Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ramadan & Messenger

In his column in this Sunday's Post-Dispatch, Tony Messenger, a white American Christian, describes his delving into the experience of Ramadan As many in this country now know, Ramadan - the ninth month of the lunar calendar - is the holiest time of the year for Muslims, the time in which they abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk each day of the month.

 It is the month in which the first verses of the Muslim scripture known as the Qur'an came as a revelation over fourteen-hundred years ago to a forty-year old Arab businessman while he was sitting alone in a cave in Saudi Arabia, meditating and contemplating the problems in his society.  Over the remaining twenty-two years of his life, other verses came as revelations, and all combined constitute the Qur'an, which has since remained completely unchanged.

These revelations are considered by Muslims as the word of God, and they were revealed to the human being who Muslims regard as the messenger of God's word, Muhammad. The word Qur'an in Arabic means "the recitation," and Muhammad's role and purpose was to recite the word of God revealed to him to mankind.


Messenger describes in his column how for one day he "refrained from food or drink from 3:39 a.m. until 8:31 p.m.," and how that "one day of fasting in the Muslim tradition brought me closer to my Christian faith."   Muslims would say that this was God's purpose in bringing Islam to the world - to bring human beings closer to consciousness of God.  Ironically and sadly, with all the attention now paid to Islam in the context of ISIS and terrorism, no attention is given to its spiritual essence.  

This Ramadan marks my thirty-sixth, having come into the faith of Islam - which in Arabic means "submission to God" - while a second year student at the University of Virginia School of Law.  It was a turbulent time externally, with the Iranian revolution bringing Islam to America's attention, and internally a soul searching time, as I was contemplating what was my true purpose in becoming a lawyer.  Was it to pursue the path of being an attorney with a corporate law firm, which I felt I and my classmates were being programmed for, I wondered.  Or was it, I asked myself, to use the education and credential for the benefit of my people.

I would never have expected that during this time, in of all places, Charlottesville, Virginia - the home of Thomas Jefferson - that I would encounter three individuals - an undergraduate student, a UVA professor, and an attorney - who would guide me to a profound closeness to God, the same God I had worshiped and prayed to as a Christian, and who in Arabic is called "Allah."  

From the Muslim student I learned the principle and practice of the five daily prayers, giving God a constant and continuous presence in my life; from the Muslim attorney I learned the excellence and fearlessness the faith demands in our everyday work; and from the Muslim professor I received these words: "The first duty of a Muslim lawyer is to seek justice for the oppressed."

     Messenger wrote of his one day Ramadan experience that, "It was a reminder of how distracted I often get, allowing other priorities to get between me and the practice of my faith."      Ramadan, with the test it puts the human being through, is a reminder to Muslims, and to those with the open mindedness of Tony Messenger, of the importance of the remembrance of God.


Eric E. Vickers    


Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Next Mayor IV - Black Voter Power

If the demographic data in the reportauthored by P. Frances Gouzien and David C. Kimble still holds, a black can become mayor of St. Louis without getting a single white vote (click the link).  In fact, given the pattern of racial voting discussed in their report titled, "Race and the Reelection of the Longest Serving Mayor of St. Louis," the only way a black can become mayor in a contest against a white is to focus the campaign on the black vote.

     The twenty-three page report is an analysis of the 2013 mayoral campaign that pitted then three-term incumbent Mayor Francis Slay against an African American, Lewis Reed, the President of the Board of Aldermen.  The report, in observing the entrenched racial polarization in city elections, notes that: "According to the 2010 census, the voting age population in St. Louis is 49 percent African American and 44 percent white."

If this census data, which reveals that blacks are the majority of the eligible electorate, remains substantially true today, then if black and white voters in the next mayor's race turn out to vote in numbers equivalent to their respective percentages, the majority of the votes will be cast by blacks.  Of course, this is largely only theoretically true because of the historic pattern of lower voter turnout by blacks as compared to whites.
     Slay defeated Reed, the report notes, "by a margin of 54 percent to 44 percent," with the actual numbers being 23,968 votes for Slay and 19,496 for Reed.  The overall turnout of voters was just 22 percent of the eligible voters, with the report stating that "our exit poll suggests that white voters comprised about 55 percent of the electorate" in the election.  

