Thursday, February 28, 2013

And now we wait...

The news coming out of SCOTUS on Wednesday as the oral proceedings in Shelby v Holder were concluding were nothing short of dire. Phrases like "Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act appears doomed," were common, and word of Justice Scalia calling the Act a racial entitlement spread like wildfire across the media.

But as is so often the case, what really took place bears little resemblance to the hype from those first reactions. It was both more interesting, and more enlightening to actually take the time to read the 84 page argument found here:

I had honestly forgotten how much I love reading cases. I think law school kind of killed the experience for me for awhile. And this one is a truly compelling read.

Almost from the beginning, shortly after Attorney Bert Rein for Shelby County made his introductions, and began his argument, Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Kagan were right there questioning him about his very presence in the Court, which of course, is at the very crux of the case. I think what I didn't realize was the extent to which the Justices would speak of the fluidity of Section 5, as it has the ability to expand elsewhere, as well as to contract, which was Shelby's goal here. I will be curious to see how the Justices address that in their opinion.

Reading and re-reading Scalia's comments regarding Section 5 as a perpetuation of a racial entitlement was and still is, to me, horrifying. I'm not sure I can elaborate on my feelings about his comments and views in any objective way yet. I am hoping his opinion clarifies his comments and that somehow, they aren't as obtuse as they seem to me now...

The Justices are scheduled to meet tomorrow, on Friday, which is a bit of a surprise. They have until June to render a decision, but it may be that extensive deliberation is not necessary at this point. It is truly difficult to imagine a scenario in which Shelby County would not be covered by Section 5, and Rein did not strongly demonstrate why it should not be.

I am glad I finally had the time to read the proceedings to see that from the transcript and my interpretation of it, this is not the end of this important, and yes still very much needed statute. But it is a split Court, and like Healthcare, I think we know now not to speculate too much where the opinion will fall.

Stay tuned...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Countdown to Wednesday...

Updated 1.26.2012 from Original Post

Tomorrow, Wednesday, 27 Feb 2013, Shelby v. Holder goes to the Supreme Court challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Writing those words makes me physically ill. 

For my whole life, I have been fascinated by the civil rights movement, and what came out of it, proud at what our Congress did to make our Union more perfect. That's the point, right? 

It sure doesn't feel like that right now.

At this moment, the cornerstone of the landmark civil rights legislation is being threatened by those who do not want certain U.S. citizens to vote. This very threat is the most obvious way to see that the VRA is still very much needed, and should not be weakened. 

On the same day Shelby is argued at SCOTUS, a statute to Rosa Parks will be installed in the U.S. Capitol. It is ironic, and that irony should not be lost on anyone.

If you have time and want to read some much more expansive information about the history of the VRA, and what's at stake, these are the best posts of the bazillion I have read for you...

That last article is an Editorial John Lewis wrote for the Washington Post. I found this picture today, of John Lewis and I at the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights annual dinner last Spring.

I'm honored to be able to know someone for whom the struggle for voting rights and civil rights is the cause of his life and often risked his for those rights. I've been thinking about him and and all who worked along side him to help form a more perfect Union.

I'll be glued to SCOTUS blog, and then to the transcript. We won't know anything tomorrow, the Justices have until June to make their ruling. Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Miss Chatelaine

On 16 August 2002, I opened a dress shop in my hometown of Bristol, RI. This was 6 weeks after I decided not to move back to DC at that time as I had planned to. I had been living in RI for 4 years at that point, and had completely intended to return to DC. This was right after 9/11, and although I had a job waiting, and a signed lease for an apartment share in the city, something just didn't feel right. It was then I was inspired to do this instead. I did move back to DC 6 and 1/2 years later, less than a month after President Obama was elected.

Looking back, I have never been so sure of something in my life. I have always dressed people, I have a great aesthetic (not a humble brag, I came with it) and there was no other store in RI filling this void I saw in the way I saw it existing. Mostly dresses, skirts, tops and pants, no jeans. I also had the money to start it, as my parents had passed away and I was watching their hard earned money disappear in the market. I believed I could take $70K and double it. I was wrong there. I tripled it that first year.

On opening day, a dear friend gave me a CD. It was K.D. Lang, Miss Chatelaine. I had never heard it before and couldn't quite believe it existed. Chatelaine is my word. When I was a little girl, I used to get grounded a lot, and my mom would make me look up words in the dictionary. One day she said to look up the French word for cat (chat) which I knew bc I loved kitties. Then she asked me my name, and I looked at her like she had 3 heads and said Elaine (the Y wasn't there yet). She then said that was the word I was to look up. Chat Elaine. Ok, I STILL remember how excited I was that there was a word that existed that was my name with cat! So I did, and this is what it is...

chat·e·laine noun \ˈsha-tə-ˌlān\
   a: the wife of a castellan: the mistress of a château
   b : the mistress of a household or of a large establishment
    a clasp or hook for a watch, purse, or bunch of keys

French châtelaine, feminine of châtelain
First Known Use: 1845

Good word, right? My response upon learning the definition was to decide that if I ever had a shop it would be called chatelaine. When my shop's inspiration came to me, it was already named. I brought the sign with me to DC.

