Colored drawing by Anthony Jensen

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Got Districts?


Austinites for Geographic Representation will hold a kickoff rally Saturday, Oct 22nd at Mexitas Restaurant at 12th Street and IH-35, from 3-5 PM. Free food will be provided and there will be a cash bar. Everyone in Austin, from across the political spectrum, is welcome.

Why Districts? Why Now?

Did you know Austin is the largest proportionally representative municipality in the country? Each "at-large" Councilmember represents all 812,500 Austinites - more constituents than most US Representatives answer to! Having to appeal to all of the elected leaders to see who might help you with an issue in your part of town, where no one is specifically accountable to you, has caused a major democracy gap in our City. It has eroded trust.

At the City of Austin's Charter Revision Commission meeting last week, former state Senator Gonzalo Barrientos and chair, quipped that "there ain't a lot of faith right now" in our local council government. While this commission's still developing what plan to recommend our Council, and considering this Commission's recommendation can be easily ignored by them (it has on this matter in the past), the community is moving forward as they don't trust politicians protecting their own interests to "do the right thing."

At a noon press conference Wednesday at City Hall, the broad-based grassroots coalition Austinites for Geographic Representation announced a petition drive to amend the Austin City Charter to elect 10 Council members by geographic districts and the Mayor citywide. The proposal would also create an Independent Citizens Commission to draw the Districts.

"We have worked with over 30 organizations and dozens of individuals since March to devise a plan that is fair, reasonable, legal and in the case of the commission, one that will be free of political manipulation," said Charlie Jackson, an AGR spokesman.

"We are initiating this petition now," Jackson pointed out, "because of the Council's vote for a May election. We would prefer a November Charter vote. However whenever the City Council asks the voters to decide on amending the Charter, May or November, this proposal for 10-1 and an Independent Citizens Commission will be on that Ballot!"

Jackson went on to point out that since 1971, the idea that Austin has elected Mayors and Council members by "at large" elections has been an illusion. "In fact we have elected our City officials from two Super Districts" he stated, " We've had one Super District (West and Downtown) that has about 10% of the population but has elected 50.5% of the councilmember and 15 of 17 Mayors and a second Super District to represent the rest of the City (about 90% of the population and has elected 49.5% of the Councilmember and 2 Mayors)."

Most mid to large cities around the nation, with the exception of four others, have geographic representation, as do almost all our school boards, county commissioner courts and state and US representatives. Many cities in our size range have 9-11 districts.

Roger Borgelt, Vice-Chair of the Travis County Republican Party stated, "After seven months of work our coalition has a 10-1 plan that is far more equitable than the super district system we have now. The plan we have also will meet Department of Justice scrutiny in that it will provide the opportunity to elect an African-American and therefore does not commit retrogression as other plans will." Further Mr. Borgelt pointed out that, "the independent commission we propose will avoid City Hall politics, provide an open process and have members who are informed and interested but who are not tied to City Hall faction or interests."

This independent commission, tried successfully in other states and locales, will be the major difference from our previous ballot measures, likely being the key factor in garnering enough support for it to pass this time around. Understandably, people were wary about voting for it before because our heavily influenced politicians, or their hand-picked representatives, did draw or would have been drawing the maps after the vote.

Stan Coleman, who serves on the Board of the NAACP-Austin, reminded everyone that two federal judges have said we are the only city in Texas and the nation that lets at least one African American and one Hispanic get elected under current two Super District system. However, Mr. Coleman pointed out, "too often the minority Councilmember is is chosen by non-minority voters. Therefore, in reality the minorities are represented in appearance only, not in fact. It is time to end the two Super Districts system ratified by two judges that has condemned Austin minority voters to four decades of apparent, but no real, representation."

Eliza May, Democratic Party leader and former Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President, pointed out that Austin is one of the largest cities in the nation without geographic representation. May pointed out that "every level of government from the school board to the legislature to the U.S. Congress, has geographic representation except Austin. "You have to remember," she concluded, "that geographic representation was the original idea of such 'ward healers' as James Madison, Ben Franklin and George Washington, so we are hardly the first to support it."

