Many of you are wondering what you can do to support racial equality in this moment, and I have just the thing for you! Tomorrow is voting day in Delaware County, and not only do you have the opportunity to vote, you have the opportunity to remove people from office who intentionally expanded our capacity for mass incarceration in Delaware County. If you are not informed on the topic, the incarceration system in this nation disproportionately imprisons people of color, and is the primary modern day mechanism of segregation, denial of rights, free labor, and enslavement. For insightful and accessible reads on the topic, support Black authors and order “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander or “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson. (We also imprison our citizens at higher rates than any other free nation!)
There were two voting bodies who pushed through using economic development funds and a school building to expand our incarceration capacity in Delaware County, and those two governing bodies are the Delaware County Commissioners and the Delaware County Council. In the primaries tomorrow, you are only able to vote within one party, but don’t make the error of assuming the “other” did this – both parties did this! Since racism is systemically embedded into the structures of our nation, there were both Democrats and Republicans who voted this project right on through.
I’m not going to tell you who to vote for tomorrow, but I am going to tell you that if you’re serious about disrupting racist systems in society, you need to actively vote a few people out of office by choosing their opponents tomorrow.
Let’s start with the Delaware County Commissioners, since this is the governing body that was pushing for transforming a school into a jail. James King (R) and Shannon Henry (R) were certainly the main ones pushing this jail project through, but all three current commissioners voted in favor of starting the project. You can view the voting record here. (It is in the section that says “Build/Operate/Transfer Agreement.” That is the type of contract used for the jail project. For more information on this problematic contract, you can view my blog from a couple of years ago here.) In Sherry Riggin’s (R) defense, she voted against the first introduction of the project in response to community concern. However, when it came time to actually push the jail project through, she voted in favor of the project. While the project would have gone through with or without Riggin’s vote, the anti-racist thing to do in that case would have been to still vote against the expansion of incarceration.
Next, we move to the Delaware County Council. This is the governing body that oversees the budget. One council member told us that voting on the budget is just a formality. I believe quite the contrary. Voting on a budget shows precisely where our true values lie, and as such, is a serious ethical responsibility, not a formality. When it came time for the Delaware County Council to approve the jail project proposed by the Delaware County Council, Larry Bledsoe (D) made the motion, and Jessica Piper (R) seconded. Ryan Ballard (R), Larry Bledsoe (D), Jane Lasater (R), and Jessica Piper (R) all voted in favor of the proposal. Scott Alexander (R), Mary Chambers (D), and Ronald Quakenbush (R) voted in opposition to the project. The next step was to approve the use of economic development funds to transform a school building into a large jail that will increase our county’s capacity to incarcerate more individuals. Again, Larry Bledsoe (D) made the motion, and Jessica Piper (R) seconded. This time, Scott Alexander (R) voted to approve the funds. He demonstrated a similar voting pattern to County Commissioner Sherry Riggin (R). Both were responsive to community concerns and good listeners, but when it looked like it was going through regardless, both succumbed to normative group behavior instead of actively interrupting systems of racial injustice. Mary Chambers (D) and Ronald Quakenbush (R) remained consistent and voted in opposition to using economic development funds for incarceration. You can view the voting record here.
Voting and protesting can feel frustrating when we don’t win. We can feel useless and hopeless, but now is the time to put those negative thoughts aside and go do the right thing. Vote tomorrow for people who are strong enough to interrupt systems of racial injustice in Delaware County.