A Call to Action: Solidarity in a Time of Islamophobia

The views expressed below reflect only those of the author.

Like many members of my community, I woke up the morning after the election feeling scared and abandoned by my countrymen. How could so many have voted for someone actively preaching hatred against my community? Against Muslims, and someone well known for taking advantage of women? I was crushed not by the thought of the bigots and their hatred but of the many who were not compelled by their hate but by their indifference. These voters voted for Trump based on his economic policy and the change they felt it promised them, but that choice meant overlooking his divisive, hateful rhetoric, and its potential for terrible consequences. Not even a week after the election, there have been reports across the country of fear and intimidation being spread across college campuses.1

Living with Islamophobia is hard. Each reported incident of a shooting of a religious leader, a sister whose hijab is ripped off, a child who is bullied in school and called a terrorist, sends shock waves through our community. These are the strongest, most obvious threats against us. But the underlying, insidious current that runs beneath this is the sense that no matter what we do, we will never belong here. Many of us are immigrants or refugees, or the children of immigrants and refugees; our parents left their homes and uprooted their lives to find something better, only to have settled in a new land to realize that we are not wanted here. Many of us are descendants of slaves, who can trace our lineage back generation after generation, further back than most Americans. And yet, we will always be seen as the “other,” an alien threat to the lives of “ordinary” Americans.

Columbus is a city called home by thousands of Muslims, many of whom are refugees. Last week, the Columbus City Council passed a resolution against Islamophobia, announcing support of the Muslim community in Columbus. The Columbus Muslim community is grateful to the Jewish Voice for Peace, the sponsors of the resolution, and the CCC for getting this resolution passed, as many communities call Columbus home. This gesture was a good first step to addressing that sense of exclusion — but this resolution is not enough, it must be catalyzed into action to make this city a safer, more welcoming place for all who live here. The only way for us to move forward and above the divisive language of Islamophobia, and every other form of discrimination, is to recognize that the good in this city (and this country) will be in acknowledging that the Muslim community, the black community, the LGBT community, the disabled community — that every community is OUR community, that their struggles are ours and their fears are ours.

The question now is what are we going to do to ensure that Muslim sisters wearing headscarves feel safe walking in its streets? What are we going to do to ensure that workplace discrimination does not occur in this city simply because of a person’s hairstyle? What other measures will we take to protect those in this city who may become targets of the hate crimes being reported across the nation? What kind of example are we going to set, especially in this post-election environment, that bigotry and divisiveness will not be accepted?

We must condemn bigotry yes, but even more, we must be allies to each other’s “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”

1. See “Reports of Hate Crimes Rise After Donald Trump Victory”.
2. See “New York Imam Shooting”
3. See “Woman Wearing Hijab attacked at San Jose State”.
4. See “Seven-year Old Boy Beaten on North Carolina School Bus for being Muslim”
5. See “Donald Trump has unleashed a new wave of bullying in schools”


Adeeba Arastu is a Muslim- and Indian-American student at the Ohio State University, studying architecture and geography. She is the Editor of the Muslim Students’ Association blog, IQRA, as well as an active member of Unchained, an organization that works to raise awareness for human trafficking. She can be contacted at arastu.2@osu.edu.

The Time to End Gerrymandering is Now

How can something that happens every ten years have more to say about who is in Congress than the voters? And what can we do about it?

Ohio’s congressional district map has been described as resembling a shattered mirror. Oddly-shaped districts stretch in all directions. Traditional geographic boundaries such as counties and cities are routinely carved into numerous districts, splitting communities.

Legislative districts are drawn every ten years. In 2011, congressional districts were drawn to artificially favor the party in power—the Republican Party— utilizing the tactics of “packing” Democratic voters together into a few Democratic leaning districts.  Mapmakers also used “cracking” or breaking up natural political constituencies.  “Cracking” divided Democratic voters and put them in districts with many more Republican voters.

The strategic manipulation of these districts—gerrymandering— led to truly uncompetitive elections. Although the total number of votes cast for each major party is consistently close Gerrymandering v.6 by Michael F. Curtin 12.2015to even in this battleground state, the political party that drew the maps won 75% of the seats (12 of 16) even though they only got roughly 50-60% of the votes.

Ohio’s congressional districts are so “safe” from opposition that the congressional map perfectly predicts which political party will win each district. The party that favors or is more dominant in the congressional districts won 100% of the time in 2012 and 2014, and that trend is expected to continue.

The result of this hyper-partisan mapmaking is that the competitive election—or the real election—occurs during the primary, not the general election. This tends to yield candidates that appeal to partisan extremes rather than the electorate as a whole. And more ideologically extreme representatives lead to difficulty compromising and to partisan gridlock.

Ohio is just one state and partisan gerrymandering happens all over the country. And both political parties do it. Consequently, the least productive Congresses in history have come in the past decade. According to The Pew Research Center the 113th Congress (2013-2014) was almost the least productive Congress in history, second only to the 112th Congress (2011-2012).

In November 2015, voters overwhelmingly passed State Issue 1.  This bipartisan redistricting reform created a fairer and more transparent process for drawing state legislative districts.  But it did not include congressional districts.