Thanks to Richard Franklin for contributions to this post.
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Austinites for Geographic Representation, PAC
6705 Hwy. 290, West, Suite 502, #173, Austin, TX 78735

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nine Steps to Occupy America

Occupy Austin website, calendar, forums: here.

My friend and mentor (and former employer during his 2006 campaign for Texas Atty. General), David Van Os, has developed some hard-hitting proposals that should definitely be considered by the Occupy Movement. While some of these are admittedly not easily attainable, if we don't call for radical change, we'll be left with a few nominal legislative band-aids that won't serve to mend the very cultural fabric that has been ripped to shreds in our country.

While we have such language in the Declaration of Independence, in Texas, the expression of our right to "alter, reform or abolish" our government is folded right into our Constitution. But this right is inherent. It's just been lost on us in the propaganda machine.

Many have expressed the lack of coherent solutions being offered in the Occupy movement - which has taken hold across the world. It's time for us to bravely assert that We, The People, expect much more than power brokers listening to our grievances. To that end, I offer the following piece by David.

And as David is famous for saying, "fight them until hell freezes over and then fight them on the ice!"


By: David Van Os

(Note: every person who reads this is hereby granted permission to forward, quote from, re-publish, or re-post this article by any means and in any forum desired. I would appreciate your citing my authorship if you repost or quote directly.)

The young people who started and grew the Occupy Wall Street movement have given their country and the world an incredible gift. We should all thank them a million, billion, trillion times. I’ve participated in Occupy Austin several times at the Austin City Hall Plaza where the Austin branch of Occupy Wall Street has its nerve center. It is inspiring to experience people of all backgrounds coming together through their natural human rights to speak freely and assemble in public places because they hold common grievances against an unresponsive political-economic system and have decided in common that enough is enough. It is especially inspiring to experience the horizontal decision-making processes of the movement, showcasing full participatory democracy without ego-tripping leaders or control hierarchies.

The right to revolutionary change is deeply rooted in the American psyche. For example, the Bill of Rights of the Texas Constitution (Article 1, Sec. 2, TEXAS CONSTITUTION) states that “all political power is inherent in the people”, and that the people have “at all times the inalienable right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient.” This inalienable right is subject only to “the preservation of a republican form of government”, i.e., self-government by the people. Various other state constitutions contain similar confirmations of the inherent sovereignty of the people.

Respectfully, I submit that the articulated mission statements, demands, and goals of the movement need to call for change of a more revolutionary nature. The movement should demand not reform of the established order, but its downfall. I submit the demands should deliver a message that the entire oligarchy controlling the unresponsive political-economic system has to be peacefully removed and replaced to give the people a fresh new start. Listed below are some demands that I suggest. (My endnotes are simply commentaries. They are not part of the demands themselves. A mass movement’s demands must be basic and plain. The final details evolve in the people’s ongoing self-government of the movement in response to the fluidity of situations.)

1. That every member of the U.S. Congress resign and new elections be held in every state and district, with open access to the ballot and equal access to free airtime on broadcast media.[1]
2. That every director and officer of every Wall Street bank permanently resign.
3. That every Wall Street bank’s charter to do business be revoked.
4. That the banks be broken up in order to get new charters.
5. That the new charters place strict caps on executive compensation.
6. That every corporate charter be amended to prohibit corporate contributions to political parties and candidates.[2]
7. That the old usury laws be restored: absolutely no interest greater than 10% per annum can ever be charged on any transaction.
8. That the Federal Reserve Board be abolished and no individual private bank or group of private banks ever again be given a monopoly over the issuance and control of the nation’s currency.
9. That the president and vice president resign and the replacement elections take place through a speedy election process that reduces the influence of money. [3]

In other words: Replace the government, Break up Wall Street, Disarm the bankers, End the power of money in politics, End corporate contributions, and End the Fed.

A mass movement’s demands must be continuously repeated and the mass occupation and peaceful street action and guerrilla theater must continue, grow, and escalate until the demands are met. The established order will not fall overnight. But if we stay true to ourselves and resolve ourselves to fight till hell freezes over and then on the ice, it will fall.

