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Opportunity, Poverty and National Policy; The United State of Voting - A Voting Rights Town Hall Meeting; Cuyahoga Dems RNC 'Welcome' Party

On Monday, July 18th, there were two very promising events at CSU that started within an hour of each other. The first event was a conversation at Waetjen Auditorium titled "Opportunity, Poverty, and National Policy" put on by the Office of Civic Engagement, Policy Matters Ohio and Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.

IMG_2962It would feature a panel composed of Mr. John R. Corlett, The Center for Community Solutions; Ms. Colleen Cotter, Legal Aid Society of Cleveland; Mr. Ronnie Dunn, Cleveland State University; Mr. Jim McLaughlin, McLaughlin and Associates; and Mr. Baldemar Velasquez, Farm Labor Organizing Committee. The conversation would be moderated by Ms. Juana Summers of CNN and Ms. Amy Hanauer, Policy Matters Ohio.

We stopped off here and spoke to Mr. Erik Meinhardt, from the Center for Families and Children, who we had met before when he spoke on behalf of U.S. Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton. Mr. Meinhardt was at the Lakewood Democratic Club last week when Ms. Margaret W. Wong spoke there and wanted us to know that Ms. Wong did quite well and the copies of her book, "The Immigrant's Way" that she brought with her were "a big hit" with the club membership.

Several important people came to this event and we enjoyed visiting with Ms. Mary Kusler, Director of Government Relations with the National Education Association and Mr. Scott DiMauro, Vice President of the Ohio Education Association.

We saw Mr. John Corlett and wished him well before we moved left to attend the event taking place next in the Student Union.

This event was the "The United State of Voting-A Voting Rights Town Hall Meeting" another panel discussion which, in this case, was hosted by U.S. Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge (Ohio-District 11).

The moderator was Ms. Joy-Ann Reid, noted author, columnist and political analyst at MSNBC and the superb panel IMG_2979featured Congressman James E. Clyburn (South Carolina-District 6); Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (Mississippi-District 2); Ohio State Rep. Stephanie Howse, (District 11); Ms. Julie Fernandez, Advocacy Director for Voting Rights and Democracy at the Open Society Foundations; and Ms. Camille A. Wimbish, Election Administrator for Ohio Voice which, according to her bio, focuses on "empowering underrepresented communities"; and Mr. Mike Brickner, who has worked on quite a few projects with the ACLU.

Before the program started we said hello to several notable people who were Cuyahoga County Councilman Dale Miller (District 2), Mayor Richard Bain of Pepper Pike, Mayor Trevor Elkins of Newburgh Heights, Mayor Annette McMillian Blackwell of Maple Heights, and Mayor Brad Sellers of Warrensville Heights.

IMG_2981Our friend Ms. Rosemary Palmer told us that she had heard of an event pertaining to immigration coming up in the next few days and then graciously searched through her records on her iphone to locate the venue for us.

We visited for a moment with Mr. Dick Peery, distinguished journalist for the "Plain Dealer" now retired. He told us that he really appreciates the holiday greeting that Margaret W. Wong and Associates sends to him each year; in fact it makes him feel like a member of Ms. Wong's family.

IMG_2967Congresswoman Fudge opened the program by saying that she believed this forum was very important because "they keep trying to make voting more difficult" which the panelists and moderator expanded upon for the next hour and a half.

Some of the matters that were discussed were the questionable purging of voter rolls, the ongoing battle in Ohio over Golden Week, the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated an important section of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, problems with outdated and malfunctioning voting equipment which are not being remedied, consolidation of precincts in a way that creates a disadvantage for the low-income and people of color, controversial redistricting procedures, intimidating messages on billboards regarding alleged voter fraud that has never materialized, the practice that some states have of not allowing former felons to vote, and how black churches are being discouraged from getting involved in the electoral process (unlike white evangelicals) for fear of losing their 501c3 status.

The point that was made that touched us the most was when Ms. Fernandez said that we must work to change the mindset of those who believe that voting is not a right but a privilege. She went on to say that any restriction on the right to keep and bear arms causes an automatic outcry but what about the right of voting that is so fundamental? Ms. Reid then reminded us that the Reverend Jesse Jackson once said that the right to vote should be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Congressman Clyburn said that we must maintain awareness regarding what is taking place in terms of voting restrictions because "the other side" that is instigating these restrictions regards voting as a privilege.

In terms of possible ways to address this situation, U.S. Congressman Clyburn suggested a possible social media campaign in order to reach the millennials to urge them to vote. He stressed the importance of the millennials because the polling before the Brexit vote indicated that the United Kingdom would elect to remain a part of the European Union; subsequently, the reason why the polling was wrong was that the millennials who would have voted to remain just didn't get around to voting.