Now it’s time to finish the job.  What’s good enough for the Statehouse should be good enough for Congress!  

At this year’s State of the State, Governor John Kasich said that he wanted to see congressional gerrymandering in the “dustbin of history.”

During the lame duck session of 2014, the state legislature passed a resolution that put state legislative redistricting reform (Issue 1) on 2015 ballot.  They could follow suit and put congressional redistricting reform on next year’s ballot.

Unfortunately, congressional redistricting reform faces some obstacles—our legislative leaders.

Speaker of the Ohio House Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) has described state legislative and congressional redistricting as “apples and oranges.” He has suggested that voters wait until after the 2021 mapmaking before advancing congressional redistricting reform.   Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) described his opposition to congressional reform as opposition to “a divesture of legislative authority.”

So redistricting reform legislation languishes at the Statehouse.

Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) and Rep. Michael Curtin (D- Columbus) have introduced a resolution to reform congressional redistricting reform in the Ohio House of Representatives. Senator Frank LaRose (R-Hudson) and Senator Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) have introduced a resolution in the Ohio Senate.  Both of these resolutions are similar to Issue 1 of 2015, but neither of these resolutions have received a single hearing.

Gerrymandering Explained

​At a forum in Cleveland last month, Senator LaRose recommended that voters “evangelize” about the need for congressional redistricting reform and said, “We have to start with why it matters.  Your neighbor or John Q. Public, the person you see at work or wherever else— they may not know why it matters…. The way that the districts are drawn causes polarization and dysfunction… all kinds of problems in state and federal legislative bodies.”

Learn more about congressional redistricting by watching this video.  Find out how you can make a difference by visiting fairdistrictsohio.org.  If you have any questions, please call Common Cause Ohio at 614-441-9145.

Catherine Turcer is Policy Analyst for Common Cause Ohio and is an expert on redistricting reform and state level campaign finance.

Brexit and a Weaker Europe

In this photo illustration the European Union and the Union flag sit together on bunting on March 17, 2016 in Knutsford, United Kingdom. The United Kingdom will hold a referendum on June 23, 2016 to decide whether or not to remain a member of the European Union (EU), an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries which allows members to trade together in a single market and free movement across it's borders for cirtizens.

In this photo illustration the European Union and the Union flag sit together on bunting on March 17, 2016 in Knutsford, United Kingdom.

On June 23, the U.K. held a referendum on whether or not the country would remain a member of the European Union. The next day it was announced that citizens had decided, by a very narrow margin, to leave. Termed the Brexit – or British Exit – the idea of the U.K. leaving the E.U. was not entirely unheard of. The U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) has been talking about divorcing the E.U. as far back as at least 2013, when the party and its leader Nigel Farage began to gain popularity as a counter-establishment party. As tensions, especially those regarding immigration, have begun to rise in recent years UKIP has gained massive amounts of popularity among local populations, leading them to ever more power within the British government. The party is right up with the trend of the rising right wing in Europe and the U.S., with Farage having stated that he supports both Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen in their respective electoral quests. Although it may be concerning for some, the issue with the Brexit is not quite as simple as worrying about the far right being in power. The most pressing issue that faces the U.K., Europe and the world as Britain begins her separation is one of peace and security.

One of the long-feared effects of a Brexit was a dip in economic and financial security. With many countries and individuals just reaching stability after the 2008 economic crisis, the exodus of one of the world’s largest economic centers from an international body like the E.U. caused worry among even the most armchair of economists. This fear seems valid; on the same day that the referendum results were announced, the pound dropped to a staggering $1.33 USD from $1.50 the day before. While economic effects may be seen and felt immediately, there are certainly going to be aftershocks of this decision for a long time to come.

Due to the very nature of the European Union, the Brexit will have reprecussions outside of the economic realm. Member states and citizens of the E.U. enjoy some of the best benefits of any international organization, including free trade, and open borders and residency in any of the 28 member states. Open residency has been a great boon for member states of the E.U., allowing workers to travel where there may be more job openings in their field, students to study in new locales, and even allowing people to just move on a whim. With such ease of access, many have moved from their native countries to the U.K. just as U.K. natives have moved throughout the E.U. themselves. By electing to divorce themselves from the European Union, the U.K. has opted, whether they realize it or not, for much harsher immigration regulations both for those who wish to enter the U.K. and for those who wish to migrate away. In fact, the U.K. may very well have just created the exact situation they were hoping to avoid – large amounts of illegal and undocumented migrants within their borders. Unless they can work out a very generous deal with the remaining E.U. member states, the U.K. may have to deport thousands of European citizens from their country, as well as see thousands of their own citizens forced to return as well.

Not only would such a vast exchange of labour and skill cause economic damages, but it would also hurt relations, both personal and political, between the countries involved in the exchange of residents. For example, if the U.K. is forced to deport 20,000 Portuguese citizens, and 15,000 U.K. citizens are required to move from Portugal back to the U.K., not only will their lives be uprooted and shaken about, but they may also feel a great animosity towards either of the governmental authorities involved. Animosity is not something that Europe requires more of at this time.

