Are you part of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent? As we go to press, the furor over the leaked fundraising video in which the Republican presidential candidate dismisses nearly half the country as entitled moochers is running high.
Given the policies and platforms of his party, which are clearly tilted toward upward redistribution despite all evidence that that makes the economy worse not better, it shouldn’t be news that he feels this way. But it’s still striking to hear it put so baldly.
For those of us who work in disinvested neighborhoods with people who are working hard in the face of tremendous odds and unlevel playing fields to not only take care of their own families, but rebuild their communities and help each other, Romney’s words ring extra hollow. We know our constituents are not lazy. We know lower income people pay much more of their income in sales and payroll taxes than Romney and other high-income earners pay. We know that the mortgage interest deduction remains our largest federal housing expenditure, while working families and the disabled and elderly struggle increasingly with paying predatory loans or soaring rents (p 40), not to mention finding jobs.
It can be easy looking at the facts to feel confident that a servant of the rich who made his money outsourcing jobs, hides his tax returns, wants to slash beloved programs in order to direct more money to billionaires, and is offending everyone he can think of except his donors can’t possibly win this election. We are the 99 percent, right?
But is it a fair fight? Shady Super PACs are raising massive amounts of money to campaign on Romney’s behalf, enabled by the Orwellian Citizens’ United decision that reaffirmed that corporations are people and money is speech.
And then there’s voter suppression, being carried out by the wave of new voter ID laws, which disproportionately affect voters who tend to be more progressive — women, people of color, the working poor, new citizens, the very young, the very old. It also comes down heavily on people who have moved recently, making people and neighborhoods affected by foreclosure particularly susceptible. Sound like anywhere you know?
The supposed excuse for these laws is voter fraud, but as Avi Green and Gabrielle Tarini note on page 16, actual studies of recent highly contested elections show that voter fraud is rarer than people being struck by lightning. On the other hand, some 21 million citizens don’t have current ID. The downsides to voter ID laws are so disproportionate to the purported benefits as to be mindboggling.
Joining the fight to maintain voting rights and voter power in your neighborhoods and for your constituencies may seem like an additional burden on an already overfull and underfunded plate — but it’s the foundation to getting your issues on the political agenda (p 12), preserving the advances being made at the federal level (p 8), and electing officials who understand your work and will help your neighborhoods from the inside (p 24).
If you’re not an organizer you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to chip in — connect with organizers like the League of Young Voters or Rock the Vote to join something already underway. And you don’t have to take on a door-to-door campaign either: if you interact with folks as housing counselors, in training classes, in community meetings, or other places, you can add encouraging voter registration and education about voter ID laws into your daily routine. Get help and information, and even a Voter Participation Starter Kit, from Nonprofit Vote.
It’s human nature to latch onto arguments that justify our less noble, and sometimes less conscious, fears. Two fascinating articles (p 34 and 36) in this issue look at what opponents said would happen if specific affordable housing developments were built — and compare that to what actually happened when they were built. Not to provide too many spoilers, but they don’t match. At all. While plenty of data crunching has shown that well-maintained affordable housing doesn’t bring with it the rash of ills so many fear, it’s hard to translate those abstractions into a particular, detailed zoning fight. Comparing similar, concrete before and after scenarios might help in a different way.
Whether you’re facing down NIMBY activists or the prospect of an administration hostile to your work and your constituency, stay strong and keep your eyes on that long arc. We’ll be watching too.
_In the Spring issue, we omitted the photographer’s name in the credit for the picture of Kaswana Cook and her daughter on page 31, for the article “Prescription for a New Neighborhood.” That photo was taken by Anastasia Tantaros. _