Someone asked me early on with the shop, what my goals were with it. I said easily that my goals were to have fun helping women look their best, and that I would be there until a hurricane blew me out (the entire area where I was located, had been obliterated in 1954) or until there was a Democrat back in the White House. I was completely serious. When I closed as suddenly as I had opened in November 2008, folks were surprised for some reason. :)

I am thankful I trusted my instincts, and seized the opportunity to do something I always wanted to do. I loved my shop, the people I met and dressed, and the opportunities to have a voice as a stylist in print and on tv. But I always knew it wasn't forever. My passion for civil rights and my desire to return to DC were always right there. As it happens, my civil rights education and my dress shop collided in a way I couldn't have predicted because I didn't at that time know the deep connection between the slave trade and Bristol, RI ran. As it turns out, the land my shop stands on was at one time part of the port where the Triangle Trade of moving African slaves from Ghana to the Cuba to Bristol. But that's another story...

Dressing people is one of my true passions, I find it exhilarating to help people see their beauty, and I will always do that. Having chatelaine as a specific place to focus on that had its time and place, and I learned so much and shared so much. But before chatelaine and since I have done the same but on an individual basis, through personal shopping, closet makeovers, and stylist consulting.  I see this setting as a place to share some of what I know, I'll be talking about style much more than fashion, for as my dressing icon Coco Chanel said so well, "Fashion is transient, but style endures." Fashion is fun, fashion is what brought me to Manhattan 4 times a year to buy, but the things I bought still had my style aesthetic and it always worked. Call it rules, guidelines, simple things that you probably know, but need a reminder, it's fun to figure it all out. Something really great happens when you know you look your best, it makes you feel good, too. And when you feel good, well, the possibilities are endless and fabulous. I promise, it will be fun.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Commission Shamission

As I'm so new to this medium, I have been thinking about how I will introduce myself and my topics. When I imagined writing about voting, I thought I would start with my background, why this is my passion, and where we are in America as voters. That all changed yesterday when a few hours before SOTU, I read the most exciting tweet a voting rights advocate like me could read. Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post, had the scoop that a Presidential Voting Commission was going to be created and the concept unveiled at the speech. What a thrill it was for a few hours, and a frenzy of tweets and speculation from many voting rights advocates flooded my timeline in anticipation... 

But alas in the light of day, or actually shortly after the speech, the excitement and anticipation had been squashed like a bug, as we learned that the Commission would be chaired in a "bi-partisan" fashion by Bob Bauer, former general counsel for the Obama campaign, and Ben Ginsburg. BEN FREAKING GINSBURG. 

Ben Ginsburg. Him. He of the Republican redistricting strategy in the 1990's. He of that most partisan of voting rights case, the 2000 recount. He that advised the Swift Boaters during the Kerry presidential campaign. He that is the epitome of the efforts to suppress the vote.  You can read more (less picked apart) details about him here.

No, no, no, no. The very spirit of the Commission should be a common goal to ensure that voting is as easy and accessible as possible. This is in direct contrast to everything Mr. Ginsburg has done up until now - suppress the vote!

But it gets better. (there really should be a sarcasm font). As I dwelled on the selection of the Chairs of the Commission, Dave Weigel at Slate talked to Michael Yaki, a Democratic appointee on the Commission for Civil Rights who said, "Don't get me wrong, I like the spirit of the commission, but limiting jurisdiction to Election Day when the problems on Election Day relate directly to pre-election day voter suppression efforts may make this Election Assistance Commission, part 2."

You may (or may not) remember The Election Assistance Commission, which was created after the 2000 recount disaster via the Help America Vote Act.  It has a website and everything!  To its credit, it did come up with a series of recommendations that led to early voting, but as Elisabeth MacNamara of the League of Women Voters said after the SOTU last night, 

"We were thus surprised and disappointed that the President did not suggest bold action to ensure that every American citizen can exercise the right to vote. Setting up a commission is not a bold step; it is business as usual. The President could have done much better by pointing to real solutions like that in legislation already introduced on Capitol Hill to require early voting, set limits on waiting times, provide for portable voter registration and set up secure online voter registration."
Right on Ms. MacNamara, I agree! And there's even more to it. There is an amazing coalition of groups and individuals working on ideas and policies that are nonpartisan in nature that will ensure truly that this most fundamental of rights is accessible to all. That will be my focus in sharing as we move on from here...and maybe I'll get a moment to share why I care so much in the first place...

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Do or do not...there is no try.

And so with those wise words from Yoda, I am doing. A dream that became waking thought and is now pen to paper, so to speak.


Musings on Dressing, and Civil Rights in America will be the focus. The only 2 things these topics have in common is me. I am a civil rights advocate that also loves dressing people to look their best. At various times in my life one of these things has been more prevalent, like when I owned a dress shop in Bristol, RI, or when I worked at DOJ in the CRD.

But that was then, this is now. I've realized that although I'm not working specifically in either capacity at the moment, I still have something to say, to share, and my only outlet has been limited to 140 characters.

I saw this a few days ago...

And it just clicked. Ok, Ben. I'm done reading for a bit, it's going to be about writing now. A little bit every day to start. Worth it? Sure, I think anything that gets the thoughts out and onto paper is by definition worthy.