Ballot With Bullethole Wings: What Now for DC Voting Rights?

A preview of my introduction to tonight’s “Rapid Responsa: What Now for DC Voting Rights?”

Creating public programs at the J is more art than science. I had been talking with Jacob Feinspan of Jews United for Justice about working together on a public affairs event and we decided to make our first collaboration focus on the dilemma facing DC leaders back in May. There was finally legislation before Congress that would grant the District a vote in the House, but an amendment backed by pro-gun Democrats got attached to the bill which would have annulled all of DC’s gun control laws. The question as we phrased it at the time was, “Should We Take the Deal?” and we scheduled the program for tonight, Tuesday, June 16 at 7:30 pm.

Then last week the deal blew up.

Or did it?

The message coming from Congressional leaders is that there’s now no way to bring the DC Voting Rights bill to the House floor without the “Gun Rights” measures attached. The implication being that the deal ain’t changing so take it or leave it. For the moment no one has endorsed taking the deal in its present form, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll end up leaving it either.

So what now? Is there a better deal to be had? At what point does ceding the right to allow local legislators determine traditionally local issues become unpalatable as an instrument to gain one vote out of 437? Should we be outraged? Or is this all part of a larger political game of which we must be calculating players — prepared to concede that which is not essential to gain the best possible (if not ideal) outcome.

First we’ll ask our panel and then we’ll ask you.

Our panel includes:

Michael A. Brown, a third generation Washingtonian and strong advocate for youth and seniors of the District of Columbia, was recently elected as an At-Large member of the Council of the District of Columbia. He chairs the D.C. Council’s Special Committee on Statehood and Self-Determination, which has the primary task of developing an effective and comprehensive strategy to achieve Statehood by working with key Congressional leaders and community stakeholders. Raised in the Ward 4 community, Michael Brown graduated from Shepherd Elementary School and Mackin Catholic High School (now a part of Archbishop Carroll High School).  He received his undergraduate degree from Clark University in Massachusetts and his law degree from Widener University School of Law in Delaware.

Elissa Froman is a legislative associate at the National Council of Jewish Women’s Washington office where she works to realize NCJW’s commitment to civil rights and liberties. Previously, Elissa worked as a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. She currently serves on Jews United for Justice’s board of directors. She received a BA in Judaic studies and women’s studies, from the George Washington University.

Kesh Ladduwahetty is Chair of DC for Democracy (DF4D), the largest unaligned group of more than 400 progressive activists in the District of Columbia, and the DC affiliate of Democracy for America (DFA).  She has lived in the District for 20 years, and became addicted to grassroots politics in Howard Dean’s presidential campaign.  She has volunteered with DC4D on a number of fronts since 2003, including DC voting rights, the DC living wage, and numerous political campaigns, including Barack Obama’s campaigns.  She was proud to serve as an elected alternate for Obama at the Democratic National Convention.  She intends to see the District achieve full citizenship rights in her lifetime.

Phil Mendelson was first elected to the City Council as an at-large Democrat in November 1998. He is the Chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary and is a member of four additional committees: Housing & Workforce Development, Human Services, Public Works & Transportation, and Libraries, Parks, and Recreation. Along with representing the Council at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, he’s also President of the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO).

Joe Sternlieb is a co-founder and former president and board chair of DC Vote. Mr. Sternlieb is Vice President for Acquisitions at EastBanc, a developer of high quality mixed use projects in the District of Columbia.  His focus at EastBanc is the acquisition of transit- and service-friendly urban properties.  Prior to joining EastBanc he served for 10 years as the deputy director of the Downtown DC Business Improvement District where he oversaw economic development, transportation, physical improvements and homeless programs, and led initiatives such as the DC Circulator, DC Wayfinding Sign System, and Downtown Homeless Services Center.

The Sway Machinery Comes to the Jewish Music Festival

One of the less expected, and thus one of the more thrilling fusions of American and Jewish music comes to the Washington Jewish Music Festival Sunday night courtesy of Jeremiah Lockwood and The Sway Machinery. Imagine David Bowie channeling Robert Johnson as your cantor. Better than that. Imagine your cantor kicking it old-school, which means the old Ashkenazi Hebrew (with the “t” sounds pronounced like “s” and the “a” pronounced “oy”) backed by a funked-up horns section, blues guitar and a bass line that recalls the religious origins of the word “awesome” (Expressive of awe or terror). Imagine rock ‘n’ roll percussion crashing on-top of it all creating a tension that always seems ready to break into chaos but never does, like rocking backwards on a chair that never quite falls.The Sway Machinery

I could wax poetic for another twelve paragraphs and never capture in words the unique sound of The Sway Machinery: traditional Hebrew liturgy chanted over urgent music that (dare I say it) combines the transcendant potentials of both rock and prayer. Cynics who believe in neither might not be impressed by that, but if either one has appealed to you at any time in your life, then The Sway Machinery connects powerfully. I’ve had moments with both, more with the former than the latter. Normally I find liturgical music either sterile or self-sanctified. I pretty much always assume that if someone’s singing about God they’re trying to convert me to something. But there’s an intimacy and power to Lockwood’s vocals that lend them authenticity, and he seems less interested in impressing the listener than in expelling the burden of these prayers from his body. He’s not trying to convert you. In fact, fuck you. This is just something that has to come out and come out now. It’s powerful stuff.

The following track Anim Zemiros is from their “Hidden Melodies Revealed” (JDub) release. The lyrics are a liturgical poem believed to have been written by a 12th Century rabbi and kabbalist. The prayer is commonly recited in congregations at the end of the service, usually by a child. There isn’t really a good translation that I could find on the web, but there are a few imperfect ones. Perhaps its better not to stress the literal meanings (the title literally means “I shall sing sweet songs”) so much as gather the tone. More important, don’t miss The Sway Machinery on Sunday night.

First Weekend of the Jewish MusicFest: Saturday Night with the Kinsey Sicks

The 10th Anniversary Washington Jewish Music Festival got off to a rousing start last night with the Andy Statman Trio’s two-hour long set of bluegrass and klezmer-inspired fusions. Statman is an interesting stage presence, both understated and at times bashful — he admitted that many of the songs being played didn’t even have names and he would apologetically invent irreverent names on the spot like: Shloime’s Post-Bar Mitzvah Song and Song for Sally Fields.  Although that last song came close to being named in honor of either Mary Martin or Julie Andrews. It’s not a story that one can really relate. You had to be there.

Which is why you don’t want to miss the shows coming up over the weekend.  It’s a weekend in which we push the bounds of what Jewish music sounds like and what sounds can be made Jewish. We’ll talk about the Kinsey Sicks here and The Sway Machinery in a latter post.

Kinsey SicksSo, on Saturday night is the outrageous Kinsey Sicks, America’s foremost Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet who happen to have a considerable Jewish repertoire. Jews, already outsiders in some respects, are not an unusual sight amongst other marginalized groups — think Harvey Milk, Allen Ginsberg, Emma Goldman. Then think cross-dressing a capella singers. Not suprisingly, they are very funny. Wickedly funny. With song titles from their holiday album Oy Vey in a Manger like God Bless Ye Femmy Lesbians and I Had a Little Facial that doesn’t come as a terrible shock. But what did suprise me in listening to their work, was the simultaneously heart-wrenching and camped-up version of the Yiddish classic Papirossen (Cigarettes) from the same album. The song is the melodramatic story of a young boy trying to sell cigarettes while bemoaning his poverty, his handless father, suicidal mother and dead sister. It is a downer, that when sung well can amazingly contain real pathos. The Sicks manage to pull this off while still acknowledging the almost lampoonish suffering in the story. Take a listen:

The concert is one of the best examples of the breadth of music that the WJMF brings to audiences. It also is emblematic of the Washington DCJCC’s commitment to GLBT-friendly programming through the Kurlander Program for Gay and Lesbian Outreach and Engagement (GLOE).

There were probably less than a dozen tickets left when we last checked, so get yours fast.

%d bloggers like this: