Guest commentary as published in the Beloit Daily News June 15, 2020:
People have the power to create change
By Dorothy J. Harrell
Even as we mourn the senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a police officer in Chicago was pulling a young black woman, Mia Wright, from her car and put a knee on her neck and back. Out with her family to go shopping at Target, police approached her car with guns drawn, shattered her car windows and a shard of glass cut her eye.
We can name names and cite incidents across this country. What we need is a cultural mind shift, a moral transformation and a commitment to equity and fairness for all. This is not just about race, it is about human rights. Separated by color we belong to the same human family. Today, we saw a white police officer knock an elderly white male to the sidewalk in Buffalo, NY and then walk over him as he bleeds from a head injury. When an officer attempts to stop and render aid, his fellow officer pushes him forward. Where is the humanity in that?
There is a fire somewhere in the world every day. We cannot put out every fire but we can extinguish hate.
To become a member of law enforcement does not demand an absence of humanity. At one time the force was called peace officer. We may need a throwback to those days. This is not just about policing but the systemic racism built into the American justice system. The disparate impact of charging and sentencing in Rock County and across the country is a cause for concern in communities of color. To talk about what is happening in our country is not to say we don’t love it but in some incidents the term domestic violence can be applied to what we see happening.
In order for us to move forward we must look back. Our country was founded with the words “all men are created equal” but we know the phrase was not inclusive. Had it been true there would have been no need for the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th amendments to the Constitution, Brown vs. the Board of Education or the Voting Rights Act. So today many people are now willing to ‘take a knee’. Why now? Why not in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick was ridiculed and vilified because he knelt to protest police brutality? The message got twisted and his actions were said to represent hatred for the flag when in reality this became another assault on a person of color.
Every generation must find their work and do it. The fact that so many young people have been galvanized and motivated and mobilized creates hope. Hope can lead to healing. We must all work together to reimagine policing so it recognizes the humanity of every person and work within the judicial system so the dignity of all persons are respected. This is about our humanity and identity in the eyes of the state.
This is not just a moment but a movement that has gone global. We have celebrities using their social media to amplify the message and even Michael Jordan donating $100 million for social justice. Most likely we won’t see any of those people or their dollars. And I have not seen a similar response from any businesses in our community. This begs the question what will we do within our community to further the cause of racial justice? We must commit to connect the dots. We need cross-racial solidarity to ensure decision makers are accountable to the community. We must register and vote. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) will continue the work we have been doing with the League of Women Voters (LVW) to increase awareness of registering, commit to community forums prior to elections to highlight issues and encourage people to complete the 2020 census.
African Americans are battling two pandemics at once, the outbreak of coronavirus and the infiltration of racism into our communities. Now that it has your attention we must work together to turn anger into a force for good. We are not a people without hope. What do we want? What do we need? That is hard to say because I don’t know what it will take to change the hearts and minds of others. Perhaps we can work on restoring trust by a look at the following:
- Health officials. engage in a solution oriented conversation responding to COVID-19 in our community and our overcrowded prisons.
- City council, educate the public on any existing committees or boards with the authority to oversee and address public concerns on police activity, hiring and discipline; if none, then create one.
- Police, review with the public any policies on methods of restraint and ban the use of knee holds and other lethal methods of restraint, any requirement for body/dash cams and their usage with prompt release of evidence, and any training that currently exist on de-escalation and cultural competence.
- County administrators, release or create any/all information on crimes, charging and sentencing delineated by race.
- School board review the role of police presence in our schools and provide the public with data by race on suspensions, expulsions and referrals to municipal court.
- We all advocate for federal hate crimes legislation that provides procedures, sanctions and penalties in cases of blatant police brutality.
We, as a people, have the power to create change.
Dorothy J. Harrell, JD
Beloit NAACP #3251
Submitted to the Beloit Daily News Letters to the Editor, June 11, 2020
Empowering Voters, Defending Democracy --
We support the editorial written by Dorothy Harrell, President of the Beloit NAACP and a League of Women Voters member. The LWV is a non-partisan organization working to uphold democracy and voting rights. George Floyd is one in a list of far too many Black lives extinguished by police brutality. We deplore such violence and stand with the peaceful protesters locally and across the nation.
