Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Losing Control

This year's election day was fairly anti-climactic in a lot of ways. No big national contests or anything. But there were a few important items if you were paying attention.

First, some of the good stuff:

The one that got the most press as far as I could tell was a ballot initiative in Mississippi that defined human life as beginning at 'fertilization.' Turns out that was a bridge too far even in a place so devoted to ending abortion, maybe because the wording could be interpreted as making certain forms of birth control illegal. And in vitro fertalization. And chemo for pregnant women. And forcing a woman to carry her rapist's baby might be too much even in Mississippi. And it was voted down.

Then, in Ohio, the voters decided it is actually not a very good idea to prohibit your public workers' unions from collective bargaining, and they rolled back a bill that had taken that right away from them. We can only hope that that trend catches some traction in Wisconsin, New Jersey, and other places dear to me.

But in a sad and upsetting turn of event in my own city, Hoboken had a disaster of a referendum, replete with the most demoralizing kind of municipal bullying and buying of political power.

The basic sitch: a landlords' lobbying group succeeded in getting the Hoboken City Council to pass an amendment to the Rent Control law in my city. It's not the worst amendment they could have come up with, but... one thing I think everyone should be able to agree on is that if a landlords' advocacy group supports an amendment, the amendment benefits landlords; and if a tenants' advocacy group opposes that amendment, the amendment benefits landlords. In this case, it would seem to benefit the mostly absentee landlords who have sponsored (some would say forced through, by means of the threat of an expensive class-action law suit) an amendment to weaken rent control protection in Hoboken, and at the very least make it easier for landlords to get away with bullying long-term residents into vacating their apartments so they can 'deliver vacant' (with raised rents, of course), and make it harder for tenants to fight back, while reducing the amount of time the tenants can take to figure out the best way to do it.

So a repeal of the amendment was put on the ballot as a referendum. I figured that putting this in the hands of the voters was a fairly decent way to put the matter to rest and stop the attempted erosion of tenants' rights. If you vote "yes," you support tenant's rights; if you vote "no," you support additional protection for landlords. Straightforward: it's your right to have either opinion and vote your convictions.

What stopped me in my tracks after I voted and sent me straight to my computer to write letters to local papers and websites was when I ran into an activist canvasing for "no" and when I asked her why, she said she was there to protect rent control, and had a pile of fliers that claimed as much (though the flier didn't do a very good job if you bothered to read it). Not only were they trying to make it easier for landlords to skirt rent control laws, they're trying to make it look like it's good for tenants. I probably shouldn't be surprised. It's even confusing how it was put on the ballot - all the dancing around with double negatives - if you want them NOT to change Rent Control, vote YES; if you DO want them to change Rent Control, vote NO.

Never was I so envious of my friends who have jobs that give them election day off. Never have I had such an impulse to make a homemade sign and wave it around in front of a polling place. I scarcely have to tell you the result of the vote: the amendment-supporting "NO" won. In a landslide.

I know that I spend a lot of my life and work in New York City, to the extent that my handle on this site is "nycmick," but I've been a proud Hoboken resident for enough years now that I feel no shame calling myself an LTR. But I feel a lot of shame around the way the city government and local media let this play out.

Reminded of a quote from Howard Zinn's You Can't be Neutral on a Moving Train, appropriate to the situation, and even more so to what's happening around the Occupy movements.

The state and its police were not neutral referees. They were on the side of the rich and powerful. Free speech? Try it, and the police will be there with their horses, their clubs, their guns, to stop you. From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country—something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new President, or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.

Take from that what you will.

Meanwhile, just to round out the day, here's something a PAC of Herman Cain supporters put up on their home page, but evidently took down quickly when people started to notice:

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