traditionally always shifted their attention and resources to winning over the “White swing voter” often at the expense of historically marginalized groups and despite the fact that White voters as a plurality had not voted for Democrats since JFK. With the Obama blueprint in place, many had hoped Clinton would replicate this proven approach with the selection of a person of color as her VP. But to the contrary she would end up selecting Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. In addition to coming from a swing state he was also viewed as the best suited to win over enough White men who had long since shifted over to the Republican Party. After 8 years of progress the Democrats went right back to the same old broken play book. To make matters worse Latino voters were insulted and patronized with the story line that Tim Kaine spoke better Spanish than Castro and the glorified story of his time in Honduras as a missionary. None of this was a substitute to selecting a Latino for the ticket and just like that the enthusiasm went out the window. President Obama would campaign hard for Clinton but that wasn’t enough to keep up the record numbers of Black turnout in key swing states. Representation matters and identity politics plays a major factor when voters pick their candidates. Donald Trump understood this when he selected Mike Pence as his running mate.

Four years later it seems we are back in the same predicament. Joe Biden who is the presumptive nominee has the important choice of who to select for his VP. He has already stated he wants it to be a woman but refuses to commit to a Black woman or woman of color. In fact the conversation has now shifted to a possible White woman VP pick.

I would argue that this is a slap in the face to the most loyal constituency in the Democratic Party. We cannot forget that Black voters saved Biden’s campaign from near death with a big win in South Carolina and other Southern states during the primary. Also, Latino voters strongly supported Bernie over Biden during the Democratic primary. Not choosing a woman of color would certainly mean repeating the same catastrophic mistake of 2016. All the Trump bashing in the world will not translate to voter enthusiasm if people feel they are being taken for granted or are not valued. We must respect the fact that Black voters and voters of color play a vital role in the key swing states that were lost in 2016. This is a wake up call before its too late.

jonetta rose barras: The rise of Latino political aspirants in DC

olitical floodgates in DC opened after at-large Council member David Grosso announced he would retire at the end of his term this year, rather than seek reelection. A virtual sea of individuals — at least a dozen at last counting — have jumped into the November general election race. As required by law, the seat Grosso held is reserved for a minority party member or independent. 

None of the candidates has self-identified as a Democratic Socialist. More than a few have labeled themselves “independent Democrats.” That’s a fake moniker, but I won’t rant; I’ve done that already.

New Public Charge Ruling Targeting Low-Income Immigrants Takes Effect

ayudaWashington, D.C. (February 26, 2020) – On Monday, the Trump Administration’s inhumane public charge rule took effect, creating new barriers to immigration relief for the low-income immigrant community Ayuda serves.
The Trump Administration’s amendments to the public charge rule, of which the lower courts previously blocked implementation, were permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court to take effect this week, pending the final outcome of ongoing litigation.

It's Franklin

I first collaborated with Franklin Garcia in the early 2000's during a community exercise envisioned to create a game plan, a road map for where the Latino community could progress and become more empowered and powerful in the District. A group of us led by veteran community leaders such as Angel Irene, Alberto Gomez, Jose and Sonia Gutierrez and the scholarly Enrique Rivera, created a document entitled; "DC Latino Agenda", out of the process.