The matter of whether or not voting restrictions would affect naturalized citizens who would be voting for the first time was never touched upon although at least two of the panelists said that the 2016 U.S. Presidential election was the most "consequential" election of their lifetimes and one of the reasons given for this was the future of the Dream Act.

Nevertheless, we found the town hall meeting to be very much worth our time. U.S. Congresswoman Fudge closed the program by talking about how important the act of voting is and how much the results of elections can affect us in our day-to-day lives. Examples she cited included food quality standard, housing, education, and street maintenance. She concluded by saying that if a person chooses not to vote for whatever reason, we should tell that person that he/she is "trifling and ungrateful!"

IMG_2993Needless to say, that last suggestion earned the congresswoman a terrific round of applause.

Later that day we went to the Corner Alley on Euclid Avenue for the "Cuyahoga Dems RNC 'Welcome' Party" hosted by the Cuyahoga Democratic Women's Caucus.

We visited for a while with Mr. Nick Martin, Executive Director of the Cuyahoga Democratic Party who said that the issue of immigration reform will matter quite a bit in this election and thus predicted a huge turnout of Hispanic voters in November.

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and his wife, Cindy, stopped by for a few minutes and his bodyguard from the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office told us that Mr. Budish had quite a day dashing around to various venues welcoming conventioneers to Cleveland.IMG_2994

Before we moved onto our next event, we got to talk to our friend Mr. Rob Rivera, President of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, told us that in the 2000-2003 time period he was a student at Ohio State Law School and remembered Ms. Margaret W. Wong coming there to give a lecture on immigration. Mr. Rivera told us that he was very impressed by Ms. Wong's "candor" on the subject and remembers her as being a true and genuine "straight shooter" which is quite rare and thus deserving of appreciation.

Our last event of the day took us to Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights where Mr. Jim Obergefell would signing the book that he co-authored with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Debbie Cenizper titled "Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality."

We have written of Mr. Obergefell several times on this blog and, very simply, he was the named plaintiff in "Obergefell vs Hodges" the Supreme Court case that resulted in nationwide marriage equality on June 26, 2015.

When we arrived a few minutes late, Mr. Obergefell was reading a passage of his book concerning the weakening physical condition of his husband, Mr. John Arthur (who passed before the historic decision was rendered) and how their attorney, Mr. Al Gerhardstein urged them to file a lawsuit so that Mr. Obergefell's name could be listed on Mr. Arthur's death certificate as his legal spouse.

IMG_2996 After the reading, Mr. Obergefell was asked questions by our friend, Ms. Alana Jochum, Executive Director of Equality Ohio. He talked about his relationship with Mr. Arthur about which he said that it wasn't love at first sight but, instead, love at third sight. All told, they were a couple for almost 21 years.

Towards the last, Mr. Arthur was stricken with ALS. They decided to marry and chose Maryland as the place to do it largely because it was a marriage equality state and Mr. Arthur (who was badly ailing) would not have to accompany Mr. Obergefell there to obtain a marriage license because, according to state law, only one partner had to appear in person. They obtained the license and their friends and other contributors raised the $14,000 necessary to obtain a medical flight to transport them to Maryland where they were married at the airport.

They discussed the book which Ms. Jochum said was "a love story locked in a legal thriller" with a suspenseful ending leading up to the court decision.

IMG_2997 Mr. Obergefell went into detail as he described the day the Supreme Court decision was handed down on June 26th. He was a visitor to the Supreme Court several times waiting for the decision to be announced. He knew something was up when it was said that some decisions would be made public on June 26th which was the exact date that the United States vs. Windsor decision was announced. Accordingly, he was at the Supreme Court on that day and his suspicion that this would be the big day was increased when visitor tickets, usually printed in orange, were printed in lavender on that date.

EIMG_2998veryone at Loganberry felt like cheering as Mr. Obergefell talked about the aftermath of the announced decision and how a big crowd of cheering supporters "parted like the Red Sea" as he and the other plaintiffs left the Supreme Court. As he was leaving, he received a call on his cell phone from President Obama who told him, "thank you, Jim.You and your husband made this country a better place."

Yet it was strongly emphasized on this occasion that even though the battle for marriage equality was won, the fight goes on. Even though an LGBT couple can now marry in Ohio, they could possibly lose their jobs if they put their wedding photo on their desk at work. Mr. Obergefell pledged to continue to work for anti-discriminatory legislation so that this will no longer be the case.




Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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