As the National CEO of LWV, Virginia Kase, stated “Speaking out is an important first step, but this moment requires more than words – it requires us to change.” She stated we must remain “dedicated to work focused on dismantling racism within our electoral system: People Powered Fair Maps, voting rights restoration for formerly incarcerated people, combating unfair voter purging, fighting voter ID laws and polling place closures.”
Our local League was recently awarded one of 50 national LWV Diversity, Equity and Inclusion grants for $500 to work with the local NAACP, Janesville LWV and other groups at a workshop to join together to develop a plan to work on common goals, particularly to strengthen voter rights. As a result of this workshop, we will educate citizens about their voting rights, so they can become more involved in this effort and hold government accountable. As the last April primary demonstrated, Wisconsin was not perfect in voting process, particularly with the absentee process, and we must work vigilantly together. We welcome your participation.
Susan E. Adams, Ph.D
President, Beloit League of Women Voters
Published in the Beloit Daily News Letter to the Editor on June 8, 2020
People oppose gerrymandering
Jun 8, 2020
Our community and all of our elected officials must go on record to oppose partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin.
The rigging of political maps is wrong, regardless which party - Democrats or Republicans - do it. It makes for too many “safe seats.” Elected officials can ignore the wishes of many of their constituents. It also makes for hyper-partisanship and lack of cooperation because the elected officials have nothing to fear.
No party should be able to draw district maps to keep themselves in power for ten years. It is just plain wrong! Banning gerrymandering has enormous bipartisan support in Wisconsin. A Marquette Law School poll last year showed that 72 percent of Wisconsinites want to ban gerrymandering, and that includes 63 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats, and 76 percent of Independents.
Over 50 county boards—representing about 80% of the state’s population—have passed resolutions urging the state legislature to ban gerrymandering in Wisconsin and give us independent, nonpartisan districts. In April, Rock County passed an advisory referendum on nonpartisan redistricting by 80%.
The time is long overdue for fair political mapping for Beloit and all of Wisconsin.
(Submitted by Joyce Metter, voter service co-chair, on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Beloit)
Published in Beloit Daily News, Guest Editorial on May 4, 2020
Difficult challenges facing new school board.
The Beloit League of Women Voters would like to thank the outgoing members of the Beloit School Board: Pam Charles, Jeff Klett, and Wendy Sanchez for offering their skills and expertise to our School Board. We all know there continue to be many difficult challenges facing the new board, and we want to welcome Maria Delgado, Amiee Leavy and Spencer Anderson and to welcome back Stephanie Jacobs. And to returning, more experienced members John Wong, Megan Miller and Kyle Larson, we expect that you will act upon the following challenges.
The League has members observing and giving reports from nearly every meeting. A quick review shows a number of major challenges remain. Among them are: 1. a lack of communication with the community. 2. Technology, i.e. board website, Spectrum and BoardDocs. #3. A tendency to spend excessive money to handle personnel hires that have resulted in early departures, contract buyouts and then hiring their replacements.
The lack of communication manifests itself first with the School Board website. It used to be easy to find information; it had a list of meetings by date with agendas and minutes. Now you must use BoardDocs, the official place to post meetings, which is difficult to find and use. They only need to post notices 24 hours in advance, so you need to check there daily. The site directs you to call for training on using the site if necessary. That shouldn’t be necessary; it should be easy to use for everyone.
Aside from being difficult to find, BoardDocs is problematic. The agendas appear there 24 hours in advance, but many meeting minutes are missing. The website states “The remarkably easy-to-use service (BoardDocs) has allowed the organization to maximize the effectiveness of its meetings with increased transparency, providing a basis for better and more open communication with the public, while dramatically improving productivity and saving thousands of dollars annually.” It doesn’t work; too many minutes are still missing and it requires too much staff time to post minutes. Posting minutes was to be simple. How is this saving taxpayer dollars or giving us transparency? Why are we paying for this poor service? Until this is fixed, funds should be withheld.
Meetings themselves are only available on You Tube. The public access channel hasn’t worked since they moved the board meetings to the new Kolak building. As a result, the community cannot view the Board meetings via cable nor can the District use it for educational programming. On April 14, The President of the Board said they have tried, but have reached a “dead end” with Spectrum on this issue. He suggested community members call Spectrum to complain. Although it may be tempting to suggest we withhold funds, that isn’t possible because it would cost them their E-rates status. The Board will have to continue to follow-up on this issue.
