State and Local Legal Blog

Doing Democracy: Census

March 5, 2010
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U. S. Census forms begin to be distributed this month.  While 90% of census forms will be distributed by mail, the Census Bureau is concentrating on hand delivery in those areas of the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Responding to the census is a small but important way to “do democracy”.  The census is the decennial count of this country’s population.  A state’s representation in the U. S. House of Representatives — how many Congressmen a state can host — is determined by census results.  Every state is entitled to one Congressman, just as every state is entitled to two Senators.  Of the 435 Congressmen in the U. S. House of Representatives, 385 are distributed based on population.

How many Congressmen will represent your state for the next 10 years is not the only result of census information, although it is a very important one.  Census results also determine distribution of federal funding among the states.

Responding to the census by completing the form and returning it in the provided envelope is a small but important way to “do democracy”.


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Talking Democracy vs. Doing Democracy

March 3, 2010
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Last week, I was watching History International on TV — Moments That Changed History.  And there was Lyndon Baines Johnson, giving a portion of his “We Shall Overcome” speech, which he made on television on March 15, 1965, shortly after the Selma March.

For those of you younger than I, the Selma March was an effort to march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama, to demonstrate to the “powers that be” in Montgomery that African-Americans in Alabama, who had the right to vote, wanted to exercise that right.  The problems with African-Americans’ exercise of the right to vote in many states, and not necessarily just Southern states, were often practical and sometimes just plain mercurial.  Principally the issues that restricted registration were the hours kept by voting registrars (versus working hours of the average African-American in the early ’60s), the ability of registrars simply not to “see” an African-American in their office, the dreaded “literacy test” which was often unfair in the extreme, and sometimes even threats of or perpetration of violence.

In the wake of the violence surrounding the Selma March, President Johnson moved to urge Congress to pass the Voting Rights act of 1965.  I will share just a few of his words here.  They are the springboard of a discussion about talking democracy vs. doing democracy.

This time, on this issue, there must be no delay, or no hesitation, or not compromise with our purpose.  We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in.

And we ought not, and we cannot, and we mut not wait….We have already waited 100 years and more and the time for waiting is gone.  So I ask you to join me in working long hours and nights and weekends, if necessary, to pass this bill.  And I don’t make that request lightly, for, from teh window where I sit, with the problems of our country, I recognize that from outside this chamber is the outraged conscience of a nation, the grave concern of many nations and the harsh judgment of history on our acts.

But even if we pass this bill the battle will not be over.  What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America.  It is an effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.  Their cause must be our cause too.  Because it’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and inustice.

And we shall overcome.

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