Europe is already facing great outside threat by members of terrorist groups such as ISIS, as demonstrated by the November 2015 attacks on Paris. In order for Europe to best confront this threat, it is necessary for governments to be united and strong in the face of their attackers. With the U.K. now stating their intention to leave the E.U., they are opening themselves and the rest of Europe to more attacks. The U.K. has the second largest military in Europe and arguably the most name recognition, causing them to act as a sort of protectorate over the other states. Even if the British military is not what it was at its heyday, it remains apparent that one does not want to cross them, and helps deter those who would wish to wreak havoc amongst the European countries. A now Britain-less Europe will have to face any potential future attacks on its own, and perhaps in an even weaker state if other countries follow in the wake of the U.K.

The U.K. has long been a believer in their own power, independence and separation from the rest of Europe, both physically and mentally. The Brexit, however, is taking all of these historical traits to another level. As can be seen already in exchange rates, the market may be on the verge of another economic freefall as people all over the world hold their breath to see how the global economic superpower will handle the situation. European citizens in the U.K., as well as U.K. citizens on the continent are stuck in limbo, waiting to see if their lives will be uprooted. Even more so, young adults and future generations are being stripped of future experiences, as without the E.U. they will no longer have the opportunity to work, study or reside in 27 other countries. In the most direct, and one of the most undiscussed, effects on peace, the remains of the E.U. are now more open than ever to the threat of terrorist attacks. Without a united front, Europe will be open to threats previously unknown, both domestically in the form of right wing victories, and in foreign affairs, with worries about both terrorist groups and foreign governments.


Gwendolyn Bell is a recent graduate from the Ohio State University with a degree in International Studies (Western European Studies) and French. She is passionate about the study of culture and cultural interactions, and believes that by sharing and discussing cultural practices the world can become a more understanding, peaceful place. During her time at OSU she was a member of the International Affairs Scholars, Collegiate Council on World Affairs, aided research within the Political Science Department and worked with the Columbus Literacy Council. She has studied in both Bolivia and France, which only fueled the fire of her passion for international affairs. Gwendolyn hopes to put these skills and passions to use in the future by working with UNESCO.

Let’s Get Moving on Transit in Ohio

Hundreds of thousands of people who trekked to downtown Cleveland for the spirited Cavaliers NBA Championship celebration were encouraged to use public transit (RTA).  Many did, and the system was quickly overwhelmed.  When the celebration ended, RTA users struggled to get home—lines stretched the length of eight football fields.  Frustrated riders waited hours.

While Cleveland’s RTA is not designed to handle 1.3 million people at once, this problem highlights shortcomings of Ohio’s grossly underfunded public transit systems.  If Cleveland had a fully funded public transportation system, the Cavs victory celebration would have still been a lot to handle.  But, as the RTA Tweeted (@GCRTA) to an upset traveler: “We apologize for your delay.  We know u are upset with us.  We are over capacity & underfunded. We are working with what we have.”  If only it had more to work with.

Ohio is the seventh most populous state with the 14th highest public transit ridership rates, yet we rank 47th in our state’s commitment towards funding public transit.  Public transit represents less than 1 percent of Ohio’s entire transportation budget.  We can and should do much better.

The most recent transit study conducted by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) concluded that Cleveland needs to enhance its public transit system to the same level as Portland, Oregon.  The rest of Ohio’s mid-sized cities (Columbus included) must expand to be equivalent in size to Cleveland’s current system.  With Ohio choosing to spend only 63 cents per person on public transit per year while neighboring states spend an average of $25 (Michigan) to $97 (Pennsylvania), the necessary public transit expansion is impossible without major increases to the meager resources Ohio currently allocates towards transit from its nearly $6 billion transportation budget.

Although Cleveland’s public transportation system is limited, it is by far Ohio’s largest, responsible for providing roughly half of all transit rides in the state.  Our public transit systems in other Ohio cities, like Columbus, are even more woefully inadequate.  Local officials blamed the lack of transportation options for Columbus’ failure to win the right to host the Republican National Convention  and the Democratic National Convention which went, instead, to Cleveland and Philadelphia, respectively.  Places like the City of Warren in the Mahoning Valley or communities in Lorain County have transit systems that are barely operating on a shoestring budget.  Beavercreek, a city outside of Dayton, actively tried to keep transit riders out of their community altogether.

There is already a $555.3 million gap between the current public transportation budget and what is needed, according to ODOT’s own Transit Needs Study—this gap will grow to $904 million by 2025.  Right now, a third of Ohio’s buses need to be replaced or they will start costing more to maintain.

Why don’t state leaders act on this knowledge?  I don’t know.  But if history tells us anything, they won’t unless we demand it.


 

Editor’s Note:  Ohio is home to several organizations that advocate for public and alternative transportation who have information readily available for those who are interested.  Such organizations include Transit Columbus, All Aboard Ohio, Policy Matters Ohio, and the Ohio Public Transit Association


 

Grace Billiter, Intern, Policy Matters Ohio 

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Photo from https://greenlakebluecity.com/tag/cleveland-rta/