Aside from videotaping meetings and posting agendas, little communication with the public occurs. We haven’t seen anything in the newspaper for quite a while. If you write to the full board, you may or may not receive an answer, or maybe a very cursory one from the President, with a few exceptions. Last year sometime, the board had decided that they would speak with one voice and that the President would be that voice. This needs to change now. We believe Board members should feel comfortable answering community questions. Voters elect each one of these board members. They are answerable to voters, not the Board President. When we write to our government representatives, we expect answers. They don’t have to clear it with anyone. That’s how a democracy works.
It is also not easy to discover how educational classes are being conducted now. If you read the Beloit Daily newspaper article titled, Beloit School District launches Online Learning on April 6 published on April 1, which is linked on the district website, it leads one to believe that actual learning started April 6, yet it didn’t start until April 20, which is several weeks behind neighboring districts. According to the news article, they were to be contacting families individually to see if they had internet access or computers to do student work. There has been no update with the community about these results. Four or five weeks is simply too long for a hiatus in teaching. It is so much later than other districts. We are extremely disappointed in this lack of planning and organization and the dearth of information about the education process in Beloit during the “Safer at Home” order.
Finally, many of us in the community are concerned with the amount of money being spent to hire administrators and lawyers, and to buy out contracts. This happened again recently, when Bill Beckley resigned, because the Board President stated for the Beloit Daily News, his job was to “get out into the schools, talk to staff and rebuild trust and communication which cannot be done with the temporary school closures.” This was an unfortunate choice of words. We have to get creative and figure out how to rebuild trust and communication in spite of the virus. The district still needs to rebuild trust and communication with the community as well as the staff. Another missed opportunity.
Indeed, there are numerous challenges the board faces. There is no need to do it alone, though. The Beloit community wants to help. To do this we need to be able to easily find and access accurate good, timely information. We have to move beyond our issues with the past administrations and engage in a process with enough time to do the best job possible. A whole community is here for you. It is our hope that you access their talents and use them wisely.
Susan E. Adams,
Beloit LWV Secretary
Published in Beloit Daily News, Letters to the Editor on April 27, 2020
"Thank you, City of Beloit for holding a Fair Election."
The League of Women Voters of Beloit would like to thank Lori Luther, all the city workers, and especially City Clerk Lori Stottler and her group of poll workers who were so creative and adaptable throughout this changeable election. They made it as easy as possible to cast a ballot. To make this possible, election officials had to address such questions as: Would an in-person election be held on April 7 or not? How would the electorate and poll workers be kept safe? When would the last day to request an absentee ballot stop changing? Everyone encouraged voting by mail, but in Beloit, voters could also go in person to City Hall for drive-up voting with an absentee ballot before the election up through the weekend before April 7. Voters in other parts of Wisconsin could only vote early via the mail. Beloit was very adaptable.
Within just a few days, Beloit had begun planning to use all nine polling places, then downsized to five, and then finally to one at City Hall. Then, because it was uncertain up until the evening of April 6 whether the election would be on April 7, or not, they had to be prepared either way. City workers had to plan for a variety of options, and then erect signs and lanes for the drive-up voting. Younger poll workers replaced many of the experienced but older, more vulnerable workers. First-time workers needed to learn the process. There were many problems with this election, but Beloit did a great job, in spite of all the challenges they had to overcome.
Susan Adams, Secretary
Published in Beloit Daily News, Letters to the Editor on April 13, 2020
'Prepare for a safer election'.
I am a retired teacher/administrator from the School District of Beloit and Deacon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and I'm a poll worker.
Voting is a right, and we need to protect it. I’m concerned but dealing with the relatively new stringent voter ID laws which can disenfranchise voters, but I’m proud to say that Wisconsin’s Election Board decided not to get a company to create a voter database. Of the five states to receive a federal grant, Wisconsin was the only state to timely produce a comprehensive Elections Data Collection System.
Wisconsinites can also register online, vote early, and get absentee ballots, and use paper ballots. We have same-day voter registration, but not all states have these options. All states need safe elections that enfranchise all its citizens. We all need to be able to vote by mail. It is safe. We also need to ensure voter and poll worker safety with the coronavirus.
Experts estimate we need at least 2 billion dollars to make sure states can prepare for these elections with the health threat. If we aren't prepared, millions of voters might be disenfranchised. Congress passed $400 million to start the process. With this threat, Congress must pass additional funding to make sure we can conduct fair elections, especially in November. Let your senators and representatives know.