Franklin Garcia at his recent holiday celebration with DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelsohn and Silvia Martinez of the DNC. During that time Franklin was the glue that held us together. We met Saturdays at what was then EOFULA (Vida Center today). Franklin called us to order, organized the documents and later would request government officials visit to discuss our research. I remember Dan Tangerlini showed up one Saturday morning when he became City Administrator, as did the head of the Housing Authority, Councilman Graham and various agency heads. At the time Franklin also created the DC Latino Caucus. He was quite active even then.
Subsequently, he went on to work with the DC Democratic State Committee. He became their Communications Director at one point and worked closely with Chairperson Anita Bonds, David Meadows, Phil Pannell and other Democratic Party activists. He ran successfully for the DC DSC on various occasions and was responsible for numerous initiatives including a modern newsletter and wide distribution of videotaped hearings and meetings.
Franklin made himself central and indispensable to the local party leadership and became a political figure himself. He first ran District wide for public office approximately 5 years ago. He won the election for Shadow U.S. Representative with over 110,00 votes. In fact, he has won the position in 2 subsequent elections ever since. Even running unopposed or with limited opposition, this is no easy feat. It means that over the last 3 elections more than 350 thousand voters have pulled a lever or punched a card with Mr. Garcia's name on it. If he can translate that into votes in a Council run he's golden. Franklin would have to win somewhere above 60,000 votes to win the At-Large Council seat. He's running for the seat now held by David Grosso who is retiring. This is the one seat on the Council reserved for non-Democrats. Garcia will have to resign from the Democratic party to run. Franklin Garcia poses with Bibi Otero long time Latino community leader at the December 14th reception celebrating the life of Pepe Lujan. Franklin is a master about town. Rarely a night goes by when he is not at some civic meeting or attending a public activity related to statehood politics or District affairs. His life is dedicated to public service. He carries a miniature DC flag in his pocket wherever he goes. When he takes a picture or appears in a video, he pulls it out of his pocket and waves it at the camera. He is not only active, but knowledgeable. He can gauge his audience instinctively and deliver excellent remarks no matter what the scenario, who is in the audience or where he is in town. He's a master at the public arts. He also has integrity wrapped in a cautious, measured attitude. He's an honorable man of his word.
Franklin straddles both the Latinx as well as the African American community. He is likeable, knowledgeable and helpful. For this article we took a photograph at Franklin's recent holiday celebration at his home. In attendance were Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Phil Mendelsohn, Shadow Sen. Brown, Silvia Martinez from the DNC, diplomats, professors and videographers, residents young and old from the African American, Latino and white communities, a broad cross section of this town.
No one in our memory has been this engaged, this prepared and this ready to accede to a position of authority and power on the DC Council and in the life of the District as Franklin Garcia. We wish him well and promise to support him throughout. As they say in the movies; 'May the force be with you!!"

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Three story lines pundits in the media repeat that I do not believe are true;
1. There are too many Democratic candidates for President. In my view, on the contrary. I'm dazzled by the amount of talented, smart, charismatic candidates on the Democratic side. They would make a fabulous governing team if the Democrats return to power. Let them have their season of glory and may the best woman/man win.

Notes on the #Resistance

It's frustrating to read to this day from otherwise credible pundits and commentators about how this person in the White House 'won' the election of 2016. He is an illegitimate President. The election of 2016 was stolen. I don't mean with propaganda or Russian media manipulation, but by changing votes, real votes. There is a reputable professor at a University in Michigan who explained with precision and detail how this was done -proved it was done. Derided as an outlier and conspiracy theorist at first, his research is now well accepted. In counties across Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin (and perhaps Ohio) votes, real votes, were changed and non-existent votes added to the counts. Michigan and Wisconsin at the time were led by Republican governors, men who surely know how it was done and helped make these changes happen. Someday we may learn how they did it.

The Bukele Rallies

            Nayib Bukele, the Mayor of San Salvador and candidate for President of El Salvador, was in town last week to organize his 'Nuevas Ideas' (New Ideas) movement of Salvadoran émigrés in the U.S. He attended a series of fundraising activities and addressed crowds in Maryland, Virginia and New York. Even though the Salvadoran election is over 15 months from now, Mr. Bukele has already made numerous campaign visits to our region.

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Mr. Macri Comes to Washington

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri came to Washington DC for his first visit under the Trump regime on Wednesday, April 26th, 2017. The whirlwind visit lasted barely 36 hours and began with a meeting on Thursday, April 27th with the American President. Later that same day he appeared at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to address an overflowing crowd eager to hear about his government's vaunted reforms and plans for growth and prosperity (see Link that follows for a transcript of the event).

Open house at The Ronald Reagan National Airport Terminal

PROJECT DESCRIPTION:  Secure National Hall
Construction of  two new Security Screening Check Points (SSCP’s) to facilitate the removal of the existing Security Screening Check Points located at each Concourse within the existing Airport.  The new Security Screening Check Points are additions to the existing Airport that will be constructed over the existing arrivals roadway.  The two check points are located immediately adjacent to the existing cross over bridges from the metro on the north and south sides of the terminal.  Each new SSCP (North and South) consists of new steel structure  on auger cast and micro pile foundations with roughly 50,000 square feet of finished space for passenger queuing lines and the new TSA screening stations.  The work entails full architectural fit out and finishes, MEP and Special Systems required for a complete and operational screening check point.  The Project also consist of extensive renovations and building modifications to the existing Terminal building to align with the new adjoining SSCP’s 

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