     If, according to the census, 49 percent of the approximately 200,000 eligible voters are black, then had just a third of these blacks turned out to vote for Reed he would have beaten Slay without needing a single white vote.
     The report also brings to light that raced based voting exists on both sides of town.  Despite Slay outspending Reed $3.2 million to $650,000, and despite having the endorsements of some prominent black politicians, the report notes that only "approximately 22 percent of African Americans voted for Slay, just surpassing the mayor's goal of 20 percent," while also noting that "Reed was not far behind Francis Slay in cross-racial voting appeal, receiving approximately 17 percent of the white vote."  Thus, the data bears out that in a race between a black and a white, blacks will overwhelmingly vote for the black candidate and whites overwhelmingly for the white one.

     This seems to be common knowledge.  It also seems to be the pitfall that Reed fell into, as he geared his campaign to try to capture that small percent of the white vote that is not locked into racial voting, instead of targeting his campaign message and funds toward increasing black voter turnout.  He ran, as the report analyzed, a cross-racial campaign, chasing the white vote, while assuming he had the black vote. 

     Historically, black candidates seeking city wide offices have been gun shy about making an overt appeal to black voters on the basis of their blackness - like the way women candidates appeal to women voters on the basis of gender - for fear of being accused of "playing the race card" and turning off white voters.  Such an appeal, though, would spark enthusiasm and turnout by black voters.  Moreover, the numbers suggest that a black candidate has more to gain by a strategy that turns blacks on and some whites off than one that tries to appeal to white voters.

     We have to ask, would this not be a better city if black voter participation reached a higher level?  And further, is there anything that would more cause blacks to turn out to vote than the chance to be led by a mayor who is one of their own?

Race and the Reelection of the Longest Serving Mayor of St. LouisP. Frances GouzienDavid C. Kimball (click the link)


Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Activist.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

MSD & Muhammad Ali

Of all the many protests I have been involved in, none was more fun than the one in September 1990, when we marched Muhammad Ali up into the Metropolitan Sewer District.  And actually, we sort of tricked The Greatest into participating in the protest.

      Our core group, consisting of black contractors and activists like Eddie Hasan, Anthony Shahid, Tiahmo Rauf, and Larry Ali, had been protesting against MSD's lack of minority inclusion for a couple of weeks, including one action in which we barged up into MSD's office in the middle of the work day, chanting protest songs and being, frankly, unpeaceably disruptive. 

     Through their contacts with the Nation of Islam, some members of the group had arranged for Ali to come to town to do a book signing and make some public appearances.  We were all with him in the limo after picking him up at the airport, and we were on our way to a hotel where he would rest up before his engagements when we hatched the idea to take him to MSD.  I don't recall us exactly telling him that he was about to join a protest action, just that we had to make a stop before going to the hotel to meet with some folks we had an issue with.  He good naturedly obliged.

     When we arrived at MSD we just started walking through the office, saying we wanted to meet with the Director.  The look of shock and amazement on the faces of the MSD employees as the Champ walked past their desks with us as his entourage was absolutely priceless.  It was hard not to laugh.  All the work came to a standstill as all the hundreds of workers became transfixed with his presence.

     The Director came out of his office because of the commotion, and was just totally dumbstruck at the sight of Ali.  He hastily arranged a meeting room, and called in his top staff.  On one side of the table sat the MSD officials - all white - and on the other side we sat - with the greatest of all times at our side.

     Some back and forth arguing then ensued, with us laying out the discrimination by MSD and our demands, and the MSD officials showing little resistance.  Ali was completely silent throughout, as though he was studying the situation, until the end.  With a smile and twinkle in his eye, he then pointed his big balled fist at the Director and said in a quiet, almost gentle voice: "Give them everything they want."

     Muhammad Ali, my hero since almost as far back as I can remember, travelled and was known all over the world.  And he never forgot his people.

Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Activist.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

MSD EMPLOYMENT INCLUSION EVASION

Below are emails regarding the attempt to obtain from the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) under the Missouri Sunshine law information about MSD's employment diversity:

From: eric vickers
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2016 12:40 PM
To: Susan Myers, Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) General Counsel

Susan M. Myers

Good morning. You might recall that at the last meeting I requested MSD to provide information about the diversity in its employment, such as the number of African-American engineers employed by MSD, and MSD agreed to provide such. So please advise when we will receive this information. Thanks, and have a good day.

Eric

From Susan Myers
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2016
Eric, 
I do recall your request and since it is not related to the Community Benefits Agreement 
I will consider it a Sunshine Request pursuant to Missouri Sunshine Law, 
Chapter 610 RSMo. With that being said, since there are key MSD individuals currently 
out of town that need to be involved in the evaluation, MSD will commit to providing 
you a response by May 25, 2016.

Sincerely,

Susan M. Myers

From: tsnoke@stlmsd.com

To: eric_vickers@hotmail.com

CC: SunshineRequests@stlmsd.com; SMYERS@stlmsd.com

Subject: Re: Employment Diversity Sunshine Request

Date: Wed, 25 May 2016 21:03:46 +0000

Mr. Vickers,

Good afternoon. As MSD's Secretary-Treasurer, I am the Official Records Keeper of 
District Public Information and my office is responsible for tracking and responding 
to sunshine requests. As requested, attached is the public information available on 
the diversity in MSD's employment.

Tim R. Snoke
From: eric vickers 

Sent: Wednesday, May 25, 2016 9:03 PM
To: Tim Snoke

Mr. Smoke:

Good evening. Thank you for this information. However, it is not sufficiently responsive 
to my request for information concerning the diversity in employment at MSD. While 
the simple graph you have provided shows a global picture of African Americans 
holding 25% of the jobs at MSD, there is no breakdown as to how many of these 
jobs are, for example, held by janitors versus engineers. And I specifically requested 
information as to the number and percentage of black engineers employed by MSD.

Consequently, please provide me the data as to the number and percentage of blacks 
in management positions; the number and percentage of blacks in professional 
positions; and the number and percentage of blacks in non-management and 
non-professional positions. Since you have a figure for the total number of black 
employees, I assume you have information as to the position held by each.

      Thank you.

Eric


From: tsnoke@stlmsd.com

To: eric_vickers@hotmail.com

Date: Tue, 31 May 2016 21:00:57 +0000

Mr. Vickers,

Thank you for clarifying your request. The records you have requested, however, are 
closed under 610.021(14) RSMo since they are protected from disclosure by laws 
such as, but not limited to 18 U.S.C. Section 1905, Exemption 4 of FOIA, and the 
confidentiality provisions of Section 709(e) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

To: Tim R. Snoke
Date: Tue, 31 May 2016
Mr. Snoke,

With all due respect, what I am requesting are not records that violate any 
confidentiality or  privilege, or are records for which there is an exemption under 
the Missouri Sunshine law or FOIA.  In fact what I have requested is commonly 
provided in EEO reports, namely, a racial breakdown of job classifications by an 
employer.  How, for instance, does it breach some confidentiality or privilege for 
MSD to inform the public how many engineers it has on staff, and how many of 
them are black?

 You were quite willing to provide a global number for the MSD's African-American 
employees, representing that they are 25% of the total MSD workforce.  Yet you 
claim that you cannot give a breakdown of this 25% by job classification.  In the 
manner of speaking of  a current apparent nominee for president, this is bullshit.

What triggered me seeking this information was MSD management stating in a 
meeting that it looked into the level of African-American employment by companies 
seeking contracts with it as part of MSD's determining whether the companies were 
making a good faith effort to comply with MSD's M/WBE goals. 

With MSD examining the houses of others, I think it important that we examine 
MSD's house to see if blacks are being included in its workforce, because this sends 
a signal to the marketplace whether MSD is only talking a good game about inclusion, 
or practicing one.      

Hence, can you respond to this simple request: How many engineers are employed 
by MSD, and how many, if any, are African-Americans?

    Thank you.

Eric