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By Michael Gold
Former U.S. Representative Mondaire Jones may not serve in Congress any longer but he is still working to help all citizens be able to vote and enjoy equal rights. (Jones is expected to announced his 2024 candidacy for the 17th Congressional District seat in the near future.)
Jones, now a resident of Sleepy Hollow, was appointed in January to serve on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for a six-year term.
The eight-person commission, which by law contains an equal number of members from each party, was created by the 1957 Civil Rights Act.
“Established as an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding federal agency, our mission,” the commission’s website states, “is to inform the development of national civil rights policy and enhance enforcement of federal civil rights law. We pursue this mission by studying alleged deprivations of voting rights and alleged discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice. We play a vital role in advancing civil rights through objective and comprehensive investigation, research, and analysis on issues of fundamental concern to the federal government and the public.”
The commission’s work has been stalled due to a disagreement among the commissioners, Jones told me in a recent interview.
The Republican commissioners want to develop a report on crime, he explained and “they don’t want to do civil rights.”
Jones wrote to me in a follow-up e-mail, “The dispute is over the scope and content of the crime report. Democrats want it to be civil rights focused. The Democrats are insisting that there actually be a civil rights focus, pursuant to our remit as a Commission,” he stated, “Whereas the Republicans have a different vision that does not focus on civil rights.”
He said, “Their (the Republican commissioners’) effort has hobbled the work of the commission. Their effort is to demagogue the issue of crime, while crime in Republican-run states is higher than Democratic-run states. They want to blame Democrats for the rise in violent crime.”
Also, the commission is deadlocked on selecting a chair and vice chair. Jones explained in an e-mail why this is important.
“It is the chair who sets the agenda for all business meetings, so without the chair there is no substantive agenda,” he stated. “Without a chair, the commission has been at a standstill.”
“The role of the civil rights commission is to investigate and report on the status of civil rights,” Jones said. “The commission should be doing field hearings in places like North Carolina, Alabama, Texas, Wisconsin and many Southern states, dozens of states. Republican-run states are actively trying to make it more difficult for people of color to vote.”
He said field hearings, for example, should be held in Tennessee on the expulsion of two Black legislators from the state’s General Assembly this past April for protesting gun violence in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a Christian school in Nashville.
“Ballots are being rejected in Harris County, Texas at a rate that would make your eyes pop,” he explained. “Polling places have been closed. There are challenges in getting to polling locations. Georgia says you can’t be served water while standing in line to vote. We have intimidation of poll workers.”
Georgia passed a law in 2021 making it illegal to give food or water to anyone waiting in line to vote.
Despite the commission’s current paralysis, Jones is still intensely focused on what he sees as the “two areas that have particular urgency within the world of civil rights” – voting rights and LBGTQ rights.
“This is the greatest assault on the right to vote since Jim Crow, enabled by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. This unleashed a wave of voter suppression laws that limited access to the ballot and the right to vote,” he said.
“The failure of Congress to pass voting rights and democracy legislation has made it possible for people to cheat their way into office,” Jones said. “Ballots can be tossed out. Election administration officials can be fired without cause in Georgia and Arizona.”
Concerning LBGTQ rights, Jones said, “You can’t even acknowledge the existence of LBGTQ people in schools (with Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law).”
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado website designer who declared that she won’t provide services to LBGTQ couples because it violates her religious faith, “which is really scary,” he explained. “Under that logic, I could go to a store and be denied service because I’m gay, because the owner says, ‘I have a religious belief.’”
To combat the blows against civil rights, Jones proposes this:
“There has to be a large-scale, grassroots organizing effort to educate the public about what their representatives are doing,” he said. “You’ve got a major political party that wants to entrench its power and in doing so, prevent majority rule in this country. The issue of our time is whether we will truly have a representative democracy.”
Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.
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