Published in Beloit Daily News, Letters to the Editor on April 2, 2020
'Vote to support fair vote maps'
Vote Yes on the Rock County Referendum for fair voting maps. Rock County Supervisors are giving us the opportunity to tell state legislators that we want fair voting maps. The referendum reads: “Should the Wisconsin legislature create a nonpartisan procedure for the preparation of legislative and congressional district plans and maps?” Please vote YES.
Because one party or the other would try to rig maps to maintain power, Wisconsin had to go to federal courts in 1981, 1991, and 2001 to have them draw our maps. In 2011, the assembly drew maps that have already been declared unconstitutional by one federal court. We still use these maps. Vote for a better process!
The League of Women Voters has supported fair maps since the 1970’s. We are a member of the 18-member Fair Maps Coalition, https://www.fairelectionsproject.org/fair-maps-wi/. We advocate for independent nonpartisan commissions to redraw voting maps after each US Census. For the past 35 years, Iowa has successfully had career civil servants draw district maps that guard against partisanship and favoritism. Let’s follow their example.
This is a non-partisan issue that most of us agree on. Rock County is one of 50 Wisconsin counties that have passed resolutions in favor of Fair Maps. Eight counties have passed referendums. Let’s make Rock County the ninth county to pass a referendum supporting a fair nonpartisan process for drawing maps.
Contact the League of Women Voters of Beloit: https://my.lwv.org/wisconsin/beloit for more information and to join us in this effort.
Susan Adams, Beloit
Sent to the Janesville Gazette
On April 7, the voters of Rock County can send a message to our legislators to end partisan gerrymandering by voting YES on the advisory referendum that asks: “Should the Wisconsin legislature create a nonpartisan procedure for the preparation of legislative and congressional district plans and maps?”
Since the 1970s the League of Women Voters (LWV) has advocated for independent nonpartisan commissions to redraw voting maps after each US Census. The League has held this position through periods when each party has been in power. Fair voting maps is not a partisan issue.
In Wisconsin, the only remedies to partisan gerrymandering depend on action by the Wisconsin legislature. Currently, there are bills in the Wisconsin legislature, AB 303 and SB 288, that could do this.
Therefore, in addition to voting YES on the Fair Maps referendum in April, write or call the members of the legislative committees who need to bring these bills to the floor for debate and a vote.
On Saturday, guests at our local LWV Centennial Luncheon engaged in a Day of Action and wrote 200 postcard messages to the members of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection and the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections. (Google the names of these committees to find contact information for the members.)
You can advocate for Fair Maps, too. Democracy is not a spectator sport.
Contact the League of Women Voters of Janesville through our website www.lwvjvl.org for more information.
President, League of Women Voters of Janesville
Featured letter: Beloit League helping to make democracy work
Bill Barth. Opinion page March 2, 2020. Written by Gayle Hotchkiss
In February 2020 the League of Women Voters (LWV) celebrated its 100th anniversary and the Beloit League joined more than 700 other local and state chapters to celebrate this historic milestone.
When a member joins their local League of Women Voters they also become part of a larger network in their state and nation. The League of Women Voters was founded on February 14, 1920, six months before the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Local and state organizations followed by organizing the local chapters as they joined the national organization.
The League of Women Voters of Beloit organized and was founded in March 1945, becoming a member of both the LWV of Wisconsin and LWV US. As League members look to a vibrant future on their threshold of our next 100 years, the League is excited that dedicated members in Beloit, Wisconsin and the nation continue to steadily attract significant numbers of activists who share the League’s commitment to making democracy work.
The League of Women Voters membership is open to women and men, 16 years of age and older, who are interested in improving our systems of government and impacting public policy through education and advocacy. The League’s historic commitment to register, educate and mobilize voters is not only stronger, but more effective than ever, utilizing such tools as VOTE411.org, a cutting edge election information website utilized by millions of voters each election cycle.
On a national level the League will continue to fight voter discrimination and to keep secret money out of our elections to ensure that our elections are fair, free and accessible. There will be a continued push for improved access to health care as well as recognizing that climate change is a scientific reality that must be addressed to ensure a sustainable planet for everyone. The state league will continue to address the issue of fair and impartial redistricting. The Beloit League members have many interests in these topics as well as recently learning more about issues affecting the homeless and various aspects of local education.
One hundred years after the League was founded in 1920, members of the League are proud of the great progress achieved when it comes to truly making democracy work.