Power to the people.
Revolution now.


David Van Os
Texas Patriot

[1] Here is an example of how the election process could be opened up. Candidates run in open primaries so that the political parties would not control ballot access. No monetary filing fees. Each candidate who can present 250 signatures of support to run for a House district or 1,000 signatures to run statewide for a Senate seat gets on the ballot. Each candidate on the ballot gets an equal amount of free airtime on every FCC-licensed broadcast carrier that broadcasts in the election district. No single change would diminish the influence of money more than free equal access to free airtime. Current members of Congress would be able to run for the new Congress so that the voters would have the opportunity to elect them again if the voters choose to do so.

[2]This is a simpler way to overturn Citizens United than amending the U.S. Constitution. Every state has laws governing how corporations get chartered and what the requirements are for getting chartered. It is a matter of state law that the Supreme Court can’t touch. This change is simple, but would require legislation in every state. But amending the Constitution would also require demanding it in at least ¾ of the states, and passing simple-majority legislation is procedurally easier in every state than passing a resolution to amend the U.S. Constitution. Nationwide state-focused action would focus and grow the Occupy movement even more. From the occupation of Wall Street, to the occupation of America.

[3]For example, with each political party selecting its nominee either through all primaries being held on the same day in the states where the party has ballot status, or through a national convention; with each candidate in the nominations races given an equal amount of free broadcast media airtime on FCC-licensed carriers in each state; and with each general election nominee of each party given an equal amount of free broadcast media airtime on FCC-licensed carriers in each state where the party has ballot standing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Occupy Austin: "Why Are You Not Here?"

Call to Action: OCCUPY AUSTIN! Thursday, Oct. 6, 2pm - ?? (overnight/bring your own water/food/creature comforts-no sleeping though, that's officially illegal), City Hall "Free Speech Plaza," Cesar Chavez and Lavaca. Join the 99%!

The Occupy Wall Street General Assembly, in solidarity with the recent movements ranging from the Arab Spring to actions in Wisconson, has codified a list of grievances along with a call to action:

"To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone....

Join us and make your voices heard!"

People are joining around the nation and world and the Occupy Austin General Assembly, through a time-consuming (true democracy is!), consensus-based facilitated process involving hundreds of voices over the course of daily community meetings in the past week, and recognizing "that our system of economics is badly broken," developed a mission statement last night: "to assert our rightful place within the political process, and take the reins of power away from profit-driven interests."

A few days earlier, the assembly invited all "to participate in the return of our Democracy and to add to the problem solving that must come from We the People, now. Our political leadership on all levels, has failed the People of America." Occupy Austin stands "in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who occupy Wall Street and occupy around the world. We are dedicated to non-violently reclaiming control of our governments from the financial interests that have corrupted them. We demand that our public servants recognize that the people are the supreme authority."

So join in and become part of the people-driven problem-solving.

Solutions, you ask? Yes - we need to discuss the many ideas and decide on a common platform. We don't need people complaining that a brand new organizing committee isn't presenting a complete menu of solutions. Join the movement to insert your voice to get us there. It's a process. It's democracy. It takes work. This isn't a button on a website where you can just join/support notions developed by others on your behalf. A true movement starts in the streets...not in cybersphere.

An opinion-editorial written by Travis Heights resident and local businessman, Carl Lindemann, and recently submitted to the Austin American-Statesman for publication (hopefully tomorrow or Friday) makes some good observations about this point:

"Critics claim they don’t see any specifics here. This is all just a childish, incoherent gripe. Get over it! Apparently, they need polished corporate public relations messaging to legitimize this. Instead, we have this rising generation finding its voice. How can they get on point without focus groups?"


"Those questioning Occupy Austin would do well to remember a legendary exchange between Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau had been jailed for refusing to pay the poll tax, and Emerson visited him along with some skepticism of his wisdom in this. 'Henry, why are you here?' Emerson asked. Thoreau answered, 'Waldo, why are you not here?'"

Photo courtesy of Reagan Hackleman: